Poverty concealed, but just around the corner

E.P. Thompson, the ‘New Left’ social historian of seventeenth and eighteenth working-class England has written how by the 1830s and 40s the working people were “virtually segregated in their stinking enclaves” – this was not just social segregation, but spatial segregation too, with the middle-classes getting as far out of the polluted industrial cities “as equestrian transport made convenient.” Even in comparatively well-built Sheffield,

‘All classes, save the artisan and the needy shopkeeper, are attracted by country comfort and retirement. The attorney-the manufacturer-the grocer-the draper-the shoemaker and the tailor, fix their commanding residences on some beautiful site.’

Even more was the case in Manchester, where the poor lived in courts and cellars “hidden from the view of the higher ranks by piles of stores, mills, warehouses, and manufacturing establishments, less known to their wealthy neighbours … than the inhabitants of New Zealand or Kamtschatka”. Thompson quotes a contemporary writer stating how:

‘The rich lose sight of the poor, or only recognise them when attention is forced to their existence by their appearance as vagrants, mendicants, or delinquents. We have improved on the proverb, “One half of the world does not know how the other half lives,” changing it into “One half of the world does not care how the other half lives.’ …”[1]

Victoria Bridge, Manchester by James Mudd, c.1864 (GB124.Q38)
Victoria Bridge, Manchester by James Mudd, c.1864 © Manchester Archives & Local Studies Central Library, M60991 (GB124.Q38)

It is in fact interesting to see how the notion of ‘How the Other Half Lives’ was later picked up by Jacob Riis in his own account of life in the New York tenements of the 1890s, where he describes how the unventilated courts were a breeding ground for disease, hidden away from the eyes of the people of the city.[2]

The spatial nature of poverty was especially apparent in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester, which suffered from its geographical situation, sloping down to the railway in the valley of the Irk,[3] with houses arranged in cramped rows along excavated shelves separated and supported by flimsy retaining walls. This area of ‘classic slum’ was, according to Bill Williams physically invisible: “self-contained and shielded from view by the lie of the land and a facade of shops and public buildings, socially barricaded by the railway and industries in the polluted valley of the Irk, and so neglected and ill-lit as to be in a state of ‘perpetual midnight'”.[4].

I write in Mapping Society how no language, especially when used to describe marginality, is entirely neutral. When Engels was roaming the streets of London, visiting the slums, but also negotiating his way through the streets of ‘The Great Town’, he wrote: ‘The very turmoil of the streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels’.[5] This could be interpreted as a repulsion against the lack of care towards the city’s poor, but equally, his words can be read as horror at the degradation of their behaviour as well. Out of sight is truly out of mind and it is thanks to the social investigators of a century and a more ago that we are a bit less complacent about the poverty that is situated just around the corner.


[1] Thompson, E.P. 1963. The Making of the English Working Class: Penguin Books (A Pelican Book), pp. 321-2. I’m grateful to Duncan Hay from Survey of London for bringing this passage to my attention.

[2] Riis, Jacob August. 1890. How the other half lives: Studies among the tenements of New York. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

[3]See Makepeace (1997).

[4]  The district became an area of high density settlement by Jewish immigrants from the 1870s onwards. Quote is from: Williams, B., 1985. ‘The Anti-Semitism of Tolerance: Middle-Class Manchester and the Jews 1870-1900’, in: Kidd, A., Roberts, K. (Eds.), City, Class and Culture. Manchester UP, Manchester, pp. 74-102, p. 81.

[5] F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (New York and London: Panther Edition, 1891 (first published Leipzig: Otto Wigand, 1845), p. 57.


Intemperance in New York: “Where Lager Reigns, 1883”

I spotted a tweet by the New York Map Society the other day, featuring a map of saloons in the city from 1894, one of many examples to be found during this period in the world’s most crowded cities. This was a period when temperance societies were fighting their hardest against the dual evils of poverty and excess drinking, preaching godliness and offering (mainly in vain) alternative attractions such as church and ‘mutual improvement’ in the form of public lectures and societies.

