London Labour and the London Poor originated in a series of newspaper articles written by the great journalist Henry Mayhew between 1849 and 1850. A dozen years later, it had grown into the fullest picture we have of labouring people in the world’s greatest city in the nineteenth century: a four volume account of the hopes, customs, grievances and habits of the working-classes that allows them to tell their own stories. Combining practicality with compassion, Mayhew worked unencumbered by political theory and strove solely to report on the lives of the London poor, their occupations and trades. This selection shows how well he succeeded. From costermongers to ex-convicts, from chimney-sweeps to vagrants, the underprivileged of London are uniquely brought to life – their plight expressed through a startling blend of first person accounts, Mayhew’s perceptions, and sharp statistics.
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