Victorian London In Photos: London’s Poor

Between 1860 and 1900, many photographers tried to capture the plight of the poor living in big cities. Despite the boom of the industrial revolution and the expansion of the empire, most ordinary people lived in awful conditions, facing financial poverty every day of their lives. They did what they could to make a living, and get through each day.

A street locksmith. People would bring old locks to be repaired, as they could not afford to replace them with new ones.

The second-hand clothes shop. The sale of dirty and unhygienic clothing contributed to the spread of disease, as well as passing on lice and fleas to the new owners.

An illiterate gypsy family living on marshland at Battersea. When they could no longer earn money in one area, they moved on in their horse-drawn caravan.

Unofficial dustmen. (Garbage collectors) They would travel around with their cart trying to get paid for taking away rubbish. Then they would dump that at the nearest available spot, instead of taking it to a refuse depot.

A Hansom Cab driver (in the bowler hat) talking to a horse-drawn bus driver. These men were self-employed, and had to stay out to all hours to cover their expenses before earning anything for their families.

Bargemen on the River Thames. They would be paid a daily rate to work for the barge owner.

Spitalfields was not only the haunt of Jack The Ripper, it was also one of the poorest districts in London. Known for crime and prostitution, the residents there lived in the worst possible conditions.

A young barefoot girl in Spitalfields, 1900. It is highly likely she was already working as a prostitute.

Homeless children living on the street in Spitalfields in 1900.

This small boy is already working full-time, pushing his cart around to carry goods for his employer in 1900.

52 thoughts on “Victorian London In Photos: London’s Poor

  1. (1) “Can you repair my lock, stock, and two smoking barrels?”
    (2) Overheard:
    Lord of the Fleas: “I miss the good ole days!”
    Vanilla L’Ice:: “Y’know, it’s a lousy shame that second-hand clothes get such a bad rap.”
    (3) Illiterate gypsy: “You should see my collection of picture books!”
    (4) Dustman: ” I take garbage to the depot every day, but they always refuse to take it.” (No wonder it’s called a refuse depot!)
    (5) The Hansom Cab driver didn’t exactly bowl me over with his good looks.
    (6) Pete Johnson: “It’s not enough that you two barge on the Thames. You had to go and barge in on my blog, too!”
    (7) The prostitutes of Spitalfields lived in the worst possible conditions until Jack the Ripper came to their rescue.
    (8) “I want to be a fashion model when I grow up. Can I have a copy of this picture for my portfolio?”
    (9) “Ha! Ha! At least I have a house to live in!” (Spooky boy in the window)
    (10) Billy Knightley: “I’m kinda new at this. I put the cart afore the horse an’ nothin’ happened. D’ya think I shoulda chose a diff’rent chess piece?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Here some of my forebears left there only to settle in the equaling appalling Five Points section of New York City. Poverty, as you responded to an earlier comment from me, looked the same both sides of the Atlantic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These photos you’ve selected and given context to are heart-wrenching. It’s good to be reminded of people who are often forgotten, seen as invisible, or as if their lives were of no matter. Extreme poverty is as Pippa says, “they look like victims of war.” So incredibly sad. Hugs, C

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A particularly affecting selection in your superb illustrated social history series. Thank you, as ever! As others have commented, the children’s expressions are heart-wrenching; they look like victims of war, which is what poverty is, of course. Pxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have never been to America, Jacqui. But if the streets in those cities are worse than those in Victorian London, it is time for a radical change in your country.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  5. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. I think this is basically why I never wanted children. It’s hard to accept that the majority of wealthy appear not to notice or care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were some famous Victorian reformers who advertised the plight of the workers, and tried to give practical and financial help. But not enough wealthy people or politicians cared enough to make real changes. We had to wait until 1945 in Britain, for the Welfare State. Now if the Conservatives have their way, they will continue to dismantle that.
      Best wishes, Pete.


      1. It makes me sick and it’s no different here. If the Republicans prevail we will be in a lot of trouble. They are allowed to keep spouting absurd lies about the Democrats and it’s appalling how many are taken in. Now people are being threatened when they drop off their election ballots and mine “went astray”. One starts to get paranoid.

        Liked by 1 person

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