Dr Kate Bradley: How do-gooders invaded the Victorian East End

Share
Related Topics

In 1888, the East End of London was one of the poorest areas of the capital. Although it was located next to the extremely wealthy City of London, residents of the East End – then roughly equating to what is now the London Borough of Tower Hamlets – lived cheek-by-jowl with factories, workshops and breweries in cramped, insanitary housing.

Without a welfare state as we would know it to fall back on, families did the best they could to survive on limited means – resorting to charitable handouts or midnight "flits" to avoid rent collectors, to give but two examples. Some – such as those women who were murdered by the so-called "Ripper" in 1888 – were on the real margins of society, living a chaotic hand-to-mouth existence.

Philanthropy was huge in the slums of east London, from the provision of alms and Bibles by visiting societies through to the fare provided by the university settlements. By being so close to the City of London and good transport connections, it was easy for the well-to-do to make trips to the East End in order to do voluntary work. Some undertook voluntary work as part of a sense of religious duty; others enjoyed the opportunity to escape from the confines of polite society and to explore the "dangerous" side of the city.

One such initiative which combined all these motives was the university settlement movement. This was founded in 1884 by an Anglican priest, the Reverend Samuel Barnett, who brought young male graduates from Oxbridge to live in the East End and to spend their spare time undertaking voluntary work.

His "settlement", Toynbee Hall, aimed to provide for the intellectual and social needs of east Londoners through such activities as adult education classes, trips for dockers to Oxford, summer holidays for needy children, art exhibitions and debates on the issues of the day; they also undertook research into social conditions in the East End. Although the extent to which the young men attached to the settlement addressed the actual needs of the poor was limited, time spent at a "settlement" became de rigueur for those who wished to enter into careers in politics or administration.

Although the East End has been described as a "working- class city" by the criminologist Dick Hobbs, it is clear through the extent of philanthropic activities that members of the middle and upper classes of London moved through this area on a regular basis, attempting to address needs of various kinds or to learn more about life on the margins of society. The East End was a central part of the Victorian imagination – a place of anxiety as much as a place of social exploration.

Dr Kate Bradley is a lecturer in social history at the University of Kent. This is taken from a lecture she is giving tomorrow at the Museum in Docklands in London

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Cameron's unexpected tax pledges give the Tories home advantage

Andrew Grice
President Barack Obama walks with U.S. Secret Service agents to Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2014.  

Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

David Usborne
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?