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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Fiona Rule Why did I love 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.

By Raphael Samuel (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked East End Underworld as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1981, this book examines the life of Arthur Harding, a well-known figure in the East End underworld during the first half of the twentieth century. The first five chapters survey his life in the 'Jago' slum between 1887 and 1896, offering a different view of an often vilified district. The subsequent phases of his life as a cabinet-maker, street trader and wardrobe dealer reflect the changing fortunes of the East End from hand-to-mouth conditions in the late-nineteenth century to comparative security in the 1930s.

The reader is introduced to some of the major features of East End…


Book cover of London Labour and the London Poor

Fiona Rule Why did I love 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.

By Henry Mayhew,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked London Labour and the London Poor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an Introduction by Rosemary O'Day.

London Labour and the London Poor is a masterpiece of personal inquiry and social observation. It is the classic account of life below the margins in the greatest Metropolis in the world and a compelling portrait of the habits, tastes, amusements, appearance, speech, humour, earnings and opinions of the labouring poor at the time of the Great Exhibition.

In scope, depth and detail it remains unrivalled. Mayhew takes us into the abyss, into a world without fixed employment where skills are declining and insecurity mounting, a world of criminality, pauperism and vice, of unorthodox…


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

Fiona Rule Why did I love 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”.

By Mary S. Morgan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A splendid - and necessary - publication...a great resource
Iain Sinclair

Charles Booth's landmark survey of life in late-19th-century London, published for the first time in one volume.

In the late nineteenth century, Charles Booth's landmark social and economic survey found that 35 percent of Londoners were living in abject poverty. Booth's team of social investigators interviewed Londoners from all walks of life, recording their comments, together with their own unrestrained remarks and statistical information, in 450 notebooks. Their findings formed the basis of Booth's colour-coded social mapping (from vicious and semi-criminal to wealthy) and his seventeen-volume survey Inquiry into…


Book cover of Lost London: 1870-1945

Fiona Rule Why did I love 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.

By Philip Davies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lost London as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A spectacular presentation of photographs of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian buildings captured just before their destruction - most seen here for the first time.
"This endlessly absorbing book that is at once a record of destruction, a haunting collection of relics, and a door into the past." - John Carey, The Sunday Times.

"Each picture contains a novel in this deeply moving, unforgettable book." - Duncan Fallowell, Daily Express. "A magical book about the capital's past." - Sunday Times.


Book cover of London A-Z Street Atlas

Fiona Rule Why did I love 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.

By Geographers' A-Z Map Co Ltd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked London A-Z Street Atlas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a facsimile reproduction of the A to Z London Street Atlas, circa 1938/39, this publication shows street mapping of London as it was before the Second World War bombing and the redevelopments that followed and may be of assistance in tracing family history for that period.

The coverage extends from central London to Edgware, Whetstone, Palmers Green, Edmonton, Walthamstow, Snaresbrook, Seven Kings, Barking, Silvertown, Plumstead, Kidbrooke, Bellingham, South Sydenham, Croydon, Streatham Common, Morden, Wimbledon Common, Twickenham, Richmond, Kew, Hanwell, Ealing Broadway, Wembley, Harrow and Wealdstone. Included within the atlas is a map of the Underground Railways of London and…


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Book cover of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

Marianne C. Bohr Author Of The Twenty: One Woman's Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail

New book alert!

Who am I?

I married my high school sweetheart and travel partner, and followed my own advice to do graduate work, and started my career working for the French National Railroad in New York City, mapping itineraries for travelers to Europe. Travel means the world to me and if I don’t have a trip on the horizon, I feel aimless and untethered. I worked in book publishing for 30 years and dropped out of the corporate rat race to take a gap year abroad. I wrote about our “Senior year abroad” in my first book Gap Year Girl. I returned to the US to teach middle school French and organize student trips to France. 

Marianne's book list on by women about outdoor adventure

What is my book about?

Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica — the GR20, Europe’s toughest long-distance footpath — to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.

From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an “I’ll show them” attitude. But hiking GR20 forces her to transform a lifetime of hard-won achievements into acceptance of her body and its limitations.

The difficult journey across a remote island provides the crucible for exploring what it means to be an aging woman in a youth-focused culture, a physically fit person whose limitations are getting the best of her, and the partner of a husband who is growing old with her. More than a hiking tale, this is a moving story infused with humor about hiking, aging, accepting life’s finite journey, and the intimacy of a long-term marriage—set against the breathtaking beauty of Corsica’s rugged countryside.

By Marianne C. Bohr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Twenty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Great for fans of: Suzanne Roberts's Almost Somewhere, Juliana Buhring's This Road I Ride.


Marianne Bohr and her husband, about to turn sixty, are restless for adventure. They decide on an extended, desolate trek across the French island of Corsica-the GR20, Europe's toughest long-distance footpath-to challenge what it means to grow old. Part travelogue, part buddy story, part memoir, The Twenty is a journey across a rugged island of stunning beauty little known outside Europe.


From a chubby, non-athletic child, Bohr grew into a fit, athletic person with an "I'll show them" attitude. But hiking The Twenty forces her to…


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