Geffrye Museum shines a spotlight on the homeless

"The Pinch of Poverty" (detail). Painting by Thomas Benjamin Kennington. Pic: Geffrye Museum

“The Pinch of Poverty” (detail). Painting by Thomas Benjamin Kennington. Pic: Geffrye Museum

An exhibition on homelessness during the Victorian era will be on display from March till July at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch.

The unique exhibition, Homes of the Homeless, explores the dark reality of homelessness in the 19th and 20th centuries and “considers how people fought against the notorious workhouse system or used it to their own ends”.

Through paintings, photographs, newspaper reports, diaries and oral histories of the men, women and children who sought shelter in the capital, the upcoming exhibition will take visitors into the everyday life the vast amount of Victorian Londoners living in poverty.

In Victorian London, tens of thousands of people made their homes in lodgings, often rented just beds for a night, or shared rooms with total strangers not knowing if they would be able to afford shelter for the next night. Countless others slept rough in makeshift shelters when they couldn’t scrape together enough money for a decent place to stay.

As the Industrial Revolution swept across the country, an exodus of people coming to look for work in London placed intolerable pressure on Britain’s cities. In the capital, the population grew at record rates, causing rents to soar and living conditions to plummet. The exhibition charts the how the housing crisis affected London’s poor, especially as slums were cleared and housing was demolished to make space for railways.

Homes of the Homeless aims to represent the struggle of “the destitute or those who were able to eke out only a precarious and intermittent living”.

There will be a simultaneous exhibition on the lower concourse area bringing attention to modern-day homelessness in London, which is a collaborative youth project with the New Horizon Youth Centre, Kings Cross.

The exhibition will run from March 24 to July 12. Admission is £5 or £3 for concessions. For more information, visit the Geffrye Museum website.

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