The Victorian Slum, episode 3

Victorian Slum, episode 3, the 1880s.
Shall Jack the Ripper visit the neighbourhood?

Same old intro, bit of history, this is what happened last week, etc.
If you can remember things that happened a week ago, you can skip the first 3 minutes.

The Slum

The third week, life must slowly become a routine, I wonder if they have actually lived the Victorian slum lifestyle 24 hours a day for 7 days a week since it began or if they get time off.
Some shows allow for a day or weekend off, especially when the location needs redecorating.
Some shows look the other way when the cameras are turned off and let participants use mobile phones, turn on electric lights, etc.
It is difficult to get a group of volunteers to live completely cut off from their modern lives for weeks on end and sometimes concessions have to be made.
Of course this never or rarely is mentioned in the show we see on tv, but it happens.
I’m not saying it happened in this show, but it has happened in other shows so you can never be completely sure.

Life is going to get worse.


The tailors are being send to a workshop, nice Singer, is it 1880s?
I’m not sure, the base doesn’t look very old but the sewing machine itself as a design, didn’t change much for decades.
I have one that looks pretty much the same but was made in the 1930s.
Either way, it works the same.

They are forced to start using workers, we often forget that back then some of the evil and bad bosses who ran sweatshops and exploited their employees did so because they knew they risked the doss house or the street if they didn’t make their weekly target.
The Howarths are now forced into this position.
Their employees are new contestants, a Polish migrant and descendants of Jewish refugees.

The sweatshop is soon up and running, but… and I know I’m like a broken record here, but the place is too well lit.
As far as I can see there aren’t a lot of windows in that place and the ones that are there are dirty.
It would/should have been dark, adding a lot of atmosphere but also making things a lot harder and more depressive for the people working there.
The sweatshop facts are shocking, even if you already know them.
How many of us modern people could even imagine working 18 hours a day?
And will they work that long here in the tv show?

The Potters are on their way to market, goodness they look fantastic.
I find the Victorian clothing so much nicer than what we see today on the streets, even the Victorian clothes of the poorest of the poor.

First hint of Jack the Ripper… the Ten Bells pub which plays an important part in the murderer’s story.
Quite smart to sell their, with all due respect, disgusting looking wares, outside that pub.
The odds of someone willing to try Victorian snacks sold by people in Victorian clothes are higher at that famous location.
Selling jokes on the street is quite smart.
Here in Holland we have annual King’s day where people line the streets selling old stuff, play music, etc.
Kids selling jokes or poems are everywhere on that day and they make a pretty penny.


The story of the casual work is horrific, there must be many viewers to whom all this is something they’ve never heard of.
And that is one of the best things about shows like these.
People watch the show to be entertained, to laugh at modern people coping with living in the past but then end up actually learning important things.

John’s lovely hair makes another impressive appearance.

Little James Potter sure enjoys being in charge, bossing the sweatshop workers around.
Good job James, that is how it would have been.
In other shows we’ve seen modern people having trouble with being in charge or having servants and such.
Which makes such shows a little bit tiresome, seeing people deal with modern day morals and showing misplaced embarrassment that really has no place in such shows.
Kids find it easier to fit into their roles.

The sweaters have to pawn their clothes, being forced in bad unfair extortionate deals just to have something to eat and find somewhere to sleep.
Welcome to London lads, the biggest city in the most powerful empire in the world.

It is again interesting to have this perspective of seeing both sides of the story.
The sweaters are being abused, extorted and taken advantage of but we’ve seen the people responsible for this being in that same position and we know that they are forced into this position just to keep a roof over their heads.
History is not always black and white, often it is also grey.
And seeing this played out in front of you makes you think and adds another layer to what we know of our past.

Two of the new men spend another night hanging on the ropes.
What a horrible yet unique and impressive experience, especially if it is so near to what your ancestors went through.

Mary is doing her neighbours washing.
She washes the clothes the way I wash them today, by hand.
Quite a heavy and difficult task, well done to her for managing.

