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Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  177 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 25th 2014 by Yale University Press
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Aug 06, 2015 Penny rated it really liked it
Shelves: london
I can't think of a better subject to choose as my Summer Holiday reading than the filth and squalor of Victorian London. It was always reputed that approaching London you could smell the city miles before you reached it.
As I sat by the pool in the sunshine enthralled by a chapter entitled 'Night Soil' I did wonder about my reading tastes. But this book really was fascinating!
Victorian London's problems in dealing with sewage, rubbish, over flowing graveyards etc are well known.
What this book do
K.J. Charles
A very enjoyable journey through Victorian filth, which was at points almost unimaginably disgusting. Really informative, filling in a lot of gaps on subjects from which most histories avert their eyes, and written in a thoroughly lively, engaging way. Great stuff for London-lovers and anyone who enjoys reading history about how people lived. Extremely useful reference for the historical writer as well. /adds grime to WIP/
Jun 16, 2015 Peter rated it it was amazing
For anyone who has interest in the underbelly of 19C London and everybody who enjoys a tightly researched, well-written and engaging book, Lee Jackson's Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth is a must read.

This is a remarkable book because Jackson is able to weave a massive amount of research into a very readable format. The fact that Jackson, on occasion, interjects humour and wry comments on topics such as rotting corpses, human waste and countless reasons for disease is a testam
Manchester Military History Society (MMHS)
Oct 13, 2015 Manchester Military History Society (MMHS) rated it really liked it
Shelves: uk
Not one to read after you have eaten!

Whilst not a subject for the faint hearted Lee Jackson describes the filth and squalor of Victorian London with great humour.

If you like your Conan Doyle, Dickens or family history research then this gives you real insight into the true living conditions of Londoners prior to any real efforts at sanitation.

The story of reform is a fascinating one and Jackson pieces the story together with combinations of primary sources, political machinations and some unbeli
Nov 01, 2015 Anna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
Sometimes when writing reviews, the reviewer ends with who ought to read the book in question. In this case, I am going to start with it. Who should read this book? The answer is everyone who will ever make decisions about city planning, or housing. Actually, it would probably be easier to recommend it to anyone involved in politics, local or national.

Dirty Old London - The Victorian Fight Against Filth is a history and a monument to all the people who agitated, bickered, invented, planned, obs
Clare Fitzgerald
Apr 02, 2015 Clare Fitzgerald rated it it was amazing
In the few moments I have had over the past six weeks to read for pleasure, I have been (finally!) entertaining myself with Lee Jackson’s wonderfully disgusting work of weird history, Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth. The subject of the book is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: the disgustingly dirty state of London through the nineteenth century and the attempts by various “sanitarians” and social reformers to find a way to clean it up.

This book has all the best
Oct 29, 2015 Killian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
What a completely fascinating book! Post Victorian Era America and England is my absolutely favorite time period to learn about, and though this takes place place a bit before that (roughly from the 1830's-1880's) I have still come across mentions of how vile a place London was to live in and visit during this time. This book went in depth discussing the reasons why it was so filthy, and how the lack-luster "sanitation movement" tried to fix some of these issues with mixed success.

And I mean in
Peter Mcloughlin
Cities like London in the 19th century were filled with filth of both animal and human wastes into was not uncommon for disease and dirt were rampant. A modern person viewing London which was the most advanced city of the day as more disgusting than most third world slums of the present. Cities used to have higher death rates than birthrates. In fact they depended on migration from the countryside to replenish the attrition from disease. cities for most people were not golden opportunities but ...more
Naomi Clifford
Jan 09, 2015 Naomi Clifford rated it really liked it
I am a big fan of Lee Jackson's work - both fiction and non-fiction - and of his Twitter feed. The man is incredibly prolific and manages to be authoritative at the same time. He has an excellent writing style in all genres. The subject here is fascinating but I have to say I found this book on the dry side as much of it focuses on the men (they were generally men) who tried to improve the filthy conditions in London rather than the social conditions themselves. Nevertheless, I recommend this as ...more
Stacy Is Shitting On Your Iphone
I'm half way through this. It's so freakin' the desert and there is no water in sight. This is really not for the casual reader (in my opinion). I'm fascinated by the gross stuff but so NOT interested in everything Mr. P did and said that failed so Mr. Q decided to do this and so on and so forth. I'm writing this even though I'm not finished b/c I fear that I'm so freakin' DONE with this book even though I'm not done. I will finish this though...or try anyway.
K.T. Katzmann
Jun 16, 2016 K.T. Katzmann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Absolutely fascinating. Filled with the bizarre, the disgusting, and the little known. A literally inspiring book for writers and role-play gamers.
Rachel Pollock
Mar 05, 2016 Rachel Pollock rated it really liked it
If you are interested in exactly how gross London was in the 19th century, this book makes it repellently clear. Good bibliography too.
Steven Allen
Oct 24, 2016 Steven Allen rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-kept
This book sounds really interesting, but is torturous to read. The book is full of neat Victorian-era pictures of old London. The author assumes that you are familiar with English history enough that he names several notable people, but I had to Google them. I just could not settle into this book.
Sep 09, 2016 C.K. rated it liked it
If you are interested in sewage systems, coal pollution, and nascent public restrooms during Romantic and Victorian-era London, then look no farther than this book. Jackson's exploration of public health and London's cleanliness (or lack thereof) during the 1800s is well-researched and very interestingly written. I picked this up after reading Johnson's The Ghost Map, another wonderful book about public health (specifically, cholera) during 1850s London. Dirty Old London has an ambitious scope, ...more
Jan 20, 2016 Greg rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook
*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.*

Earlier this year, I read Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Mike Wallace and Edwin G. Burrows, a wonderfully detailed history of New York City. One of the most interesting parts of that book was the discussion of the sanitarian movement in the late 19th century. The book mentions that man of the ideas had their start in the UK. When I saw Dirty Old London available, I had to read it.

