Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The social question of the Victorian age centered on poverty: the who; the what; and most importantly, the why of poverty. By the end of the nineteenth century, the why had been obscured by a search for the causes of overcrowding, epidemics, starvation, sanitation, and unemployment, all seen as symptoms of poverty but often confused as causes of poverty. Bethnal Green was emblematic of all of these conditions, and many social experiments were conducted to alleviate these symptoms. With the evacuation of London during World War II, as well as the mass destruction of buildings in Bethnal Green, overcrowding was finally alleviated. Bethnal Green fell into worse conditions, however, as war-torn buildings were left to rot, and movement into the area was tightly controlled. The massive social movements which had been enacted in Bethnal Green prior to the war lost steam as national attention was directed elsewhere. The model dwellings, tenements, and philanthropic institutions carried on, but at a considerably reduced volume. This work explores the social, cultural, institutional, and civic efforts made to alleviate overcrowding and sanitation issues in Bethnal Green from 1881 to 1950. Local and national perspectives of these efforts are offered, with the idea of putting a human face to the epidemic of poverty. Many of the civic and philanthropic efforts were misguided, as they destroyed kinship networks, limited movement of the people, and involuntarily displaced residents to locations far from their employment. Local identity, at times a boon and a curse, was destroyed as well. Bethnal Green held a place in history as the epitome of the slums, slum clearance, and the efforts to alleviate poverty. Many aspects of poverty and the efforts to alleviate it have been explored, but in broad terms. This is a study of local effects of these efforts on a designated area of London, with a specific and definable people, with cultural and social aspects which were unique to the area.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Veldman, Meredith



Included in

History Commons