The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum
A brilliant new book about the seedy side of Victorian London by one of our most talented young historians.
'An excellent and intelligent investigation of the realities of urban living that respond to no design or directive... This is a book about the nature of London itself' Peter Ackroyd, The Times
A powerful exploration of the seedy side of Victorian London by one of our most promising young historians.
In 1887 government inspectors were sent to investigate the Old Nichol, a notorious slum on the boundary of Bethnal Green parish, where almost 6,000 inhabitants were crammed into thirty or so streets of rotting dwellings and where the mortality rate ran at nearly twice that of the rest of Bethnal Green. Among much else they discovered that the decaying 100-year-old houses were some of the most lucrative properties in the capital for their absent slumlords, who included peers of the realm, local politicians and churchmen.
The Blackest Streets is set in a turbulent period of London's history when revolution was in the air. Award-winning historian Sarah Wise skilfully evokes the texture of life at that time, not just for the tenants but for those campaigning for change and others seeking to protect their financial interests. She recovers Old Nichol from the ruins of history and lays bare the social and political conditions that created and sustained this black hole which lay at the very heart of the Empire.
A revelatory and prescient read about cities, class and inequality, the message at the heart of The Blackest Streets still resonates today.
“The Blackest Streets is an excellent and intelligent investigation of the realities of urban living that respond to no design or directive...This is a book about the nature of London itself”
Peter Ackroyd, The Times
“A revelatory book...beaming the light of impartial historical research into the horrible dens and alleys. It avoids the voyeurism that such books often fall into: Wise describes the terrible conditions dispassionately, bringing out the resilience and self-respect of the slum-dwellers”
John Carey, Sunday Times
“Read it and be flabbergasted”
“She is a sure-footed guide. In each strand of enquiry she has something new and surprising to say”
Jerry White, Times Literary Supplement
“Sarah Wise has created an exceptional work, in that it is both scholarly and page turning - a genuine treat”
“Sarah Wise is too clever and considered a historian simply to give us a lurid, one-dimensional Victorian melodrama. Through painstaking archival work and readable empathetic prose, she has instead sought to evoke the texture of life here”
“The account is both moving and engrossing, and its tendency in places to become a litany of misery and despair is redeemed by Sarah Wise's light and occasionally humorous touch”
“As with her previous book The Italian Boy, Sarah Wise is superb on statistical detail... In every respect this is a note-perfect work of social history, thoroughly researched, charitable in its sympathies, and sadly still embodying lessons for today”
“Carefully researched... a wide-ranging study”
“Her achievement is remarkable... This engrossing work shines a light not only on a turbulent period in London's history, but on humanity itself. Only the best histories can claim as much”
“Spilling facts, lives, conditions, intolerable burdens and the spirit expressed by spontaneous dancing in the streets, The Blackest Streets is a little masterpiece”
“Extraordinary scholarship and rare sensitivity”
Ophelia Field, Daily Telegraph
“Sarah Wise mines the archives to bring the local inhabitants back to life, and makes particularly brilliant use of the interviews that historian Raphael Samuel conducted in the 1970s with Arthur Harding.”
“As in her wonderful book The Italian Boy, she explores a milieu that was hungry, dirty, threadbare and exploited”
Christopher Hirst, The Independent
“Sarah Wise animates the horrors in fascinating detail”
Toby Clements, The Telegraph