During the Industrial Revolution, London grew at an unprecedented rate as people flocked to the city to seek work in the new factories. A lack of accomodation led to people being cramed into buildings, usually located in slum areas, some dating back to the medieval period that had grown up near to areas around churches. These slums lacking amenities such as piped water and sewerage disposal and the populations relied wells and pumps that had become increasingly polluted by nearby cess-pits and other pollution from the street. Crime was rife in these slum areas and they were generally referred to as ‘rookeries’ or ‘thieves dens’ in the Victorian times.
Charles Dickens was one of the most famous authors to write about the London slums at the time. In his 1833-36 Sketches by Boz (Scenes, Chapter 22), he gave an account of the desperate life for people in St. Giles, an infamous rookery that had spread between Tottenham Court Road and Seven Dials by the time of the Victorian era.
Wretched houses with broken windows patched with rags and paper: every room let out to a different family, and in many instances to two or even three—fruit and ‘sweet-stuff’ manufacturers in the cellars, barbers and red-herring vendors in the front parlours, cobblers in the back; a bird-fancier in the first floor, three families on the second, starvation in the attics, Irishmen in the passage, a ‘musician’ in the front kitchen, and a charwoman and five hungry children in the back one—filth everywhere—a gutter before the houses and a drain behind—clothes drying and slops emptying, from the windows; girls of fourteen or fifteen, with matted hair, walking about barefoot, and in white great-coats, almost their only covering; boys of all ages, in coats of all sizes and no coats at all; men and women, in every variety of scanty and dirty apparel, lounging, scolding, drinking, smoking, squabbling, fighting, and swearing.
This map shows the most prominent and notorious slums of Victorian London at the time of Charles Dickens and which influenced Dickens by either visiting or writing about them. There were many more slums in London inaddition to those here, many of which were no more than a few crowded streets behind an alleyway.