Image from the series
As London prepares to take centre stage at the 2012 Olympics, a new BBC/Open University series puts a magnifying glass over this famous city to reveal a social history never before seen on TV. The Secret History of Our Streets takes a peep behind the curtains of London households across a 120-year period to produce a modern mapping of social history. Starting next Wednesday at 9pm on BBC2, this fascinating series reveals London as never before, holding up a mirror to its own residents.
The Secret History Of Our Streets has its roots in the pioneering maps created by19th Century social geographer Charles Booth. Using colour-coded maps, Booth researched and documented the make-up of virtually every street in London over a 12-month period, categorising them, according to income and social class of its inhabitants. For example, “black” streets denoted the lowest class of “loaders, criminals” and “yellow” streets indicate the “wealthy, servant-keeping class".
The series allows the viewer to time travel through history along six of the roads highlighted in those original maps to find out what has happened since Booth’s day. Episode one features Deptford High Street, described in Booth’s day as the Oxford Street of South London, but now one of the capital’s poorest shopping districts. From there the series will move to Camberwell Grove, Caledonian Road, Reverdy Road, Portland Road and finishes with Arnold Circus.
Open University politics lecturer Georgina Blakeley, academic consultant on the series, says many people will be surprised by what they see: “You might think you know where you live, but the series can open your eyes to how streets change throughout history. Booth’s maps were shorthand for looking at the history of the time and he was one of other social geographers such as Seebohm Rowntree in York, whose aim was to map poverty levels in different streets.
”Booth’s maps and interviews revealed areas of desperate poverty and the attempts which were made to clear London’s slums by building the first council houses on Arnold Circus, though this first social housing scheme was not as successful as was originally hoped. Today wealth and poverty still exist cheek by jowl in that area of London, which the programme reveals.”
Each episode will focus on one of the six streets and includes interviews with people bringing out a lively blend of memorable characters. What is revealed is not often what you might expect, even in a city as diverse as London.
Whilst the series may be about London, Blakeley says the topics covered can equally apply to any street in the UK: “In London the differences are much more accentuated – house prices being just one example – but the ideas of classing areas and looking at how they have transformed or stayed the same is something that is fascinating to study wherever you are. You can literally take any street and learn about class, poverty, social mobility etc.”
Accompanying the series is a dynamic interactive tool which unearths the history of five major cities, offering a view into the history of other streets in Sheffield, Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester as well as the capital, London. With images, sound and academic commentary on the themes of the TV series, it can bring the series wider than the streets of London and start viewers thinking about their own environment. To download the interactive click here: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/society/secret-streets
Why not take a dip into the study of society and its issues with one of The Open University’s Openings courses such as Y177 Understanding Society which is designed to develop learning and confidence.
For further study, the programme themes and indeed Booth’s maps form the starting point for The Open University’s Introducing the Social Sciences modules: DD101 or DD131, both of which literally start with a street and introduces ideas of class, social mobility, migration and more. The module is an approachable way in to the disciplines and subjects of social sciences – including psychology, politics, environment, history, geography and international areas among others.
To find out more about the courses linked to this programme and Social Sciences in general follow the link here: http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/dd101.htm