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SilverStormm

The Victorian Slum

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A place to discuss particular episodes, arcs and moments from the show's run. Please remember this isn't a complete catch-all topic -- check out the forum for character topics and other places for show-related talk.

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Thanks for starting this, Silverstormm, I'll talk about it all by myself if I have to. 

Episode One -- Wow.  I'll never complain about my dated kitchen cabinets ever again.  I looked around at my wall-to wall Berber carpeting (also out dated) and thought what absolute, divine luxury.

I liked it very much although it was hard to watch in many places.  Couldn't they have given the older man something easier than swinging a sledge hammer for eight hours?  I was afraid he would have a heart attack!  Love the Jewish family so much, the man and his son look like versions of Oliver Hardy in their Victorian suits.  The wife crying with love and appreciation for their ancestors was lovely.

They are all such nice people and the children are such good non-whiney ones.  Soon the parent's kindness toward their neighbors will be put to the test when it's down to  "My kids or theirs."

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I would hate to have been assigned, "Landlord," or "Shop Keeper," because they will have to say no to people.  They already came down a little hard on them, "Well, I'll be happy to wait while you go get the money, "  and, "You may have to sleep in the doss house."

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Things that would make me drown myself in the Thames:

The dirt! The mud! The filthiness of absolutely  everything and no way to clean it.

Lack of water.

Fleas and lice in the bedding.

Long heavy skirts dragging in the mud.

Sleeping bent over on a rope.

Everlasting hunger.

The wet English cold.

Not enough blankets.

Babies without hot water and clean diapers.

Sharing a toilet.

Eating fish that's been hanging in the toilet.

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I kept wondering if the single mom was told to be non-productive.  Her kids could have sold watercress too.  She didn't make many boxes and then didn't even sell them.

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I was so happy I stumbled on this show by accident!  I loved the previous renditions from years ago (Manor House and one done in the US at Plimouth Plantation).  I really enjoyed it, but it is very hard to watch.  Even though the audience (and the participants) know this is a "show", and won't last forever, it is difficult to see people/kids hungry or hurt.

 If I remember correctly, I read an article about the accuracy of the selected periods for the shows being spot-on, and the participants had to read lengthy dossiers on how their characters would have spoken, dressed, behaved.  They had to commit to living as accurately as written and sign contracts.  And while I had tears in my eyes watching the grandfather swinging the sledgehammer and then tweaking his back...that was reality in 1860.  Work or perish.  No social safety nets, no sick days, no lenient employers.  Workers were a commodity and the poorer they were, the less "human" they were to the people on the next rung up on the ladder. I was surprised the Rent Collector let the single mum slide by on this week's rent.  I doubt there were many in 1860 who would have done that.  I hope for her sake and the kids, she gets a lucky break and is able to make some money before next Black Monday.

It was such a cruel & illogical labor system!  Work them to exhaustion, pay pennies and kick them into "workhouses" if debt is incurred.  I don't know statistics, but I doubt many who entered workhouses ever got out again.  

I think the thing that shocked me more than the small, cramped rented rooms and muck was the Doss Room!!  WTF?  What deranged SOB created that sleeping option? "Sit up and slump over to catch a few winks before your next 16 hour shift making matchboxes! But, safety first is our motto here at Ye Olde Doss 'n Doze!  We provide the finest rope sling to keep you from falling into the mud and shit laden floor!"

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I knew as soon as I saw her "fancy boxes" that very few would pass as acceptable.  Maybe the neighbors and their kids will give her some tips on how to make it through next week.

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2 hours ago, howiveaddict said:

You couldn't pay me enough to participate in this show!

While I am a huge history nerd, I am also OCD.  All of the filth and food out in the open and lack of hot clean water would send me screaming into the Thames to drown with JudyObscure.  Just thinking about sleeping on those beds and putting my head on those pillowcases made me dry heave.

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15 minutes ago, BusyOctober said:

I knew as soon as I saw her "fancy boxes" that very few would pass as acceptable.

Yes, I think that type of scam is still used in "work from home" scams, selling a person the things to assemble, then rejecting the finished product.

