Agar Town: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum, by Steven LJ Denford

Agar Town: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum, by Steven LJ Denford

Published by the Camden History Society in 1995, 32 pages. A4 size booklet (N7907)

From the introduction: Agar Town - a small estate developed from 1840 in the area to the east and north of St Pancras Old Church - was a squalid slum, housing many poor Irish who had been squeezed out of more central districts such as St Giles. Or so the history books tell us. But modern historians have simply recycled Victorian accounts....This is not, however, the picture which emerges from a study of records such as deeds, the Vestry minutes, the census and poor law records.

This book describes the actual development of the area, considering the site and its surroundings - which were not such that a slum was inevitable - and the role of the Agar family, including the once infamous "Councillor" William Agar and his battle in earlier years with the Regent's Canal Company. His widow's decision to let off the land in small plots on 21-year leases did preclude a good class of development. Most plots were taken by working men escaping the appalling housing conditions nearer central London. The agreements for leases had numerous conditions attached, and the builders involved were working men who often continued to live in the houses they had built, which could otherwise command high rents. In the London of the day housing conditions in Agar Town were at worst unremarkable.

As to the inhabitants of Agar Town, contemporary writers saw them as typical slum land types - poor, drunken and Irish. Census, poor law and other records do not back this up. Only a tiny number claimed out door relief or sought admission to the nearby Workhouse, and disease was not rife. Very few of its inhabitants had been born in Ireland.

Falsely portrayed as a foul slum housing a depraved population, Agar Town fell easy prey to the Midland Railway Company, who without difficulty obtained Parliamentary powers and in 1866 swiftly demolished the area in order to build their line into the new St Pancras station, leaving the inhabitants to find other accommodation wherever they could. I believe that Victorian social topographers unfairly 'labelled' Agar Town as part of a campaign to reform housing conditions generally. The book concludes with a brief description of the subsequent fate of the area, now home to Camley Street Natural Park and, to the north, Elm Village.
Contents in the booklet include:

Before Agar Town
Working class housing in early
Victorian London
The image of Agar Town
Agar Town - a slum?
The development of Agar Town
The people of Agar Town
The railway and Agar Town
Agar Town - an assessment
Agar Town today
Article in Household Words, 1851
Case study of ground rents in a part of Agar Town

The condition of the booklet is generally very good. The covers have one or two very minor scuffs but are clean and bright, the staple spine is intact, and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.