|Fleet Street "then" and "now"|
The city that inspired Dickens’ work was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, and experiencing all the benefits and consequences of this. The population grew from 1 million to 4.5 million people in 80 years. While fashionable neighbourhoods like Regent and Oxford Street grew and thrived, so the poor and squalid regions grew dirtier and more crowded by the day.
Pollution, raw sewage, and unlit streets were the hallmarks of Dickens’ London, and overcrowding combined with a lack of personal hygiene made lead to a quick spread of diseases.
The New Poor Law, enacted in 1834 and referenced by Scrooge in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, was a reaction to the vast increase in poverty in London during the 19th century. Previously, parishes were required to take care of the poor, but the new law allowed them to apply for aid in this work if they banded together and created regional workhouses. The workhouses were essentially a prison for the poor, separating families and removing the civil liberties of those who lived there. In fact, the poor of London did all they could to avoid such “relief”.
In Oliver Twist, Dickens describes the London streets: "It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above.”
adapted by Ron Reed from the novel by Charles Dickens