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I also worried about the man having a heart attack for the sake of verisimilitude. 
The ones who sold, the tailors and watercress ones, probably did a lot better, as people from a show selling to interested people, than their Victorian counterparts would have done, selling to people not much better off then themselves.
 

28 minutes ago, BusyOctober said:

I hope for her sake and the kids, she gets a lucky break and is able to make some money before next Black Monday.

They aren't actually doing another week though, are they?  I thought the next one is 1870s. 
In reality, I guess her children would go mudlarking--scavenging for anything of value in the mud--or she'd prostitute herself, because they had no money to buy watercress with.
I'm interested in this period, and pulled out my copy of Mayhew's London to reread.  Do check out Henry Mayhew's books on Victorian slums.

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43 minutes ago, BusyOctober said:

I think the thing that shocked me more than the small, cramped rented rooms and muck was the Doss Room!!  WTF?  What deranged SOB created that sleeping option? "Sit up and slump over to catch a few winks before your next 16 hour shift making matchboxes! But, safety first is our motto here at Ye Olde Doss 'n Doze!  We provide the finest rope sling to keep you from falling into the mud and shit laden floor!"

There's a (quite good) movie with Johnny Depp and Heather Graham called From Hell, and it's about Jack the Ripper. Good film but very graphic in places.

Anyway, there's at least one seen of people sleeping across ropes in, IIRC, a church. It was done that way because of laws stating you couldn't allow people to sleep in your establishment/church because that meant it was an inn, and therefore subject to further taxes, regulation, etc. If they weren't lying down, then it wasn't an inn, so they were roped into sitting up.

(I looked for an image, but cannot find one.)

I will never complain about being "broke" again. 

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auntjess I believe the same families will "live" through 5 decades 1860-1900 and they will experience political and social changes pertaining to each decade.  I looked at my local PBS website for more info, but they have clips that are spoilers so I shut my eyes and clicked out! Some of the pictures online show the same people in future episodes.

Edited by BusyOctober
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4 minutes ago, BusyOctober said:

auntjess I believe the same families will "live" through 5 decades 1860-1900 and they will experience political and social changes pertaining to each decade.  I looked at my local PBS website for more info, but they have clips that are spoilers so I shut my eyes and clicked out! Some of the pictures online show the same people in future episodes.

But would they have to go into the next decade without money?  That doesn't seem right.

And as for doss houses, wasn't at least one of the Ripper victims still out, because she was trying to make enough to stay in a doss house, rather than the street?

Edited by auntjess

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I found this difficult and somewhat depressing to watch. Educational, yes. But depressing. There's a marked difference between this show and previous "House" shows like 1900s House or Frontier House. The participants in the earlier shows had hardships and injuries and so forth, but they didn't represent the lowest of the low on the social ladder. They were more or less working class folk - very different from working class today, but by the standards of the time period they were trying to recreate, not so badly off. 

Here, on the other hand, they're not trying to show us what life was like for the average bloke in 1860s London - they're deliberately showing the poorest of the poor, people subsisting on one slice of bread a day and wallowing in filth and grime and misery. What an awful life. There isn't really much hope they're going to better their conditions.

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The Manor House and Frontier House both went on so long that 20th century sensibilities crept in.
The fact that this shows one era for one show, keeps it pretty authentic.  Had it gone on longer, you'd have come up against letting people go hungry and homeless, to keep it authentic.
These people all had a roof over their heads, so they really weren't at the very bottom of the ladder. 
Life was exceedingly grim for many.  And hopeless.

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Could you have been OCD back then? 

Born into a family with nothing, what choice would you have had?  As a small child, you'd know "Work" and nothing else.  Pillowcases?  Wow! 

Our farmhouse was around starting in the 1780s.  When we were rebuilding it, I found a promisery note from 1863 for $5.  It was put away so carefully in such a hidden place.  I got the strangest feeling of the person trying for so long to find it and how much the loss of it must have hurt.  

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The single mom seemed depressed to me. Who wouldn't be? I just kept thinking, get moving! Your kids need food, get to work lady! The show wouldn't really let them starve, she signed them up, play along!

