During the nineteenth-century there was enormous growth in both the poplulation and area of London. The map below gives an indication of the physical increase in size. By the mid nineteenth century London was not merely the biggest city in the word it was the biggest city the world had ever known.

The scale of London in the mid nineteenth century was so overwhelming that strange comparisons were used;

Its beershops and gin palaces are so numerous, that their frontages, if placed side by side, would stretch from Charging Cross to Chichester, a distance of sixty-two miles.

If all the dwellings in London could thus have their frontages placed side by side, they would extend beyond the City of York.

London has sufficient paupers to occupy every house in Brighton

Ken Young and Patricia Garside. Metropolitan London,1982
from G.Barnett-Smith, The Growth of London, Cornhill Magazine, January 1879
Decade Population of London Population Increase (%)
1831 1,654,994
1841 1,948,417 18
1851 2,362,236 21
1861 2,803,989 19
1871 3,254,266 16

The population increase was from sixteen to twenty percent every decade during the mid nineteenth century.

The statistics before 1851 are not accurate as the extent of London had not yet been decided. It was only in 1851 when William Farr (compiler of abstracts at the Office of the Registrar General) defined the boundaries on which the 1851 census should be taken. These boundaries were then used in following censuses so that more accurate comparisons of, for instance, population and mortality rates could be used.

The Victorians regarded accurate census taking as the key to urban renewal. All their projects required accurate figures and as the illustrations demonstrate they inquired very diligently into numbers at every social level. The upper class, the middle class, the poor, even the homeless in public parks and areas like the arches under the Adelphi were canvassed and counted. Officials recorded information on behalf of the illiterate. The Statistical Society was founded in this period, when accurate figures were becoming available.

The census enumerator in a Gray's Inn Lane tenement. Illustrated Times, xii (1861), from The Victorian City, Images and Realities, Dyos and Wolff (1973)
Taking the census in Belgravia. Illustrated Times, xii (1861), from The Victorian City, Images and Realities, Dyos and Wolff (1973)

Early morning - the enumerator taking the census in St James's Park. Illustrated Times, xii (1861), from The Victorian City, Images and Realities, Dyos and Wolff (1973)

Taking the census in the arches of the Adelphi. Illustrated Times, xii (1861), from The Victorian City, Images and Realities, Dyos and Wolff (1973)

The increase in population was both natural; more births than deaths in the existing population, and due to migration from outside London. In the first half of the nineteenth century migrants came predominantly from the area surrounding London but as the century progressed more and more migrants came from further afield. Charles Dickens moved with his family in 1822 from Chatham in Kent to Bayham Street, Camden Town, pp2/3 London 1808-1870; The Infernel Wen, Francis Sheppard (1971).

Where migrants from England, Wales and Scotland would settle depended on whether or not they had a skill. Unskilled workers would generally settle in the centre wherever they could find work, but skilled workers would settle around the established centres of their trade. For example furniture makers would go to Tottenham Court Road or Shoreditch , printers would go to Clerkenwell, shipwrights to Poplar and hatters to Southwark. Those involved in building or in domestic service would increasingly go to the new suburbs as London expanded engulfing villages and hamlets such as Notting Hill Gate or Brixton.

The Irish formed a relatively large proportion of migrants to London. For example from 1841 to 1851 of the 330,000 migrants who arrived in London that decade 8,ooo were from Scotland, 26,000 were from abroad and 46,000 came from Ireland. Migration from Ireland had increased rapidly in the 1820s and 1830s and by 1851 4.6% of the population of London were Irish born (its highest recorded proportion). The Irish colonies in London were in fact likely to have been far greater than this as these percentages did not include children born in England of Irish parents. The Irish settled mainly in Holborn, St. Giles in the Fields, Whitechapel and St.Olaves Southwark. As more and more arrived these areas became very overcrowded and often referred to as rookeries. Most of the Irish migrants were unskilled and often destitute. They provided much of the unskilled labour for the building of the railways, docks and other building projects. Some entered the sweated trades such as tailoring and shoemaking and some became street traders. Irish immigration eventually slowed down in the 1860s and 1870s when they could start assimilating to their new environment and today there are no traces of Irish migration in Holborn and those parts of the East End where they first settled.

Internal Population Movement

Although there had been movement of population outwards since the seventeenth century it greatly increased in the mid nineteenth century. As the central areas of London became more unpleasant: the consequence of the introduction of railways, with the building of stations, track, warehouses, offices for the expanding businesses, together with increased land prices, and the resultant increase in street traffic, the population flowed outward. This, together with the high mortality rates in central areas (particularly as a result of the cholera epidemic of 1848-1849), encouraged those who could afford to, to move outwards to the new heathier, cleaner suburbs.


During the mid nineteenth century Manchester and its surrounding towns increased in size enormously to become one of the world’s largest industrial centres.