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Charles Booth’s Spitalfields

August 16, 2018
by the gentle author

In the recently published East London volume of Charles Booth’s notebooks of research for his Survey into Life & Labour of the People of London (1886-1903), I came upon an account of a visit to Spitalfields in spring 1898. when he walked through many of the streets and locations of  the Spitalfields Nippers around the same time Horace Warner took his photographs. So I thought I would select descriptions from Booth’s notebooks and place Warner’s pictures alongside, comparing their views of the same subject. Click here to order a copy of The Streets Of London: The Booth Notebooks, East for £12

March 18th Friday 1898 – Walk with Sergeant French

Walked round a district bounded to the North by Quaker St, on the East by Brick Lane and on the West by Commercial St, being part of the parish of Christ Church, Spitalfields.

Back of big house, Quaker St

Starting at the Police Station in Commercial St, East past St Stephen’s Church into Quaker St. Rough, Irish.Brothels on the south side of the street past the Court called New Square. Also a Salvation Army ‘Lighthouse’ which encourages the disreputable to come this way. The railway has now absorbed all the houses on the North side as far as opposite Pool Square. Wheler St also Rough Irish, does not look bad, shops underneath.

Courts South of Quaker St – Pope’s Head Court, lately done up and repaired, and a new class in them since the repairs, poor not rough. One or two old houses remaining with long weavers’ windows in the higher storeys.

New Square, Rough, one one storey house, dogs chained in back garden…

Pool Sq

Pool Square, three storeyed houses, rough women about, Irish. One house with a wooden top storey, windows broken. This is the last of an Irish colony, the Jews begin to predominate when Grey Eagle St is reached. These courts belong to small owners who generally themselves occupy one of the houses in the courts themselves.

Isaac Levy

Grey Eagle St Jews on East side, poor. Gentiles, rough on West side, mixture of criminal men in street. Looks very poor, even the Jewish side but children booted, fairly clean, well clothed and well fed. Truman’s Brewery to the East side. To Corbet’s Court, storeyed rough Irish, brothels on either side of North end.

Washing Day

Children booted but with some very bad boots, by no means respectable….

Pearl St

Great Pearl St Common lodging houses with double beds – thieves and prostitutes.

South into Little Pearl St and Vine Court, old houses with long small-paned weavers windows to top storeys, some boarded up in the middle. On the West side, lives T Grainger ‘Barrows to Let’

Parsley Season in Crown Court

Crown Court, two strong men packing up sacks of parsley…

Carriage Folk of Crown Court – Tommy Nail & Willie Dellow

The Great Pearl St District remains as black as it was ten years ago, common lodging houses for men, women and doubles which are little better than brothels. Thieves, bullies and prostitutes are their inhabitants. A thoroughly vicious quarter – the presence of the Cambridge Music Hall in Commercial St makes it a focussing point for prostitutes

Detail of Charles Booth’s Descriptive Map of London Poverty 1889

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Judi Jones permalink
    August 16, 2018

    Such wonderful photographs, yet at the same time heartbreaking to see. They certainly bring Booth’s notes alive . . . very well done GA. Thank you.

  2. August 16, 2018

    Those were grim times for a lot of people. Valerie

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    August 16, 2018

    As you know, but the other readers probably don’t, the Chas Booth London Maps & Notes are available on-line.

  4. Philip Marriage permalink
    August 16, 2018

    Warner’s photographs come alive with Booth’s descriptions – the two harmonise so well.

  5. Peter Holford permalink
    August 16, 2018

    The Charles Booth archive is a wonderful resource for family historians and anybody interested in social history. I’ve delved into it many times over the years for insights into my family and am pleased to report that none of them was ‘vicious’! I looked that one up to find that the meaning in the 19th century was very different and simply meant ‘immoral’.

    The full archive is freely available online including:

    It’s good to have photos illustrating Booth’s account. His budget obviously didn’t allow for an illustrated account!

  6. Akkers permalink
    August 16, 2018

    Another really interesting article – what a great idea to marry up the descriptions from Booth’s notebooks and put those wonderful pictures by Horace Warner alongside them.

  7. Valerie P permalink
    August 16, 2018

    Sobering. And as 21stc disenfranchisement begins to gallop so our streets are filled with now-homeless (formerly housed!)….

  8. Helen Breen permalink
    August 16, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, well done comparison. The faces of those children, especially the ones playing in the wheelbarrows, says it all – poverty hurts!

  9. John Campbell permalink
    August 16, 2018

    The stigma of the Irish would live on in London well into the second half of the twentieth century – ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs!’ I assume that many of these Spitalfields’ dwellers would originally have been refugees from the famine, it can only have been the social deprivation and squalor they endured and their desperation that forced them to survive in any way they could. Sad pictures of such underprivileged lives, probably lived without any satisfaction and ultimately ended in the poverty into which they were born.

  10. August 16, 2018

    Only 3 generations ago did my family live in Little Pearl Street. Hard to imagine them living in such conditions in comparison to where and how we live today.

  11. Phaedra permalink
    September 5, 2018

    What a great idea, thanks for doing this.

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