Blog > Workers and Welfare: Living Conditions of the 1800’s East End

Workers and Welfare: Living Conditions of the 1800’s East End

During the late 19th century, just before Oxford House was established in the area, Bethnal Green was one of the poorest and overcrowded areas of London. Most of the people who lived and worked in the area were labourers in the furniture making business, or fruit sellers, but no job was prosperous and the majority lived in poverty amongst other families. A census taken of the area revealed that a total of 3512 families were weavers in Bethnal Green alone, along with countless other low pay professions. The drastic increase in population in Bethnal Green between 1801 and 1831 degraded the former village into an overpopulated slum.


The overcrowding of houses was a huge problem for this area, as large and under privileged families shared their small homes with other large families. Disease spread by these close living quarters was common, especially chest infections and rheumatism, caused by the unrelenting damp from sleeping in one room. Typhus was also a worry due to stagnant water, leaking sewage and waste from houses building up in the streets.

Workhouses were well established in the area; however social conditions for these would often be worse than the overcrowded homes of the labourers. St Matthew Parish Workhouse is recorded opened in 1777, with a further two opening up on Waterloo Road and Well Street. The Waterloo Road workhouse was subject to a journal article by the Lancet in 1869, which described its conditions; lighting and ventilation were poor; in the sick ward, there were only two trained nurses for up to 600 people; washing facilities were lacking and up to 17 children would be cleaned with the same small bucket of water; the diet was lacking nutrition and meat.

Figure 3_Boundary Street_permission obtained

Was it better to be in the workhouse or the slum? By the time Oxford House was set up, increasing changes to welfare legislation were taking place, with the demolition and rebuilding of better housing already occurring. This would, in time, help raise the quality of life for residents of Bethnal Green, and help to establish it not as a slum, but as a thriving community.

Text: Laura Newby

1.    Clerkenwell Workhouse in 1882. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
2.    St Matthews Parish, which Oxford House was part of on Booth’s poverty map of 1889. Red Areas denote middle class, dark blue is poor and in need of help. Oxford House is just out of view to the upper right corner. Printed Map Descriptive of London Poverty 1898-1899. Sheet 5. East Central District. Image from LSE Library’s collections, BOOTH/E/1/5.
3.    Boundary Street: women outdoors. London Metropolitan Archives



Workers and Welfare: Living Conditions of the 1800’s East End On This Day... 30th November 1891 WANTED: Archivist for heritage project Fascism in the East End The Blitz The Original Oxford House Conscientious objectors The Welsh Schools The Excelsior The Effects of World War I in Oxford House War Memorial The Inauguration of the Oxford House Building 1892 From Oxford House to Local and International Stardom In the Spotlight: the Repton Boxing Club and Oxford House Hensley Henson, Oxford House leader The Kray Twins Alfred Soord, The Crucifixion. Oxford House Chapel Women and Oxford House Oxford House and its Clubs Why you should donate to save our secret chapel The Bethnal Green Tube Tragedy The Webbe Boys’ Club Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s Super Kid (a.k.a. Eddie Marsan) Save Oxford House's 'Secret' Chapel Oxford House and Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram Our resolution? Raise all the funds to start our major heritage project Post War Regeneration of Bethnal Green Weavers’ Fields and the Huguenots Guy Clutton-Brock: from Oxford House to hero of Zimbabwe WWI: Zeppelins or ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’ The Hidden Gem: Oxford House Chapel History in the making Oxford House and Ben Uri Gallery The Chapel Oxford House Arms: Dominus Illuminatio Mea Why is Oxford House listed as Grade II Heritage? Heritage Lottery Fund - 'Oh! ‘wins’ the lottery' Who designed Oxford House? The Boys and Men’s Clubs in the 19th and early 20th century Why a new building in 1891? Rise under Rev. Winnington-Ingram How it all begun. Clubs and activities at Oxford House 1884 Who created Oxford House? What is a settlement? 130 Not out! Our pre-history: The Oxford Movement From Victorian Gap Year to Community Hub
archive categories
Oxford House
Derbyshire Street,
Bethnal Green,
London E2 6HG
020 7739 9001

Sign up for eNewsletter
© oxford house by bethnal green 2014 . copyright . all rights reserved . powered by devstars
Charity Number: 208582 . Company No: 59858 . VAT Registration No: 752 0306 67