Posts Tagged ‘Charles Booth’

Browsing Booth

December 20th, 2013 by Catherine McIntyre, Archives Assistant

The catalogue for the Booth collection is now available on the Archives online catalogue. It has long been available to search via the Booth Online Archive, but is now available to browse and view in its full hierarchical structure on the Archives catalogue.

Charles Booth undertook a survey into the life and labour of the people of London, the work for which started in 1886 and took until 1903, culminating in the publication of 17 volumes of results. The Booth collection held at LSE Archives & Special Collections contains the original survey materials, including the “poverty maps” and survey notebooks.

BoothMap6

Booth Poverty Map, Sheet 6 (BOOTH/E/1/6)

There were three focus areas of the investigation: poverty, industry and religious influences. The team of investigators, which included Beatrice Potter (later Webb) and Clara Collett, interviewed School Board visitors, employers, trades union leaders and ministers. The collection also contains questionnaires returned by employers and reports on visits to churches.

The collection is a wealth of information on the life and work of London’s inhabitants at the end of the Victorian era. It is a popular resource for family history researchers whose ancestors lived and worked in the industries and geographical areas covered by the survey. The poverty maps have been featured in the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ series, most recently with Strictly Come Dancing’s Len Goodman discovering the poverty his Bethnal Green ancestors would have lived in. Other interesting sources of information in the collection include the police notebooks, which contain reports of investigators’ walks with policemen around their beats and interviews with the policemen about the locations in which they work. They paint a vivid picture of life and conditions of the time:

Again south & into Albion Square. Good 2 1/2 storied houses round it, but a very badly kept square. No gates, no flowers, only mud heaps & trenches dug by street boys who were playing in them. 40 or 50 year old trees, remnants of former care, & a dilapidated iron railing round were the only things to show it had once been cared for.

- George H. Duckworth, Walk with Inspector James Flanagan, District 13 (South Hackney and Hackney), 2nd September 1897, BOOTH/B/347.

The collection is also used by academic researchers studying the social, economic and industrial history of the period, or the research methods used to collect data, as well as geographers interested in the classification scheme used to describe the social status of particular streets.

A browse of the catalogue is as rewarding as searching for something (a street, a name, a business) so please do go and have a look and see what you can discover. Click on the + symbols to expand the hierarchy for each series and then click on the file titles to view catalogue records for each file.

The police notebooks, Stepney Union casebooks and some material relating to the Jewish community have been digitised and are available here: police notebooks, Stepney Union casebooks/Jewish material. The 12 maps descriptive of poverty have been digitised and are available to browse and search.

This will be the last blog post from me as I am leaving LSE Library today. I do hope my posts have been interesting and informative to read. Have a merry Christmas everyone!

‘Frances Margaret Taylor, a pioneering nurse in Camden’: help from the Charles Booth archives

March 15th, 2013 by Nick White, Assistant Archivist

Paul Shaw (SMG Central Archivist, St Mary’s Convent, Brentford) has kindly written a blog post on his experiences of using Charles Booth’s notebooks for his researches into the history of the Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God. The notebooks were created during Booth’s fifteen-year study into poverty in London which was eventually published in 17 volumes in 1902 as, ’Life and Labour of the People in London.’ The notebooks can be accessed via the LSE Archives reading room and more information about the survey is available on the Charles Booth Online Archive. Paul writes:

In December 2012 I had the pleasure and privilege of delivering a presentation at Holborn Central Library on the Theobalds Road, in the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, at the invitation of the archivist, Mr Tudor Allen. My subject was Frances Margaret Taylor (1832-1900) (shown below), a Roman Catholic Religious Sister, who founded an order of nuns in London in 1872 to work with the London poor, the ‘Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God’.

Frances Margaret Taylor

Painting of Frances Margaret Taylor portrayed as a nurse during the Crimean War, c.1855. Reproduced courtesy of the Generalate of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God.

As the central archivist for the congregation, I frequently give talks and presentations on the history of the organisation, and on the archive collections, and there is particular interest in the founder. By any measure, Mother Magdalen Taylor (as she was known in religion) had a remarkable life and career: she served as a volunteer nurse during the Crimean War, where she converted to Roman Catholicism; she was also prominent in Catholic writing and journalism, authoring one of the standard first-hand accounts of Crimean nursing.

