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The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum

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Published by Bodley Head, part of Vintage Publishing

Format: Hardback


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EAN: 9780224071758
Published: 5 Jun 2008


About the book


* In 1887 Government inspectors were sent to explore the horrifying - often lethal - living conditions of the Old Nichol, a notorious 15-acre slum in London's East End.
* Among much else they found that the rotting 100-year-old houses were some of the most lucrative properties in the capital for their absent slumlords. Peers of the Realm, local politicians, churchmen and lawyers were making profits on these death-traps of as much as 150 per cent per annum.
* Before long, the Old Nichol became a focus of public attention. Journalists, the clergy, charity workers and others condemned its 6,000 inhabitants for their drunkenness and criminality. The solution to this 'problem' lay in internment camps, said some, or forced emigration - even policies designed to prevent breeding.
* Concentrating on the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century, The Blackest Streets is set in a turbulent period in London's history, when revolution was very much in the air - when unemployment, agricultural depression and a crackdown on parish relief provided a breeding ground for Communists and Anarchists.
* Author of the prize-winning The Italian Boy, Sarah Wise explores the real lives behind the statistics - the woodworkers, fish smokers, street hawkers and many more. She excavates the Old Nichol from the ruins of history, laying bare the social and political conditions that created and sustained this black hole which lay at the very heart of the Empire.

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What the critics say

A revelatory book... scrupulously researched and eye-opening.
- Sunday Times

An excellent and intelligent investigation of the realities of urban living that respond to no design or directive. All is chaos, accident and randomness. This is a book about the nature of London itself.
- The Times

Her achievement is remarkable... Wise misses nothing... This breadth and balance lend The Blackest Streets both its scholarly heft and its freshness... This engrossing work shines a light not only on a turbulent period in London's history but on humanity itself. Only the best histories can claim as much.
- Guardian

Sarah Wise has created an exceptional work, in that it is both scholarly and page turning - a genuine treat.
- Gilda O'Neil

Spilling facts, lives, conditions, intolerable burdens and the spirit expressed by spontaneous dancing in the streets, The Blackest Streets is a little masterpiece.
- Herald

Sarah Wise is too clever and considered a historian simply to give us a lurid, one-dimensional Victorian melodrama. Through painstaking archival work and readable empathetic prose, she has instead sought to evoke the texture of life here.
- Daily Telegraph

Books and arts (History): 'An affecting history of life in the crowded slums of 19th century London
- The Economist

About the Author

Sarah Wise has an MA in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College. She teaches 19th-century social history and literature at the Bishopsgate Institute. Her interests are London/urban history, working-class history, medical history, psychogeography, 19th-century literature and reportage.
Her website is www.sarahwise.co.uk

Her most recent book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England (Bodley Head), was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014.

Her 2004 debut, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London (Jonathan Cape), was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. Her follow-up The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum was published in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize.

Sarah was a major contributor to Iain Sinclair's compendium London, City of Disappearances (2006). She has contributed to the TLS, History Today, BBC History magazine, the Literary Review, the FT and the Daily Telegraph. She discussed bodysnatching for BBC2’s History Cold Case series; provided background material for BBC1’s Secret History of Our Streets; and spoke about Broadmoor Hospital on Channel 5’s programme on that institution.She has been a guest on Radio 4’s All in the Mind, Radio 3’s Night Waves and the Guardian’s Books Podcast about 19th-century mental health.

Sarah Wise

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