Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor: Volume 1


Henry Mayhew. [From a Daguerrotype by Beard.]

London Labour and the London Poor; A cyclopædia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work.

By Henry Mayhew.

The London Street-folk; Comprising Street Sellers. Street Buyers. Street Finders. Street Performers. Street Artizans. Street Labourers. With numerous illustrations from photographs.

Volume I.

London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, Stationers' Hall Court. 1861.


The present volume is the first of an intended series, which it is hoped will form, when complete, a cyclopædia of the industry, the want, and the vice of the great Metropolis.

It is believed that the book is curious for many reasons:

It surely may be considered curious as being the first attempt to publish the history of a people, from the lips of the people themselves--giving a literal description of their labour, their earnings, their trials, and their sufferings, in their own “unvarnished” language; and to pourtray the condition of their homes and their families by personal observation of the places, and direct communion with the individuals.

It may be considered curious also as being the first commission of inquiry into the state of the people, undertaken by a private individual, and the first “blue book” ever published in twopenny numbers.

It is curious, moreover, as supplying information concerning a large body of persons, of whom the public had less knowledge than of the most distant tribes of the earth--the government population returns not even numbering them among the inhabitants of the kingdom; and as adducing facts so extraordinary, that the traveller in the undiscovered country of the poor must, like Bruce, until his stories are corroborated by after investigators, be content to lie under the imputation of telling such tales, as travellers are generally supposed to delight in.

Be the faults of the present volume what they may, assuredly they are rather short-comings than exaggerations, for in every instance the author and his coadjutors have sought to understate, and most assuredly never to exceed the truth. For the omissions, the author would merely remind the reader of the entire novelty of the task--there being no other similar work in the language by which to guide or check his inquiries. When the following leaves are turned over, and the two or three pages of information derived from books contrasted with the hundreds of pages of facts obtained by positive observation and investigation, surely some allowance will be made for the details which may still be left for others to supply. Within the last two years some thousands of the humbler classes of society must have been seen and visited with the especial view of noticing their condition and learning their histories; and it is but right that the truthfulness of the poor generally should be made known; for though checks have been usually adopted, the people have been mostly found to be astonishingly correct in their statements,--so much so indeed, that the attempts at deception are certainly the exceptions rather than the rule. Those persons who, from an ignorance of the simplicity of the honest poor, might be inclined to think otherwise, have, in order


This text is based on the following source(s):
Henry Mayhew. London Labour and the London Poor. Volume 1. London. Griffin, Bohn and Company, Stationer's Hall Court. 1851.
This text was converted to electronic form by professional data entry and has been proofread to a medium level of accuracy.