On her return to London, she took up work to help the poor of London. She had a particular concern for the many Irish Catholic labouring families, who often struggled with the instability of the London labour market and the high rents in central London, and the Catholic inmates of the workhouses. Along with her friend and mentor, Cardinal H E Manning, who was noted for his opposition to the orthodox ‘laisser-faire’ economic nostrums of the day, she sought to assist the Catholic poor and to campaign, through her journalism, for their rights to be recognised. She had a particular concern for women’s employment; as the historian David R Green has noted, in his study of the notorious St Giles Rookery, poor labouring women had many less sources of employment than their male counterparts, and could frequently be forced into prostitution. Following the establishment of Frances Taylor’s religious order, the work of her Sisters was focused upon the worst slums of central London, mainly in the area around St Giles and Soho, on the borders of the present-day Boroughs of Westminster and Camden, where she worked with the parish priests of a number of Catholic Missions.

We are very fortunate that a substantial amount of material survives in the archives of the congregation in Brentford relating to this work, including photographs of some of the early convents and Sisters; detailed printed reports published by the Sisters to publicise their work (below); internal accounts and statistical analyses of the work; and correspondence both internal and with priests and others (a summary of the content and work of the archive appeared in ARC – Archives, Records Management & Conservation, August 2007).

Cover of the "Report of the work done in some of the poorest missions of London", 1897. Illustration reproduced courtesy of the Generalate of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God.

Cover of the "Report of the work done in some of the poorest missions of London", 1879. Illustration reproduced courtesy of the Generalate of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God.

Increasingly, academic researchers are taking great interest in the expanding work of religious sisters at this time, but nonetheless useful references to their work outside of contemporary Catholic publications and convent archives can be difficult to find. I was very pleased, therefore, to take the advice of Nick White, one of the LSE archivists, that the Booth poverty maps and the archive of Booth and his surveyors might provide useful material for my talk, and perhaps for future presentations and papers. This indeed proved to be the case, and information available on the LSE Library website greatly assisted me in identifying relevant material.

In addition to using slides of the Booth poverty maps (1889 edition) from Camden archives in my power point presentation, I quoted from an account by Canon Vere, parish priest of St Patrick’s Church in Soho Square, who noted that 8 or 10 of the nuns ‘Poor Sisters of the Mother of God’ [sic] worked in the parish and ‘a larger house is being taken for their accommodation’ (BOOTH/B/210) This was the convent in which Frances Taylor died in June, 1900. The error in the title of the order is typical: but the Booth surveyors did better than the census enumerators who usually simply described any Catholic or Anglican Religious Sisters as ‘Sisters of Mercy’ or ‘Sisters of Charity’! The account by Fr Vere, dating from 1898, also gives fascinating accounts of the social conditions and cultural outlook of the poor in the Soho area, which is often lacking from internal convent archives, and which greatly helps in providing context to the Sisters’ work. I also ‘sampled’ some of the ‘police’ notebooks describing the very streets in which the Sisters worked, a fascinating and slightly eerie experience (eg BOOTH/B/354).

It is clear, particularly from Canon Vere’s account, that the experience of the poor in central London was in fact changing at this period, and that the improvements introduced by the metropolitan authorities at the period was greatly improving housing conditions, whilst at the same time leading to a further increase in rents. This perfectly coincides with the experience of the Sisters at this time, who were often forced to move out of properties in poor neighbourhoods of London, due partly to demolition and urban improvements, but who found it very difficult to find further properties amongst the poor which they could afford to rent! My use of the Booth notebooks has shown generally how they may be used in conjunction with the archives of religious orders working with the poor to cast light upon the circumstances in which they worked, and the problems of the labouring poor in central London which they were attempting to mitigate.

Down on District 45: Deptford

June 8th, 2012 by Andy Jack, LSE Digital Library

BBC Two series explores social history of London using the Booth maps as a starting point

On Wednesday I watched the first part of the new BBC Two series The Secret History of Our Streets. The episode is currently available on the BBC iPlayer if you would like to watch it for yourself. The first in the six part series focused on the human story of Deptford High Street. We are told that over the course of the last 125 years the area has lost both its wealth and the tight, familial community that gave life to it. The story is one of demolitions, compulsory purchase orders, modernist concrete monoliths and a community ravaged by post-war social experimentation. It isn’t the most uplifting viewing, but the insight into an area only a handful of miles from the affluence of London’s banking district is quite fascinating.

There will be five more programmes in the series all focusing on a particular street.  Coming up next will be Camberwell Grove.

