The best books on Victorian London

Who am I?

Fiona Rule is a writer, researcher, and historian specialising in the history of London. ​ She is the author of five books: The Worst Street In London, London's Docklands, London's Labyrinth, Streets Of Sin, and The Oldest House In London. ​ A regular contributor to television and radio programmes, Fiona also has her own company, House Histories, which specialises in researching the history of people's homes. She holds an Advanced Diploma in Local History from the University of Oxford.

I wrote...

The Worst Street in London

By Fiona Rule,

Book cover of The Worst Street in London

What is my book about?

Amid the bustling streets of Spitalfields, East London, lies an anonymous office block. The average pedestrian wouldn't even notice it, but beneath its foundations lies all that remains of Dorset Street – The worst street in London: once the resort of thieves, conmen, pimps, prostitutes, and murderers, most notably Jack the Ripper.

This book chronicles the rise and fall of this remarkable street, from its promising beginnings, through its gradual descent into iniquity, vice, and violence, to its final demise at the hands of the demolition men. This remarkable story gives a fascinating insight into an area of London that has always been a cultural melting pot and the place where many thousands of migrants became Londoners. It also tells the story of a part of the capital that, until quite recently, was largely left to fend for itself, with truly horrifying results.

The books I picked & why

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East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding

By Raphael Samuel (editor),

Book cover of East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding

Why this book?

In a series of interviews, Arthur Harding tells us of his life as an East End rogue at the turn of the century. The characters he encountered are a “Who’s Who” of the underworld at that time and his descriptions of Spitalfields were very useful to me during research for The Worst Street In London.

London Labour and the London Poor

By Henry Mayhew,

Book cover of London Labour and the London Poor

Why this book?

Henry Mayhew was a journalist and writer who described the lives of London’s working people in a series of articles for the Morning Chronicle in the 1840s. His work proved so influential that the articles were published in three volumes in 1851. Today, they provide a fascinating glimpse of what life was like for ordinary working people, especially the poorest sectors of society, during the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps: A Landmark Reassessment of Booth's Social Survey

By Mary S. Morgan,

Book cover of Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps: A Landmark Reassessment of Booth's Social Survey

Why this book?

Not a book as such, but these maps tell the social historian a great deal about London in the late-1800s. They were compiled by Charles Booth, a wealthy philanthropist, who wanted to highlight the areas of London in the greatest need of help. In order to achieve this, he despatched a team of researchers to every street in London (except the City,) to assess their character. The results were entered onto a colour-coded map – yellow streets were the most affluent; black were the resorts of “vicious semi-criminals”.

Lost London: 1870-1945

By Philip Davies,

Book cover of Lost London: 1870-1945

Why this book?

This fascinating doorstopper of a book contains more than 500 photographs of buildings that have long since disappeared from London’s streets. It provides a tantalising glimpse of the city that our ancestors knew and carries me off on a time travelling adventure every time I look through it.

London A-Z Street Atlas

By Geographers' A-Z Map Co Ltd,

Book cover of London A-Z Street Atlas

Why this book?

This facsimile of the original A-Z shows London before huge swathes of the city were destroyed by enemy bombing in the Second World War. It is invaluable when searching for old addresses and presents a picture of areas that had not changed much since Victorian times but would soon be altered beyond recognition.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in London, poverty, and criminals?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about London, poverty, and criminals.

London Explore 421 books about London
Poverty Explore 42 books about poverty
Criminals Explore 36 books about criminals

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like London, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, and London if you like this list.