St George's Fields, Southwark: From a grand 18th century suburb to 19th century inner-city slums

Social conditions

The area around St. George’s Fields was fully built up by the middle years of the19th century, although the most recently developed streets were mean and poorly built. The houses on the grid of streets between Webber Row and Borough Road and the courts between Southwark Bridge Road and Great Suffolk Street were particularly small. The resulting overcrowding problem because increasingly acute in the late 19th century, as space previously used for housing was increasingly co-opted for industry or the railways – rendering large numbers of people homeless.

The lack of proper drainage and refuse collection compounded the area’s problems. Although these problems were common to many other areas of London (and elsewhere), the densely packed population and geography worsened them considerably: because much of the area was below the high water line, water courses did not naturally run to the river, instead flowing backward – and carrying sewage with it – as the tide came in. As a consequence much of the area had the poorest health of any district in London.