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Dirty Old London The Victorian Fight Against Filth by Lee Jackson

Dirty Old London The Victorian Fight Against Filth

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Sue Baker's view...

How many times do you hear the words bring back Victorian values. Read this and you will find that some of them have never gone away. Overcrowded housing? Air pollution? Sewage problems? Lee Jackson in his book themed around the major problems with dirt in the nineteenth century, everything from soot to shit. Dickens inevitably is conjured up more than once, no more so that the opening with the great dust heaps and their portrayal in Our Mutual Friend and when we reach the question of the foulness of much housing for the poor, the thoughts of Bill Sykes and Jacob’s Island, the foul rookery where Nancy died vividly comes to mind. Dirty old London makes its appearance in many history books, the value of Lee Jackson’s history is the fascinating descriptions of the bureaucracy involved, the parish councils, the ducking and diving, the fiddling and backscratching, the Boards, the Councils, the Committees and sub-Committees, a tangle that any reformer despaired of breaking through. In short this is a book that one reads open-mouthed, vowing never to believe in or vote for anyone using the Victorian values battle cry, reading of the filth of Dirty Old London you just wouldn’t want to go back, you really wouldn’t.

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Who is Sue Baker


Dirty Old London The Victorian Fight Against Filth by Lee Jackson

In Victorian London, filth was everywhere: horse traffic filled the streets with dung, household rubbish went uncollected, cesspools brimmed with 'night soil', graveyards teemed with rotting corpses, the air itself was choked with smoke. In this intimately visceral book, Lee Jackson guides us through the underbelly of the Victorian metropolis, introducing us to the men and women who struggled to stem a rising tide of pollution and dirt, and the forces that opposed them. Through thematic chapters, Jackson describes how Victorian reformers met with both triumph and disaster. Full of individual stories and overlooked details - from the dustmen who grew rich from recycling, to the peculiar history of the public toilet - this riveting book gives us a fresh insight into the minutiae of daily life and the wider challenges posed by the unprecedented growth of the Victorian capital.


'The squalor of Victorian London was proverbial. Lee Jackson's revelatory clean-up goes behind the headlines to allow us to see not just what, but why, London was so dirty.'

- Judith Flanders, author of The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London

About the Author

A well-known Victorianist, Lee Jackson is the author of Walking Dickens' London, Victorian London, editor of A Dictionary of Victorian London, and a number of historical crime novels; and creator of the preeminent website on Victorian London ( He lives in London.

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd October 2014


Lee Jackson

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Yale University Press


304 pages


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Social & cultural history

Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900



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