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Charles Booth Survey

Between 1886 and 1903 Charles Booth carried out a detailed survey of life and labour in London. The notes he made provide a fascinating insight into the streets of our capital city.

Charles Booth was a philanthropist and successful businessman involved in shipping. He became interested in the lack of accurate statistical information on poverty and he set about documenting the state of working life in London. When he began his survey he was sceptical that there was a lot of poverty in London but by the time he had finished he had come to the opposite conclusion. He argued that the introduction of an old age pension would avoid a socialist revolution taking place. The results of his research are now available online in digitalized notebooks (www.booth.lse.ac.uk). He used a series of investigators to help him, one of whom was his cousin Beatrix Potter. Although other surveys were done this is the only one where the original notes have survived.

The ‘Maps Descriptive of London Poverty’ are perhaps the most distinctive end product of his survey. Each street is coloured to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants.

The seven classes are described on the legend to the maps as follows:

BLACK: Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.

DARK BLUE: Very poor, casual. Chronic want.

LIGHT BLUE: Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family

PURPLE: Mixed. Some comfortable others poor

PINK: Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings.

RED: Middle class. Well-to-do.


YELLOW: Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy.


A combination of colours - as dark blue or black, or pink and red - indicates that the street contains a fair proportion of each of the classes represented by the respective colours.


However, in the first volume of findings, he used the following classifications to split the classes of society he found :

CLASSIFICATION OF POVERTY

A. The lowest class which consists of some occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals. Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and their only luxury is drink.

B. Casual earnings, very poor. The labourers do not get as much as three days work a week, but it is doubtful if many could or would work full time for long together if they had the opportunity. Class B is not one in which men are born and live and die so much as a deposit of those who from mental, moral and physical reasons are incapable of better work.

C. Intermittent earning. 18s to 21s per week for a moderate family. The victims of competition and on them falls with particular severity the weight of recurrent depressions of trade. Labourers, poorer artisans and street sellers. This irregularity of employment may show itself in the week or in the year: stevedores and waterside porters may secure only one of two days' work in a week, whereas labourers in the building trades may get only eight or nine months in a year.

D. Small regular earnings. poor, regular earnings. Factory, dock, and warehouse labourers, carmen, messengers and porters. Of the whole section none can be said to rise above poverty, nor are many to be classed as very poor. As a general rule they have a hard struggle to make ends meet, but they are, as a body, decent steady men, paying their way and bringing up their children respectably.

E. Regular standard earnings, 22s to 30s per week for regular work, fairly comfortable. As a rule the wives do not work, but the children do: the boys commonly following the father, the girls taking local trades or going out to service.

F. Higher class labour and the best paid of the artisans. Earnings exceed 30s per week. Foremen are included, city warehousemen of the better class and first hand lightermen; they are usually paid for responsibility and are men of good character and much intelligence.

G. Lower middle class. Shopkeepers and small employers, clerks and subordinate professional men. A hardworking sober, energetic class.

H. Upper middle class, servant keeping class.

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Linked toWilliam John Musgrove; Hannah Elizabeth Wild

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