Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mapping Deptford: Charles Booth and the Bruise of Deprivation

I am resurrecting a piece I wrote in 2011 following the excellent re-showing of Secret History of Our Streets (BBC) here concerning the clearance of Deptford in the latter half of the C20th. The programme went through Booth's legend and imagined new lines of deprivation in the creeping flux of urban growth. Booth's illustration has always suggested to me a bruise, an injury coming out and through the skin, going across the palette. This movement from pain to mend aptly describes the swathe, moving across South London, of gentrification. Here's the earlier piece from 2011, watch the programme too if you can:
"Charles Booth’s poverty map of London in 1898 depended on a strict colour legend to depict deprivation in the capital. Taken as a whole, the map reveals concentrated areas of poverty, the most extreme in black, to create a picture that can be observed as a movement from yellow and affluent through to blue and black, like a bruise.

Example of Booth's poverty palette (1898)

This is of course unintentional, such descriptive and artistic processes of social theory were not present in the late 19th century, they were almost quantitative in their outlook and even though the sample depended on one person’s opinion the end result was a scientific study in mapping. The healing bruise, the hit, is an apt descriptive tool to define Booth’s maps as a project possibly more subjective than intended. Of course some of these areas, and I have been concentrating on the Deptford/Greenwich part of the map, have now changed with an increasing amount of riverside development along Creekside and east of the Naval College. A more contemporary view of Booths map would reveal a brighter Deptford/Greenwich border and High Street but it could be argued that Evelyn Street and surrounding streets still house the poor. Certainly the deprivation index in recent years has not been favourable to Lewisham, at least certainly not to Greenwich, which ranks as one of the poorest boroughs in London. A walk past the old Tolly (Richard 1st) pub may have you thinking otherwise but east of Greenwich centre this is evident. Trades and light industry departed long ago to be replaced by Ibis hotels and gated high-rise developments. The waterfront becomes the place of aspiration and the artistic community along Creekside give it depth and sense of contemporary history of the kind that eased the Baltimore (USA), Hull and Liverpool dockfronts into the 21st century. Deptford High Street should not be taken off the 'black list' just yet, the two remaining pie and mash shops give some indication to its working class credentials and no doubt they will be there for a long time yet. In the day of Booth the poverty was evident, starving children in rags, open communal sewars and polluted drinking water pumps. These days, however, poverty is more deceptive and deprivation indices more specifically probing. Poverty in the 21st century is much more aligned to the ability to engage with the commercial world, while back in Booth's day it was all about education, food and health and the visual appearance. Like Dickens before him, Booth walked the streets to guage the state of the nation and if their contemporaries, currently engaged in local governance, did the same then perhaps the palette may change sooner than expected".