Charles Booth's Conclusions

The Poverty Survey of 1889, was the first of three such surveys. 'Industry' was published in the early 1890's and 'Religious Influences' in the late 1890s. The three reports, published in seventeen volumes, over seventeen years, set the pattern for many later investigations. Its system of colouring in streets with social, or economic information, which Beatrice Webb, who was one of Booth's team of investigators, called 'social topography', has been much imitated.

When reading the individual notebooks one must remember that the different Booth Surveys spread over seventeen years and the date of a particular entry is not always clear. Sometimes, when dates can be allocated, they may indicate whether an area has gone up or down.

The survey concluded that in London, 30% were in poverty and 70% in comfort. Booth proposed positive support for the lowest groups in the hope of relieving the pressure on those above. He saw London as a dynamic, growing unit, always spreading outwards. People deserted the centre in waves, the more prosperous moving further out, and poorer people taking their place, their houses being sub-divided first into floors and then into single rooms as an area deteriorated. This is a universal rule. O'Casey describes the same process in Dublin. Booth advocated cheap transport (Workmen's tickets) to relieve congestion at the centre and positive state intervention to help the worst housed, for the good of all, and Gladstone implemented this.

Booth's map was designed to reveal the size and intensity of the problem. Today the Office of Population Census produces maps showing the sociological groups of the people, the equivalent of Booth's eight groups, mapped according to their postal codes. These are the modern equivalents of Booth's maps and may offer some interesting comparisons.

They would show that many people were moving back to London to live near the City, in refurbished industrial buildings, behind locked gates, at phenomenal rents. This too has been seen elsewhere. New York started the trend for large loft apartments in empty factories. Now architects are starting to build new 'loft spaces' with similar huge open floors and large windows. Twenty years from now, when the cost of heating has risen, these may be divided into smaller rooms, easier to heat. Everything changes.1



  1. See The Glass Building, by Piers Gough, in The Growth of Camden Town, by Jack Whitehead.


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Updated January 23, 2011