For genealogists, the Charles Booth poverty maps provide a significant resource when researching 19th century London.
However, that underestimates the contribution he made during his lifetime in his quest to understand the social conditions in London at that time.
Charles Booth was born in Liverpool in 1840 to a wealthy merchant from whom he subsequently inherited a substantial business. Along with his brother Alfred he subsequently formed a shipping company.
Then, during the period from 1887 to 1902 he produced a multi-volume study of the social conditions in London, entitled Life and Labour of the People in London. This was a scientific study with volumes of statistics and included maps where colour and letter coding (A-H) identified the social standing of the occupants of housing. The researchers who aided Charles Booth in this endeavour accompanied policemen on their rounds of the area and recorded the living conditions of the occupants.
For London ancestors, and especially those who were raised during the reign of Queen Victoria, it provides context to their lives. In conjunction with vital and census records it is possible to get an idea of what their lives might have been like.
His work is credited with influencing the Liberal Government to introduce the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908 although as a means tested scheme not as the universal pension he had proposed.
His services to public life were recognised. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society and awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Cambridge, Liverpool and Oxford.
He died at Gracedieu Manor, his family home in Leicestershire, in November 1916.
The London School of Economics are guardians of the records including the maps and police notebooks
The following is an extract from one of the maps.