Dirty Old London The Victorian Fight Against Filth Lee Jackson

Publication date:
09 Oct 2014
Yale University Press
304 pages: 235 x 156 x 31mm
40 b/w illus.

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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 women who struggled to stem a rising tide of pollution and dirt, and the forces that opposed them. Through thematic chapters, Jackson describes how Victorian reformers met with both triumph and disaster. Full of individual stories and overlooked details - from the dustmen who grew rich from recycling, to the peculiar history of the public toilet - this riveting book gives us a fresh insight into the minutiae of daily life and the wider challenges posed by the unprecedented growth of the Victorian capital.

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For a '30 Days of Filth Blog Tour' visit the Yale Books blog.

A well-known Victorianist, Lee Jackson is the author of Walking Dickens' London, Victorian London, editor of A Dictionary of Victorian London, and a number of historical crime novels; and creator of the preeminent website on Victorian London www.victorianlondon.org. He lives in London.

"This is a tightly argued, meticulously researched history of sanitation that reads like a novel."—Paula Byrne, The Times 

‘Rich in wonderful contemporary details gleaned from newspapers and archives, Jackson’s study is a vivid account of the enormous challenges faced by a city expanding at an unprecedented rate.’—P. D. Smith, The Guardian.

‘There is an extensive bibliography and index and this makes Dirty Old London a very welcome addition to the social history of the Victorian capital. It will be useful to scholars as well as being a very enjoyable popular history which deserves a wide readership.’—Drew Gray, The London Journal

'Where there’s muck there’s brass. Let’s hope so for Lee Jackson, author of this volume on all things feculent, filthy and noisome in the Victorian city. It’s a big topic that deserves a big audience.'—Matt Brown, The Londonist

'The book is engagingly written, and based on a wide reading of source material and recent academic writing.'—Peter Hounsell, Who Do You Think You Are Magazine

'Delve deep into Victorian London’s dirty streets in this detailed, but enjoyably graphic, account of efforts to make life better for the British capital’s growing population.'—History Revealed

‘This superb book places the humdrum business of keeping a city and its people clean in a detailed social and political context.’—Jonathan Wright, The Tablet.

‘I thought I knew nineteenth-century London-this book made me smell it. . .Mud: it’s so often mentioned in Victorian literature, but I didn’t know what it was until I read this admirable book.’—Clive Aslet, Country Life 

‘Mr Jackson has written a book that is neat and sparkling, unlike his subject matter.’—Emily Cockayne, Wall Street Journal Europe.

‘This interesting and informative book deserves to have a wide circulation.’—John Beasley, The Methodist Recorder.

‘Lee Jackson has mapped the darker side of the metropolitan landscape in a lively and informed manner.’—John Marriot, Journal of Victorian Culture.

‘Jackson, “a noted Victorianist”, has put in time in archives all over London, as one can see from the depth and breadth of the book’s detail.’—Rose George, New Statesman.

‘Jackson has a keen eye for human behaviour, and his descriptions of the suffering of the poor in this often nightmarish environment are genuinely horrifying and moving.’—Christopher Hart, Literary Review.

‘Jackson handles his complex, sometimes technical, often revolting material with immense skill… the author has a sharp eye for telling detail and illuminating anecdote.’—Alan McNee, TLS.

‘This is a fascinating work that will engage both those interested in Victorian in general and London in particular.’—Stephen Halliday, BBC History Magazine

“Lee Jackson stops to have a good poke around – and consider in fascinating, sometimes gruesome detail, the filth and nuisances of the time . . . Utterly engrossing.”—Jo Baker, The New York Times Book Review

Dirty Old London is a treat – truly Victorian, in that it is shocking, entertaining, educational and grisly by turns.’ – Catharine Arnold, author of Necropolis: London and its Dead

''I can't think of a better companion with whom to explore London's underbelly - expert, engaging and approachable.' - Sarah Wise, author of The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum

'So much meticulous research packaged into such a vividly readable narrative. I loved it.' - Liza Picard, author of Victorian London

‘The squalor of Victorian London was proverbial. Lee Jackson’s revelatory clean-up goes behind the headlines to allow us to see not just what, but why, London was so dirty.’ - Judith Flanders, author of The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London

“Jackson demonstrates the unimaginable filth that permeated London during the 19th century . . . A well-researched, if unpalatable, picture of a filthy city and the different factions fighting for and against reform using class distinctions, gender inequality and horrendous poor laws.”—Kirkus Reviews

While the subject of Dirty Old London is often, unavoidably, off-putting, it is also endlessly intriguing.”—Shelf Awareness

“Impressive . . . [Lee] Jackson has written a book that is neat and sparkling, unlike his subject matter.”—Emily Cockayne, The Wall Street Journal

“An atypical look at London’s social history. Jackson manages to make a disgusting topic much funnier than one would expect.”—Library Journal

“Disgusting and wonderful.”—Kelly Faircloth, Jezebel