Victorian London was a city of strong contrasts with new building and affluent development sitting uncomfortably alongside horribly overcrowded slums where people lived in conditions that would be unimaginable to us today. London's population increased dramatically during the 19th century, from about 1 million in 1800 to over 6 million a century later, largely due to industrialisation, the very large family sizes and reducing mortality rates. This growth far exceeded London's ability to look after the needs of its citizens and basic conditions for the many poorer families were overcrowded and insanitary.
Life was harsh, working hours were long and the conditions effectively unregulated, poverty was widespread, and as living conditions were so cramped and insanitary not surprisingly life expectancy was low. Bethnal Green, where a number of our ancestors' families lived in the early 1850s, was among the very poorest districts of London in the early years of Victoria's reign with life expectancy as low as 16. 1.
The following are some examples from the Ennever and related families to demonstrate the cramped living conditions in London that were all too common in the Victorian era:
Four families, including the Adams', were living at this address in the 1881 census. The Adams' family consisted of 2 parents and their 9 children, ranging from 5 months old to 19 years. Living with them were 13 others making a total of 22 people in the one house. The census enumerator did not record the number of rooms for us, however.
In 1891 the family were still living in Cranbrook Street, but at No. 27, and without John, who had died in 1889, and Ada who probably died in 1887. According to the census enumerator they lived in 4 rooms, a fairly generous space for 7 people but also in the house were the Goodwin family (4 people in 1 room), 6 Thompsons/Sawoods in 2 rooms, 4 Silverwoods in 1 room making a total of 20 people in the 8 rooms.
Commons, Davey & Wiseman families
15 Grenade Street, Limehouse, London
In the 1901 census these three related families can be found at 15 Grenade Street, Limehouse, London. Jane Ennever had (illegally) married two Commons brothers and in 1901 was living with Simon Common who was known as Robert Commons with nine children from her two marriages, a lodger and William Davey, his wife Elizabeth (nee Ennever) and their two children and Henry and Marion Wiseman. The occupants were therefore:
Robert Commons, his wife Jane and their children (Mary 20, Sophia 18, Robert 15, Charles 13, John 11, Arthur 9, Florence 5, Joseph 3 and James 6m). With the lodger they occupied four rooms.
Their lodger, William Hillsden, aged 21
William Davey, his wife Elizabeth and their two children (Elizabeth 13 and Richard 11). Occupying one room.
Henry and Marion Wiseman. Occupying one room
This is a total of 8 adults, 4 teenagers and 6 younger children, including a 6 month old, at the same address. William and Elizabeth's son, James, who had left home by 1901 was later to marry Jane Elizabeth Wiseman, daughter of Elizabeth Ennever who was half-sister to Jane Ennever, who had married the two Commons brothers. I assume that the Wisemans living at 15 Grenade Street were related to Jane Elizabeth Wiseman although I am unaware of the actual connection.
Grenade Street, Limehouse, London (now Poplar). Ordnance Survey 1914.
Grenade Street, Limehouse, London (now Poplar) Courtesy of Google
Grenade Street is just to the north of the Isle of Dogs and was primarily a terraced street having the London & Blackwall Railway running across it at its junction with Gill Street. It has since been redeveloped and now consists almost exclusively of blocks of flats. By 1901 most new houses will have had indoor plumbing but it is highly likely that Grenade Street houses had not yet been converted.
St Leonards Street, Bromley c1894 (previously Four Mills Street)
Three families can be found living at 8 Hope Terrace, Bromley in Middlesex at the time of the 1851 census. This was some four decades before London officially became a county in its own right and the Bromley concerned was what is now known as Bromley-by-Bow in East London. The families were:
Henry & Susan Enever and 3 children (Sarah Jane 6years old, Ann Margaret 3 and Henry Joseph 7months)
William & Eliza Pitt and 3 children (aged 12, 9 & 7)
George & Harriett Westcott and 3 children (aged 7, 3 and 1) plus a 15 year-old servant, George was an Inland Revenue Officer.
Three families and a total of 16 people were therefore living in the one house. The survey doesn't record the number of rooms in the house but it is unlikely to have been a large house, standing as it was in a terrace on Four Mills Street, now St Leonards Street. The southern end of the street, where Hope Terrace would have been, was demolished to build the Blackwall Tunnel Northen Approach road.
Ennever family Betterton Street,
St Giles in the Fields, Holborn, London
In the 1891 census 8 families were living at 32 Betterton Street with John Ennever, his wife and five children occupying two rooms. Also in the house were George Wilson, his wife and six children occupying one room, George Glosters, his wife and son in two rooms, Matilda Lessels and three children, two in their 20s, in another two rooms, Jane Dean and and five children in two rooms, Robert Smith and five children and his mother in two rooms, Cusper Spicer(?), his wife and four children in 2 rooms and finally Francis Leadbrook, his wife and two children also in two rooms. This made a total of 45 people from 8 families living in the one house.
Now in the heart of the fashionable Covent Garden area it is almost certain that this house has been demolished to make way for offices or flats. A one-bedroom flat in Betterton Street was advertised in 2007 for £365,000.
The Fergusson family were living in York Street, St Marylebone in the 1891 census and consisted of James and Williamina (or Wilhelmina) and their young son, John Kennedy Fergusson, aged 5 months. The census records them living in one room and sharing the house with eight other families. In total sixteen adults and six children ranging in age from 5 months to twelve lived in the house.
In the 1871 census James John Illingworth and his family are sharing a house at 9 Turville Street with eight other families and a total of 31 people are living in the house. British History Online records Turville Street in 1874 as "being in the heart of the slums".
Busby Street, Bethnal Green 1893, courtesy of Ordnance Survey Maps
In the 1901 census 19 Busby Street, Bethnal Green was home to 3 families, the Marstons, the Joneses and the Browns. The census tells us that the Marston family consisting of Susan, who had lost her husband about 2 years earlier, her son Charles (26) and daughter Elizabeth (17) as well as 3 boarders aged 46, 18 and 17 shared 4 rooms. Susan's son William, his wife and their 5 young children shared a further 2 rooms while Charles Jones and his wife and 5 children shared another 2 rooms.
William Crichton was the 46 year old boarder and he was to marry Susan in December 1901.
The house was home to 20 people, 8 adults, 3 teenagers and 9 other children ranging from
13 to a few months old.
Busby Street appears to have been demolished to make way for blocks of flats as it ran parallel between Granby Street and Bacon Street, both of which still exist.
Busby Street may have consisted of 3 storey buildings but they would have been narrow terraced houses, probably similar to those which can still be seen in Cheshire Street, just to the south, previously known as Hare Street.
In the 1901 census four Thorogood families were living at 4 Rose Lane in Ratcliff, London. They consisted of:
William Thorowgood, Eliza his wife and three of their children, occupying two rooms
James, William's brother, his wife Alice and eight of their eleven children, occupying three rooms
James Thorogood, James's son, his wife Florence and their three young children, occupying one room. Their daughter Florence's daughter, Florence Laws, married Francis Robert Ennever in 1946.
Andrew Thorogood, also James's son, his wife Hannah and their three young children also occupying one room
Four families, a total of 9 adults, 3 teenagers and 12 other children were occupying just 7 rooms.
Rose Lane c1870, courtesy of Ordnance Survey Maps
Rose Lane would not have been an affluent area backing as it did on to the London and Blackwall Railway line. It was partially demolished during the construction of the Rotherhithe tunnel approach roads and is now called Ratcliff Lane. It is immediately south of Limehouse DLR Station, previously Stepney Junction and runs parallel to the Commercial Road.