In 1887 Government inspectors were sent to investigate the Old Nichol, a notorious slum on the boundary of Bethnal Green parish, where almost 6,000 inhabitants were crammed into thirty or so streets of rotting dwellings and where the mortality rate ran at nearly twice that of the rest of Bethnal Green. Among much else they discovered that the decaying 100-year-old houses were some of the most lucrative properties in the capital for their absent slumlords, who included peers of the realm, local politicians and churchmen.
The Blackest Streets is set in a turbulent period of London's history when revolution was in the air. Award-winning historian Sarah Wise skilfully evokes the texture of life at that time, not just for the tenants but for those campaigning for change and others seeking to protect their financial interests. She recovers Old Nichol from the ruins of history and lays bare the social and political conditions that created and sustained this black hole which lay at the very heart of the Empire.
Sarah Wise has an MA in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College. She teaches 19th-century social history and literature to both undergraduates and adult learners, and is visiting professor at the University of California's London Study Center, and a guest lecturer at City University. Her interests are London/urban history, working-class history, medical history, psychogeography, 19th-century literature and reportage. Her website is www.sarahwise.co.uk Her most recent book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England (Bodley Head), was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014. Her 2004 debut, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London (Jonathan Cape), was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. Her follow-up The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum was published in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize. Sarah was a major contributor to Iain Sinclair's compendium London, City of Disappearances (2006). She has contributed to the TLS, History Today, BBC History magazine, the Literary Review, the FT and the Daily Telegraph. She discussed bodysnatching for BBC2's History Cold Case series; provided background material for BBC1's Secret History of Our Streets; and spoke about Broadmoor Hospital on Channel 5's programme on that institution.She has been a guest on Radio 4's All in the Mind, Radio 3's Night Waves and the Guardian's Books Podcast about 19th-century mental health.