Booth Maps1 2

Between the 1880s and the turn of the century, Camden Town became more bedraggled. The proof of this comes from an unexpected quarter, the comparison of Booth surveys in the 1880s, which had culminated in his Descriptive Map of London Poverty, of 1889, and the later Booth surveys in 1902-3 made for the report on the work of local churches. Charles Booth, not to be confused with General Booth of the Salvation Army, was a Victorian businessman who refused to believe that a million Londoners lived in ‘great poverty’, as radical politicians claimed. He started a long survey which took seventeen years to complete, to find in the end that the position was even worse than he had been told. It was the first really careful survey of housing need and led eventually to great changes.

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A small part of the 1889 Booth ‘Poverty’ map.

By the time the Church Survey was being carried out, about ten or twelve years later, most houses in Camden Town had slipped down a peg or two. As a result, many houses were printed in  darker colours in the 1902-3 Survey than in the one above

Booth divided people into eight groups H - A, but coloured in his maps in seven colours ranging from Wealthy’ to ‘The Lowest Class’ as follows:-

YELLOW [H] Wealthy (three or more servants: houses rated at £100 or more). Regent’s Park was yellow, but there were very few such houses in Camden Town;
RED [G] Well to do (one or two servants)
PINK [F] Supervisors with a life condition altogether different from that of the poor. Working Class Comfort. ‘The non-commissioned officers of the industrial army’
PURPLE [E] Better paid labourers and artisans, small shopkeepers; enjoying regular, standard earnings, consistently above the poverty line
PINK and PURPLE represent the working class with raised ideals; those we would call today ‘the upward striving’.
LIGHT BLUE [C and D] - Poor, but not in want. Life is an unending struggle. Intermittent employment or small regular earnings, their means were insufficient for a decent life.
DARK BLUE [B] - Incapable of looking after themselves and dragging down C & D.
BLACK [A] - ‘Semi-criminals’. ‘A small and declining percentage’. ‘A horde of barbarians’

The colours ranged symbolically from yellow and red, the colours off wealth and warmth, to blue and black, the colours of cold and outer darkness.

Thus B and A formed an ‘Under class’, caught in a poverty trap from which they had no hope of escaping by their own efforts.

There were few ‘Wealthy, with three or more servants’, in Camden Town. These lived in Regent’s Park and the West End. The main streets of Camden Town were lined with shops, often with the shopkeepers living above. These were considered Red, Pink, or Pink and Purple. Many would have had quite flourishing businesses, though some may have struggled on occasion. Often, behind the main roads were poorer houses. Hawley Street is purple, indicating ‘better paid artisans, etc.’ while Buck Street is in light blue, showing that life was ‘a perpetual struggle’. Just outside the edges of this map, in Ferdinand Street and off Arlington Road, at what is now the rear entrance to Marks & Spencer’s, were patches of dark blue and even black. This agrees with the police reports which are mentioned later.

Uses of the Booth Poverty Maps in this website.

The 1889 Booth Poverty Map had a profound impact on public opinion, partly for humanitarian reasons, but also because the black and dark blue areas of the very poor, were scattered among the red and pink houses of the better off. People may not have known the full details about the mechanics of microbiological infection, but they knew that filthy conditions might affect their own health. Enlightened self interest often informed their charity.

This was before Lloyd George’s Old Age Act of 1906, and there was no Unemployment Insurance. Most charity was organised through the churches, so it was natural for the Poverty Map to be followed by a survey of the work done by the churches to relieve the situation. After the Poverty Map had been published in 1889, local clergy were interviewed and the reports, most written on the spot, in long-hand, are preserved at the London School of Economics, carefully filed in districts. These formed the basis of the later reports and printed maps. Some interviewers are not above commenting on the clergy. ‘Mr Arnold, the curate, is not helped by self-deception. A godly young man - offensive - pious - and self-sufficient - at bottom a hypocrite.’ Apparently another Mr Slope.

The reports, in different handwritings, describe the work done by the churches in providing help during illness and free school meals to children, made without distinction as to creed. There is an earthy realism among some of the clergy. ‘No change in drink unless for the worse. Mothers attending the Mothers’ Meeting would go from a temperance meeting to the public house.’ But the churches are patient. ‘At first the people come for what they can get, but when they are responsive they can be very good.’