Sheet 12 of 12

Map Descriptive of London Poverty, 1898-9 Sheet 12 of 12

Charles Booth

The series starting point is the Charles Booth maps and notebooks which were produced as part of the the survey into life and labour in London (1886-1903). Beatrice Potter (later to become Beatrice Webb and founding member of the LSE) attended the first meeting of Charles Booth’s Board of Statistical Research on 17th April, 1886 and recorded the occasion in her diary:

Charles Booth’s first meeting of the Board of Statistical Research at his London office. Object of the Committee is to get a fair picture of the whole of London society – the 4,000,000 – by district and employment, the two methods to be based on census returns. At present Charles Booth is the sole worker in this gigantic undertaking. I intend to do a little bit of it while I am in London, not only to keep the Society alive, but to keep me in touch with actual facts so as to limit my study of the past to that part of it useful in the understanding of the present.”

Extract taken from Beatrice Webb’s diaries in LSE Digital Library


The study was certainly an ambitious undertaking covering 4 million people and over 10,000 streets, but for a self-confessed ‘man of investigation’ it must of been personally very satisfying.

Walk with Inspector Gummer and Sergeant Goddard, 18 July 1899

Pages from one of the Booth notebooks: 'Walk with Inspector Gummer and Sergeant Goddard, 18 July 1899'

Deptford: District 45

It was 13 years into the study that the researchers turned their attention to Deptford and what they found will likely be quite surprising to the modern reader. The Booth maps, an early example of social cartography,  used colour coding to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants.  This ‘Poverty Classification’ applied to 19th century Deptford shows that the High Street was considered ‘Middle class. Well-to-do’ (Red). However, some of the side streets such as Hales street were classified by the Booth study at the very bottom of the scale both ‘Vicious, semi-criminal’ and ‘Very poor, casual. Chronic want’. (Black and Blue). In modern day Booth style maps the area is considered to be at the wrong end of the deprivation scale (but far from hopeless as many of the lively local bloggers will tell you).  This is quite a turnaround over the course of the last 100 years and it is exactly that which the programme is exploring.

Booth Poverty Map: a focus on Deptford High Street

Booth Poverty Map: a focus on Deptford High Street

Through the recollections of local people and retired council staff we begin to understand how this came about. The questions still remain around why, with some believing ‘they’ just had it in for Deptford. The episode suggested to me that it was the case of the State wanting to sweep away the past in a brave new post-war world. This involved embracing modernist architectural ideas of a machine-like city, ordered and efficient, and one we might consider today as quite dehumanised and robotic.

Parts of Deptford were classified as slums and in the 1960s and 1970s demolished to make way for housing estates that are still a familiar site across London today.  Apparently, by a quirk of fate, some homes were spared demolition and still remain. From an online view of two streets in the Deptford area – and mentioned in the programme – we can get an idea of what changed. For example, Albury Street appears to still have the buildings of Booth’s time whereas Reginald Road clearly hasn’t. I know which type of housing I personally prefer to both look at and live in…nowadays.

Booth at the LSE

At LSE  we hold a considerable collection of material relating to the Booth study and we also host the Charles Booth Online Archive where it is possible to view a digital version of the map and compare it with a more recent street map. It is also possible to view some of the digitised police notebooks and see for yourself what the researchers recorded on their guided tours of the community.

PhoneBooth on Mobile Devices

We are also currently undertaking an innovative project with Edina, part funded by JISC, to mobilise the Booth maps and digitised notebooks for delivery to mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones. The PhoneBooth project will enable people to retrieve nearby notebook entries for reading in the actual location to which the historic observations occurred. If your street existed 100 years ago and is on Booth’s maps then you will be able to find out whether the area was a den of iniquity or, perhaps part of a well-heeled suburb. You will also be able to read the police commentary on the inhabitants and understand in what ways, if any, your part of London has changed since the epic Booth study.

One of the prototype proofs-of-concept for the PhoneBooth project

One of the prototype proofs-of-concept for the PhoneBooth project

I’m looking forward to the next installment of the series now and particularly the conversations about the programme on the web. The first episode encouraged a lot of blogging and tweeting which is certainly adding a lot more to the BBC’s interpretation as well as exposing many more stories and memories from ex and current residents alike.

Further information

The PhoneBooth project blog contains more detailed information about the pedagogical and technological aims of the project and includes updates on progress.
PhoneBooth will be available in July/August 2012.

