Friday, July 3, 2020

Mazes of Misery

How grand London homes became tenements for the poor. From History Extra:
In London, as in the nation’s other great cities, slums existed in various forms and in multiple places – dismal enclaves of desperation and squalor, both small and large, scattered across the cityscapes. Near what is today King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, for example, stood Agar Town, a maze of narrow, muddy streets lined with shanty houses. As the homes of Agar Town were built on land leased for just 21 years, they were constructed to miserably low standards. Some were even been built by their impoverished inhabitants from whatever materials they were able to procure. 
Agar Town was in effect a purpose-built slum. Yet if a modern visitor were able to embark upon a tour of the Victorian slums, what might surprise them most is the size and grandeur of the many slum houses. This feature of the slums, one that was commentated upon by reformers, journalists and so-called ‘social explorers’, had come about because some slums had emerged when middle-class districts of the cities, their streets lined with desirable residences, fell out of fashion and were abandoned by the well-to-do. Frederick Engels, who visited St Giles a few years before the residents of the Rookery sent their letter to The Times, recalled seeing “tall, three or four-storied houses” that were “occupied from cellar to garret, filthy within and without, and their appearance is such that no human being could possibly wish to live in them”. (Read more.)

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