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

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9780312325671: Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840--1870

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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About 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.

From 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)
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