The older man made me cry, watching him work so hard and then be hurt so he couldn't work the next day was heartbreaking. His family really saved the day, they got up and went to work.

I am Jewish and I swear all my ancestors were tailors. I thought it was amusing they said basically the same thing. That family really came together and made it happen. I'm sure it helps if you have skill like that to fall back on. The items they made really looked good

What do you do with watercress? I think the fact that they looked so cute in their little period dresses really helped with the selling of watercress.

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I enjoyed Manor House, Frontier House, and the other similar shows that PBS has done (Except Texas Ranch House, I hated the family in charge of the ranch in that one). This was depressing, but I found it very interesting. I thought a majority of the participants seemed to have fairly good attitudes about the whole experiment. I was particularly impressed with the kids. The two girls from the one family that sold watercress and the girl and the boy from the tailors family were all great. 

I felt for the grandfather that had back problems and could not go back to work. That looked tough just watching it.

I probably would have been all thumbs with the matchboxes that some of the ladies did.

I did feel bad for the single mother. It seemed like the other people and families were making sacrifices regarding buying food, while she kept going back to the shop to get food even when she could not afford it. I am sure she wants to provide and not have her kids be hungry, but I was side eyeing her when she kept buying food. I figured she would not be able to pay for that or make rent. I was hoping her or her kids would find some sort of job besides making boxes.

I cannot wait to see what the next episode brings.

Edited by Misslindsey
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1 hour ago, Arynm said:

 watercress

 Soup, greens, heat it (if you can afford wood and a match and a pot)

Lots of people grow it in ponds fed by fresh water springs nowadays and it's a delicacy because not everybody has a pond and it is 'fresh' for only a short period of time before it degrades to animal food.

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The single mom was set up for failure.

She had too mouths to feed and no skills...maybe if she was an etsy box maker or paper medium artist she could have done quality piece work.

She will have to take the little she earned to pay the shop keeper a little off her tick and then think how to obtain a product for sale like gathering flowers and making bouquets, sending her cute kids to sell them with the watercress sellers so she can stay back and make boxes.

The tailor was given materials, albeit rags, to make the caps to sell at market.

The grandfather made the 10 pounds that made it possible to purchase the watercress for resale.

The shopkeepers had the ingredients to make food for resale and the staples of their diet bread, cheese and butter.

The landlord had a guarantee room but he had the emotional burden of evicting those who couldn't make rent.

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A couple of the participants commented that they couldn't believe how bad people had it back then -- it just reminded me that they still do, all around the world.

I started tearing up about 10 minutes in. I love all the Back In Time type of shows, but this is going to be a sad slog.

The participants are great so far.

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enoughcats I meant I couldn't participate as a reenactor on this show.  Obviously, if I were born into abject poverty as portrayed here, I would have nothing else to compare my life to. I would have had to sink or swim,  and hope my parent(s) and I could stay fed and healthy to work enough to keep a roof overhead! 

I will have to look into those Henry Mayhew books.  I did read a book a few years ago about the workhouses in Ireland, as well as "Angela's Ashes" and I remember crying through chapters. Amazing how people survived those environments (and worse). "Indomitable spirit" and sheer will to make through another day were the keys to survival. 

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I enjoyed Manor House, Frontier House, and the other similar shows that PBS has done (Except Texas Ranch House, I hated the family in charge of the ranch in that one).

@Misslindsey, I agree with you on how much I enjoyed the other House shows on PBS.  I'm out of town and staying in a hotel, and I couldn't believe it last night that the hotel doesn't carry PBS in its channel line up.  18 different ESPN channels, but no PBS!  The horror of making me wait until I return home and can finally watch Victorian Slum On Demand.

Also, I seriously disliked the ranch family in Texas Ranch House.  I stumbled upon the wife when listening to a podcast, Genealogy Gems.  Lisa Louise Cook puts out the podcast and was the ranch owner's wife.  Thank goodness I hadn't subscribed to the free podcast or paid for the premium service.  

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11 hours ago, Treehugger said:

Also, I seriously disliked the ranch family in Texas Ranch House.

