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Charles Booth Social Investigator

The social history of 19th century London can only be deduced through the remaining surveys and various documents left from that time period. Charles Booth was an innovative surveyor and social investigator in the late 1800s and formed surveys of the life and labor of the 19th century London population. Charles Booth took initiative to look into the various areas of poverty, but also examined the possible reasons for poverty. Past surveyors did not use accurate methods to create statistics or charts.

Most social investigators used observation for their respective purpose. Booth used scientific methods and created better detailed censuses and surveys of London. Booth was the first to make connections and implications of poverty from the areas in which the people lived, living conditions, religious life, and occupation. His methodologies were complex and his conclusions were based upon empirical data. Charles Booth used innovated research methods such as: detailed questionnaires, personal interviews, and visual observations to investigate the cause of poverty.

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Certain areas in London, for example the East End, were infamously known for its poverty and unfortunate crimes. Many knew only of the conditions in the East End because of authors such as Charles Dickens and George Moore that “often set their works in poorer parts of town. ” The conditions were overly exaggerated and were only representative of a small section of the East End. Inwood describes the situation accurately with his statement, “how many people lived in squalor and malnutrition was not known, although some writers tried to quantify London poverty, on the basis of inadequate evidence.

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Mayhew produced many pages of statistics, but most of them referred to the ‘street folk’, beggars, hawkers, scavengers, and entertainers, a tiny proportion of the London poor. ” There were other social surveys conducted before Charles Booth started his social investigation, however none were as detailed and representative of the entire London population as Booth. “Investigative journalist, Henry Mayhew, reported on their interviews with the poor, while a few intrepid social explorers dressed as tramps and experienced at first-hand a night in the casual ward of a workhouse. Nonetheless, there were still no in-depth and comprehensive surveys conducted until Charles Booth. Charles Booth was commissioned by the Lord Mayor of London’s Relief Fund in 1885 to analyze the census responses. Booth felt that the census was disorganized and not an adequate indication of the social problems in London. Therefore, he took it upon himself to fix and reorganize the census. The first meeting was held on April 17, 1886 for the reconstruction of the census.

From 1886-1903, Booth continued to use his methodologies to gather data and research the cause of the social problems in London, specifically poverty. Charles Booth studied the integral parts of the city by examining the background information of the citizens of every street in London. He focused his efforts into three main areas: the exploration of poverty, the occupations of Londoners, and the religious influence. Poverty was a major social concern during the Victorian era, as well as a continual struggle with even the most sophisticated societies in the 21st century.

Booth found the social problem of poverty an important issue to explore. Poverty maps of Charles Booth were the first color-coded maps during the late 19th century. Booth created a map that encompassed the levels of poverty and wealth with different colors ranging from black to yellow to indicate a specific level of poverty that was placed directly to the London address of the household. There were eight poverty levels labeled A-H; with the lowest class labeled with the letter A and increasing in wealth with the wealthiest class labeled with the letter H.

The hierarchal poverty classification system starts at the bottom with letter A and color black, which includes the criminals, street sellers, occasional laborers, and loafers. Letter B is the color dark blue and includes the very poor, casual earners that work no more than 3 days a week, and the persons that are “mentally, morally, or physically incapable of work. ” Letter C includes the persons of “intermittent earnings” and an income of “18-21s for a moderate household,” laborers with irregular work,” and the “poor artisans. Letter D includes the “small regular earners,” poor, and “struggle to make ends meet” but are “decent steady men, paying their way and bringing up their children respectably. Letter C and D are represented by a light blue color and sometimes as purple if grouped with Letter E. Letter E includes the “regular earners earning 22-30s a week,” wives normally do not take trade, and boys and girls who normally do work. Letter F includes the “highest paid artisans,” “high class labor” that makes more than 30s a week.

Letter E and F are represented by the color pink. Letter G includes the “lower middle class” described as “hardworking sober energetic men. ” Letter G is signified by the color red. The wealthiest class, Letter H includes the “upper middle class” that keep servants. Letter H is represented by the color yellow. All of these poverty levels are placed onto the corresponding street on the map of the household described. In order to make the poverty map, Booth enlists others to help him gather his research.

Booth instructed the “School Board visitors” to visit each individual home with children that were registered with the school district and collect information. The “School Board visitors” were to collect detailed information on the house address, number of rooms that the family inhabited, rent, occupations’ of the head of the household and the wife, and number of children in the household. Then the “School Board visitors” were to categorize the household into the poverty level according to the eight levels and then to assign the household to the corresponding color for the map.

Due to the number of households in London, it became evident that taking a survey of every household would be too time-consuming. Therefore, a general survey of the street was also taken in addition to a small number of households on the street. The “School Board visitors” were instructed to write down notes on the street name, surveyed houses and the color associated, street condition, number of children between the ages of 3-13, and the color the street is associated with the poverty map. The end result is a color coded map of the levels of poverty specific from street to street.

To inspect the social reasons for poverty, Charles Booth looked into the occupations that various household members held. Charles Booth saw industry as a major contributor to the level of poverty associated with a household. For that reason, he requested surveys and interviewed persons with particular occupations about their personal experiences to gain insight into the possible associations with poverty. Booth broke down the occupations into 18 categories and 89 subcategories with each industry given an occupation survey.

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Charles Booth Social Investigator. (2018, Oct 13). Retrieved from

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