Biography of Charles Booth

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Biography of Charles Booth

1840 - Born he was the son of a wealthy Liverpool entrepreneur.

1884 – Made a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society

1885 – After involvement with the Mansion House Enquiry into

unemployment, decided to investigate poverty in London, with a small

team of investigators.

1894 – Published survey ‘The Aged Poor in England and Wales’.

1903 – 17 volumes of the inquiry into ‘The Life and Labour of the

People of London’ completed.

What did he set out to do?

Ø He rejected the hard line of the Charity Organisation Society (COS)

that poverty was the fault of the poor. He did not blame the

capitalist system for creating poverty either.

Ø Henry Hyndman a Marxist thinker provided the trigger that set Booth

off on his task. Booth could not accept the conclusion of Hyndman’s

street by street survey in the East end of London that said 25% of the

population lived in abject poverty.

Ø Booth wanted to discover not just how the poor lived, but why they

lived as they did. He wanted to explore the structural explanations

not just moral ones.

How did he conduct his investigations?

Ø Investigations were originally intended to last 3 years, but took 17

years to complete. Booth was central in the investigation but had at

any one time up to 35 people working with him. While Booth controlled

their work, he expected them to contribute ideas and to take

responsibility for writing specific sections of the final work.

Ø Examples server to show how intermeshed and yet wide-ranging Booth’s

investigators and investigations became.

Ø Jesse Argyle started out as one of Booth’s company clerks. He was an

able and perceptive interviewer, responsible for investigating poverty

in Walthamstow and wrote up his findings for the final publication.

Ø Graham Balfour fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, he set up

the enquiry into poverty in Battersea, supervised it and wrote up for

the publication.

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