The upper and middle classes of Victorian England were marked out by their confidence: they boasted that the sun never set on their Empire; they believed they were destined to lead other nations; and they bragged that their civilisation was pre-eminent. Their self-belief was assured because they lived in a country that had become rich through industrialisation. But amidst great prosperity there was also much poverty. Deprivation and distress were widespread and obvious. In towns and cities, grand public and civic buildings were surrounded by poor dwellings later known as 'slums'. The poor crowded into these insanitary districts; they rented badly built dwellings with inadequate facilities; they did the dirtiest, hardest and most dangerous jobs; they ate the worst food; they suffered ill health and early deaths. Poverty blighted their lives. Many observers asserted that many of the poor were thriftless and feckless. They stated that the muckiness of the poor districts was caused by dirty people who did not wish to raise themselves out of the mire.
Gradually, however, social investigators began to question these scathing generalisations, arguing that poverty was usually the result of economic conditions over which individuals and families had no control. "Poverty Amidst Prosperity" focuses on the urban poor themselves, and explains their way of life from within. Using working-class autobiographies and other evidence from working-class people themselves, Carl Chinn shows how people reacted to poverty, and brings to the fore their strategies for coping with their situation. He asserts that the urban poor were not passive victims of their circumstances, but that they fought against poverty with the support of neighbours and kin, and that they formed thriving villages in a dreadful urban environment. This book provides the ideal introduction to those seeking to understand poverty from the grassroots. Its wide range of evidence, clear analysis and strong argument stress the importance of communities, and give a voice to those whom traditional history has marginalised.