The Slums Of London

A constant problem that was ever present throughout the 19th century was that of the slums of London.

Although slum life was prevalent throughout the country – indeed, it was prevalent throughout the world – London, being the largest capital city on earth had a greater number of poverty-stricken residents, and, therefore, it had a bigger concentration of slums than anywhere else in the country.

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, successive governments grappled with the problems posed by the slums, and, it has to be said, failed miserably to get to grips with them

One idea was to persuade the poor to emigrate – but this solution wasn’t particularly popular with those it was intended for.

Another was to encourage private enterprise to build cheap housing for the lower working classes. But, since the rents were set and a cost that was beyond the means of the destitute poor, this too failed.

By the 1880s the problem was getting worse, and several newspapers were commenting on it.

The Glasgow Weekly Herald, in its edition of Saturday the 27th of October 1883, published the following article about the problem:-


The slums of London are mere nests of crime, and they are capable of becoming centres of cholera.

Some persons have even been heard to wish for a visit from cholera (which this summer has been near enough) that the public might be stirred to action.

Even without actual pestilence, the position is to the last degree shameful and dangerous.

Missionaries visiting the residents of a London slum in the 19th century.
A London Slum In The Late 19th Century


It is the duty of everyone who realises the facts never to cease agitating (as without agitation nothing can be done) till the condemned houses are swept away, and till then condemned houses are condemned.

Even then the task of reforming London poverty is only beginning.


The poor themselves, it appears, object highly to State-aided emigration. They prefer to linger at the docks or among the decaying rabbits and the matchboxes in the hope that something vaguely magnificent will be done for them at home.

Who can wonder that they have not the heart or the pluck to emigrate as the middle classes do when they find England too small for them?

Heart and pluck they can never acquire while their homes are poisonous and while their education involves precocious acquaintance with recondite immorality.


In the meantime, and before the question becomes a party question, private enterprise is doing what it can with too large a problem.

And this private enterprise, whatever form it takes, whether it be that of a “Society for the Protection of Lodgers” or not, deserves support and approval.

Lodgers may possibly be enabled to “strike” against the heartless speculators who live on them, and Coger’s Rents may be left to him desolate.