By Tim Lambert

The Growth of London

The population of London grew from 950,000 in 1800 to 6 million in 1900. After 1850 Chinese immigrants started settling in Limehouse. There were also many Irish immigrants in the Docklands. By 1850 London had 20,000 Jews. Their numbers doubled in the 1880's when many refugees arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.

However in the mid 19th century London was a very unhealthy place. There were outbreaks of cholera in London in 1831, 1848-49 and finally in 1866. In 1859 work began on building a system of sewers for the whole city but it was not complete till 1875. After that deaths from disease fell drastically. In 1807 gas light was used for the first time at Pall Mall and by the 1840's was being used to light streets all over London. Electric light was first used in Holborn in 1883. Meanwhile by the 1840's there were horse drawn buses and from the 1870's horse drawn trams. The first underground railway in London opened in 1863. At first carriages were pulled by steam trains. However the system was electrified in 1890-1905. Many parks were laid out in London in the 19th century. Regents Park opened to the public in 1838. Victoria Park opened in 1845. Battersea Park opened in 1858. The first modern public lavatory opened in London in 1852.

In the 19th century new museums were created in London. The Victoria and Albert Museum opened in 1852. The Science Museum opened in 1857 and the Natural History Museum opened in 1881.

The Port of London

London continued to be a great port in the 19th century. In the 18th century ships tied up at wharves on the Thames but the river became overcrowded so docks were built. West India dock (1802), London dock (1805), East India Dock (1806) St Katherines dock (1828), Victoria dock (1855), Millwall dock (1868) South West India dock (1870), Albert Dock (1880) and Tilbury docks (1886).

London was also a great manufacturing centre in the 19th century. Food and drink were important industries. There were flour mills and sauce factories in Lambeth and sugar refineries in Whitehall and St Georges in the East. The first tinned foods were made in Bermondsey. There were also breweries all over London. Bermondsey and Southwark were famous for their leather industry and for hat making. Bethnal Green was noted for boot and shoemaking. The clothing trade was also important. Chemicals were made in Silvertown and West Ham. Clocks and watches and jewelry were made in Clerkenwell. There were shipyards in Poplar, Deptford, Millwall, and Blackwall. Other industries in London included furniture making, machine and tool making, and the manufacture of horse-drawn carriages.

However despite its booming industries there was a great deal of severe poverty in 19th century London. Even at the end of the 19th century, about 20% of the population were living at subsistence (bare survival) level. About 10% of the population were living below subsistence level. Houses were often overcrowded. In the East End, there were many doss houses where for a few pennies a night people could hire a bed. However, if you had no money at all you had to enter a workhouse. In the workhouse, conditions were made as harsh as possible to dissuade people from asking the state for help. The inmates were made to do hard and unpleasant work.

Everybody heated their homes with coal fires. People also cooked on coal-burning stoves. By the 1870s most homes had gaslight. By the late 19th century middle-class homes often had bathrooms but working-class homes did not. In the early 19th-century, working-class Londoners lived on plain food such as bread, butter, potatoes, and bacon. Butcher's meat was a luxury. However, the diet of working people improved in the late 19th century. Railways and steamships made it possible to import cheap grain from North America so bread became cheaper. Refrigeration made it possible to import cheap meat from Argentina and Australia. The consumption of sugar also increased. By the end of the 19th century, most of the population were eating better fed.

Leisure in London

In the mid 19th century working-class people had precious little leisure time. However, things improved in the latter part of the century. In 1871 the Bank Holiday Act gave workers a few paid holidays each year. Also in the 1870s some clerks and skilled workers began to have a week paid annual holiday. However, even at the end of the 19th century, most people had no paid holidays except bank holidays. In the early 19th century everyone had Sunday off. In the 1870s some skilled workers began to have Saturday afternoon off. In the 1890s most workers gained a half-day holiday on Saturday and the weekend was born. During the 19th-century sports became organized. The London Football Association devised the rules of football in 1863. In 1867 John Graham Chambers drew up a list of rules for boxing. They were called the Queensberry Rules after the Marquis of Queensberry. The Amateur Athletics Association was founded in 1880.

Reading was also popular in the 19th century. In 1841 Edgar Allan Poe published the first detective story The Murders In The Rue Morgue. The first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887 by Arthur Conan Doyle. Furthermore, many middle-class Victorians enjoyed musical evenings when they gathered around a piano and sang. Middle-class people were also very fond of the theatre. In the late 19th century there were also music halls where a variety of acts were performed.

London in the Middle Ages

London in the 17th century

Life in the 19th century

A history of 19th century England