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Hoskins: The making of the English Landscape: Extract

In this extract Hoskins looks at how an industrial landscape developed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and at how separate working- and middle-class areas developed within it.

Industry spread over the lower-lying parts of the towns, leaving the hills for the residences of the well-to-do, but this was not a conscious piece of ‘zoning’. Large-scale industries in pre-railway days needed canal-side sites both for bringing in their coal and other raw materials and for taking away their heavy products. Thus they chose the flatter and lower ground where the canals lay. Moreover, it was the low-lying areas that were vacant when the industrialists appeared on the scene, for earlier generations had wisely avoided building on them wherever they could. The sites were there waiting. And again, it was easier and cheaper to build on a flat site than on a hillside. As a consequence most of the new streets of working-class houses were also built on land that presented difficult drainage problems (not that anyone except the victims gave much thought to this), and the sanitary conditions soon became appalling. The slums were born. The word slum, first used in the 1820s, has its origin in the old provincial word slump, meaning ‘wet mire’. The word slam in Low German, Danish and Swedish means ‘mire’: and that roughly described the dreadful state of the streets and courtyards on these undrained sites. It need hardly be said that the industrialist of the Steam Age did not build his own house near the works, as the country factory owners had done. He went to dwell on the ‘residential heights’ and walked down to the mill each day.

W.G. Hoskins The Making of the English Landscape (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1967) pp.172-3


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