A new edition of Charles Booth’s famous 19th-century maps offers a chance to reflect on how London has changed—and how it hasn’t.
The book is a reprint of a gargantuan study conducted between 1889 and 1903 by Victorian social reformer Charles Booth, whose incredibly detailed maps (fully viewable online here) catalog exactly how rich or poor London was—street by street, and sometimes even house by house. Each row of houses in the landmark study is categorized in color grades ranging from “wealthy” all the way down to “lowest class: vicious, semi-criminal.” The maps offer an incredible document of late Victorian London.
At the same time, this new edition, accompanied by compelling if bleak period photos, reveals a city that possesses echoes of London today. It depicts, after all,1 a densely-packed metropolis with a cosmopolitan population where immensely wealthy people lived just around the corner from neighbors who were struggling to make ends meet.
- 1. “Surely this is the right moment,” argues Iain Sinclair in the book’s foreword, “when divisions between the visibly wretched and the invisibly rich in corporate, de-localised London are becoming critical, to publish a handsome, reconfigured presentation of Charles Booth’s inspirational reckoning?”