I'm a third who watched all the "house," stories and loved the shows and hated the  Texas Ranch House, "owners,"  but I actually kind of enjoyed hating them.  It made it so much fun to root against them and  side with the ranch hands.  As the season went on you could tell the show editors had turned against the pretentious owners.  Mrs. Cook and her daughters had taken to just wearing their old style white underwear in the Texas heat.  When Mr. Cook and some hands returned from a day or two out, the voice over said, "And the ladies of the house come out to greet the men in just their underclothes." Hee!

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I loved the former series and I know I missed some of them.  Amazon lists as available the VHS version of Frontier House and DVD versions of Ranch house. 

I don't even remember what the British versions were, exactly.  I recall one where the husband was a policeman and the maid quit because the work was too hard.  And a really vague rememberance of catching the final episodes of one set on one of the undeveloped in this century (previously inhabited) offshore islands.  

Surely there were others, but decades ago.

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So glad there's a forum for this show! I'm a history buff and I've enjoyed all the House series (except the above mentioned Texas ranch-blech!). These folks are really courageous, I think. I know its for a limited time, I know its time travel and that they have their comfortable modern day lives waiting, but this is really one step beyond the other House series! I don't know if I'd have the guts to attempt it.

All of the families are delightful, and the kids are spectacular-so thoughtful, so engaged, so all in. I loved the watercress selling sister who felt "victorious!", after a successful day, and the tailor's daughter who was so happy to be spending so much time with her family, even under less than ideal circumstances.

On 5/3/2017 at 10:50 AM, JudyObscure said:

The wife crying with love and appreciation for their ancestors was lovely.

That was really moving. They really have an opportunity to see first hand how they endured, and eventually throve. In a few generations they are successful and live a very comfortable life. And even though things were really bleak, you could see how people could grab a little happiness (think of Bob Crachit and his family in Christmas Day). I really appreciated those segments with the tailor's family.

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23 hours ago, iMonrey said:

What an awful life. There isn't really much hope they're going to better their conditions.

True.  I was reading more last night, on little children without shoes, waiting for some cress to sell.  They probably died soon after, from starvation and exposure.
(I posted this link elsewhere, but here it is again, the cress sellers.)
http://tinyurl.com/k64gaqd

Edited by auntjess
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My favorite is Frontier House, but I also loved Manor House, Colonial House, and 1940's House. Along with the rest of you I disliked Texas Ranch quite cordially. The ranch hands were cool though. Remember Jared used to post on TWOP? Good times.

Looking forward to enjoying this new series with you all!

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23 hours ago, iMonrey said:

Here, on the other hand, they're not trying to show us what life was like for the average bloke in 1860s London - they're deliberately showing the poorest of the poor, people subsisting on one slice of bread a day and wallowing in filth and grime and misery. 

Sadly, they WERE "the average bloke in 1860s London"  -- there were many more people living like this than living in private homes.

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This show is really eye opening.  My great great grandmother came from that neighborhood, and would have been a small child during this week's "decade."  Next week she'll be the age of the younger children.  She had 6 sisters and one brother (and he was the baby, so no real economic assist to the larger family growing up).  Her father was a cooper, probably working at the Peek Frean's  biscuit factory nearby.   I had thought how terribly poor they must be, but never considered what the women and children would have been doing to bring in money.  They must have been a fraction better off than the folks we saw this week, judging from the occupations listed for their neighbors (bookbinder sewer, coffee shop attendant) but they wouldn't have been living in that neighborhood if they could afford to live out of it.  All those mouths to feed would have made a world of difference in their possible standard of living.  They were Irish immigrants, so perhaps next week's new arrivals will mirror them more.

Both she and her sister made it to America as young adults, though I don't know how.  Her children lived comfortably middle class lives (one a fire fighter, one a police officer.)   

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The Manor House and Frontier House both went on so long that 20th century sensibilities crept in.

20th (and 21st) century sensibilities cannot help from creeping in no matter how authentic they try to behave. That's kind of the point of the show. How do today's people fare under these conditions?

The problem with 1900s house and (probably) this one is that the participants are interacting with modern people every time they leave their abode. They simply step out into the 21st century and among modern people all the time. In that respect, it's probably harder for them to maintain some sort of 1860s mindset when they are surrounded by the modern world.

