Victorian London: The Tale of a City, 1840-1870

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To Londoners, the years 1840 to 1870 were years of dramatic change and achievement. As suburbs expanded and roads multiplied, London was ripped apart to build railway lines and stations and life-saving sewers. The Thames was contained by embankments, and traffic congestion was eased by the first underground railway in the world. A start was made on providing housing for the "deserving poor." There were significant advances in medicine, and the Ragged Schools are perhaps the least known of Victorian achievements, ...

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Overview

To Londoners, the years 1840 to 1870 were years of dramatic change and achievement. As suburbs expanded and roads multiplied, London was ripped apart to build railway lines and stations and life-saving sewers. The Thames was contained by embankments, and traffic congestion was eased by the first underground railway in the world. A start was made on providing housing for the "deserving poor." There were significant advances in medicine, and the Ragged Schools are perhaps the least known of Victorian achievements, in those last decades before universal state education. In 1851 the Great Exhibition managed to astonish almost everyone, attracting exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. But there was also appalling poverty and exploitation, exposed by Henry Mayhew and others. For the laboring classes, pay was pitifully low, the hours long, and job security nonexistent.

Liza Picard shows us the physical reality of daily life. She takes us into schools and prisons, churches and cemeteries. Many practical innovations of the time--flushing lavatories, underground railways, umbrellas, letter boxes, driving on the left--point the way forward. But this was also, at least until the 1850s, a city of cholera outbreaks, transportation to Australia, public executions, and the workhouse, where children could be sold by their parents for as little as £12 and streetpeddlers sold sparrows for a penny, tied by the leg for children to play with. Cruelty and hypocrisy flourished alongside invention, industry, and philanthropy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Picard (Elizabeth's London) opens this entertaining study of London's modern transformation with the exemplary tale of engineering genius Joseph Bazalgette's new sewer complex, which relieved the city's stink from overflowing cesspits. She goes on to show how the rise of railways transformed Victorian urban planning, spurring the growth of commuter suburbs. Touching on philanthropic initiatives in public housing, Picard also describes the architectural quirks of the typical Victorian middle-class terraced house and the everyday workings of the city's police, fire, water, gas and refuse services. Picard uses the material details of working, middle and upper classes to tell the story of Victorian class difference, dwelling on the hardships of the domestic servant and the intricacies of some of London's more successful trades, from tanning to piano manufacture to sugar refining. She also provides a fascinating history of London hospitals and medical schools. Although Picard depends heavily on the writings of Jane Carlyle (wife of Thomas Carlyle) and the chronicler of Victorian poverty Thomas Mayhew, Picard's use of servant diaries, the journals of visiting French tourists and contemporary advice manuals is effective and often humorous. Arch and conversational in tone, Picard's history is an informative treat. 32 pages of color photos. (Apr. 3) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Picard (Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London) has made a career of writing about London during particular historical eras, and in her Victorian volume she retains the wry tone that makes her social histories so entertaining. Beginning with the scatological (in this case, relating to odors) and finishing with death, she builds her history on primary sources-the diaries of Victorians-as well as published accounts from the era. She looks at the roles of women, the classes, royalty, poverty, the railways, and healthcare, all the while tucking in short, detailed entries on breweries, how to be a lady, the soiling of the Thames and the unfortunately named Thomas Crapper, a pioneer in bathroom plumbing. She also stays close to the story with more and perhaps bawdier personal observations than fit the academic norm, but Picard is not striving to write traditional history. She traces the particulars of London's part in England's industrial revolution through such projects as the London Underground and the building of the Thames Embankments. While there is minor overlap with Gavin Weightman's slimmer history, London's Thames: The River That Shaped a City and Its History, Picard's broader text will enlighten and amuse. Recommended for public and academic libraries and certainly for her fans.-Robert Moore, Bristol Myers Squibb Co., N. Billerica, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312325671
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/7/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.35 (w) x 9.43 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Liza Picard was born in 1927. She read law at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn, but did not practice. She worked in London for many years in the office of the Solicitor of Inland Revenue until she retired in 1987. She now lives in Oxford. Picard is also the author of the critically acclaimed Elizabeth's LondonRestoration London and Dr. Johnson's London.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating look at how London became a modern city

    This is an in depth look at how London became a modern city through the early Victorian transition. The insight starts with the key to any city the revision of the sewage system to eliminate the health problems and the odor that permeated much of the city from cesspits. As fascinating is the role of women, which differs depending on social class unlike romance novels, the author furbishes a powerful look at the growing factory and municipal working class, those below the poverty line, and the servant class too. In these cases diaries and the writings of chroniclers like Jane Carlyle and Thomas Mayhew provide insight. This is a terrific look at three decades of transformation of one of the world¿s greatest cities. Readers who enjoyed the recently issued LONDON'S THAMES: THE RIVER THAT SHAPED A CITY AND ITS HISTORY as well as the author¿s previous captivating London historicals (see ELIZABETH¿S LONDON and RESTORATION LONDON) will appreciate this deep look at the historical era of transformation of an urban center that never slept in the middle of the nineteenth century and still does not.---- Harriet Klausner

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