The Workhouse – Podcast

National Archives

Thanks to Mad About Genealogy reader Jane who sent me a note to say that she had found an excellent podcast from The National Archives about Workhouses. The Podcast is titled “Our ancestors & their fear of the workhouse” and is a talk by Dr. Paul Carter.

The National Archives podcast series are an excellent resource for family historians of all levels of expertise and well worth taking the time to browse through.

Thank you Jane Smile

Booth Poverty Maps

I am working on a new talk to give to genealogy groups and the theme is The Poor of London, let’s face it we all have people on our family trees that life has treated less than kindly. I decided the talk should include Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps, Peter Higginbotham’s website on The Workhouse and Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor. But then today I came across a blog post by Audrey Collins of The National Archives about a 3 volume series of books published in 1797 called “The State of the Poor or An History of the Labouring Classes in England”.

What a find, thank you Audrey Smile

So my talk has expanded to 4 sources and I thought I might write a post about each of them over the next few days. I’ll start with Booth’s Poverty Maps.

Who compiled the Booth Poverty Maps?

Family History MapsCharles Booth (1840 – 1916) was a social reformer and he is best known for his work in recording the state of the working class. It is said that he along with Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree influenced the government to consider how they could prevent poverty and this led to the founding of the old age pension.

Charles decided in 1886 that he would investigate the life and labour of the poor of London and one of the results is what has become know as the Booth Poverty Maps.

Booth employed a team of social investigators who walked around the London streets often in the company of the local policeman and recorded what they saw and heard. The notebooks that they filled out can be viewed online and make for fascinating reading with amongst other findings they record what the policeman thought of each street and sometime each building and it’s inhabitants.

Where can I find the Booth Poverty Maps?

The original records from Booth’s investigations are held by the London School of Economics and they can be consulted there, however the good news for those of us who don’t live in London is that the LSE have put the Booth archive online at

What can I expect to find in the Booth Poverty Maps?

Booth Poverty MapsMaps were drawn up and each street, road and lane was coloured according to a classification table developed by Booth which graded the people who lived in the street.

The seven classes were ………

A Black – The lowest class which consists of some occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals. Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and their only luxury is drink

B Dark Blue – Casual earnings, very poor. The labourers do not get as much as three days work a week, but it is doubtful if many could or would work full time for long together if they had the opportunity. Class B is not one in which men are born and live and die so much as a deposit of those who from mental, moral and physical reasons are incapable of better work

C & D Light Blue – Intermittent earning. 18s to 21s per week for a moderate family. The victims of competition and on them falls with particular severity the weight of recurrent depressions of trade. Labourers, poorer artisans and street sellers. This irregularity of employment may show itself in the week or in the year: stevedores and waterside porters may secure only one of two days’ work in a week, whereas labourers in the building trades may get only eight or nine months in a year.

Also those with small regular earnings. poor, regular earnings. Factory, dock, and warehouse labourers, carmen, messengers and porters. Of the whole section none can be said to rise above poverty, nor are many to be classed as very poor. As a general rule they have a hard struggle to make ends meet, but they are, as a body, decent steady men, paying their way and bringing up their children respectably.

E Purple – Regular standard earnings, 22s to 30s per week for regular work, fairly comfortable. As a rule the wives do not work, but the children do: the boys commonly following the father, the girls taking local trades or going out to service.

F Pink – Higher class labour and the best paid of the artisans. Earnings exceed 30s per week. Foremen are included, city warehousemen of the better class and first hand lightermen; they are usually paid for responsibility and are men of good character and much intelligence.

G Red – Lower middle class. Shopkeepers and small employers, clerks and subordinate professional men. A hardworking sober, energetic class.

H Yellow – Upper middle class, servant keeping class.

Some streets had a combination of several colours indicating that part of the street was worse or better off than another part. It can be noted on the maps that a Yellow Booth Note Booksupper class street is very close to say a dark blue street. Poverty didn’t always confine itself to specific areas, but intermingled with those who were better off.

If you have family that live in London in the latter part of the Victorian period then these maps will be of interest to you. It is well worth reading the background information on the website so that you have a clear idea of what you are looking at. If there are notebooks for the area in which your family lived do take the time to read them, they are fascinating and will bring your ancestors alive.

Copies of the maps can be purchased through the LSE and also two maps have been reprinted by Old House Books and can be purchased through Amazon.