Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Worst Jobs in Victorian London

'Dust, Mud, Soot & Soil : The Worst Jobs in Victorian London' (possible sub-sub-title ''It only smells when it's stirred.") is my latest ebook. It's actually more than that, as it's a project I've been working on for about the last nine months. I've long had an idea that I'd like to know more about working life in Victorian London - not so much the economics, which would probably go over my head, in any case, but rather the working conditions and, more importantly, what was it like to be a [choose a profession]. Actually, having chosen a particular aspect of London life - the dirty jobs of dustmen, sweeps, street sweepers, sewer flushers et al., who struggled to keep the grimy city clean - it occurred to me that the question was both more fundamental and specific - what did they actually do?

Of course, a dustman emptied bins. But how often? What size and shape were the bins? What were they paid? What sort of people took the work? Who employed them? What did the Victorians put in their dustbins?

The more I thought about it, the more the questions multiplied, and the more I realised how little I knew. This may explain why what seemed a short project last year has taken quite so long.

In fact, it's not a enormous book. I would prefer to call it a monograph, in true Victorian fashion. It's probably about half the size of a decent paperback. But it is packed with information, not merely about dustmen, chimney sweeps and the rest, but about daily life, and what it was really like to live in the great metropolis. Did you know that 'mud' in Victorian streets was both black and largely horse dung? Likewise the 'coffee-coloured sirocco' of dust that swirled through the city in the summer months - a blend of pulverised horse dung and soot. Did you know that Victorian dust-yards (the great recycling grounds in which women toiled to sift through rubbish for recyclable material) were also inhabited by aggressive pigs? Can you imagine what it was like to hear a boy chimney-sweep scrambling up the flues in your bedroom wall?

I will stop with the questions. Bascially, researching the dirty side of Victorian London brings out a host of fascinating details, in areas often overlooked - the nitty gritty of Victorian life. If that appeals, do give it a try ... available on Kindle here in the UK, in the USA, and elsewhere. Don't forget, there are Kindle apps for phones, ipads, pcs, &c. And if you'd like an EPUB version, then please get in touch ...


  1. I'd rea pigs were banned from London after one ate a child. I didn't know they were there all the way until 19th Century! You have a wonderful resource here. Would it be all right if I put a link to here from my Steampunky blog? I think it's important for the Steampunk genre to have ties to an authentic Victorian London.

  2. Needless to say, go ahead - the more links the better!

  3. What a great idea for a book! I love when people follow their curiosity to learn more about what they don't know.

    I do have some questions for you, though. How do you find the resources you need to fuel your search and which sources have you found most informative? Surely the sort of sources you need for this book cannot all be found online? Do you find your information at your local library? Where do you go if the library doesn't have what you need?

    I'm asking because I only have access to a few very small local libraries and the Internet and am trying to discover other sources that would aid me in a project like yours.

    Wishing you all the best on your new book!

    1. Hi - I am afraid a lot through my university-based subscription to newspaper databases, parliamentary reports and also inter-library loan to other academic libraries. For free stuff, you can search but it's very hit and miss. And the general public can now pay to subscribe to the British Newspapers Archive.

      best wishes,