The National Archives - Homepage (2024)

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  • Tasks
  • Background
  • Teachers' notes

In Victorian society, rich and poor could find themselves living very close together, sometimes just streets apart. During the 19th century more people moved into the towns and cities to find work in factories. Cities filled to overflowing and London was particularly bad. At the start of the 19th century the population rose from over 1 million in 1801 to 5,567 million in 1891.

London, like most cities, was not prepared for this great increase in people. People crowded into already crammed houses. Rooms were rented to whole families or perhaps several families. If there was no rooms to rent, people stayed in lodging houses.

But how different were the homes they lived in? Use this lesson based on original sources concerning Victorian Hackney to find out.


1. Look at Source 1.This is a map of Hackney from 1910.

  • What things does it show?
  • Are all the streets the same width?
  • What work places are shown?
  • Are there any parks or open fields, schools or churches?
  • Can you find Conduit Street off Rossington Street?
Source 1

2. Look at Source 2. This is a photograph of Caroline Cottages, Conduit Place, taken around the 1890s.

  • Are these homes for the rich or the poor?
  • How many families lived in Conduit Place (at least)? (Handy hint: count the front doors)
  • How many rooms do you think each home had?
  • What would go on in each room?
  • Where would the children play?
  • There is only one young person in this photo. Does that mean that:
    • no children lived here except him?
    • the people that lived here were comfortably off because they could afford to send their children to school?
    • school was compulsory in the 1890s, so the children would be in school?
  • Can you see what the woman at the end of the street is carrying?
Source 2

3. Read Source 3.This is the 1891 census return for Conduit Place.

  • What type of work did the head of the household do?
  • Did the children go out to work?
  • Did the wives go out to work?
  • Who other than the Harding family lived at 5 Conduit Place?
  • What else do you notice about the Harding family?
  • Why do you think they had a lodger living with them?
  • Conduit Place does not exist today. Make a list of reasons why it might have been demolished.

Download transcript of census return for Conduit Place 1891 (RG 12/284) (PDF, 66.1 Kb)

Download transcript of census return for Conduit Place 1891 (RG 12/284) (Excel, 22.50 Kb)

Source 3

4. Look at Source 4. This is a photograph of Eagle House, just down the road from Conduit Street.

  • Did this house belong to a rich or poor family?
  • How many families do you think lived here?
  • How many floors does the house appear to have?
  • How many rooms do you think the house might have?
  • What tells you that this photo was posed?

5. Look at Source 5. This is the census return for Eagle House.

  • What does George Glover do for a living?
  • How many children does he have?
  • Is this family middle class or working class?

Download the transcript of Census return for Eagle House 1891 (RG 12/200) (PDF, 39.8 KB)

Download the transcript of Census return for Eagle House 1891 (RG 12/200) (Excel, 16.50 Kb)

6. Create a list of: similarities between the rich and poor families; differences between the rich and poor families.

7. If your house is over 100 years contact your local archive to find the census records and see who lived there.


Land-owners or factory owners often built houses for their workers. Unfortunately, this did not reduce overcrowding or improve building standards. The houses were cheap, most had betweentwo andfour rooms – one or two rooms downstairs, and one or two rooms upstairs, but Victorian families were big with perhapsfour or fivechildren. There was no water, and no toilet. A whole street (sometimes more) would have to share a couple of toilets and a pump. The water from the pump was frequently polluted. It was no surprise that few children made it to adulthood.

Some of the worst houses were ‘back to backs’ or courts. The only windows were at the front. There were no backyards and a sewer ran down the middle of the street. Housing conditions like this were perfect breeding grounds for disease.

On the other hand, the homes for the middle classes and the upper classes were much better. They were better built, larger and had most of the new gadgets installed, such as flushing toilets, gas lighting, and inside bathrooms. These houses were also decorated in the latest styles. There would be heavy curtains, flowery wallpaper, carpets and rugs, ornaments, well made furniture, paintings and plants. The source picture at the top this webpage illustrates some of the typical furnishings for the homes of the wealthier classes.

Most rich people had servants and they would live in the same house, frequently sleeping on the top floor or the attic. The rich had water pumps in their kitchens or sculleries and their waste was taken away down into underground sewers.

Gradually, improvements for the poor were made. In 1848, Parliament passed laws that allowed city councils to clean up the streets. One of the first cities to become a healthier place was Birmingham. Proper sewers and drains were built. Land owners had to build houses to a set standard. Streets were paved and lighting was put up.

Over time, slums were knocked down and new houses built. However, these changes did not take place overnight. When slums were knocked down in 1875 the poor people had little choice but to move to another slum, making that one worse. Few could afford new housing.

Teachers' notes

In this lesson on Victorian homes students are gradually introduced to sources on Hackney, starting with a small map section, then photographic evidence, concluding with the census.

