Looking back at Victorian London: Charles Booth's poverty map
Ever wished you could step into a time machine that takes you back to Victorian times? Just to see what it's like? Walk the streets, see Victorian London and marvel at all the things that have inspired the steampunk aesthetic? Well now you can – or the next best thing, really.
We all know that Victorian influences gave rise to some great things – it is one of the main influences for steampunk clothing and steampunk gadgets after all – but the Victorian era was of course so much more than that. Living in London at that time would come with both positives and negatives, interesting ways of life mixed in with harsh realities. All was not cool clothing and fun times – of course there were social classes, both poverty and wealth, distributed among the city. To have a real, true look, at what it was like, you'd have to have access to some very detailed, old records... This is where Charles Booth's poverty map and note taking comes in.
The Inquiry into Life and Labour in London was a survey originally undertaken between 1886-1903 in London by Charles Booth, an English social reformer and industrialist who realized that a scientific social survey was needed to shine light upon the poverty in Great Britain. His survey is very extensive and detailed and the archives contain 450 of his original notebooks, as well as the published poverty maps he put together, showing a social and economic history of Victorian London. He collected data from street to street about people's working environment, living environment and religious practices and life. This is, to this day, one of the largest such projects ever done. And we're in luck, because those extensive notes and the poverty map are still intact to this day, which makes it one of the only surviving documents of that sort and pretty unique and special. And we're even luckier – because a lot of it is now available online.
Online, at Charles Booth's London: poverty maps and police notebooks, you can access the interactive poverty maps, with colored sections of the map showing the social class and income of the people living on specific streets of London. Another available feature is a modern map of London, enabling a true comparison between the Victorian map and present-day London, then and now. The poverty maps provides a raw, more grounded look at what life during Victorian times was like. It's almost like walking through the streets of London yourself, seeing who lived where and how the different areas looked. These are also downloadable so you can access them at any time you like.
In addition, Charles Booth's notebooks are also available, providing details for when your imagination isn't enough. You can see notebook entries for different places in London when you are looking at the poverty maps, and also look through and search through the collection of notebooks separately. Talk about a treasure trove for Victorian geeks like us.
Charles Booth's London provides a look into another time in a way that we often don't get to see, thanks to his extensive work. It's probably the best look into Victorian London that you can get presently (except one involving a time-machine), and it provides important food for thought about the way life used to be and is now. Sometimes, we need to take off our steampunk goggles for a second to see the clear blue skies and the good and the bad of Victorian times. Not just that, though, understanding more about the Victorian times in general can make us understand the Victorian steampunk influences better as well, and provide material to build our own steampunk characters.
So if you want to build on your knowledge of Victorian London and walk along its streets, Charles Booth's maps and notebooks can take you quite far, and both give you a visual understanding of Victorian London as well as a better understanding of social class and living situations of the times. So just hop on in and start exploring! Just remember to travel back to our time now and then – we'll miss you if you stay there for too long!