Mayhew's London 1861

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Eye Witness

A fascinating eye witness description of the teeming multitudes that inhabited London in the Mid 19th C.
It was written, as a three volume work originally entitled London Labour and London Poor in 1851, the last edition was published in 1861, by Henry Mayhew a journalist, writer and social researcher.

My copy is one volume distillation of the 1861edition edited by Peter Quennell and first published in 1951. It is a hefty volume of 592 pages.

This book is a wonderful look at how London actually worked, that is to say how Londoner's worked. London in the mid 19thC was a city of several million people, many of whom had no fixed abode. To feed, clothe and entertain such a multitude required enormous labour and ingenuity.

Illustrated with black and white drawings that capture the gritty essence of life beneath the glitter and power of the chief city of the empire, this book is a wealth of information on a vanished way of life.

From Wikipedia

Mayhew went into deep, almost pedantic detail concerning the trades, habits, religion and domestic arrangements of the thousands of people working the streets of the city. Much of the material comprises detailed interviews in which people candidly describe their lives and work: for instance, Jack Black talks about his job as "rat and mole destroyer to Her Majesty", remaining in good humour despite his experience of a succession of near-fatal infections from bites.[1]

Beyond this anecdotal material, Mayhew's articles are particularly notable for attempting to justify numerical estimates with other information, such as census data and police statistics. Thus if the assertion is made that 8,000 of a particular type of trader operate in the streets, Mayhew compares this to the total number of miles of street in the city, with an estimate of how many traders operate per mile.
The original three volume work entitled London Labour and the London Poor is available online here:
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced

Mayhew's London

Henry Mayhew

Edited by
Peter Quennell


Bracken Books

0 946495 03 3


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