Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks. Hands up all those who only have rich people in their family trees? Thought so, not a hand in sight! I have plenty of people in my family tree who life hasn’t treated that well and I have to admit there are a fair few who were the authors of their own misfortune. I mean to say getting drunk and stealing a cabbage is one thing, but getting drunk and stealing an oak fence post can only make one think “Why?!”
Now we have established that I have an interest in the poor and that you probably do too I want to introduce you to the Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks.
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Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks – What are they?
Charles Booth (1840 – 1916) was a social reformer who is best known for his work recording the state of the working classes. His book Life and Labour of the People in London showed that 35% of Londoners were living in abject poverty. This was much higher than the government of the day had previously thought. As part of his investigation, which took place between 1886 – 1903, Charles and his team of investigators accompanied police officers on their patrols in all parts of London. Notes were taken regarding the people they met and spoke to and their observations on housing and work conditions, employment of women, leisure activities and religious life. Those who were interviewed are named and you may be lucky enough to find one of your ancestors spoke to an investigator.
Information from these notebooks was then used to create the maps. Although called poverty maps they also show areas that were regarded as being where the upper and middle classes lived.
Now known as the Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks, four hundred and fifty of the original notebooks have survived and these plus the maps have been digitized and are now online.
Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks – Why are they useful to genealogists?
Once the maps were drawn up they were then coloured in showing the class of inhabitants. It must be remembered that social class was very important to Victorian society. There was the thinking that poverty was aliened with a lack of moral standards and that everyone who had descended into poverty was there by their own fault not by circumstances such as the breadwinner of the household losing their job, becoming ill or dying.
Many of our ancestors will have been drawn to London, some from quite a distance. There will be many reasons why they moved to the city, it maybe that work in their village became scarce, talk of higher wages may have enticed them, loss of housing or a disagreement with their families may also have happened. Whatever the reason it will be a very unusual family tree that doesn’t have some ancestors, direct line or siblings of direct line, who didn’t make their way to London. Using the Booth Poverty Maps along with the census can inform us of the conditions in which they lived and worked and help us understand the family story much better.
Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks classification is as follows:-
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
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
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 than another part. It may surprise you to see how close some of the worse streets were to the more wealthy areas. Poverty didn’t always confine itself to specific areas, but intermingled with those who were better off.
Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks – Where can they be found online?
The Booth Archive is held at the London School of Economics and it is the LSE that has set up a dedicated website for the collection. There is a wealth of background material about the how and why the information was collected and the maps created which makes for interesting reading. Both the maps and some of the notebooks are available online. The very detailed maps can be searched by street name and the present day location is given as well as the location in 1889 and the parish in which the street was situated. The maps can also be browsed.
The notebooks also have a search facility as well as browse. Names as well as places can be searched. Along with the investigators notebooks used as they walked the streets with the police constables, there are also six Stepney Union casebooks recording the case histories of inmates of Bromley and Stepney workhouses. If you have Jewish ancestors then you will be excited to learn that there are also four notebooks recording the work and religious life of the London Jewish community of the 1880s and 1890s.
The maps may be downloaded free of charge as they are outside of copyright as can some of the notebooks. If you want to buy paper copies of the maps they can be purchased via Amazon. Click here to see the maps. A book about the notebooks covering the south east of London is also available at Amazon click here.
Booth Poverty Maps and Notebooks – Summary
I hope you can see what a valuable source of social history these maps and notebooks are for the family historians. They are primary source material for your London family story. If you have Londoners in your family tree then put an hour or two to one side and take a good look at the maps and notebooks.
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