Reforming the City
One of the best known, and most scientific, of the Victorian social investigators was Charles Booth. Life and Labour of the People in London was published in seventeen volumes, and drew on a variety of sources: interviews, questionnaires, reports from London school board visitors, and house-to-house investigation. It focussed on three aspects of London life – poverty, industry, and religious influence. The volumes were accompanied by maps of London, coloured street by street to indicate levels of wealth and poverty. The Library’s copy of the poverty volume for east, central and south London has a manuscript letter from Booth pasted in addressed to a ‘Mr Nunn’. The letter shows Booth seeking to use information collected about work for dock labourers to assist with preparations against hardship during the coming winter. Its contents are transcribed below.
"I am much interested to hear of the steps you are taking to be beforehand in preparations against possible distress this winter. I am sorry that I have not time to join your committee but shall be very glad if I can be of any assistance. The idea I had when Mr Webb mentioned the matter to me was that it would be useful to compare the amount of work offering at the docks this year with last year. I have all the figures for last year & I think Mr Hubbard would be willing to assist in making the comparison. Of course it may be that distress is caused by a different division of the work i.e. amongst more individuals or in varying proportions amongst a similar number. I fear the figures will not tell a complete story in these respects but some information worth having may be obtained perhaps.
You will find me at 2 Talbot Court any morning at 10.30 if that time suits you & I could show you the dock labour figures for last year & explain the use that I think might be made of them."
The Transformation of Urban Liberalism by James R. Moore, a scholar in the Victorian Studies Centre, re-evaluates the turbulent political decade following the 'Third Reform Act', and questions whether the Liberal Party's political heartlands - the urban boroughs - really were in decline. In contrast to some studies, it does not see electoral reform, the Irish Home Rule crisis and the challenge of socialism as representing a fundamental threat to the integrity of the party. Instead Moore illustrates how the party gradually began to transform into a social democratic organisation through a re-evaluation of its role and policy direction. This process was heavily influenced by 'grass roots politics'. Consequently, Moore suggests that late Victorian politics was more democratic and open than sometimes thought, with leading urban politicians forced to respond to the demands of party activists. Changes in the structure of urban rule produced new policy outcomes and brought new collectivist forms of New Liberalism onto the political agenda. Thus, it is argued that without the political transformations of the decade 1885-1895, the radical liberal governments of the Edwardian era would not have been possible.