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Living in Early Victorian London (Hardback)

P&S History > British History > Victorian History P&S History > Social History World History > UK & Ireland > England > London

By Michael Alpert
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 40 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399060844
Published: 6th April 2023


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London in the 1840s was sprawling and smoke-filled, a city of extreme wealth and abject poverty. Some streets were elegant with brilliantly gas-lit shop windows full of expensive items, while others were narrow, fetid, muddy, and in many cases foul with refuse and human filth. Railways, stations and sidings were devouring whole districts and creating acres of slums or ‘rookeries’ into which the poor of the city were jammed and where crime, disease and prostitution were rife.

The most sensational crime of the epoch, the murder of Patrick O’Connor by Frederick and Maria Manning, filled the press in the summer and autumn of 1849. Michael Alpert uses the trial record of this murder, accompanied by numerous other contemporary sources, among them journalism, diaries and fiction, to show how day-to-day lives, birth, death, sickness, work, shopping, cooking, and buying clothes, were lived in the crowded, noisy capital in the early decades of Victoria’s reign. These sources illustrate how ordinary people lived in London, their incomes, entertainments, religious practice, reading and education, their hopes and anxieties. Life in Early Victorian London reveals how ordinary people like the Mannings and thousands of others experienced their multifaceted lives in the greatest capital city of the world.

Early Victorian London lived on the cusp of great improvements, but it was a city which in some aspects was mediaeval. Its inhabitants enjoyed the benefit of the Penny Post and the omnibus, and they were protected to some extent by a police force. The Mannings fled their crime on the railway, were trapped by the recently-invented telegraph and arrested by ‘detectives’ (a new concept and word), but they were hanged in public as murderers had been for centuries, watched by a baying, drunken and swearing mob.

4 stars. A great "deep dive" into what life was like in early Victorian London without either romanticizing the period or feeling like a professor's overstuffed history lesson. Granted, I'm a sucker for history and was eager to know more about this period, so I'm biased, but I think many "general readers" will enjoy this book as well.

NetGalley, Louis Muñoz

4 out of 5

If you want to know about the average Londoner during this period then this is the book for you.

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Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Review as featured in

Who Do You Think You Are

"...an enjoyable read cover to cover...Living in Early Victorian London will offer a real insight into their lives"

Who Do You Think You Are? - Issue 208, September 2023

A great look at the history of a fascinating time, in a city on the forefront of revolution in industry and thought, but with great disparity between the classes. For a lover of history this book will enthrall.

NetGalley, Anna Wooliver Phillips

A fascinating book looking at living in early Victorian London, from the clothes they wore, the working docks, jobs that were available to the sewage in the streets, and the Thames before sewers were built.

NetGalley, Samantha Stroud

I'd recommend this book to those wanting details about London for novel research or those just plain curious.

NetGalley, Deborah White

You can tell a great deal of research went into this book, but it is presented in a very readable style. Plenty of factoids in here I'm going to wish I could recall off the top of my head later on! I definitely recommend this to people interested in learning about the development of London in the early to middle part of the 1800s.

NetGalley, Anne Morgan

Very interesting to get a glimpse into the past and see what London was like during the Victorian period.

NetGalley, Aubrey Kerr

I enjoyed this book immensely. Honestly as someone who loves and has read a lot of London history books, I found this one surprising accessible and incredibly readable. Not dry in the slightest! Lots of fun facts and a pretty simple slice out of life for the area and time period.

NetGalley, Heidi Lash

An interesting look into many different aspects of the lives of the "common" people in Early Victorian London. This includes women's role, what they eat, how it was cooked, entertainment, social classes, transportation, communication, police, and health care among others. It gives you a real look into one of the most populated cities in the world at that time and not just how everyone lived together but how they lived period.

It is nice to see a history that doesn't just focus on the elite or the middleclass but on the majority of the people and how things were changing in this period. It includes things that you might not of known where to get the information from before and probably some areas of life you might not have even thought to think about.

NetGalley, Juliane Silver

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I liked reading social history book and this one was entertaining and informative. The Early Victorian world was quite bleak for all those who were poor and not the best place for women.
I appreciated the details and I learned a lot.
Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was an amazing look into a often mentioned time in history, the book is fast reading and engaging to both history lovers and the average reader.