I think what Manor House and Frontier House had going for them was that nothing around them reminded them they were in the 21st century. They were isolated, for the most part, from the modern world. I don't think either went on too long. I think it is simply impossible to take person out of the 21st century, plop them down into a setting in the distant past, and expect them to forget the modern conveniences and social structure they came out of. At some point, they refuse to play along, because it's just too damn hard and they know it's not real. They can walk away, or they can interject some 21st century sensibility into it.

I think Colonial House and Texas Ranch House were disasters because they were dominated by megalomaniacs who let power go to their heads. That might have even been a realistic situation in the given time periods, but 21st people aren't going to put up with that for long when they know they can just walk away.

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2 hours ago, auntjess said:

here it is again, the cress sellers.)
http://tinyurl.com/k64gaqd

Excellent find, thank you. 

And if there are any gardeners here, scroll up or down two pages to see the image of the man selling chickweed.  You know chickweed,  it's what we pull up as weeds every spring.

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Wasn't there also a 1940 House, with a family living under Wartime London conditions including food rationing?

I thought this was interesting but yeah, kind of depressing. In reality, the single mother would have paid her rent by prostituting herself to the rent collector. Also, the mud would have been composed of dirt along with human and horse feces, sitting on top of tons of cesspools. The stench was supposed to be horrendous.

I do wonder how they got people to come to the market. I picture a bunch of PAs out on the street chivvying unsuspecting pedestrians into the courtyard. No interpersonal drama, hopefully it stays that way,

They could do this same scenario with NYC tenements, late 1880s or turn of the century, when entire families lived on top of each other in a single apartment. Like in a 1 bedroom one family would occupy the bedroom and another family the living area, and another one in the kitchen.

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5 minutes ago, Vermicious Knid said:

Also, the mud would have been composed of dirt along with human and horse feces, sitting on top of tons of cesspools. The stench was supposed to be horrendous.

Yes, and one of jobs children might do is as a crossing sweep, to clear a path in return for a tip.

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I'm glad this forum is here. 

I wasn't surprised by the conditions because I have a BA in history and Victorian London was one of my majors.  It was HORRIBLE.  TV and movies have prettied that period up (looking at you Masterpiece Theatre) but Charles Dickens wasn't making stuff up.

I was a bit annoyed at the single mother.  The other families were doing whatever they could to survive and it seemed like she (and her kids) were pretty casual about what was really a life and death situation.  It seemed that she didn't put much effort into making her boxes; she just expected to get more and more food on credit with no idea how she was going to pay for it, which put other people in the position of either being cruel or short-changing themselves to carry her.  The reality is that a single woman with two children was incredibly vulnerable in Victorian London.  A woman without a man to defend her was considered fair game for any predator.  Not only would she have been forced into prostitution but her children probably would have as well.

I felt so horrible for the man who worked in the bell foundry.  Imagine having to do that every day on nothing more than a slice of bread and cheese.  It was great that the rest of the family pulled together and pitched in.  It was very moving to see the Jewish family realize what their ancestors had gone through to give them the comfortable lives they enjoyed today.  They also were creative in finding ways to feed the family.

I'm looking forward to watching future episodes.

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1 hour ago, mightysparrow said:

It was very moving to see the Jewish family realize what their ancestors had gone through to give them the comfortable lives they enjoyed today.  They also were creative in finding ways to feed the family.

Yes, that was very moving for me too as I have one Jewish grandfather that was born in Whitechapel in 1895.  I have been to London and have seen the house where he was born, it is still there.  Across the street is a synagogue.  True to what the show is telling us, I am sure they lived a little better than the worst of the worst conditions, although nothing they have shown us so far has been anything better than dreadful.

I now have a new appreciation for what my grandfather's family went through in London after they left Poland/Russia around 1880 or so, before they came to America.  What other show or book would tell me how Jewish tailors in that place and time would have lived and made their livings?  My family was fortunate that they could make enough money to actually find their way out of that place and move to Brooklyn, NY.  They opened a uniform tailoring business in lower Manhattan, and had all of their 7 children working in it.  They were a success story, but I wonder just how many people in Whitechapel were not so fortunate.

