I have seen the series, The Victorian Slum.

It was interesting to see a group of modern people trying to survive under Nineteenth Century slum conditions.  It certainly brought the subject to life.  For those of us who enjoy reading, and even writing, historical novels, it was a useful reminder to avoid getting too romantic a view of the past.

How typical was it?

I am aware that not everyone lived in the slums and that not every change since then has been unquestionably for the better.  However, poverty and social injustice were facts for many people.  Yes, things have improved a lot.

What changed?

  • The last episode showed how things began to change in the early Twentieth Century.
  •  They did not change automatically.  Politics and the trades unions played important roles in the transformation.
  • One important change was in social attitudes.  Most people stopped thinking the poor were victims of their own idleness or other shortcomings.

The programme tried to be balanced and showed how many well-intended initiatives, such as slum-clearance and compulsory education, had unforseen and unfortunate effects on some of the poorest people.

There were lots of lessons for us all today.

City versus Country?

  • One thing the programme did not go into was that, for all the harsh living conditions, many people chose to go to London and other cities.  Why?  Were they actually better off than in the countryside?  If so, how bad must rural poverty have been?  Or were they forced out of their homes as agriculture became less labour-intensive?
  • I was amazed, a few years ago, to learn that the population increased greatly during that period, mainly due to a fall in the death rate.  That suggests that people were actually better off in the slums than their predecessors had been in the countryside.   Merrie England?  Perhaps that could be the subject of another series.