Introduction picture
From London: A Pilgrimage. Illustration by Gustave Dore (1872).

Welcome to our page on animals and the slum.

In this section of the exhibition, we will examine primary sources to highlight the different relationships between people and animals, which Claire McKechnie suggests has been particularly neglected by historians.[2]

Common assumption could mislead people to think animals and humans did not interact in a positive way in the slums, a notion both supported and rejected within our exhibition.

The relationship between humans and animals is highlighted in a sketch from The Illustrated London News in 1849, which displays the proximity of animals and people in the slum to emphasise the conditions that people shared with their animals. In addition, the intimacy between humans and their animals also showed the level of control that the poor held over their animals.

The newspaper article ‘Dog Stealers of the Old School’ (1874) describes the theft of a dog from a middle-class gentleman, and the efforts to retrieve this dog from the hands of working class criminals. It shows how the rise in ownership of fancy dogs amongst the Victorian middle classes led to increasing class tensions. These tensions can be seen through the way that the domestic dog is continually placed above the thieves in terms of worth to society, showing how these dogs exacerbated an already fraught relationship.

The section on profit will look at how the working class profited from the use of animals. The source that will be used shows animal baiting one method through which street sellers would make profit. Further analysis will also look at the upkeep and sale of animals on the streets as an alternative method to make profit. The general trade will be observed, as well as how these traders were viewed by others in the slum. The effect animals had on society will, again, be reinforced.

Henry Mayhew in London Labour and London Poor (1840-1851) provided an example of how important animals were to some people. Mayhew emphasised the significance of the donkey to the daily income of a costermonger family. The source analysis will explore how important this relationship was, as well as the treatment of the donkey in a costermonger household.

The final source discusses Henry Mayhew’s work on the Cholera outbreak of 1849 within the working class district of Bermondsey in South London. The source brings to light the poor hygiene and living conditions faced by many of the people within the working class districts and how it led to greater risks of disease and infections due to the “pig-sty” living conditions in which the people lived. His article ultimately helped to bring about change in regards to how politicians deal with public health.

Zoë Crew, Eve Harrison, Ashleigh Pomeroy, Jack Temple and Dale Thompson


[1] McKechnie, Claire C., Miller, John, ‘Victorian Animals’, Journal of Victorian Culture (2010) 17:4, p.438.