The book reflects two decades of enquiry into the spatial nature of society, focusing on the detailed patterning of social phenomena as these are laid out in historical maps. The importance of a spatial analysis of historical data is not to be underestimated. Going beyond placing the data on the map to a deeper analysis of the geographical patterning of the data allows the researcher to pose a variety of questions: regarding the spatial character of the urban setting, regarding whether social data of a single type have spatial characteristics in common, and – in general – to control for spatial effects when analysing social patterns.
For me, the Booth maps have become the quintessential starting point when exploring the relationship between the spatial organisation of cities and how societies take shape over time. I have written about the spatial-temporal evolution of cities in my earlier book, Suburban Urbanities. This current publication effectively goes back to the origins of my research, starting with my most fundamental subject of interest: how the spatial configuration of cities shapes social patterns and, specifically, urban social problems.
This book does so by taking maps of social statistics and developing a close reading of the maps themselves as well as the context within which they were created. A side product of this inquiry has been the discovery of the extent to which social cartography is frequently used not only as a tool for communicating information on patterns of settlement, but also for other purposes: for propaganda, to collate evidence or to support scientific argumentation. The use of social maps as an analytical device is less prevalent and this book will show how a reading of the spatial patterns captured by such maps can reveal some fundamental rules about how cities work according to a specifically spatial logic of society.
Rowntree’s enquiry was conducted with a team of assistants during 1899–1900 and then published in 1901 under the title Poverty, a Study of Town Life. His study was inspired by Booth, though it was an intensive study, of a town much smaller than Booth’s London.[i]
Despite the differences in scope, the York study found very similar results to those of Booth: large families crammed into small rooms without sanitation or ventilation, and disease rife in poverty areas. Rowntree’s team found that a quarter of all the children living in York’s slums died before the age of one and that, overall, the poverty rate of the town was at least as bad as that found by Booth in London. Even if a child survived poverty in childhood, they were likely to continue to suffer poverty, whether due to the casualisation of labour, or sickness or injury from work. If one survived working life, it was old age that was likely to return a person to poverty; just as Booth had found, old age was closely correlated with poverty. Unsurprisingly, both Booth and Rowntree became campaigners for pensions.
Rowntree strove to emphasise how precariously the poor sat on a finely balanced point between just getting by and destitution. His compassion shines through his descriptions, for example, of what ‘merely physical efficiency’ constitutes in reality:
‘And let us clearly understand what “merely physical efficiency” means. A family living upon the scale allowed for in this estimate must never spend a penny on railway fare or omnibus. They must never go into the country unless they walk. They must never purchase a halfpenny newspaper or spend a penny to buy a ticket for a popular concert. They must write no letters to absent children, for they cannot afford to pay the postage. They must never contribute anything to their church or chapel, or give any help to a neighbour which costs them money. They cannot save, nor can they join sick club or Trade Union, because they cannot pay the necessary subscriptions. The children must have no pocket money for dolls, marbles, or sweets. The father must smoke no tobacco, and must drink no beer. The mother must never buy any pretty clothes for herself or for her children, the character of the family wardrobe as for the family diet being governed by the regulation, “Nothing must be bought but that which is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of physical health, and what is bought must be of the plainest and most economical description.” Should a child fall ill, it must be attended by the parish doctor; should it die, it must be buried by the parish. Finally, the wage-earner must never be absent from his work for a single day.’[iv]
Rowntree showed that poverty distress was caused principally by low wages or irregular work. Nevertheless, his report’s map of licensed houses (which he refers to in the text as the ‘drink map’, see Figure above) emphasised the problematic relationship between drink and poverty, which I write of in my chapter on crime and disorder in Mapping Society, where a lack of sobriety is shown to be associated with crime as well as poverty. Here, the association is more nuanced. While Rowntree was critical about the poorest of the poor wasting their money on drink, he was also aware that consumption of alcohol in York was no greater than elsewhere in the country.
Rowntree’s comments on the drink map are incisive. He notes that the highest concentration of pubs is in the oldest section of the town, within and around the walls. This may, he surmised, be due to the town having served as a coaching centre, but the historical explanation did not solve in his mind the problem of there being an excess of drinking establishments in the poorest area of the centre. In fact, he devotes considerable space to analysis of the number of drinking establishments per population in his ‘public houses’ section of the book’s supplementary chapter. The character of many of the poverty area’s pubs, as being exclusively for drinking, are, he states, one of the causes of the prevalence of ‘vertical drinkers’, who are more likely to be heavy drinkers. The lower density of pubs outside of the centre, he argues, is mostly to do with the reluctance of magistrates to grant licenses to new establishments. Lastly, the change in the practice of organisations such as Trade Unions and Friendly Societies to meet in coffee houses instead of pubs (meaning a reduction in the use of pubs as community meeting places, which was a common feature earlier in the nineteenth century) had led to a narrowing of activities within the public house, although music and games, he reported, remained commonplace.