The churches differ, having been set up by different denominations and in different areas, yet all tell similar stories. Park Chapel, for example, had been established about 1850 and became the most fashionable resort for non-conformists. It was always crowded and still retained, in 1902, a large congregation ‘coming from a distance’ This distance was ‘up to a mile’, which shows the local nature of most church congregations when everyone walked to church. The clergyman at Park Chapel had begun his ministry there as a young man twenty-seven years before, left and returned after sixteen years, so he was very conscious of the changes in the area.

Camden Town is becoming a business place. Now nearly every house has a lodger and servants are rare.’  In the sixteen years he had been away the houses had come down in the world. When the investigators went round in 1902-3 they were able to compare the present conditions with those on the old map of 1889. Time and again there are comments on the housing. The worst area was Somers Town, where King’s Cross,  St Pancras, and Euston Stations had all blighted the area. Much of the district was owned by the railways and the land might be needed by them at short notice. This prevented improvement or redevelopment, so the area decayed.

St Mary’s Church, Somers Town, included Ampthill Square (near Mornington Crescent) and extended down to the railway stations. It was, ‘Full of problems - bad property rather than bad people - leasehold system working badly - transferred again and again - actual landlords, small rack-renting people. A wholesale clearance would be desirable.’ Old photographs show Dickensian houses, literally Dickensian for he knew the houses well and described them.

This clearance and rebuilding finally came about, so that the blocks of flats around Charlton Street are almost identical with those world famous ones put up after the First World War in Berlin and Vienna. It was indeed a splendid transformation, but thirty years and a world war after the Booth Church Survey.

As conditions in Somers Town worsened, people crowded into Camden Town. This, and the concentration of industry in Camden Town, packed more and more people into the area. The report on Albany Street reads:-

‘A parish of many landlords - much overcrowding - unwholesome conditions. Population of Albany Street working class - respectable, steady people with a few rough characters in Little Albany Street and Little Edward Street. Albany Street is steadily going down and downward tendency is due to the character of Somers Town.’

‘Park Village West is perfectly respectable, but is notorious for kept women. Few houses otherwise occupied. Quite decent and respectable outwardly - nothing illegal, but church workers not welcomed.’

Albert Road is described as ‘East of Gloucester Crescent but very much west of Park Village (which was still an area with several servants per household). Both ‘yellow and red’ houses on the 1889 map were now being let as tenements and furnished apartments.

The police too were consulted. Their viewpoint was different, although their comments were often similar. Inspector Wait, who had a ‘gorged, unhealthy, appearance, but was intelligent and discreet’, knew the area intimately.

‘Delancey Street provided, as did so many, good clean lodgings.’ ‘All in Arlington Road were ‘comfortable’ (Pink). Stanhope Place, a tiny court near Parkway housed ‘costers and labourers - hard-working, decent people.’ Chapel Yard nearby was ‘a dirty, squalid place with broken windows, in long houses without backs - mostly costers - a rough lot - any amount of drink.’ Pleasant Row Mews was the same, with rough costers who boozed heavily.  They had market stalls in the High Street. The tradesmen in Wellington Street drove them off, but their own trade fell as a result, so they were glad to have the market stalls back.’

Near Chalk Farm Station there was a downward tendency in 1902-3, so that the non-conformist Church was known as ‘the poor church’. There were then about 700 ‘poor’ in the district.  At the same time the district round St Saviour’s Church was still well-to-do but going down. It had not yet reached the stage of letting apartments, but the inhabitants were of a ‘poorer class and impecunious’. New rents were half what they had been twenty years before.

Fleet Road was ‘what it had been since the Fever Hospital had been built’ [on the site of the present Royal Free Hospital]. The houses had been built for the middle class but were given over to the poor, including many railway, bus and tram men. Out of a population of 6000, one third were working class. However, Fleet Road had been going down before ever the Fever Hospital was built. Many of the people displaced in Somers Town by the coming of the railways had moved directly to Fleet Road, which was conveniently on the end of the tram route and thus easy to reach.

In Chalk Farm the main roads were lined with red houses, indicating ‘wealthy’, although this often concealed worry. Behind, were rows of streets coloured the light blue of poverty. Ferdinand Place, [which ran parallel to Ferdinand Street and has now been demolished in favour of blocks of flats] was much improved. There were still a number of loose women about but no ragged children. In Haverstock Street, one of the cul-de-cacs which then ran off Ferdinand Street, they saw the first bare-footed lad. Hethersett Street, a similar cul-de-sac, was the worst and drink, not poverty was to blame. There were no convictions for serious crime, only ‘snatching youngsters’.

