Britannia Row, Islington

Sometime between 1851 and 1861, Sarah, widow of Thomas Henry Roydhouse, moved to Britannia Row in Islington.
From that time until 1937, the family branches had links to that street.
Over the next few weeks I will write more about the families who stayed in London.
Britannia Row was constructed by 1773, and by 1820 there were many people involved in watch-making living in the immediate area. The street had factories with associated industries such as watch-springs and cut glass.
However, by 1868 a Ragged School had been opened at number 36, seen as an indication of the levels of poverty at the time. Ragged Schools offered free education, and often food and clothing for the children.
In 1898, Britannia Row was classified in The Poverty Maps as being a mix of very poor, chronic want and only casual employment opportunities to families earning up to 21 shillings a week.
Rent at this time was about 4 shillings a week for a shared space, often just two rooms.
The original Slum Clearances of Central London had pushed the very poor into outer suburbs, and Islington’s numbers swelled from about 10,000 in 1802 to over 315,00 by 1895.
(Even today Islington has the densest population in the whole of England: 138.7 people per hectare, compared to an average of 52.0 for London:2011 census)
The Maps Descriptive of London Poverty are perhaps the most distinctive product of Charles Booth’s Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903). An early example of social cartography, each street is coloured to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants.


Charles Booth was a wealthy business man who felt a profound sense of responsibility to the poor, and he spent many years collating information gathered by researchers walking with policemen on their beat. He was responsible for having a Bill put through Parliament to give government agencies the responsibility of paying aged pensions.
A description of a nearby street in the 1930’s:
The rooms were small, with low ceilings. Houses were subdivided, with two or more families in each, and all severely overcrowded. There were no bathrooms and probably an outside lavatory shared by several families. No refrigerators of course and no proper place to store food. At most there might have been a meat safe with perforated zinc sides to protect food from the flies. With luck it might have been nailed to an outside wall and reached through a window. If not it was inside the room. A family living in one or two rooms would have had to buy food every day, as nothing could be kept. ‘At one-and-a-half to a room Kitchens counting as rooms – there are six people in this house, divided for sleeping purposes thus: main bedroom, husband, wife and child; second bedroom, two girls; parlour, son.
Accommodation which necessitates five people sleeping in two small bedrooms, and one person in the parlour, is by every civilized standard odious. If one adds the presence of vermin, the bug, the flea, the beetle, the rat – the pervasive slum smell, and the absence – in thousands of cases of bathrooms and W.C.s and even of water taps, one arrives at some idea of the living conditions of a quarter of the population as dealt with here.


Slum clearances continued before and after World War 2, where land was needed for development of rail systems, or to create land for wealthier families ( known as gentrification of an area)
I believe the Roydhouse families finally disappeared from Britannia Row to become rehoused in Stoke Newington , and other areas that had “social housing” ( council flats).
Perhaps luckily, as World War 2 saw more than 3,000 buildings in the Islington area destroyed by the aerial bombing raids.

Blitz in London — firefighters in action at the premises of Hill & Co, Britannia Row, Islington, damaged by bombing on 22 March 1944. General view at…

As a footnote, in the mid 1970’s a band known as Pink Floyd had a studio there, recording “Animals” and parts of “The Wall”, using children from nearby to perform the “we don’t need no education” chant.

Rentals in the street now can cost upwards of 635 pounds per week for a small but modern flat. The equivalent of the 4 shillings a week from 1898 would now be 14 pounds.

Author: gorcat28

writing up my ancestors one week at a time

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