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Booth's Life and Labour Survey

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Charles Booth's ambitious project to discover how many people in late Victorian London were living in poverty, and understand why

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Charles Booth's survey, The Life and Labour of the People in London, published in 17 volumes from 1889 to 1903. Booth (1840-1916), a Liverpudlian shipping line owner, surveyed every household in London to see if it was true, as claimed, that as many as a quarter lived in poverty. He found that it was closer to a third, and that many of these were either children with no means of support or older people no longer well enough to work. He went on to campaign for an old age pension, and broadened the impact of his findings by publishing enhanced Ordnance Survey maps with the streets coloured according to the wealth of those who lived there.

The image above is of an organ grinder on a London street, circa 1893, with children dancing to the Pas de Quatre


Emma Griffin
Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia

Sarah Wise
Adjunct Professor at the University of California


Lawrence Goldman
Emeritus Fellow in History at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

49 minutes

Last on

Thu 10 Jun 2021 21:30



Emma Griffin at the University of East Anglia

Lawrence Goldman at the University of Oxford

Sarah Wise at the University of California


Charles Booth, Booth’s Maps Of London Poverty, 1889: East And West London poster (Old House Books, 2013)

Mary Booth, Charles Booth: A Memoir (first published 1918; Gregg Publishing, 1968)

Thomas R.C. Gibson-Brydon, The Moral Mapping of Victorian and Edwardian London: Charles Booth, Christian Charity and The Poor-But-Respectable (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2016)

Drew D. Gray, London’s Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City (Hambledon Continuum, 2010)

Hubert Llewellyn Smith (ed), The New Survey of London Life & Labour: 40 Years of Change (PS King & Son, Ltd, 9 vols, 1930-35)

Mary S. Morgan and Iain Sinclair, Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps: A Landmark Reassessment of Booth's Social Survey (Thames and Hudson, 2019)

Belinda Norman-Butler, Victorian Aspirations: The Life and Labour of Charles and Mary Booth (first published 1972; Routledge, 2017)

Rosemary O'Day and David Englander, Mr Charles Booth's Inquiry: Life and Labour of the People in London Reconsidered (Hambledon Continuum, 1993)

Rosemary O'Day and David Englander (eds.), Retrieved Riches: Social Investigation in Britain, 1840-1914 (Scolar Press, 1995)

T. S and M. B. Simey, Charles Booth: Social Scientist (Oxford University Press, 1960)

Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society (first published 1971; Verso Books, 2013)

Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship (first published 1926; Cambridge University Press, 1980)

Beatrice Webb (eds. Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie), The Diary of Beatrice Webb, 1873-1943 (Little Brown, 4 vols, 1982-85)

Sarah Wise, The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum (Vintage, 2008)


Charles Booth's London - London School of Economics

Charles Booth - LSE Library Collection Highlights

Charles Booth Digitised Archive - LSE Digital Library

Layers of London project

Digitised volumes of Life and Labour – Internet Archive

Digitised volumes of Life and Labour on the Wellcome Library site:
Life and labour of the people in London, edited by Charles Booth - Wellcome Collection

Early Innovations in Social Research: The Poverty Survey of Charles Booth by Kevin Bales (1994)

Charles Booth – Wikipedia


  • Thu 10 Jun 2021 09:00
  • Thu 10 Jun 2021 21:30

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