As awful as sleeping in the doss house was, I am pretty sure it made them realise even more how important it is to get their job done and work hard and fast.
They’ll be desperate to earn enough for a proper bed and some food.


Mandy Howarth and her daughter meet a historian to discuss their family history.
Their great grandfather was a tailor working from home, many of their ancestors were sweaters, goodness how familiar his story must feel to them now.
And they, like the sweaters, were Russian Jews feeling pogroms.
As someone obsessed with history and finding things out about your heritage is emotional, but in this situation their history comes so very close.
Seeing young miss Howarth talk about how it makes her feel a bit sick to realise that they were running a sweatshop were people went through what her own ancestors went through brought tears to my eyes.
Understanding history, getting this whole new perspective on your life but also life in general is so important.

Street selling has been banned.
Awful and of course unfair but once more, the perspective is there.
The shopkeepers, although in a better position than our slum dwellers, were losing trade and many would be desperate to hold on to what they had achieved, knowing that if their shop failed they could end up in the poorhouse.
The Potters don’t see it that way.

Poverty tourism gives us viewers also a change to take a good look at the privy, unfortunately the lid is shut.
Can’t help thinking if there is a modern functioning toilet underneath, you know, because of healthy & safety nonsense rules.
Good on Mandy for getting upset with the posh visitors.
I’m liking and respecting her more every episode.
What a wonderful woman and what a great rolemodel to her kids.
On the other hand, we modern people may think this poverty tourism is tasteless and wrong but aren’t we viewers doing the same?
Just because we use a TV doesn’t mean we too aren’t observing poverty from a comfortable distance.

The Potter lady isn’t keen on the visitors either.
I’m loving this.
I can just imagine feisty East Enders swearing and cursing at the posh lot stumbling into their apartments, but of course the tourists would have loved that.
Above all, it also mean that the participants are really seeing their dwellings as their homes.
I’m assuming/hoping the tourists have been told how to behave by the production team, as they are wonderfully rude and obnoxious.

The Potters are at rock bottom and because I respect them so much, I feel their pain, sort of.
Especially grandad, he is so brave, he is suffering so much yet manages to stay so strong.
Seeing him break down upsets me.

As history teaches us, you can only push people so far, there comes a time when they just won’t tolerate being oppressed any more.
Must have been wonderful for the angry poor to finally stand up and do something.
Push people and eventually they push back.
A change is coming.
A change that made all our lives today better and fairer.
But a change that our ancestors fought for, a change they risked everything for.
Back then a strike meant you’d get no pay, nothing.
Today a strike means walking around with a funny cap, having a cup of tea, listening to some pop singer and still getting paid.
Modern people so rarely understand all the things they should be grateful for and the sacrifices made by those who came before us to give us these things.
Our contestants know it now, the viewers may understand it as well.

The situation is played in small at the Howarths sweatshop.
I am wouldn’t be surprised if this is a little staged or at least that someone nudged the men into organising this.
It is just too good to be true that these guys, only part of the slum for a few days, get this much involved that they go on strike.
But it had to happen, so I’m willing to forgive this little example of the reality show being directed.
This makes things very difficult for the Howarths, even though of course wonderful Mandy completely understands the strikers.

We end the week and the episode with a little slum celebration.
Wonderful to see and quite astute for our participants to realise that indeed, life was hard, it was bad, but even life in a Victorian slum had its good sides.
Here they are, a tight community, neighbours but also friends who look after each other, who share this feeling of unity and solidarity.
Something that for many seems to missing from our modern world.
We have traded material poverty for social poverty.


I’m quite surprised there wasn’t even a mention of Jack the Ripper though.
When he killed prostitutes in 1888, the entire city, especially the London East End were gripped by his reign of terror.
But besides that it also brought more attention to the living conditions of the poor in these neighbourhoods.
Something I’d expect to at least be mentioned once in this episode.

Regardless of missing out on that, another interesting episode.
Next week, the 1890s.


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