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The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum Paperback – 4 Jun 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (4 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844133311
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844133314
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 92,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Extra stories, pictures and further exploration of the subjects of each of her three books are available to read at www.sarahwise.co.uk

A short (16-minute) documentary film about The Italian Boy, filmed in June 2014, can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Oe2boQ3nlg

You can hear her speaking about Inconvenient People at:
* The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist talk at Wilton's Music Hall, Sunday 27 April 2014 http://vimeo.com/93406035

* The Guardian newspaper
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2012/nov/02/hospital-keneally-wise-magnanti-podcast

* The BBC's Radio 4 'All in the Mind' programme
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p011h15t

Her talk about the Old Nichol slum as an inspiration for Arthur Morrison's 1896 novel A Child of the Jago, given on 1 April 2014, can be heard here http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/audios.aspx?vid=9123

A podcast of her talk about Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, at the Museum of London, can be heard at www.sarahwise.co.uk/podcasts.html

And an interview with BBC History Magazine about The Blackest Streets is at http://www.sarahwise.co.uk/Podcasts/BBC_History_Jan09_Pt1.mp3

Read her blog on 19th-century mental health at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/sarah-wise

Sarah Wise grew up in West London and went to school in Wood Lane, White City. After graduation in English Literature, she worked as a freelance writer, mostly for arts, architecture and design titles, including the Guardian arts desk and Space magazine -- the Guardian's design and architecture supplement.

A Master's degree in Victorian Studies from the University of London led to the writing of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London (2004) and The Blackest Streets (2008).
The former won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The latter was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize for evocation of a location/landscape.

Her third book, Inconvenient People, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Book Prize and was a book of the year in the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian and Spectator.

Product Description

Review

"The Blackest Streets is an excellent and intelligent investigation of the realities of urban living that respond to no design or directive...This is a book about the nature of London itself" (Peter Ackroyd The Times)

"A revelatory book...beaming the light of impartial historical research into the horrible dens and alleys. It avoids the voyeurism that such books often fall into: Wise describes the terrible conditions dispassionately, bringing out the resilience and self-respect of the slum-dwellers" (John Carey Sunday Times)

"Read it and be flabbergasted" (New Statesman)

"She is a sure-footed guide. In each strand of enquiry she has something new and surprising to say" (Jerry White Times Literary Supplement)

"Sarah Wise has created an exceptional work, in that it is both scholarly and page turning - a genuine treat" (Gilda O'Neill)

Review

'A brilliant social history... a reminder that our enlightened society was built on an inhumanity only just beyond living memory.'

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By S. C. Trump on 7 Dec. 2008
Format: Hardcover
I first picked up on the Old Nichol when researching family history and getting a map of Shoreditch circa 1890 when the areas was being 'cleared'. Curiously, I bought the two maps before and after this time and saw the horrendous labyrinth of streets that made up the Old Nichol and the tidy Arnold Circus that replaced it and still exists today. Little seemed to be known about the Old Nichol until this book (save Arthur Morrisons seminal 'A Child of the Jago' where Jago meant Nichol).

This book paints a good picture of what life was like in the Old Nichol and the events that led to its demolition. Revd Osbourne Jay, who was vicar in the Parish in its latter years is given quite a sympathetic portrayal although in hindsight his motives are a little flawed perhaps.

The book is a little heavy going in its middle sections and there are too many number references to appendices which I could not keep flicking back and fourth to. Also, my interest was in a relative born in Old Nichol Street in the 1840s but there is little reference to whether life would have been as harsh then as it was in the late 1880s. The lack of photos is frustrating but I guess there are none; there was nothing really photogenic about the area. The biggest revelation for me was that the landlords of these shameful properties were respected and wealthy folk.

This book is recommended for anyone with an East End family background or a curiosity in a forgotten area of shame.
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By D. Cameron on 27 Aug. 2008
Format: Hardcover
I have seldom read such an affecting book. It is a model of accessible, informative and gripping social history. Through meticulous research, it tells the lives of those people who lived in the area known as "The Nicol" in East London in the late 19th c. there are countless individual stories of heartbreaking poverty, set against the bigger picture of social, political and religious reforms and the history of urban victorian slums. Contemporary photographs and etchings are really illustrative and help bring the area to life. I have ancestors who lived in the area and it provided a fascinating and humbling glimpse of their lives but this book is so well written and informative, in a very accessible style that anyone interested in history will enjoy it. It is a real page turner - I was completely caught up in the day to day lives of the people of the Nicol. Utterly compelling and highly recommended. My book of the year so far.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 30 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sarah Wise has written an excellent book on the `Old Nichol' slum area just east of Shoreditch High Street and the replacement Boundary Estate, the first example of large scale local government building in London. The author describes conditions in the old slum but also carefully charts the way in which the local vestry tried to avoid any action that might result in expenditure as the fraction of people living in the area who actually contributed to the local rate was very small. Wise shows how the 1834 Poor Law (or `New Poor Law') made matters worse by ending all "outdoor" relief to able bodied men and encouraged the widespread construction of workhouses, some thirty being built in London, as the only alternative for such men. "Indoor" relief in exchange for often pointless work being thought the appropriate response for able-bodied unemployed men. The step by step changes in local government responsibilities and the groundbreaking establishment of London County and the London County Council in 1888 are carefully charted together with their impact on life in the `Old Nichol'. Finally the destruction of the slum and the building of the magnificent Boundary Estate and its impact on the local residents, most of whom moved elsewhere, are described.
My only criticism of the book would be the outright hostility and vituperative comments that Wise reserves for the well known Victorian surveyor of London, Charles Booth, together with the self-serving vicar of All Saints Church in the Nichol, the Reverend Arthur Osborne Jay and the author of the best `fiction' account of life in the Nichol, Arthur Morrison, who wrote `A Child of the Jago'. The author's attacks upon these well meaning Victorians seems rather mean minded and uncalled-for.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By S. HICKS on 15 Sept. 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am enjoying this book because it has shed new light on my own family's story as they lived in Bethnal Green at the end of the 19th century. The use of personal stories especially those of Arthur Harding is very effective and one of the best things about the book. I have struggled with its over-wordiness in places and the insertion of several numerical facts one after the other but on the whole it's very readable and an important historical record of a largely ignored problem.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Joan H. Hammond on 5 Aug. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Thank you Sarah for setting out in great detail what many refuse to accept - poor social planning has its consequences. Today, we read of sink estates, crime and poverty unaware that these issues are not new. Sarah Wise has highlighted the attitudes that existed in the 19th century to proper housing for the working classes, and when we look at the problems surround modern day housing estates we find that little has changed. Councils, Housing Trusts and Landlords indifferent to the conditions of their tenants so long as the money is rolling in, and when dissent is voiced, use the law, use the courts use any means possible to avoid the legal, moral and social responsibilities of the provision and maintainence of decent housing. Sarah's message is buried deep in the pages of this marvellous book, which is a wealth of social and urban history.
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