This post has kindly been written for us by Seif El Rashidi, Project Development Officer for the HLF ‘Layers of London’ Project.
Charles Booth’s London (http://booth.lse.ac.uk/) is a new digital resource created by the London School of Economics and Political Science as a means of sharing Charles Booth’s great work, his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the people of London, undertaken between 1886 and 1903.
The Inquiry was a survey of working class London, best known for one of its outcomes: The Booth Poverty Maps, which show poverty levels on a street-by-street basis. What is remarkable about the survey is its thoroughness – it looked at the both working and living conditions, as well as at the religious life of the city, going into an extraordinary level of detail in order to produce simple, clear colour-coding denoting the economic and social status of the residents. Even more significant is that 450 of Booth’s field books survive, providing rare insights into the lives of Londoners of all walks of life at the end of the Victorian period, as experienced from this ambitious and rigorous first-hand survey. Most of these field books have been digitised and are available as an integral part of this website.
Sample entries include: “Oak Place – flagged passage, gas workers, clean faces, well fed….. (Booth/B/367)
…. “on the side is a common lodging house for women of a disorderly character. Two specimens were parading the street and objurgating the deputy with a very choice selection from their vocabulary.” (Booth/B/354)
and “All good working class, Kinnerton is a great street for letting; the public house at the corner of Motcombe Street is used as is the small barber’s shop on the west side. (Booth/B/362)
These illustrate just how valuable this survey is in capturing the life of London at the end of the 19th century, bringing the city alive through brief but telling descriptions, many of which fuel the imagination. Many of these accounts were obtained by following the police on the beats around different neighbourhoods of the city. Incidentally, the City (capital C) was not included in the survey, which otherwise spans the area from Chiswick to Greenwich, and from south Brixton in the south to Upper Holloway in the north.
The new website is truly a visually-appealing, user-friendly creation, with the contextual blurbs broken down into short paragraphs, providing clear information, and ensuring that all the practicalities, like referencing, are easy to find. The two main components of the website are the map and the notebooks, the latter with specific sections on Jewish London, Stepney and Bromley Workhouses, and Police notebooks.
Notebook pages are summarised to indicate which streets are mentioned on each page, as well as any other key information, for example:
Users can search the map by place name. The results appear with three distinct classifications: place names in contemporary usage, 1898 landmarks corresponding to that name, and 1898 parishes. This is just one example showing the thought that has gone into making this website easy to use. It pre-empts problems that commonly arise in searches for place names on a historic map.
Relevant content from the notebooks appears across the map and is very easy to access. Even better, notebook content has been digitised at an excellent resolution, and can be downloaded and printed. Furthermore, material is in the public domain.
The Highlights section present a thematic selection of excerpts, focusing on drinking and drugs, prostitution, and immigration –evidently a pertinent topic, even then.
Charles Booth’s London is, in many respects, an exemplary project, especially in its aims, and ease of use, omitting the need for lengthy instructions. Many a project could learn volumes from its slickness, and its commitment to sharing valuable information. It is positively helpful – like an enthusiastic and supportive librarian, except digital. As such, the only shortcomings seem to be trivialities (that the ‘About’ section is at the bottom of the page, and maybe a brief introductory blurb at the top would have been useful; and that subheadings are not clickable, necessitating lots of ‘Discover’ buttons instead). In spending a good deal of time discovering the work of Charles Booth and his team, my one grievance is that their handwriting was often spidery and hard to read – with a generous sprinkling of abbreviations like 3 ½ st. (presumably storeys?) To LSE library’s credit is the fact that these are the few anomalies on an otherwise highly-legible website.
This post, written by Seif El Rashidi (Project Development Officer for the HLF ‘Layers of London’ Project), originally appeared on the ‘Layers of London’ project blog.
A series of photographs by Saira Awan capture the family lives of residents of the Gascoigne Estate. These were on display in the public space around some of the buildings as part of the Open Estate Festival.
The Open Estate Project is a London mapping project of a different sort- documenting the memories and reflections of residents of a large housing estate in London that is currently being redeveloped to make way for new housing. It is one of the many projects of Studio 3 Arts, a charity set up to develop and deliver socially-engaged, co-created artistic practice in North East London and West Essex.
A fascinating collection of visual material resulted from the project – this includes portraits of families relaxing at home, as well as photos of the Estate during moments of pivotal change – showing residents doing everyday chores with the bulldozers at work in the background, or capturing the effect of the seasons on an urban landscape that will never be there again – like the modernist checkerboard created by the snow-covered paths and buildings.
Open Estate asked local residents to think of what was valuable to them and why. Here are some of the answers.
An exhibition of wide ranging artistic output captured personal reflections on what objects and items people cherished, made out of clay – an old bathtub, a laptop, plates and saucers. To complement that, a cabinet of travelling treasures displayed people’s real mementos: an action man doll, a mantle clock, a pearl necklace.
As one of the panels in the evocative display told a crowd of fascinated visitors:
“As Gascoigne moves through the regeneration process, some objects may be the last remaining elements of a former flat – the valve from a hot water cylinder – a lock and key that used to secure a home. But other objects demonstrate moving forward, a Disney keyring from a family holiday that will hold the key to a new home, and mugs that will be the first out of the removal box for a restorative hot drink.”
A ceramicist, Simeon Featherstone, worked with local residents of all ages to produce a collection of glazed ceramic globlets, made of clay dug up from the estate itself, some of these include imprints of Gascoigne’s textures: the coarse fibres of a carpet, and the swirls of wall paper. Among the most fascinating were pieces with maps of the different phases in the life of the estate – like the ones shown here, placing the plan of Victorian terraces below that of the 1950s blocks that replaced them, the very structures that are now being erased. The goblets were a nod to the history of the Gascoigne family, wealthy aristocrats who once owned the land.
One of a collection of goblets created to represent the urban evolution of the Gascoigne Estate, from the property of the aristocratic Gascoigne Family, to Victorian terraces, to the current, rapidly disappearing, blocks of flats.
The project’s final celebration culminated with a symposium at which heritage specialists, planners, community members and local officials put their heads together and reflected on what had been taking place. One comment from a local resident summed it all up. “I watched a programme on the Tudors which featured a painting showing Henry VIII holding a skull – the skull was a reminder that nothing is permanent; that everything must change. So it must!”
Apart from its obvious benefits in bringing a community together to share and support each other during a period of significant change, a project like Open Estate is of great value to urbanists, and to those historians of the future who can look back at its photos, its drawings and its recordings, and understand first-hand what sort of community this was, in many different ways.
It is exactly the sort of information Layers of London can help preserve.
As Steve Lawes, Trainee Project Manager for the Open Estate Project says “The Layers of London project is a fantastic opportunity for ordinary people to access their history via visual and written records. It will allow multidisciplinary and multimedia archival and personal histories to be easily accessible, easily edited and easily understood.
For Open Estate, which is unearthing the personal and social histories of the Gascoigne Estate in Barking, Layers of London will allow us to unearth stories from people we might not have otherwise met or conversed with, and users will be add their memoirs and photos to certain places, potentially giving us a more detailed, and most of all personal, historical record. The format of adding memories and histories to a map will make people think about space, time and history in a different way to what they might learn from an information sign at a museum, or from a book. “
To find out more about this fascinating project click here.