The Real Victorian London

Our Thursday morning walking tour was by far the most informative. Our tour guide was able to paint a vivid image of what it was like to live on the Southside of London during the Victorian Era, while still being able to keep the novels that we read relevant. People living during this era were barely living at all so to speak. Little to no wages, horrific living conditions, diseases spreading at an alarming rate, massive control of jobs and housing, the list goes on.

Children
What really struck me as the most shocking fact was that children had a 50% mortality rate up until the age of 5. Children also were depended upon for somehow bringing in food or anything worth money. The were the basis of their family’s survival. Some children were mudlarks which were people who would scavenge the River of Thames for anything that could possibly be worth money. Many would also wait until the night to go to the market (Boroughs) to search for food that may have been left behind after the market closed, being negligent to sanitariness. Also, even back then the market was gentrified, where the rich would come to pick up the best food.  In addition to what was previously mentioned, many of the children had jobs such as chimney sweeps and working in coal mines, where conditions were terrible and work days were long. IMG_5846This building speaks volumes as I feel it pays homage to the many courageous children who made a way for their families.

Housing
Finding housing during this time was definitely an uphill battle and when people found housing, they would likely be living in one room with about 15 other people. Just imagine how unsanitary it was to have all of those people living in the same room, with only cold water. The people living in this area were caught in a cycle of trying to make things better for themselves, IMG_5844but they never could make enough money to do so. They were stuck. There was better housing available. For example, across the street from one of the largest breweries at the time in London, there were better cottages available for let. Of course, there were stipulations for living in the luxurious cottages, such as: an individual had to be an employee of the brewery being that the brewery owned the cottages, an individual must attend church, an individual must be put to bed when told to by the supervisor of the building. The rules go on and on. If one of the rules were broken, said individual would be removed from the cottage.

Education
The only answer to this extreme poverty was education. How could you teach as many children as possible for the cheapest amount of money? Have teachers volunteer. Children would be responsible to work during the day and go to school at night. At school they would receive a warm meal and would not be turned away if they wanted to stay through the night. The were taught how to read literature and basic arithmetic. Those who became too old, would either go on to become teachers to the younger children or their teachers would personally give them more books, so that individual could further his or her studies. Soon after the implementation of these school, William Forster implemented the an education act where it was forced that children 5-13 were to be in school.

Tying it all together
Charles Dickens perfectly captured the idea of what seemed to be the “eternal struggle” that many didn’t acknowledge or didn’t even know existed. Oliver Twist and Pip stood as a symbol for many young children of the Victorian Era. His descriptions of the thieves, the markets, the houses, the streets, all came alive when I roamed the streets on the tour. Dickens wanted the entire city of London know what was taking place and it needed to be fixed as soon as possible. Once he received recognition for his works, Dickens spent his time advocating for the poor, donating to charities, to see a better London. This tour was the most impactful. I was able to envision myself living during those times. Walking through those streets just did something to me. London has come a long way since then. I know Dickens would be proud of his city.

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London Town

I am convinced; London is the best city. Never have I ever been to a city with the perfect blend of historical information and new age experiences readily available. The Westminster Abbey was by far the grandest church I have been stepped foot into. The architecture, the tombs, the events hosted within the church all hold a key place in London’s history. I really appreciated the Westminster Abbey, not for it’s gorgeous structure, but it’s philosophy and dedication to commemorate leaders of movements such as Dr. Matin Luther King Jr., kings such as Henry VIII and even the greatest writers and poets throughout the centuries. What really surprised me was that many of these people were buried right beneath the ground we were walking on. The only part about the Westminster Abbey, I didn’t like was…

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Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is it’s bird poop.

The sightseeing of the city seems to be never ending, after finally seeing Big  Ben I thought I’ve seen it all. I was definitely wrong. St. James’s Park has to be one of the most solaceful parks in the world. I’m convinced. The park was filled with the happiest people I’ve seen which were accompanied by a breathtaking landscape.

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Shortly after leaving the park, I headed to Oxford Street for a couple hours, and man o’ man, the stores that lined the street were some of the best I’ve seen in the same area. I always  find myself having to shop online while in Atlanta or going to one specific store in a mall, but Oxford Street had it all; from luxury clothing to streetwear.

Ending the night at the Spaghetti House (not the Mint leaf as planned) and Much Ado About Nothing was the perfect way to end the night. The food I got was phenomenal, the show was hilarious. Who could ask for a better conclusion to a day filled of walking through the city?

