During the nineteenth century, London’s population grew by more than five million as people flocked from the countryside to the city to take up jobs in shops and factories. In West Ham and the River Lea, Jim Clifford explores the growth of London’s most populous independent suburb and the degradation of its second largest river, bringing to light the consequences of these developments on social democracy and urban politics in Greater London.
Drawing on Ordnance Surveys and archival materials, Jim Clifford uses historical geographic information systems to map the migration of Greater London’s industry into West Ham’s marshlands and reveals the consequences for the working-class people who lived among the factories. He argues that an unstable and unhealthy environment fuelled protest and political transformation. Poverty, pollution, water shortages, infectious disease, floods, and an unemployment crisis led the public to demand new forms of government intervention and provided an opening for new urban politics to emerge.
By exploring the intersection of pollution, poverty, and instability, Clifford establishes the importance of the urban environment in the development of social democracy in Greater London at the turn of the twentieth century.
This book will be of interest to scholars and students of London, the environment, and the history of political and social movements, as well as those interested in precursors to modern urban environmental politics.
West Ham, Clifford shows, was beset by intersecting social, administrative, technical, and environmental problems, and their consequences were felt quite unequally … Such nuance and detail is perhaps this book’s major contribution.
Clifford draws welcome attention to part of Greater London frequently neglected in historical scholarship due to its proximity to London yet independent status … West Ham and the River Lea provides a view of the social and environmental impacts of West Ham’s industrialization with an emphasis on the sanitary experiences of people living in the borough during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Abject though their living conditions may have been, difficult as their social and domestic circumstances often were, Clifford refuses to see the people of the parish and borough as helpless victims or pawns of fate. Here we see a West Ham shaped in manifold ways by the intricate interactions of humans and nature. This is a story that encompasses and turns on ecology, hydrology, topography, prevailing winds, economics, politics, trade networks, industrial processes, engineering abilities, technological competence, human resilience, and chance.
Deploying environmental history approaches to reveal processes of social and political change, this book offers an original contribution to our understanding of urban transformation. Through a case study of the environmental politics of London’s working-class suburb of West Ham, it reveals how clean and plentiful water was the essential quotidian issue in late nineteenth-century Britain. Using both traditional sources and modern digital-mapping techniques, it offers a new focus and methodology for modern urban history.
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