Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Victorian values are alive and well

Stopped in my tracks yesterday by a clip on the radio: apparently there is a new phenomen in London - beds in sheds. This is where a property owner throws up a primitive breezeblock structure at the back of his/her house and lets it out to poor or immigrant families. No sanitary provision, no proper building regs. And local councils unwilling or unable to stop it happening.

Presumably these houseowners must've been listening to Kevin McLeod (Grand Design bloke) who says if we want to meet the growing need for cheap 'affordable housing', we should model ourselves on the Victorian builders, who leased land and threw up street after street of houses at lightening speed. News for you, Kevin: we're already there.

My book, and its sequel, is set just after the great Victorian housebuilding boom, when speculative London developers maximised profits by using cheap cement, known as Billysweet, which never dried out, so these houses had their own internal weather system. And no foundations, and floorboards laid on bare earth. As a result by 1860, London had some of the poorest people living in some of the worst slums in the kingdom. (In those days, the immigrants were Huguenot silk weavers escaping from France, Irish escaping from famine and Jews escaping from Christians.)

At the same time, Parliament passed the Poor Law Act, an attempt to stop anyone who could work from receiving parish relief - it was thought that poverty was caused by 'moral failure', and paying such people only encouraged them to be idle and overpopulate.

Is this resonating?

Dickens described these MP's and their property-owning chums as 'Experimental Philosophers..whose blood is ice,whose heart is iron.'   I guess now we'd call them: 'Rich arrogant posh boys who don't know the price of a pint of milk.'

Plus ca change....

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