Essay about Overcrowding and Housing in Nineteenth-Century London

Overcrowding and Housing in Nineteenth-Century LondonFrom 1801 to 1851, the population of London grew from under 1 million inhabitants to 2.25 million. This was due in large part to immigration, both from other countries and from the countryside of England. Hundreds of thousands of people were moving to the newly industrialized cities and towns to find work, having been squeezed off the land because of the enclosure of farms. There was also displacement of the working-class within the city of London because of a number of construction projects. There were street improvement schemes in which tenements were razed in order to widen the passages. The transformation of part of the city into a non-residential district devoted to finance and commerce destroyed whole neighborhoods. Finally, in 1820 the construction of the London Docks meant the destruction of 1,300 houses, followed in 1828 by the construction of St. Catherine’s Dock resulting in the loss of a further 1,033 residences.

The question was how to house the much-needed laborers close enough to the factories were they worked. The demand for centrally located land meant very high rent. At the same time, the huge number of people competing for a limited number of industrial jobs drove the wage rate down. There was also the sticky question of the health of the workers. Gross overcrowding led to unsanitary conditions for the underclass. While there was some concern for the dignity and moral perseverance of the people living in squalor, the real dilemma was economic, keeping them well enough to work. There were also the problems of keeping crime in check and keeping the masses content so as to avoid a revolt.

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