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Overview of Victorian London

This section is a social and geographic guide to the London of 1860, where The Centre Cannot Hold is set. It just touches on the most obvious features of the city, after all vast books have ben written on this subject, but it should give you enough to get a grip on the kind of milieu on which your character exists.

By 1860, London was one of the largest cities in the world, with a remarkably dense urban population, and the wealthy suburban areas developing into what is recognisable today. The metropolitan population approached three millions. From the 1850s to the 1870s London saw a rapid growth in terms of urban development as England enjoyed a prosperous time in between the famous wars of the Victorian era, which fell either side of this time – the Crimean War and the Indian mutiny of the 1850s and the Zulu wars of the late 1870s.The 1860s are often regarded as the height of the Victorian era: great progress was being achieved in all areas, from science to construction, but most especially engineering.

Many of the aspects of our culture that we now take for granted are recent discoveries in the time in which the game is set. Safety matches were invented only 5 years previously, and The Origin of the Species has only just been published.

Despite the genteel veneer of Victorian London, it does have a rough underbelly. Work on the sewerage system had not been yet completed in 1860, and so 'The Great Summer Stinks' from the Thames were still present, as all of the sewage of the booming metropolis was discharged into its waters. It is said that only the fact that Parliament backs onto the Thames prompted the Government into action, as there were many occasions when meetings had to be adjourned to escape the horrific odour.

Hundreds of thousands of homes did not have a water supply, the inhabitants having to rely upon standpipes and even wells in some places. The treatment of the water was wildly inadequate, resulting in frequent outbreaks of disease. Even as late as 1875 a massive outbreak of cholera swept through the city. For those households that received water, drinking it straight from the tap as is second nature to us today was considered suicidal folly – approximately 15% of the water was untreated sewage!

While the grand town houses of the period still stand today as a testament to the wealthy middle classes, the larger proportion of the population endured horrific slum living conditions. A great deal of the working class and poor did not have fixed accommodation, being forced to live in boarding houses that were rat infested, overcrowded hell holes, with small damp dark rooms that crammed as many people as possible. Without the Welfare State as it known today, extreme poverty was unfortunately prevalent, at levels unseen in Britain today – without work nor means to obtain income, there was a real threat of starvation. For many, a life of crime or prostitution was the difference between life and death.

Click here to download a map of 1860 London (314K)


To play in The Centre Cannot Hold, just send GBP 15.00 to cover your setup and first two turns.
Further turns are GBP 6.00 each. Please make cheques payable to Undying King Games,
or you can pay by credit card using our secure transactions page.
You will receive a copy of the rules, map, and start form.

Like all our games, The Centre Cannot Hold can be played by post or by email, as you find convenient.

Undying King Games, 57 London Road, IPSWICH, IP1 2HF, United Kingdom


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