Teachers may wish to ease their pupils gently into working with the census returns. They can be asked to look first at column headings, then down the columns. The list of occupants is also worth discussion, as are terms such as ‘Nursing’ which have changed their meanings – to wet nursing in this case.

Although the tasks do not directly ask pupils to make comparisons, it is likely that they will do so anyway. The largest differences are between the photos.

The activity presented here can be extended with illustrations of the interiors of rich and poor housing.


Illustration : COPY 1/155 f.198

Source 1 : IR 121/17/17

Source 2 : P8629 (Image courtesy of London Borough of Hackney Archives)

Source 3 : RG 12/284

Source 4 : P76 (Image courtesy of London Borough of Hackney Archives)

Source 5 : RG 12/200

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The National Archives - Homepage (2024)


Is the National Archive website reliable? ›

Some items, such as the microfilm holdings, have to be viewed at a physical NARA location or ordered, but the site provides online access to plenty of fascinating items, ranging from census records to executive orders signed by presidents dating back to Herbert Hoover. The site is definitely a research-based resource.

Is it hard to get into the National Archives? ›

Reservations are not required for individuals or groups wishing to enter the National Archives Museum through the General Public Entrance, but reservations are strongly suggested between March and Labor Day to avoid potentially long lines outside.

How many pages of text are in the National Archives? ›

There are approximately 13.5 billion pages of textual records; 10 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 40 million still photographs, digital images, filmstrips, and graphics; 40 million aerial photographs; more than 448 million feet of motion picture film; 992,000 video and sound recordings ...

How do I view documents in the National Archives? ›

Check the document's description in Discovery to find out how you can access the record. If you're in our reading rooms, you can view and download digital documents on our computers for free, or email copies to your own device. Digital records available to download in Discovery are currently free of charge.

Is Archive a legit website? ›

As a library, the Internet Archive has, in the words of the GDPR, a “legitimate interest” in building collections, providing permanent public access, and maintaining archival integrity.

Is legit? ›

We are the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), America's record keeper. We are the Government agency that not only preserves documents and materials related to the United States but also makes sure people can access the information.

What is the 30 year rule in the National Archives? ›

The Public Records Act requires central government departments, and certain other public bodies, to identify records of historical value and transfer them for permanent preservation to The National Archives, or to another appointed place of deposit, by the time they are 30 years old.

What famous documents are at the National Archives? ›

Here is a sample of these records, from our most celebrated milestones to little-known surprises .
  • Declaration of Independence.
  • Articles of Confederation.
  • The Constitution.
  • Bill of Rights.
  • Louisiana Purchase.
  • List of Lewis's Purchases.
  • District of Columbia Emancipation.
  • Emancipation Proclamation.
Jun 26, 2017

What records can you get from the National Archives? ›

For the following records:

Individual Census Pages, 1790-1940 (Learn more about these records) Eastern Cherokee Applications, 1906-1909 Search in the National Archives Catalog. Federal Land Entry Files ( Learn more about these records) Federal Military Pension Files for the Revolutionary War through the Civil War.

Can I use footage from the National archive? ›

Generally, materials produced by Federal agencies are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. Works of the U.S. Government that have been produced by the National Archives and Records Administration are in the public domain and may be copied and distributed without permission.

Who writes for National Archives? ›

National Archives employees — including archivists, contract officers, education staff, exhibit specialists, press officers, supervisors — who write or edit public information take a plain writing course.

Can you take pictures in the National Archives? ›

Yes! Non-flash photography is encouraged in all public areas of the National Archives Museum unless otherwise posted. We encourage you to share your photographs online and tag us @USNatArchives. Find facsimiles in the Archives Store in the museum or online.

Can I view National Archives online? ›

Not all of our records are available to view online but you can search for brief descriptions of them in Discovery, our catalogue. Search our catalogue using keywords and dates to find descriptions of records you are interested in. Your search results will let you know if the records can be viewed online or not.

Can you see the Constitution in the National Archives? ›

Located on the upper level of the National Archives museum, the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom is the permanent home of the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights.

Can anyone access the National Archive? ›

To best use your time at NARA, please review our tips for planning your visit. Who can use the National Archives? Anyone can use the National Archives.

Why are the National Archives a credible source? ›

We develop the information that we disseminate from reliable sources and use generally accepted methods for data collection, archival description, and editorial preparation. We thoroughly review information before we disseminate it.

Are the documents in the National Archives real? ›

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever.

Is the National Archives website a primary source? ›

Explore our online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives. On DocsTeach you can access thousands of primary sources — letters, photographs, speeches, posters, maps, videos, and more — spanning the course of American history.

Is the National Archives federal? ›

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government within the executive branch, charged with the preservation and documentation of government and historical records.

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