Speaking of the older man in the bell foundry - I could have sworn he said he was 59.  OK, I'm 58 and my husband is 61 and we don't look that old.  I could have sworn his wife made a comment about growing up in the 1950s and unless she's that much older than him they would have to be older than 59 to grow up in the '50s.

One would think the show (and he) would realize that if he's not used to that kind of labor at his age he would pay for it dearly the next day.  Even as I watched him I was thinking just that!  How stupid!

My husband and I grew up in NYC and he reminded me that our humble origins when compared with today were not all that much more advanced or luxurious than what these people were living through, although it was still light years better (cleaner and safer) in many ways.  But compared with today, we were closer to that than how we live today to be honest.  I look back on that and even I wonder how we lived with comparatively so little.  It made me think and become more grateful for what I have, and thankful to my ancestors for all they endured so that I may have it.

ETA:  Speaking of that bell foundry - It is going to have to close after 250 years in the same location (it has been around in total more than 400 years).  This is due to the "regentrification" of Whitechapel - The property has been sold.  The owners are looking for a new owner that can move it to a new location.  I think that's horrible.  One would think that in Britain they would declare it a landmark or something similar.  Of course this type of thing goes on in NYC with old buildings and no one intervenes to save them, but they don't have a 250 year history!

Edited by Snarklepuss
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10 hours ago, auntjess said:

Yes, and one of jobs children might do is as a crossing sweep, to clear a path in return for a tip.

Or indeed older folks--some people had a corner for decades. Grandad might end up doing it if he's not able to do hard physical labor much longer.

 

10 hours ago, Vermicious Knid said:

They could do this same scenario with NYC tenements, late 1880s or turn of the century, when entire families lived on top of each other in a single apartment. Like in a 1 bedroom one family would occupy the bedroom and another family the living area, and another one in the kitchen.

I seem to recall that this was being considered at one point. I would love to see a show like this. I loved Frontier House and Manor House (which, granted, are easier to pull off since its a self contained kind of world). But 1940's House, in the middle of London, was quite successful. It could be done.

 

18 hours ago, kassa said:

Sadly, they WERE "the average bloke in 1860s London"  -- there were many more people living like this than living in private homes.

Yes, agreed. The average working person lived a fairly hardscrabble existence. One debt, one injury or death away from ruin. Its bleak but that was life. "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"

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22 hours ago, kassa said:

My great great grandmother came from that neighborhood,

Both she and her sister made it to America as young adults, though I don't know how.

Maybe they became indentured servants?  As I understand it, a person could indenture themselves to an employer or a family and work off the cost of their passage.  Once they arrived, they'd work while being given room and board with a small stipend for personal costs until they'd fulfilled their contract, then they'd be given an amount of money that they could take with them to start their own lives.  It was fraught with problems, because they never knew if the terms of the contract would be fulfilled once they arrived and sometimes they were treated horribly by their employers, but for some people it worked out well.

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39 minutes ago, Zahdii said:

Maybe they became indentured servants?

Yes, if the person was in decent health, and sober.
 

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11 hours ago, mightysparrow said:

I wasn't surprised by the conditions because I have a BA in history and Victorian London was one of my majors.  It was HORRIBLE.  TV and movies have prettied that period up (looking at you Masterpiece Theatre) but Charles Dickens wasn't making stuff up.

My degree is in British history (and I read a lot of Dickens...), so not much in this show actually surprised me...except for the thing about having to sleep sitting up and hanging over ropes.  That was completely new to me and I think it amused my husband beyond belief that I went from mmm-hmming everything to being in complete shock about something.

On another note, I really hope I wasn't the only person that actually thought that poor single mom was going to have to turn to prostitution....on a PBS "reality" show.....

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26 minutes ago, OtterMommy said:

On another note, I really hope I wasn't the only person that actually thought that poor single mom was going to have to turn to prostitution....on a PBS "reality" show.....

She didn't have many options, did she?
 

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I think that's why they are only spending a week on each decade.  She wasn't trying very hard either.

If you want to see a depiction of Victorian England that hasn't been all prettied up, watch Taboo.

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