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Meals that poor people ate
in the early 1900s

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London slums, early 1900s

Typical London slums, early 1900s people lived on little more than a subsistence diet.

Not everyone was fortunate enough to live like the ordinary people described on this website. There were still families who were desperately poor, who lived in slum conditions. For them, meals were very different from what my mother describes in the other pages in the side menu.

The following information about food in the slums comes from the book Round About a Pound a Week which records the findings of a group of women who interviewed families of manual workers in a poor part of London in 1909-1913 under the auspices of the Fabian Society.

From their incomes of around a pound a week, there was little money left over for food, after the deductions for rent, funeral insurance, clothing, coal and other minimal necessities.

The book gives precise menus for a range of families with different numbers of children. Essentially the mothers and children had to exist for much of the time on sweetened tea with no milk and hunks of bread spread with margarine. The man of the house additionally had what was referred to as his 'relish' which was something additional for his supper - perhaps an egg, a rasher of bacon or a small piece of cheese or fish. It was essential to keep him fed well enough to continue working to earn the weekly income for the family. There was no state support other than the terrible stigma of pauperisation, which, in its worst form meant being admitted to the workhouse.

Death and disease was rife among the poorer families, as a result of poor nutrition and insanitary damp living conditions.

It was noted in the book that:

Also of note:

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.