The spatial distribution of pubs in the poorer, central district is in fact a typical pattern in slum areas of the country at the time.[v] Several factors would have been at play, such as the pub providing warm, dry premises when the home was anything but, and the pub serving as a place for socialising outside of the home. It is evidently not a coincidence that pubs proliferated more on poor streets, while York’s ‘best’ central streets, Monkgate, Clifton and Bootham, had hardly any.
[i] Rowntree B. S. (1901) Poverty: A Study of Town Life. London: Macmillan, p. ix.
[ii] Rowntree, Poverty, p. 112.
[iii] Anne Kershen has pointed out that the earlier investigations by Mayhew into ‘the plight of tailors in London’ had similarly convinced him that, ‘contrary to prevailing mid-Victorian belief, it was poverty which led to drunkenness, not the reverse’. This was because pubs operated as labour exchanges, with men waiting there to be recruited for work. Kershen A. (1995) Uniting the Tailors: Trade Unionism Amongst the Tailors of London and Leeds, 1870-1939. Ilford, Essex: Frank Cass & Co., p. 5.
[iv] Rowntree, Poverty, pp. 129–30.
[v] B. Harrison, ‘Pubs,’ in The Victorian City: Images and Realities (Past and Present & Numbers of People), ed. H.J. Dyos and M. Wolff (London, Henley and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976).
Booth’s definition of poverty was intentionally relative, given that he was using a description of class, rather than income. In other words, he did not define a basic level of subsistence, below which an individual could fall; rather, he established what the conditions were in which poverty took place. While Charles Booth never defined an actual poverty line, he refers in his writings to a line of poverty, which he notionally positioned at a “bare income” of 18s. to 21s. per week.[i] This was a hypothesised line demarcating those who were just getting by and those who were in want. It was based on Booth’s close observation of a statistical sample of a large population – across many industries active in London at the time. These conditions included the physical setting within which people were living.
Charles Booth’s observations on poverty situated the problem as being to do with the regularity of income just as much as its level. Yet he also put great emphasis on the spatial influences on social situation. Scattered through Booth’s writing are comments such as “Thus… the ‘poverty areas’ tended to be literally walled off from the rest of the city by barrier-like boundaries that isolated their inhabitants, minimizing their normal participation in the life of the city about them…”[ii].
My own space syntax analysis of street block level poverty on the Booth maps has showed statistically measurable differences in the spatial segregation of the poverty classes in contrast with the ‘comfortable’ classes. His three poverty classes – black, dark blue and light blue – were in significantly segregated locations, although these were only one or two streets away from the more prosperous streets of the area. The results suggested that Booth’s three poverty classes constituted a spatially defined poverty line.[iii] Namely, there was a measurable relationship between spatial segregation and living in poverty.
Seebohm Rowntree’s York enquiry was conducted with a team of assistants during the period 1899-1900 and then published in 1901 under the title ‘Poverty, a Study of Town Life’. While the study was inspired by Booth, in contrast with Booth’s extensive study using multiple sources, Rowntree chose to conduct an intensive study of a single town, much smaller than Booth’s London.[iv]
Despite the differences in scope, the York study had very similar results to those of Booth: large families crammed into small rooms without sanitation or ventilation and disease rife in poverty areas. Rowntree’s team found that a quarter of all York’s children living in its slums died before the age of one and overall, the poverty rate of the town was at least as bad as that found by Booth in London. If a child survived childhood, their poverty was typically due to the casualization of labour, or sickness or injury from work. If an individual survived working life, it was old age that was likely to return a person to poverty; just as Booth had found, old age was closely correlated with poverty. Unsurprisingly, both Booth and Rowntree became campaigners for pensions.
By aiming to determine the nature of living in poverty, Rowntree was in effect investigating whether it was due to ‘wasteful expenditure’, or ‘insufficient means’. Rowntree’s report did much to reiterate Booth’s findings that poverty was not, as was typically thought, a matter of fault; critically, his determination of a poverty line based on income was set at the point at which income was only enough for the “maintenance of merely physical efficiency”, as opposed to access to enough to allow for “expenditure necessary for the development of the mental, moral and social sides of nature.”[v]
[i] Quote is from Booth’s address to the Royal Statistical Society, 1887, cited in Gillie (1996)., p. 715. See also P Spicker, “Charles Booth: The Examination of Poverty,” Social Policy & Administration 24, no. 1 (1990).
[iii] L Vaughan and I Geddes, “Urban Form and Deprivation: A Contemporary Proxy for Charles Booth’s Analysis of Poverty,” Radical Statistics 99 (2009).
[iv] “I am much indebted to Mr. Charles Booth and his associates for valuable suggestions given from time to time during the progress of this investigation. In a letter received from Mr. Booth, which is printed on p. 800, he shows the relation which exists between the York figures and those which he had obtained for London. It is unnecessary to point out the significance and importance of the facts which Mr. Booth thus brings out. BS Rowntree, Poverty: A Study of Town Life, 1902 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1901)., p. ix.