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The East End (Jago)

Today was filled with the juxtaposition of color and darkness. The East End of London is now home to some of the most profound street art and “funky” boutiques in the city. The living conditions of the Jago or Old Nichol during the Victorian Era were on more of the less colorful side of the spectrum.IMG_5728
Being able to see the progression of the city thanks to our tour guides pictures, really put things into perspective for me. It makes me feel more fortunate, reminding me how hard it is to make it out of poverty. Children like Dicky weren’t to blame for their actions; they were only a product of their environment, surviving the only way they know how. Now known as the Boundary Estate, people who live in the area are thankfully not subject to the same living conditions and are no longer reminded of the dark history now that they have reconstructed the area.

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Spitalfields Market was marvelous; the food, the atmosphere and the people all made this a memorable experience. Even though the structure has changed since the late 1800s, I can still sense what it was like back then. People gathered, buying and selling goods to make ends meet. Immigrants from various parts of the world trading their goods. A true reflection of what the market is like in modern times.

Speaking of immigrants, what was most interesting to me was how the same building was used as a Protestant Church for the Huguenots, then a Synagogue for the Jewish settlers and now it stands as a Mosque for the Bangladeshi people. The change in settlers can easily be traced through the types of religious buildings and stores around the city. East London has always been home to immigrants trying to make a living in London for centuries. IMG_5718

The Victorian Period!

Today has been the best so far! So much incite has been given to us about the Victorian Era, I don’t know where to begin. The Tate Britain Museum left a lasting impression because I was able to make connections among artists and writers from the time period. The style of painting really “painted” the perfect picture of what it meant to be living in London at the time. IMG_5716

Punch or May Day, is one of two of the paintings from the Pre-Victorian Period that really struck me as being a great  representation of the city. The painting was great to look at because the more you looked at it, the more you found was happening in the picture. The are even subtle nods to the various classes and occupations of the city. The picture feels congested, overflowing with characters in the frame, much like the city was beginning to  overflow with people. The painting is such an attention grabbing piece that begged me to keep trying to discover more. I took this as a metaphor for the city as the more you look into the city’s culture and history, the more you’ll find and after seeing this painting it had me hooked.
Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge c.1872-5 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903Nocturne Blue and Gold by James Abbott McNeill Whistler  is a complete contrast to Punch or May Day, but still remains true to the city through the use of impressionism. The Nocturne series of paintings was a leap for modern impressionistic art, being that Whistle declared even though it took two days to make one of the paintings, didn’t mean it wasn’t worth much. The painting was a reflection of a life time worth of experiences all encapsulated in one image. Whistle blurred the lines between real and his imagination. The fact that he argued against the courts to prove the worth of his paintings, makes them more grand. Showing that art is much more than just realism. Looking at this painting stirs the feeling of the unknown, isolation, sadness and mystery all in one one painting. Elements of the city of London.

After visiting the museum, I have gained a better understanding of the Victorian shift in art, while learning the history of the city through the art itself. Today definitely was one to remember!

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The History of London and the Dickens Museum

Today was quite interesting, being that it was filled with a barrage of information about the progression of London beginning with Roman’s settling and the spread of the English language. I never realized how much history lied beneath the streets I was walking on. I feel like every step I took had some sort of historical relevance to the progression of the city. What really peaked my interest the most was how much damage the fire of 1666 caused, which of course held even more history within the architecture and written records. I feel like we’re still missing a piece of London’s history. Also, this event reminded me of when General Sherman set fire to Atlanta in 1864. The result wasn’t nearly as bad as London, but the idea of having to rebuilding an entire city is mind-boggling.

Another beautiful site to see was the cathedral where Charles Dickens father was married. After taking the guided walking tour, I can see why Dickens was inspired to write books such as Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, because the city gives off this special aura of curiosity and mystery. The amount of culture and ideas that were hidden within the city was uncanny.

Walking through London, even though much has changed over the years, I was still able to visualize the descriptions of the city in Dickens’ novels (especially the alleyways).

The Dickens museum put everything into perspective for me. Seeing the actually room, desk and chair Dickens sat in to write Oliver Twist was surreal. At only 24, he was able to construct one of Britain’s most popular pieces of literature. Seeing the timeline of his life laid out across the room on the 5th floor, really inspired me (disregarding the divorce) because Dickens had accomplished so many things in his short lived life.

Although I have a pretty good sense of where Dickens drew his inspiration from, I hope to further explore parts of (East London) to grasp a better idea of what the slums were like back when Dickens was a boy.