Liquordom in New York City, 1883. Robert Graham, 1883. Copyright Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography

As I write in my chapter on crime in Mapping Society, ‘intemperance’ was often linked with various other social evils supposedly relating to immorality – the one being often viewed as the progenitor of the other. In the UK, James Kneale has written, the social context of drink – the role of the drink trade and rituals of conviviality (‘treating’, or buying a round of drinks amongst friends or acquaintances) – became common discussion points in temperance documents.[ii]

The temperance societies in the United States had a similarly challenging role. In Chicago and other major cities the various temperance societies did battle with the large number of saloons on the city streets. Robert Graham’s 1883 pamphlet, ‘Liquordom in New York City, New York’, contained a series of maps of sections of the city’s streets, marked up with the various types of ‘liquor’ available. New York’s infamous Bowery district is shown with an almost uniform array of saloons on every street in the area, although closer inspection reveals lager beer is present on many more streets than ‘liquor’ (spirits). His pamphlet compares the numbers of saloons, or drink-shops, and the churches and schools in New York City, writing that:

‘It is an undoubted fact that just where the poverty and misery is greatest, there is the largest number of saloons. Granted squalid and overcrowded homes, with a minimum of comfort and a maximum of filth, it is not to be wondered at that saloons with polished woods, meretricious gilding, light, warmth, and freedom, should compete with and beat out of the field the three bare and comfortless rooms which are home only in name. To the real home in the city of New York, which is within the reach of every man in it, there can be no deadlier enemy than the 10,168 saloons which crowd its alleys and throng its courts.’[iii]

The attraction of the gilded interior was in contrast with the squalor of the surrounding housing. Almost simultaneously with Graham’s work, Henry Blair, a Republican senator from New Hampshire, was drawing up a map locating saloons across New York City to accompany his book The Temperance Movement or the Conflict between Man & Alcohol, published in 1888. I recommend viewing the map in all its glory on the Cornell website, but a snippet below gives one a sense of the masses of drinks establishments, yet also of the patterning of their distribution: denser on some streets and lighter on others. It is possible to see a regularity in this distribution, which I attribute to the patterns of street accessibility in the city, what we call in space syntax theory, the ‘movement economy’.

Looking at the analysis of the street layout of 1891, we can see that while there is a social logic to the distribution of saloons, it also follows a spatial logic: Christie and Forsyth streets (running left to right – that is, south to north – on the map) are both highly accessible streets at the neighbourhood scale; in other words, you would expect there to be much more passing traffic along those streets than on the streets lying to their east. On the other hand, when considering patterns of accessibility at a more local scale, the streets at the heart of Manhattan’s Jewish quarter formed a localised area of relative inaccessibility, which would have helped create a sense of an inward-looking district that simultaneously connected outwards along its main roads.[iv]

Detail of The Temperance Movement or the Conflict between Man & Alcohol (Saloon Map of New York City), 1888, overlaid on space syntax analysis of Manhattan c.1891.
The section of the saloon map is highlighted with a black, dashed box.
Original map by Henry Blair, 1888, copyright Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography. Spatial syntax analysis overlay by Garyfalia Palaiologou, 2017.


[i] Graham, cited in P.T. Winskill, The Temperance Movement and Its Workers: A Record of Social, Moral, Religious, and Political Progress (London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and New York: Blackie, 1892), p. 51.

[ii] J. Kneale, ‘The Place of Drink: Temperance and the Public, 1856–1914,’ Social & Cultural Geography 2, no. 1 (2001), p. 53.

[iii] The map states that ‘On the 30th day of April 1886, it appeared from the records of the Board of Excise Commissioners, that there were 9168 Licenses to sell intoxicating liquor in force in the city, and 1000 places, by estimate, were selling without license. Total number of saloons or places where liquor was obtainable, 10168; of which over 9000 licensed places are located on this map.’