To move forward a couple of generations, these rows of small terraces, let in rooms and floors, persisted until the whole area from the back of the bus garage to Crogsland Road was cleared to build working class flats. After the First World War, memorial plaques had been erected in Heathersett Street and other local roads listing the dead. General Haig had said that those who worked together and joined up together could fight together. This ‘pals’ system created great loyalty and camaraderie, but it meant that men from the same street also died together. The same names appeared time after time on the same plaques, where whole families of men had died. Where are the plaques now?

In Queen’s Crescent, Wellersley Road was ‘much improved’ and Kentish Town was ‘nothing like so rough as it had been ten years before’. Streets were changing from purple to pink, as they attracted supervisors in place of artisans. Areas went up and down all the time.

Harmood Street.

Pink: the houses of foremen
and clerks in 1889

Camden Housing in the 1890's

A beautiful stucco house by the
Regent’s Park Road canal bridge,
which Booth would have
classed as yellow.




A house in Camden Street, now restored. It was then rated Purple, but other houses like this may have had a family in each room and been Light or Dark Blue.

Agar Town, the typical slum, Dark Blue and Black.

This is alleged to be a sketch of Agar Town. Property of this type would have been marked in dark blue and black on Booth's Map. However, Agar Town was demolished in the 1860's to create railway yards and gas holder sites, so it would not have been shown on the Booth Map in 1889.

Municipal Housing in Camden

The results of the Booth Poverty Survey can be seen all round us, in the blocks of municipal flats. Their history is too vast to be dealt with here, but it was a long, hard-fought struggle. When, at the start of the century, the London County Council and local borough councils finally won the right to build and let at economic rents, municipal housing took off. Goldington Buildings, opened at the lower end of Great College Street in 1904, was the first of many in the borough, but the problem of providing good housing at low rents was phenomenal. In 1921, 11,000 people in St Pancras (the area from Camden Town to King’s Cross) lived more than three to a room. Nearly 4,000 lived four to a room. In 1922 there were 10,000 unemployed in St Pancras. The story goes on and on. ‘Five per cent philanthropic housing’ (the private attempt to solve the problem of low-rent housing); council housing; overcrowding; slum clearance; bomb damage repairs; tower blocks compared with low-rise housing; flat roofs versus pitched; New Towns built on ‘green-field’ sites, or the rehabilitation of old inner-city ‘brown field’ ones.  They have been the subject of hundreds of books. In London, the Booth Surveys laid the ground for all of this endeavour, which is why the original hand-written reports, with their sometimes acid comments, are strangely moving. They, and other reports in later years, led to a century of building. It is a record of which any borough could be proud.

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A small swathe of the Municipal Housing just north of Camden Lock

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  1. Lawn Road
  2. Malden Road
  3. Denton Tower, Prince of Wales Road
  4. Barrington Court, Lamble Street Estate
  5. Fleet Road
  6. Malden Road
  7. Lismore Circus
  8. Southfleet, Malden Road
  9. Off Malden Road
  10. South End Green
  11. Kent House, Ferdinand Street. Built 1935, these were years before their time. (Ref: Architect & Building News 20 Dec 1935)
  12. Mansfield Road
  13. Southampton Road
  14. West Kentish Town Estate, between Malden Road and Grafton Road. This estate was built of re-cast concrete slabs for walls and roofs. When these failed, the flats were insulated with 50 mm of mineral wool and red hanging tiles and the flat roofs replaced with ‘upside down’ roofs.
  15. Tottenhall, Ferdinand Street. It was in Ferdinand Street that in 1890 the Booth Survey researcher saw ‘the first barefoot boy’.
  16. Behind Queen’s Crescent
  17. Mansfield Road.

To these can be added the Arlington Road and Camden Gardens flats(pp.182-193) built for the Community Housing Association and hundreds of others erected over the years. Camden streets are lined with them, and all stemming originally from the Booth Survey.


  1. The Booth notebooks at London School of Economics

  2. The Booth Poverty Map of 1889, reprinted by London Topographical Society

The Bottle Warehouse
by William Hucks, 1894

Moy’s of Bayham Street

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