NetGalley, Heather Bennett

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Victorian London was massive, congested and belching with smog, hardly inspiring let alone healthy. In Living in Early Victorian London author Michael Alpert describes what everyday life was like in the 1840s including distinct social classes, existence in the rookeries, daily chores, mortality, crime, effects of railway links, filth and stench of meat markets, brazen prostitution, privies, mealtime, literacy, "farthing dips", treatment of immigrants, transportation, revolutionary envelopes and stamps paid by the sender and Barnard's Panorama to show news. Alpert also wrote about the first time public smoking was seen and the railway changing the concept of time. Food was scarce and utensils were unheard of for many. If a potato was proffered, how was it cooked without kitchen facilities? People had to rely on buying cheap meals...if they could.

Throughout the book wends the true story of a sensational Victorian London crime committed by a lower-middle class couple Frederick and Maria Manning and the London they lived in. Their murder victim was Patrick O'Connor. The most interesting aspect of the story to me was how the new telegraph was instrumental in catching and convicting the couple of murder. I really like how the author incorporated their story.

Not only are descriptions vivid and engrossing but the photographs and illustrations causes the reader to better visualize and empathize with the piteous people who had no hope in a grim time in history. Charles Dickens and others were not exaggerating bleak living conditions where life was a continuous misery for the poor. The Crystal Palace must have seemed like a paradise...or a slap in the face.

True Crime, History and Nonfiction readers, this is for you. Information is easily read and digested and there is plenty here to learn and mull over.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a brilliant book! While there might be plenty to read about the Victorian era and what life was like during that time Alpert takes a unique angle through exploring the time with the famous Manning’s murder case as the backdrop. While the crime doesn’t take centre stage Alport explores the London they lived in, the streets they would have known, the transport that developed and what the lives of everyday people who they lived near would have been like. Using a mixture of primary sources, fiction written at the time and secondary sources the book is brimming with fascinating information and facts. While extremely informative the writing style never becomes dry and academic, instead Alport shows scenes so that the reader easily feels like they too are there witnessing it all. A fantastic book!

NetGalley, Fern Adams

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In the book Living In Early Victorian London by Michael Albert we learn about the Mannings Crime and their victim they buried beneath the flag stone and throughout the book as we learn about how the different classes live the couple who is made reference to an every regard. Even when talking about the financial schemes and buying railroad stock we learn their victim also purchase railroad stock I found this way of telling the story a genius touch. There’s also a lot of references made to the most famous Victorian writers works Charles Dickens I love reading about the Victorian era and although I have read many nonfiction books on the topic I now feel I have a great grasp on the ins and outs of their daily lives. We even get a monetary education on the different names for different amounts of money and OMG is it confusing. I love this book so much will definitely give it five stars and will be looking for other books by the Sauter. Although this is a non-fiction book it is not academic at all it is interesting and a definite page turner.

NetGalley, Janalyn Prude

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant book, great reading about what life was really like.
We often get books about Victorian Britain but not based oh what was like in early days for people
Worth reading sad how hard life was and reminds us of how people even struggle now.

NetGalley, Karen Bull

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful, informative, fascinating, engaging look into life in Victorian times. As a writer of historical fiction, this book will be such an aid! As a lover of history this book is such a joy!

NetGalley, Jenna Gareis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The book tells the story of living in London - in mid- Victorian times- with a murder in the background. It touches all aspects of live in the world biggest city of that time with 2.5 millions of citizens. We learn where people lived and work, how they dressed, washed and eat. We meet poor and middle-class Londoners. It's fascinating to read about how they travelled around the city, about their illnesses and what they read. Amazing book and very well written. Highly recommended for all history lovers.

NetGalley, Meg Gajda

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved reading this book. I was completely drawn into the topic and could not stop reading it.

NetGalley, Lynn Beck

About Michael Alpert

After graduating in Modern Languages at Cambridge, Michael Alpert joined the Bank of London and South America before leaving to teach French and Spanish in various secondary schools. He then became a lecturer and ultimately Professor at the University of Westminster until his retirement when he was granted the title of Emeritus. Thereafter he taught at University College London, King’s College London, Royal Holloway College and Birkbeck College.
In 1974 he was awarded his doctorate at Reading University for his thesis The Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 (later published by Cambridge University Press). He has published a number of books on the Spanish Civil War, which have appeared in English and in Spanish. His latest works are Franco and the Condor Legion: the Spanish Civil War in the Air (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019) and The Spanish Civil War at Sea (Pen & Sword, 2021). At present he is working on a social history of Britain in the later 1930s, his third book for Pen & Sword)

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