[iv] The analysis of the street layout of Manhattan at the scale of the entire island finds the main north–south routes being the most accessible; at the more local, neighbourhood scale (segment angular integration at radius 2500, illustrated in the main space syntax image in Figure 6.10), it is avenues such as the Bowery, running on to become Second Avenue, that are the most likely to have generated high rates of pedestrian movement alongside significant vehicular transport. The inset of shows analysis of the same measure at the radius of 800m, a scale which predicts local movement flows. Full space syntax analysis of Manhattan over time can be found in G. Palaiologou, ‘Between Buildings and Streets: A Study of the Micromorphology of the London Terrace and the Manhattan Row House 1880–2013’ (Ph.D. diss., UCL, 2015).

Mapping disease: typhoid in 1890s Wellington, New Zealand

From the turn of the 19th century, social cartography was centred on mapping contagious disease – the most urgent problem of rapidly growing cities around the world. The examples which feature in my forthcoming book, Mapping Society range from Yellow Fever in New York, 1798, followed by a large number of maps of cholera, ranging across France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Before the creation of epidemiology as a science in its own right, it was the combined efforts of physicians and medical officers (namely public health officials, many of whom themselves had medical training) that contributed the effort of understanding the spatial distribution of disease.

In the UK, it was John Snow who famously hypothesised in the 1850s that cholera was caused by a germ spread through contaminated water, in contrast with the prevalent miasma theory of contagion through bad air (though evidently there were scientists in Italy and Germany working on isolating the bacterium several years previously). The two theories were debated vigorously, but Snow’s ground-breaking studies of the 1853–5 epidemic resulted in his being considered the father of epidemiology, due not only to his well-reasoned statistics but to his maps, which illustrated to a lay audience the evidence of a cluster of cholera cases amongst people living close to a single water pump on Broad Street and, hence, that contaminated water was the source of the disease.

Nevertheless, both in Europe and much farther afield in New Zealand, the evidence for cholera and typhoid being water-borne continued to be debated, with the Wellington medical officer William Chapple’s mapping the incidence of typhoid across the city, to see if he could find where blocked pipes were causing sewer vapours to back up into houses (see image below[i]).

Typhoid map layout_zoom
Section of map of central Wellington drawn up by the city’s medical officer, William Chapple, to show the location of typhoid between 1890 and 1892. Source: Wellington City Archives. Reference: 00233:34:1892/740 typhoid map

Chapple’s map identifies a cluster of typhoid cases in the Holland Street area of the city, where he had found that the street’s sewer was leaking had contaminated the surrounding soil. Coupled to empirical fieldwork, which found overcrowded housing in the street, the maps were able to highlight (with graphic emphasis of the leaking sewer), the spatial association between housing quality, urban situation and disease.

While the map is quite late for the sequence of disease maps reported in Mapping Society, Ben Schrader has pointed out that the ‘miasma theory’ that disease such as cholera or typhoid were air borne, continued to persist in the country, despite the discovery in 1885 of Salmonella typhi by a US veterinary pathologist Daniel Elmer Salmon[ii] (almost simultaneously with the discovery in 1884 of the cholera bacillus, Vibrio cholerae by the German scientist, Robert Koch.)

Although the fact that the disease was likely to have been the result of contamination of drinking water by leaking cesspits was not yet accepted at this stage, the subsequent construction of municipal water and sewer schemes seems to have had the desired result of a drop in mortality from water-borne diseases in urban New Zealand by the turn of the 20th century.

Typhoid map layout_cropped
Map of central Wellington drawn up by the city’s medical officer, William Chapple, to show the location of typhoid between 1890 and 1892. Source: Wellington City Archives. Reference: 00233:34:1892/740 typhoid map


[i] I am grateful to Matthew Plummer, who brought the map to my attention via Twitter. A downloadable version of the map can be found here: https://teara.govt.nz/en/zoomify/24425/typhoid-map-wellington

[ii] Schrader B. (2016) The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840–1920. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books

The featured image is of a butcher’s shop in Wellington, New Zealand, from: https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/23024/19th-century-butchers-shop.