Charles Booth and How the People
Were Housed in 1889

Compiling the Booth Poverty Maps

Booth publised cp;oured maps of the streets of London showing their status. Each house was coloured according to the wealth of the people who lived there, from gold for those with three servants living in, down to black for the "lowest class".

Housing conditions like those described in the Marylebone Mercury in 1881 raised indignation because of humanitarian sympathy and also because disease among the back street poor could spread quickly to their richer neighbours in the main roads. In cul-de-sacs, cut off by railway lines or canal walls, or in the mews behind fashionable buildings, were horrifying slums. These held the immobile poor, with their limited skills, living below subsistence level, trapped in their own poverty. They had to live near any chance of casual work, could not afford to travel, and yet were faced with rising rents. In the surrounding streets were the comfortably off being fed newspaper articles of unrest and danger. Epidemics respected nobody but, while concerned, many people were not aware of the scale of the housing and health problems.

Charles Booth (not to be confused with General Booth of the Salvation Army) was a wealthy business man who refused to believe that a million Londoners lived in 'great poverty', as radical politicians claimed. He started a long survey to prove them wrong, the first really careful survey of how people lived and worked. Booth divided people into eight groups H-A, but coloured in his maps in seven colours ranging from ' Wealthy' to 'The Lowest Class' as follows:-

Wealthy (three or more servants; houses rated £100 or more)
Well to do (one or two servants)
Working class comfort
Comfort mixed with poverty
Standard poverty
Very poor

The lowest grade

Booth published coloured maps of the streets of London showing their status. For this book small sections of the maps have been enlarged and tinted in seven shades from very light to black The black and blue shading on the original map, which represented the 'Lowest Grade', 'Very Poor' and 'Poor', are scattered through the centre of this map. In this map they are marked by the darkest tints.

Booth printed his maps with each house in London coloured on the scale from Yellow to Black. When the maps are laid out side by side on a huge table, the pattern of London Wealth and Poverty was clear. A patch of bright Yellow in the West End, quickly tailing off into Pink and a vast mass of Light Blue and dark Blue where the mass of the people lived. If you see the complete pattern and Poverty stares you in the face.

When I was writing The Growth of St Marylebone and Paddington, in about 1980, I wanted to reprint very small areas of the Booth maps for local teaches to use in their lessons. Teachers had black and white photocopiers, but colour copiers and small computers were unheard of at that time.

I had to redraw pieces of the Booth maps in Indian ink and then stick on small patches of architectural tints of different densities. This was a frustrating process which took hours, but it was the best I could do in those days. Now we have scanners and personal computers, so that the maps can be printed in full colour. I have printed one example of my original maps as a reminder of the distant past of thirty years ago. The rest of the Booth maps will be in colour.

Uses of the Booth Poverty Maps in this website.

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Updated January 1, 2013