Charles Booth was a businessman and philanthropist. He wasn't religious but was deeply worried that there was a lack of any real evidence to prove or disprove the widespread belief that poverty was becoming a problem on the streets of London.
Off his own back Booth organised and funded one of the most comprehensive surveys of London life between 1886 and 1903. It provided a fascinating insight into the streets of our capital city at the turn of the century and I would encourage anyone with an interest in finding out about the area in which their ancestor lived to visit the website (click here). Although other surveys were done this is the only one where the original notes have survived.
Booth used a series of investigators to help him, one of them being his cousin Beatrix Potter. The maps he produced are perhaps the most distinctive end product of his survey - each street was coloured to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants.
However, in the first volume of his findings, rather than colours, he used the following classifications to split everyone into social classes :
A. The lowest class which consists of some occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals. Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and their only luxury is drink.
B. Casual earnings, very poor. The labourers do not get as much as three days work a week, but it is doubtful if many could or would work full time for long together if they had the opportunity. Class B is not one in which men are born and live and die so much as a deposit of those who from mental, moral and physical reasons are incapable of better work.
C. Intermittent earning. 18s to 21s per week for a moderate family. The victims of competition and on them falls with particular severity the weight of recurrent depressions of trade. Labourers, poorer artisans and street sellers. This irregularity of employment may show itself in the week or in the year: stevedores and waterside porters may secure only one of two days' work in a week, whereas labourers in the building trades may get only eight or nine months in a year.
D. Small regular earnings. poor, regular earnings. Factory, dock, and warehouse labourers, carmen, messengers and porters. Of the whole section none can be said to rise above poverty, nor are many to be classed as very poor. As a general rule they have a hard struggle to make ends meet, but they are, as a body, decent steady men, paying their way and bringing up their children respectably.
E. Regular standard earnings, 22s to 30s per week for regular work, fairly comfortable. As a rule the wives do not work, but the children do: the boys commonly following the father, the girls taking local trades or going out to service.
F. Higher class labour and the best paid of the artisans. Earnings exceed 30s per week. Foremen are included, city warehousemen of the better class and first hand lightermen; they are usually paid for responsibility and are men of good character and much intelligence.
G. Lower middle class. Shopkeepers and small employers, clerks and subordinate professional men. A hardworking sober, energetic class.
H. Upper middle class, servant keeping class.
I will be looking at some of the streets in North Kensington, where my ancestors lived, in more detail over the next few blogs but these are examples of the notes Booth made about two of them - where my 2 x great grandparents, William and Ann Musgrove, lived at the time of the 1871 (Cirencester Street) and 1881 (Edinburgh Road) census :
His efforts were rewarded in 1908 by the introduction of The Old Age Pensions Act although the state pension was means tested rather than the flat rate Booth advocated. There were a number of hoops you needed to pass through before qualifying for this state handout, including the necessity to pass a 'character test'; only those with a 'good character' could receive the pension.