Slumming it as a Victorian


As usual, we Americans are lagging behind the UK when it comes to interesting historical costume-related programming: this most recent offering from the BBC2 being The Victorian Slumwhich just began airing across the pond is part of the Beeb’s pantheon of “Historical House” reality shows that dump 21st century people into historical living situations they are frequently woefully unprepared for. From the advance promotional material, “Slum” promises to be one of the grittiest series yet. London’s Victorian slums were immortalized by the likes of Charles Dickens as places of desperate poverty, awash in filth and disease, and overall not a very pleasant place to find oneself if one was born into, or fell into, the wrong set of circumstances — that said, the previews show things a bit differently: respectable modern tradespeople, such as tailor Russell and his family, living as respectable Victorian tradespeople.

The Victorian Slum (2016)

Just minus the sewing machine.

The Victorian Slum (2016)

They even appear to have children who aren’t whiny little shits when put to work.

In an interesting twist, the show also features Andy, an amputee, who has to come to grips with not only the lifestyle change of living in a slum circa 1860, but also the discomfort and inconvenience of a Victorian prosthetic leg.

The Victorian Slum (2016)

Note the chamber pot and distinct lack of peed-in corners.

The Victorian Slum (2016)

Andy works a treadle lathe, making something that he will sell to earn a meagre living.

The cast is joined by siblings John and Maria Baker who have come to the East End from Ireland in hopes of bettering their circumstances. Instead, they are faced with Victorian xenophobia regarding the Irish as the missing link between humans and chimpanzees; the original “they’re stealing our jobs” scapegoats.

The Victorian Slum (2016)

John also has the most amazing hair ever.

The kids come across as really dedicated to the entire experience.

The Victorian Slum (2016)

This little one discovers that she not only enjoys sewing, but is “actually quite good at it.” (ONE OF US!)

The Victorian Slum (2016)

Russell appears to have acquired a sewing machine by the time the 1870s roll around…

The Victorian Slum (2016)

But he still relies on “child labour”, while the kids are lauded by the adults for being “grateful” for the few pennies they earn to help their parents make rent.

So far there’s no word on when, or if, the US market will get a taste of the slum life, but you can check out The Victorian Slum’s Facebook page for some great shots of the cast. And for those of you with a region-free DVD player, pre-orders of the entire season are available over on Amazon UK. It’ll make a great gift for any Anglophile and/or Dickens Fair cast member on your holiday gift list!

Do you think you’d survive life in a Victorian slum? Let us know in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

8 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Probably not as I am asthmatic and have LOTS of allergies. I would probably die of a combination of that and typhus, cholera and consumption. Unless I was lucky to marry or get a job outside of the slums. Like Miss Skerrett on Victoria.

  2. Sarah Faltesek

    I remember seeing the casting call a while back, and was actually in the process of writing my entry when I went back to the page and realized that it was UK only (duh). It made sense, but I was still disappointed. I once lived in rural Guatemala for 6 months with no hot water, no stove, no fridge, washing everything by hand…. *shakes fist* I coulda been a contender!

    • Jay

      There’s a place in Maine called Washburn-Norlands Living History Center that sometimes has live-in weekends for the public where you get to live and work like it’s the 1870s or the 1770s. Having done both [one in the Maine winter time! Cut ice out of a pond and stacked it in an ice house! Tapped maple trees! carded and spun wool!], it was certainly eye-opening to me the differences that advances in technology made between the two eras. They were always melded in my mind, but, boy, oil lamps give off way more light than candles and what a luxury to have a water pump inside the house rather than having to go to the river all day long.

        • Jay

          The winter one was pretty cold. Did the 1770s one in the fall, though, and that was really fun. We pressed fresh apple cider every day, took a hay ride, and even had a 1770s picnic with cheese, bread and fried chicken in an apple orchard.

  3. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I will now be adding this to my BBC Youtube trolling. Last year they did a series called 24 hours in the past and put 6 British Celebrities through similar experiences. It was eye opening and I used what was worn on that show to model my Dickens Faire Lady’s Maid costume after. No stupidly wide hoops for my. My stuff was neat but about 10 years out of style.

  4. Erica

    I can’t wait to watch this series. I’m not sure I would have made it in the past with allergies, asthma, and eczema.

    I recently stumbled across all of these great series with Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn, and Alex Langlands they are informative and educational. Last night I watched Victorian Bakers. I really wish America could create an equivalent from the American perspective. The closest I’ve seen was Colonial House. BUT the participants refused to play along … so it sucked. :/