West Ham and the River Lea explores the environmental and social history of London’s most populous independent suburb and its second largest river. Jim Clifford maps the migration of industry into West Ham’s marshlands and reveals the consequences for the working-class people who lived among the factories. He argues that poverty, pollution, water shortages, and disease stimulated momentum for political transformation, providing an opening for a new urban politics to emerge. This book establishes the importance of the urban environment in the development of social democracy in Greater London at the turn of the twentieth century.
Abject though their living conditions may have been, difficult as their social and domestic circumstances often were, Clifford refuses to see the people of the parish and borough as helpless victims or pawns of fate. Here we see a West Ham shaped in manifold ways by the intricate interactions of humans and nature. This is a story that encompasses and turns on ecology, hydrology, topography, prevailing winds, economics, politics, trade networks, industrial processes, engineering abilities, technological competence, human resilience, and chance.
From the Foreword by Graeme Wynn
Deploying environmental history approaches to reveal processes of social and political change, this book offers an original contribution to our understanding of urban transformation. Through a case study of the environmental politics of London’s working-class suburb of West Ham, it reveals how clean and plentiful water was the essential quotidian issue in late nineteenth-century Britain. Using both traditional sources and modern digital-mapping techniques, it offers a new focus and methodology for modern urban history.
Barry Doyle, professor of health history, School of Music, Humanities and Media, University of Huddersfield
West Ham, Clifford shows, was beset by intersecting social, administrative, technical, and environmental problems, and their consequences were felt quite unequally … Such nuance and detail is perhaps this book’s major contribution.
William M. Calvert, The University of St. Thomas
Clifford draws welcome attention to part of Greater London frequently neglected in historical scholarship due to its proximity to London yet independent status … West Ham and the River Lea provides a view of the social and environmental impacts of West Ham’s industrialization with an emphasis on the sanitary experiences of people living in the borough during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Nicola Tynan, Dickinson College