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Overcrowding And Housing In Nineteenth Century London

1521 words - 7 pages

Overcrowding and Housing in Nineteenth-Century London

From 1801 to 1851, the population of London grew from under 1 million inhabitants to 2.25 million. This was due in large part to immigration, both from other countries and from the countryside of England. Hundreds of thousands of people were moving to the newly industrialized cities and towns to find work, having been squeezed off the land because of the enclosure of farms. There was also displacement of the working-class within the city of London because of a number of construction projects. There were street improvement schemes in which tenements were razed in order to widen the passages. The transformation of part of the city into ...view middle of the document...

In 1866, the Sanitary Act defined overcrowding as less than 400 cubic feet for each adult living in a room day and night, or 300 cubic feet for a sleeping room. For children, these dimensions were halved. This means that a man, woman, and one child living in a room 8'x10'x10' would be considered overcrowded. For statistical and census purposes, the London City Council ignored cubic capacity, and counted anything beyond two people per room as overcrowded. Hector Gavin, a lecturer in forensic medicine at Charing Cross Hospital estimated that if all the windows and doors of a typical laborers tenement were shut(against the cold, for example), the maximum length a man could survive before all available oxygen was consumed was seven hours. The Window Tax of 1695, which taxed any opening in a building's exterior walls, was finally repealed by the first Public Health Act of 1848.

As the problem of overcrowding became more and more evident, several remedies were tried. There was some individual philanthropy, model dwellings were built by "philanthropic capitalists," legislation was passed prohibiting overcrowding, slums were torn down(which, of course, only worsened the problem by displacing more people), there was suburban speculative development closely following the development of the railroad which provided cheap, rapid transit to the newly-forming suburbs. This last remedy was only of use to the "elite labor" such as artisans and clerks who could afford to live in the more desirable locales.

An 1848 count showed that of 16,000 dwellings looked at, only 7,738 were known to be drained into sewers. More than a third of them were completely undrained. There were more than 5,000 cesspools which were emptied, at best, twice a year. Local authorities were powerless to connect drains to houses, or to compel their owners to do so. The 1866 Sanitary Act finally enforced the connection of all houses to a new main sewer. It also set definite limits for the use of cellars as living rooms, and established the definition of overcrowding.

Closely following the Sanitary Act, was the Laboring Classes Dwelling Houses Act of 1866. It allowed for private individuals and model dwelling companies to borrow money from the Public Works Loan Commission at good rates for the construction of houses. The Act established standards for construction, regulated room size, and stipulated that each tenement must have its own water closet.

Low-Lodging Houses of London
In London Labour and The London Poor, Henry Mayhew lists districts of flop houses, which were not permanent residences, but merely sleeping quarters. He refers to these as low-lodging houses. The areas where these were most plentiful included the districts of Drury Lane, Gray's inn, Saffron Hill and Clerkenwell(the area in which Oliver Twist first encounters Mr. Brownlow at the bookstall), Shoreditch, Whitechapel and Spitalfields (Sikes' takes Oliver to rooms in both of these areas), and Mint Street....

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