The best books on Victorian London

The Books I Picked & Why

East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding

By Raphael Samuel

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.


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London Labour and the London Poor

By Henry Mayhew

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.


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

By Mary S. Morgan

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”.


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Lost London: 1870-1945

By Philip Davies

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.


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London A-Z Street Atlas

By Geographers' A-Z Map Co Ltd

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.


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