Vintage £9.99 (333pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Blackest Streets, By Sarah Wise
Friday 24 July 2009
The clarity and exactitude of Wise's reports from the dark underbelly of Victorian life bear comparison to the revelatory photographs of that era.
As in her wonderful book The Italian Boy, she explores a milieu that was hungry, dirty, threadbare and exploited. This time, she has focussed on the Old Nichol, an inconceivably seedy corner of Bethnal Green, where 6,000 inhabitants were crammed into 30 streets of crumbling houses.
This adjective was literally true. One of the speculators who built the housing stock was a soap-maker who substituted lime for more expensive mortar.
Though disease and violence were rife, Wise insists that the area's reputation for evil was "ill-deserved". The real evil of the Nichol was the massive fortunes made by aristocratic and ecclesiastical landlords.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong
- 2 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 5 Garland shooting: Isis claims attack on Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest in Texas as its first action on US soil
In defence of liberal democracy
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
Andy McSmith's Sketch: Feisty audience is the real star of an enlightening show