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

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Vintage, 2009 - London (England) - 333 pages
A brilliant new book about the seedy side of Victorian London by a talented young historian.
In 1887, government inspectors were sent to report on 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, Old Nichol became a focus of public attention: its 6,000 inhabitants were condemned for their drunkenness and criminality. The solution to the problem lay in internment camps, some said, or forced emigration even eugenics.
The Blackest Streets focuses on the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century, 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.
Sarah Wise explores the real lives behind the statistics, excavating the Old Nichol from the ruins of history, laying bare the social and political conditions that created and sustained this black hole at the very heart of the Empire.

"From the Hardcover edition.""

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About the author (2009)

Sarah Wise has an MA in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College. She teaches 19th-century social history and literature to both undergraduates and adult learners, and is visiting professor at the University of California's London Study Center, and a guest lecturer at City University.
Her interests are London/urban history, working-class history, medical history, psychogeography, 19th-century literature and reportage.
Her website is

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.

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