Photography Exhibition revisits the Victorian East London of Charles Booth

Lifting the Curtain at Town House Spitalfields

2016 will mark the centenary of the death of Charles Booth the Victorian industrialist and social reformer. In the late 1800s the scale of poverty in the major cities of the UK was seen as a threat to society. Concerns were frequently and sensationally reported in the popular press, provoking fear amongst the general public. Booth doubted that the situation was as serious as was reported. His view was that ‘East London lay hidden from view behind a curtain on which were painted terrible pictures’. He believed that the mythology overwhelmed the reality. His mission was to lift the curtain and reveal the truth. So began Charles Booth’s inquiry into poverty in London, Life and Labour of the People. Volume one of his survey, which covered East London, was first published in 1889, along with maps showing the extent of poverty. Streets were subdivided into seven groups from ‘middle class’ to ‘lowest class’, the latter described as ‘Vicious, semi-criminal’.

Wentworth Street

Keith Greenough’s exhibition Lifting the Curtain is a timely reminder of Booth’s work. Photographs of modern day places are juxtaposed with texts drawn from the 1889 survey. The locations pictured are places Booth and his associates would have visited. The texts describe what they witnessed. Keith Greenough commented that “The images and texts certainly show that much has changed in East London since late Victorian times but many of the social issues Booth observed over 100 years ago, such as concerns about poverty, housing, redevelopment and immigration are still around today.’

In the spirit of Charles Booth, Keith is donating all the proceeds from the sale of books, catalogues and exhibition prints to local East London charity Toynbee Hall to help them achieve their vision ‘To eradicate all forms of poverty’. Fittingly Charles Booth and his team used Toynbee Hall as the base for their survey work back in the late 1800s.

The exhibition at TOWN HOUSE 5 Fournier Street London E1 6QE runs from 15th October to 25th October 2015. It is part of Photomonth, East London Photography Festival 2015. For more information about the exhibition visit

Keith Greenough is a photographer based in South East England. He has a long held fascination with East London and its history. His work has recently been shown in exhibitions in London, Sheffield and Oxford. He can be contacted via email: [email protected], or Telephone: 07917 542333.