Living in Early Victorian London
by Michael Alpert
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Pub Date 30 Apr 2023 | Archive Date 05 Apr 2023
Pen & Sword, Pen & Sword History
London in the 1840s was sprawling and smoke-filled, a city of extreme wealth and abject poverty. Some streets were elegant with brilliantly gas-lit shop windows full of expensive items, while others were narrow, fetid, muddy, and in many cases foul with refuse and human filth. Railways, stations and sidings were devouring whole districts and creating acres of slums or ‘rookeries’ into which the poor of the city were jammed and where crime, disease and prostitution were rife.
The most sensational crime of the epoch, the murder of Patrick O’Connor by Frederick and Maria Manning, filled the press in the summer and autumn of 1849. Michael Alpert uses the trial record of this murder, accompanied by numerous other contemporary sources, among them journalism, diaries and fiction, to show how day-to-day lives, birth, death, sickness, work, shopping, cooking, and buying clothes, were lived in the crowded, noisy capital in the early decades of Victoria’s reign. These sources illustrate how ordinary people lived in London, their incomes, entertainments, religious practice, reading and education, their hopes and anxieties. Life in Early Victorian London reveals how ordinary people like the Mannings and thousands of others experienced their multifaceted lives in the greatest capital city of the world.
Early Victorian London lived on the cusp of great improvements, but it was a city which in some aspects was mediaeval. Its inhabitants enjoyed the benefit of the Penny Post and the omnibus, and they were protected to some extent by a police force. The Mannings fled their crime on the railway, were trapped by the recently-invented telegraph and arrested by ‘detectives’ (a new concept and word), but they were hanged in public as murderers had been for centuries, watched by a baying, drunken and swearing mob.
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