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London Labour and the London Poor

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  270 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Unflinching reports of London's poor from a prolific and influential English writer

London Labour and the London Poor originated in a series of articles, later published in four volumes, written for the Morning Chronicle in 1849 and 1850 when journalist Henry Mayhew was at the height of his career. Mayhew aimed simply to report the realities of the poor from a compassiona

Paperback, 544 pages
Published July 1st 1986 by Penguin Classics (first published November 1st 1967)
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Jason Mills
May 01, 2011 Jason Mills rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of London, Victoriana, poverty, labour, social history, capitalism...
London Labour and the London Poor began life in a newspaper around 1850 and went through several editions, culminating in four volumes. Mayhew sought to survey at first-hand the lives of the impoverished, and analyse the causes of their poverty. Modern popular editions like this one are selections from the larger work. The editors in this case have sought not merely to provide a 'colourful' selection of Mayhew's interviews with the poor, but to represent the breadth of his writings and concerns. ...more
Occasionally a bit laborious (no pun intended) to read, but many of the anecdotes - people who train dancing pigs, the reminiscences of burglars, those who wade thru sewers to find valuables - are fascinating. The fourth volume is largely written by others than Mayhew, and is a bit of a different book. This section is more concerned with judging those profiled rather than allowing them to speak for themselves.
Austen to Zafón
I read this years ago as an antidote to all the English literature I was reading that I loved, but that primarily concerned the upper class: Austen, Wodehouse, Bronte, Saki, Trollope, Sayers, Christie, and so on. I wanted to know more about the rest of London (and English) society. Well-known journalist Henry Mayhew first published his research into "The Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Cannot Work, and Will Not Work" in the newspaper, and then expanded his work into four volumes. ...more
S.W. Fairbrother
Considering this is a non-fiction book written over a hundred years ago, it remains an absorbing read.
Anyone who is interested in social history, or the history of London should read this book.
The breakdown of ordinary people's lives remains fascinating, especially as so many of the traditions have since been lost.
A very, very interesting book.
If you want to see the beginnings of the bourgeois fascination with urban decay -- when cities were still going up, no less -- read this. Originating as a series of controversial newspaper articles, the book was written by a London journalist who conducted field interviews with "street types," and synthesized their data into one of those strange, obsessive taxonomies the Victorians loved so much (and for which we love them). Mayhew took a photographer with him on his slum-visits, but since the t ...more
James Lang
Like a great Victorian novel, with a fascinating cast of characters.
Martine Bailey
I cannot say I've read this from cover to cover, but as a research source on the life and work of nineteenth century Londoners, Mayhew is unparalleled. Having a deep interest in food history, the first-hand accounts by real people such as gingerbread sellers, milk vendors (operating in London parks), sweetstuff makers and suchlike, are priceless. Then there are the criminals - the screeve-fakers, swindlers and burglars who are revealed in all their callous glory. The best parts are those that re ...more
Pasti Jones
social tourism written by a recently bankrupted toff
Fairly odd mix of opinion, statistics and personal stories. Still this is quite compelling reading. Mayhew is enthralled and horrified at the state in which e finds his countrymen. He documents this with every literary tool he has to hand. It's not always artfully done but it most certainly captivating. And honestly it is far too often that the storyteller is taken with their method instead of with their subject. This chunk of history is more skillfully wrought than most. It's impression is cert ...more
One of those books that convinces me that nothing in the world is new. Mayhew describes two types of street-singers: those who sing really well (so you tip them) and those who sing really badly (so you tip them to make you leave). I read this book in little restaurants and corners while I was working in Peru and tipped at least two very loud, tone-deaf performers in the process of preserving my peace. This was much more readable and enjoyable than I was expecting, and both very funny and kind of ...more
An excellent presentation of the underclasses of London during the mid 1800's by a meticulous contemporary author. The book serves as a very tactile descriptioin of the times including the sounds, the sights, the smells and the feel of the grittiness of the times, while offering a pure, unvarnished look at the social functions and institutions serving and served by the poor. The view is presented in a straightforward unsentimental manner that allows the reader to form his or her own thoughts and ...more
Nicole Gervasio
Mayhew approaches his sociological study of London's poorest quarters in the genres of both picaresque and catalogue. His enumeration of these workers' skills, habits, passions, diets, needs, and accoutrements is exhaustive. But mainly, his truly curious (read: peculiar) observations about the debaucheries cherished by these lower classes and his unfulfilled missionary impulses are pretty intriguing.
Liam Guilar
It makes me want to read the four volume, unabridged version.
While this contains a fair selection across the original it is a selection. This book also leaves out most of volume four, which admittedly was mostly written by others. VOl 4 is available separately as 'the London Underworld in the Victorian period" but it's also an 'Unabridged selection".....whatever that means.
Dustin Hanvey
Reads like a history text of 19th century England-- lots of first hand accounts of street laborers, poor children, and lodging houses in London. Mayhew has sympathy for the people he describes, but isn't afraid to trace the causes of poverty as far and wide. 150 years later, we can still learn much from his work.

Reddy Katz
Amazing book, This first volume is a little hard to chew when reading from cover to cover and best used as a reference book really but i will say the last 100 pages are the most interesting and id skip straight to that bit if you want a full read out of at least some of it i cant wait to start volume 2
Anna Maria
This is a fascinating work - Mayhew's descriptions, stories and anecdotes are so vivid and evocative that Victorian London is conjured up before your eyes. Altough some of his facts are undeniably disputable, this text offers one of the greatest insights into the period.
Mayhew was a 19th century journalist who decided to do a kind of survey of the lower classes and so went round to talk to people in London from street sellers to pickpockets. Fascinating sociological study and very useful for those of us who work in the 'history biz'.
A fascinating selection of passages from Henry Mayhew's four-volume classic journalistic work on the thousands of working poor, itinerant, and homeless people who scraped out a living on the streets of early Victorian London.
Gareth Evans
A great book for dipping into - it took me nearly 10 months to complete. Even if there is some degree of hyperbole, it is a fascinating glimpse of the middle of the nineteenth century.
Extraordinary. If you like this selected edition, shell out for the four-volume Dover edition. Books to live with!

One of my two or three favorite English writers of the 19th century.
Jun 30, 2007 Joseph added it
a treasure for those actually curious about the economic realities of Victorian england. Not as socialistic as the similar work by Jack London, which is also a good read. And Statistics!
I read this as research for a book I'm writing. Can be dull at times, but still a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the poor in Victorian London.
Jul 11, 2014 Andrelle marked it as to-read
Shelves: work-in-progress
Well, I started it more than a year ago and haven't picked it up since... factually interesting, but dry. Hope to finish it one of these days!
John Marr
Who can resist a book that includes an essay "A Night at the Rat Pit?"
Fascinating look at individuals in London. Brings Victorian London to life.
In 4 vols. I don't know of anything like these books.
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Henry Mayhew was an English social researcher, journalist, playwright and advocate of reform. He was one of the co-founders of the satirical and humorous magazine Punch in 1841. He is also known for his work as a social researcher, publishing an extensive series of newspaper articles in the Morning Chronicle that was later compiled into the book series London Labour and the London Poor (1851), a g ...more
More about Henry Mayhew...
The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves and Prostitutes Of Street Piemen (Little Black Classics #26) London's Underworld Mayhew's London The Most Disgusting Jobs in Victorian London

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