Saturday 30 May 2015

Victorian Values: Alive and Well

Victorian slum
Stopped in my tracks the other day by a clip on the radio about a phenomenon in London called ''beds in sheds''. For those who haven't heard of it, such is the unaffordable price of housing, thanks to rich foreign investors buying up property, and rich developers refusing to build affordable housing, and councils of all hues selling off council housing to buy-to-let individuals, that unscrupulous house owners are throwing up primitive breezeblock structures at the back of their properties and letting them out to poor or immigrant families. No sanitary provision, no proper building regs. And local councils seem unwilling or unable to stop it happening.

Presumably these house owners 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, Kev mate: we're already there.

All my four Victorian Detective Series books are set during the great Victorian house building boom, when speculative London developers maximised their profits by using cheap cement, known as Billysweet, which never dried out, so these houses actually had their own internal weather system.

They also had no proper foundations, and floorboards laid on bare earth. As a direct result, by 1865 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.) Some streets, especially around Kilburn, in North London, acquired 'slum status' from the moment they were built.

At the same time, Parliament passed the Poor Law Act in 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 MPs 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 Tories who don't know the price of a pint of milk.'

Nothing much changes ....


  1. Great post Carol, we live in "I don't give a shit times" Keep writing!

  2. When I went into social work in the early 70s we aimed to work ourselves out of a job - we believed that if we addressed poverty and the causes of poverty we could make a substantial difference.

    But the poverty - I know we were idealistic, but I simply don't understand how the high and the mighty aren't ashamed of themselves. They really believe that, if they get even richer. money will somehow 'trickle down' in spite of so much evidence that it doesn't.

    There must, surely, be a backlash. Many of us recall the poll tax riots - the hungry will surely take to the streets before this government is through.

    1. Like you, I am horrified by the callus and uncaring nature of this government. Every cut is aimed at the very ''hard working families'' they claim to support. Meanwhile the rich get tax breaks..and a system that is skewed in their favour.

  3. One of my students recently said to me that we are going back to the early days of capitalism. She is Chinese and although she has a Masters degree in business, she is being paid minimum wages as a temporary employee. She will continue to be a temp for two years at which point the company will fire her and hire another young person like her. Reason: two years is the max an employer can hire someone as a temp and pay them the minimum. As there's an endless supply of young qualified immigrants....sorry, I seem to have gone on a bit, but your post got my blood up and reminded me that even our government allows these injustices through the law!!,

  4. So sickening. We have to stop it.

    1. apparently ''we voted them in''. So they can do what they like as ''they have a mandate'.

    2. True. To an extent. They can't breach laws and international treaties. As judges determined.

      And obvs they have no plans to restrict or abolish the independence of the judiciary to thwart their plans by delivering justice...........


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