The Slums of London in Regency England

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Highlighting the Facts behind Historical Romance with Jude Knight

Like any big city, London has always had slum areas. In the early nineteenth century, they were noxious and dangerous. I’ve been studying them for the last two novels in my Regency series, The Return of the Mountain King.

slum-devils-acre Highlighting History In 1800, over a million people lived in London; 10% of the entire population of Great Britain. The city had expanded dramatically in the eighteenth century. Young people had always been drawn to urban areas by employment and entertainment opportunities, but that escalated in the Georgian era.

For one, Britain’s population nearly doubled between 1700 and 1800. For another, changes to farming practices and the industrialisation of manufacturing meant fewer opportunities in the countryside.

The city’s poor competed for the available jobs. The lucky ones found regular and full-time work under decent conditions, especially if those conditions included food and board. As for the rest, the following comment by George W. M. Reynolds (British writer and journalist) was made 1844, but was equally true in the Regency.

“The most unbounded wealth is the neighbour of the most hideous poverty…the crumbs which fall from the tables of the rich would appear delicious viands to starving millions, and yet these millions obtain them not! In that city there are in all five prominent buildings: the church, in which the pious pray; the gin-palace, to which the wretched poor resort to drown their sorrows; the pawn-broker’s, where miserable creatures pledge their raiment, and their children’s raiment, even unto the last rag, to obtain the means of purchasing food, and – alas! too often – intoxicating drink; the prison, where the victims of a vitiated condition of society expiate the crimes to which they have been drive by starvation and despair; and the workhouse, to which the destitute, the aged, and the friendless hasten to lay down their aching heads – and die!”

They lived in squalid houses above narrow streets, entire families to a room or two or three, often dependent on crime or the sale of sex for a few coins to supplement whatever casual work they could get from the docks or the sweatshops. Many did not even have a room. Men, women, and whole families lived on the streets, procuring a rented bed in a lodging house for a night or two when funds permitted.


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The rapid increase in population meant opportunity to some property developers. Already, they were beginning to throw up the tenements on marshy land that became the gruesome slums of Victorian London. In Regency London, though, there was less of a demarcation between slums and and the homes of the respectable working class, between them and the better off merchants and tradesmen, and between the wealthy ‘other sort’ and the upper classes.

Working class people lived in the service streets behind opulent townhouses. Narrow alleys with slum tenements snaked between broader roads lined with tradesmen’s homes.

Certainly, the poorer the area, the poorer the sewage and drainage. Open sewers still ran along many of the streets, and in some places, families would scoop up a bucket of mess from the sewer and leave it to sit until the worst of the detritus had either risen or settled, to give them relatively clear liquid in which to wash. Or even to drink. A surveyor visiting a slum terrace in St Giles found the yard “covered with night soil from the overflowing of the privy, to the depth of nearly six inches, and bricks were placed to enable the inmates to get across dry shod”. 

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In 1816, the US Ambassador to Great Britain wrote:

“The extremes of opulence and of want are more remarkable, and more constantly obvious, in this country than in any other I ever saw.” 

But all Londoners, whatever their class, were subject to the same pervasive fog, the result of burning coal for heating and cooking. The city was crowded, dirty, noisy, and busy. Nonetheless, it continued to attract more and more people, hopeful that they would escape the worst of London and find its promise.


Attacks from a London criminal mastermind are among the challenges faced by the couples in my next two novels. The heroines of To Claim the Long-Lost Lover and To Tame the Wild Rake are twin sisters. They, and their heroes, find themselves in the slums during their journey to their happy ending.

Excerpt: Sarah answers a message and runs into trouble

The building was typical for the area—a shop on the ground floor, a street door to the side of it onto a stairway that led up to flats above. Sarah glanced back, but the carriage was out of sight. The stairwell smelt of cabbage, but not of the worse things Sarah sometimes encountered on her rescue visits.

The stairs turned tightly, with two flights for each storey and a door opening into a flat on every second landing. They climbed past the sounds of children crying, then of a woman singing in a foreign language, and then of a man and woman arguing.

On the next floor, with only two flights to go to the top, the door was partly open but all was silent within. Yahzak paused and gave the door a suspicious glare, then continued up the stairs, peering ahead. “I hear talking,” he reported.

Sarah could, too: the hum of female voices coming from the attic above. She turned the corner to the final flight of stairs, speeding her climb so close to her goal.

She was on Yahzak’s heels when he knocked on the open door and stepped into the room beyond. When he dropped like a stone, the man who had hit him was able to reach through and drag her, struggling and shouting, into the attic. She tried to get her hand into her reticule, but dropped it in the struggle. A dozen young girls sat on low chairs, fabric over their laps, their needles poised in the air, their eyes wide, and their mouths open.

Sarah screamed her fear and anger. The man who held her jerked the arm around her throat. “Shut up, bitch, or I’ll break your neck.”

To Claim the Long-Lost Lover

To-Claim-the-Long-Lost-Lover-Kindle-188x300 Highlighting History The beauty known as the Winderfield Diamond hides a ruinous secret. Society’s newest viscount holds the key.

Sarah’s beloved abandoned her eight years ago, leaving her to face the anger of her family and worse. And now he is back, more compelling than ever. Sarah is even lovelier than when she was a girl, but what did she know about her father’s revenge on Nate: forcible enlistment into the navy and years of servitude?

Released 30 July

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To-Tame-the-Wild-Rake-Generic-188x300 Highlighting History To Tame the Wild Rake

The whole world knows Aldridge is a wicked sinner. They used to be right.

The ton has labelled Charlotte a saint for her virtue and good works. They don’t know the ruinous secret she hides. Then an implacable enemy reveals all. The past that haunts them wounds their nearest relatives and turns any hope of a future to ashes.

Must they choose between family and one another?

Released 17 September

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Amazon US:

Other links at Books2Read:

Jude Knight’s Book Page:

About the Author

Jude-Knight Highlighting History Jude Knight writes both historical and contemporary romance: stories to thrill, intrigue, and delight! You can find out about her here:

One thought on “The Slums of London in Regency England

  1. Not the loveliest of topics. I found it fascinating, though. Great wealth side by side by great poverty, and those who will take advantage of both.

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