On the radio this week…

May 5th, 2009 by Anna Towlson, Assistant Archivist

The records of Charles Booth’s enquiry into London life and labour get another media airing this week, featuring in the oral historian Alan Dein’s investigation of the history of Britain’s first black arts centre, The Keskidee, and the building that housed it, Gifford Hall.

In the late 1890s, Gifford Hall in Islington was a progressive mission hall with an energetic pastor and an extensive programme of outreach activities. As part of their ‘religious influences’ survey, Booth’s researchers interviewed the pastor, Mr W H Whittenbury, to find out about more about the work the mission did in the local community. The mission’s annual report for 1896 mentions tract distribution, bible classes, and total abstinence societies for both men and women, all rather worthy and dull, but enlivened by the addition of two musical bands, a children’s play room, and a flower show.

Alan visited our reading room a month ago, with his producer, to read the original interview with Mr Whittenbury and talk to me about Booth’s survey. Sue posted last week about the TV crew who visited recently to record footage for a series on diplomacy, but this was a very different experience. The radio crew was made up of just two people – Alan, and his producer Neil McCarthy – and the only equipment they had was a microphone. The recording process was much quicker and more spontaneous – no special lighting, no script, no retakes – pretty much like a normal conversation. Alan struck me as an engaged and engaging presenter, so the finished programme should make good listening.

The Keskidee is on at 11.30am, BBC Radio 4, Thursday 7 May.

Enquiring minds

January 31st, 2009 by Anna Towlson, Assistant Archivist

The different enquiries we receive are a good measure of the range of people who have an interest in archives, and the different ways in which they use them. Like most university-based archives, our ‘traditional’ users are academic historians, but in recent years this has broadened out considerably. We’re now increasingly in contact with not just academics and students from other disciplines, but also genealogists, local historians, journalists, picture researchers and others.

This week, for example, I’ve answered 22 emails, a fairly typical number, including enquiries from:

- a historian working on a biography of the youth leader and ecological campaigner Rolf Gardiner, looking for correspondence between Gardiner and John Hargrave

- a consultant geologist investigating mining interests in Africa

- a lady in Scotland wanting to use the Booth collection to find out more about her London ancestors

- Stonewall staff looking for images to use in their 20th birthday celebrations

- an airline magazine requesting permission to reproduce part of one of the Booth maps to illustrate an article on the history of map-making

- a student journalist researching the LSE ‘troubles’ of the late 1960s

So, quite a selection, and every day is different. For me, answering enquiries is a good way to engage with both current and potential users; it’s also an opportunity to learn more about our collections and the subjects they cover. I wonder what next week will bring!

Mapping Rich and Poor

January 21st, 2009 by Sue Donnelly, Archivist

Portugal Street and its environs in 1898-9

Last night I was giving a talk on Charles Booth’s Enquiry into London Life and Labour  to the Friends of Senate House Library. There was a good turnout, even though the event was a direct clash with the Obama inauguration in the US.

The evening was double act between Richard Temple, Archivist at Senate House Library, who spoke about the Booth family papers held at Senate House, and myself talking about Charles Booth’s great Enquiry into London Life and Labour  and the Charles Booth Online Archive. I usually give several talks a year about the Enquiry and each one is different and elicits a different set of questions. Last night was an opportunity to learn more from Richard about the family papers (see the ULRLS Online Archive Catalogue) including details of the Macaulays, the family of Mary Booth, Charles’ wife, who played a significant role in the management of the Enquiry. It was also an opportunity to meet several of Charles Booth’s descendants who attended the evening.

Charles Booth began the Enquiry into London Life and Labour in 1886 and the final publication in 1902-3 ran to 17 volumes. Booth and his team of investigators (about thirty four individuals in total) filled 450 notebooks with interviews, observations and statistics into the living conditions and the working and social lives of Victorian Londoners.  The Enquiry also produced the the twelve Maps Descriptive of London Poverty  which assign each street in London (outside of the City) a colour based on its ’social condition’. Black was the poorest (’vicious and semi-criminal’) and yellow the most affluence. The snippet of map above indicates that the future home of LSE was not a particularly salubrious part of the city.

Senate House Library and the Archives at LSE collaborated on the development of the Charles Booth Online Archive in 1999-2001 and the archives of the Enquiry are a popular resource for academic researchers and family and local historians. In particular family historians use the archive to gain an insight into the world in which their ancestors lived and worked. Earlier this year the maps and notebooks were used in the Museum of London in Docklands popular exhibition on Jack the Ripper.


google