London Low Life

An extraordinary digital collection bringing to life the teeming streets of Victorian London, and inviting students and scholars to explore the gin palaces, brothels and East End slums of the nineteenth century’s greatest city.

From salacious ‘swell’s guides’ to scandalous broadsides and subversive posters, the material sold and exchanged on London’s bustling thoroughfares offers an unparalleled insight into the dark underworld of the city. Children’s chapbooks, street cries, slang dictionaries and ballads were all part of a vibrant culture of street literature.

London Low Life is also an incredible visual resource for students and scholars of London, with many full colour maps, cartoons, sketches and a full set of the essential Tallis’ Street Views of London – a unique resource for the study of London architecture and commerce. We also include George Gissing's famous London scrapbooks from the Pforzheimer Collection, containing his research for London novels such as New Grub Street and The Netherworld.

This collection, drawn from the holdings of the Lilly Library, will be of interest to 19th century scholars researching: working-class culture, street literature, popular music, urban topography, ‘slumming’, prostitution, the Contagious Diseases Act, the Temperance Movement, social reform, Toynbee Hall, police and criminality.

Key Data

Period Covered

  • 19th Century


Using the intuitive interactive map, users can:

  • Overlay Victorian cartography over a modern, searchable base map, allowing comparison of the Victorian city with present-day London
  • Visualise core data about Victorian London, including the boundaries of local government; population size, density and growth; and crime and poverty data
  • Locate and read about key institutions relating to the social history of Victorian London: Workhouses, orphanages, asylums, prisons, university settlements, women’s refuges and religious missions
  • See images of Victorian additions to the city including engineering feats such as the Thames Embankment and the London Underground, and tourist attractions including the Crystal Palace and the South Kensington Museum
  • ‘Walk’ through London’s main streets, using our 3D versions of the remarkable Tallis Street Views

Source Archive

  • Lilly Library, Indiana University

Material Types

  • Fast literature
  • Street ephemera – posters, advertising, playbills, ballads and broadsides
  • Penny fiction
  • Cartoons
  • A complete collection of Tallis’ Street Views
  • Chapbooks
  • Street Cries
  • Swell’s guides to London prostitution, gambling and drinking dens
  • Tourist guides and topography
  • Manuscripts of George Gissing

Editorial Board

  • Judith Allen, Indiana University
  • Peter Bailey, Indiana University
  • Donald Gray, Indiana University
  • Sean Shesgreen, Northern Illinois University
  • Martha Vicinus, University of Michigan


  • Crime and Justice
  • Disreputable London
  • Geography and the Built Environment
  • Leisure and Entertainment
  • Politics, Scandal and the News
  • Religion, Charity and Social Reform
  • Sex, Prostitution and Obscenity
  • Street Literature and Popular Print
  • Tourism
  • Women and Gender
  • Work, Industry and Commerce

Key Features

  • Interactive map
  • Visual gallery
  • Online exhibitions
  • Chronology
  • Dictionary of Slang
  • Academic Essays


Engaging and timely resource

Metropolitan underworlds, where the illicit and illegal rub up against the grime and extreme poverty of those at the bottom of society, have always fascinated contemporaries and later audiences. This ......

Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general audience.

London Low Life is a digital collection of fiction, cartoons, maps, posters, ballads, advertisements, broadsides, and reform literature relevant to the social history of London from 1800 to 1910. The ......