Dirty Old London is broken up into c
Oct 27, 2015 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Dirty Old London" is a history of the sanitary movement in London in the 1800's. The author covered household refuse (trash/garbage), street mud (a mix of dirt, ash, dung, trash), night soil (from cesspools to sewers), corpses (changes in graveyards), bathing and laundry (how can the poor get clean?), public toilets (what to do when you just have to go!), soot (from boy sweeps to mechanical brushes), and attempts to clean up the slums including model housing for the poor.

The author talked abou
Dec 13, 2015 Erica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2015, favorites
I thoroughly enjoyed this delightfully weird social history of Victorian London! It gave me a whole new lens to see everyday things by: like the burial ground I walk by in my corner of Southwest London, where the last graves date from the 1860s and it had been re-arranged and turned into a little park: I now know that this was part of a greater plan across london to close local, small, over-crowded graveyards in preference for the larger suburban ones. The streets I walk by Gray's Inn and ...more
Jo-anne Atkinson
Sep 30, 2015 Jo-anne Atkinson rated it it was amazing
London in the 19th Century was a dirty place. Reliance on coal made air pollution a problem and the burgeoning population meant that waste from humans was an ever growing issue. In this book Lee Jackson explores how the Victorians approached dealing with the different forms of dirt and the impact that changes had on society.

From the plight of chimney sweeps to the 'Great Stink', this is a comprehensive look at the different forms of 'dirt' produced and the ever inventive ways that the Victorians
Jan 17, 2016 Kristine rated it liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
Dirty Old London by Lee Jackson is a free NetGalley ebook that I read during an evening in early October. Entranced by How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life, I knew I had to read this book and find out about the environment that was wandered around in during this timeframe.

The chapters are split up chronologically and by elements - pollutants in the air, earth, water, and from fire - as well as by famous/infamous public service workers that funded and fought for sanitary
Honestly the book is a little boring, I almost gave it two stars. It reads like a slightly modified research paper. The reader eventually gets slogged down in technical details of this precise exact vestry did this and this exact person did this and then on this exact date this exact club did this which didn't really matter anyway. For a layman looking for a nice fun slice of history the book will turn into a little bit of a slog. The book took me twice as long to read as a normal book of its ...more
Polly Krize
Oct 15, 2015 Polly Krize rated it really liked it
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Dirty indeed, this is a fascinating book about the history of the illustrious city. In the Victorian age London was a seeming cesspool of dirt and disease, and this highly researched account delves deeply into all aspects of this horrendous pollution. The myriad methods of handling the endless waste stream are shown, whether they worked or not. The impact of this filth on everyday life is presented in much detail, especially the cha
Dec 03, 2015 Alison rated it really liked it
Thoroughly academic in writing style, Dirty Old London delves exquisitely into the filth that plagued London throughout the Victorian age. Particularly fascinating were the chapters on personal hygiene (for the poor, cleanliness was not an option) and cemetery overcrowding.

I thought it ingenious that Jackson remarks on the contemporary state of each component mentioned as afflicting Victorian society.
Dave Mills
Dec 01, 2015 Dave Mills rated it liked it
This is really quite a good book with some amazingly thorough research. Perhaps less for the casual reader, like me, who's interested in anything "London-ish," than for the Victorian scholar. Our 21st century Republican congressmen, mean as they are, aren't much worse than their 19th century Victorian laissez-faire politician counterparts. The helpless, hopeless, and unrelieved still exist. That doesn't say a lot for our social progress.
Jantine Kampes
Nov 19, 2015 Jantine Kampes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
This book takes us into the wonderful world of Victorian London; warts, dirt and all.
For people like me, who love to read Dickens every now and then, it is a kind of must-read. There is quite a lot of thoroughly researched information in there, written in a captivating way; it is not only interesting, but well written too. It already helped me understanding some literary questions I didn't even realise I had!
Eileen Hall
Oct 10, 2015 Eileen Hall rated it it was amazing
Fascinating insight of the lives of Victorian Londoners, their day to day living in the squalor and the architexts, workers and reformers who endeavoured to make their lives that much better.
A great read!
This digital copy was given to me by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review.
Jan 02, 2015 David rated it really liked it
This meticulously researched book goes into every detail of what it must have been like living in 19th century London when its population doubled in a short period with the inevitable consequences about removing the capital's waste. After reading you will never take today's clean lifestyle for granted.
Aug 09, 2015 Susan rated it really liked it
Nonfiction and a little heavy going but a rewarding study of how London got to be the dirtiest city in the world and how they fixed it. It was politics. Bonus: when Bazalgette was referred to in another fiction work I was reading, I knew who he was and felt very smart.
Sian Bradshaw
Jan 25, 2015 Sian Bradshaw rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I did enjoy this book although it makes depressing reading but is also very compelling. The history of London Sewers could be a book in itself. You have to admire the in depth research this book took.
Jan 04, 2015 Dana rated it really liked it
Well written, easy to read, this book details how Victorian London tried to tackle to filth that threatened to take over the city. So much of it seems familiar today, with arguments of who will pay to keep the streets clean and the people remarkably similar.
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L.M. JACKSON lives in London with his partner Joanne. His first book, London Dust, was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award. He is fascinated by the social history of Victorian London and spends much of his time on the ongoing development of his website.
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“Before taking his leave of a premises, the dustman would request either beer or a tip for his trouble, quaintly known in the trade as ‘sparrows’.” 0 likes
“Dustmen, employed by private contractors, were in no sense public servants, or part of a ‘public sector’ – a concept which barely belongs to the Victorian era.” 0 likes
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