The Metropolitan Districts I

Real life London in 1849. A journey through the back streets and into the lives of the people in early Victorian London.

Labour and the Poor Volume I - The Metropolitan Districts eBook Cover


Labour and the Poor Volume I: The Metropolitan Districts


Henry Mayhew


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ISBN (Hardback):


ISBN (Paperback):




Henry Mayhew, the pioneering social investigative journalist, takes us around the capital and reveals a hidden life—the real Dickens’ London. He ventures into places where only the very poorest are forced to tread, interviews the people encountered and publishes their words.

In this volume we begin our exploration of the great metropolis of London, then the largest city in the world. We enter the two-penny lodging houses—the dens of thieves—and hear from the inmates amassed inside them. The Spitalfields weavers, destitute needlewomen, tailors, dock labourers, and the street traders including costermongers, bone pickers, death hunters, and flower girls, among many others, describe their lives, labours, and hardships.

Volume I of our complete and unabridged “Labour and the Poor” series begins with the reputed catalyst for the entire series, an incredible article written by Henry Mayhew titled “A Visit to the Cholera Districts of Bermondsey”. This is followed by The Morning Chronicle’s own introduction to the series and 18 separate articles or “Letters” submitted by Henry Mayhew, interspersed (in chronological order) with the many Letters to the Editor sent in by their Victorian readership who were shocked by the findings being uncovered by the investigation. These make fascinating reading.

Throughout the series tales of despair are captured and reported, from the very mouths of the poor people themselves, and as Henry Mayhew declared in Letter VI of the series…

It is difficult, I know, for those who are unacquainted with the misery hiding itself in the bye-lanes and alleys of the metropolis to have perfect faith in the tales that it is my duty to tell them. Let me therefore once more assure the sceptical reader, that hardly a line is written here but a note was taken of the matter upon the spot. The descriptions of the dwellings and the individuals I allude to have all been written with the very places and parties before me; and the story of the people’s sufferings is repeated to the public in the selfsame words in which they were told to me.
Henry Mayhew, Labour and the Poor Vol. I.

The Table of Contents for Volume I is shown below but for a better appreciation of the material we suggest previewing the Print Edition Sample which includes the Table of Contents, a sample letter, and the Index.

Labour and the Poor Volume I: The Metropolitan Districts

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • A Visit to the Cholera Districts of Bermondsey
  • The Morning Chronicle’s Labour and the Poor Introduction
  • Letter I.
    • Wealth and Poverty.
  • Letter II.
    • The Spitalfields Weavers.
  • Letter III.
    • The Dock Labourers.
    • The London Dock.
  • Letter IV.
    • The Dock Labourers.
    • East India, West India and St. Katharine’s Docks—A Visit to a Low Lodging-house.
  • Letter V.
    • The Low Lodging-houses.
  • Letter VI.
    • The “Slop-workers” of London.
    • Low-lodgings—Slop-sellers—Slop-workers.
  • Letter VII.
    • The Makers of Government Clothing.
  • Letter VIII.
    • The Army Clothiers and the Slop-workers of London.
  • Letter IX.
    • The Needlewomen of London.
    • Stay-stitchers, Shoe-binders, Stockmakers, Cloakmakers, Upholsteresses, and Distressed Gentlewomen.
  • Letter X.
    • The Needlewomen of London.
    • Their Condition and Earnings.
  • Letter XI.
    • The Needlewomen of London.
    • Statements of Distressed Needlewomen.
  • Letter XII.
    • The Hucksters of the Metropolis.
    • Street Markets—Street Fishmongers—Costermongers.
  • Letter XIII.
    • The Hucksters of the Metropolis.
    • Coffee-stall Keepers—Irish Fruit-stall Keepers—The Baked Potato Trade—Vendors of Cough Drops—The Dealers in Watercresses—Sheeps’-Trotter Vendors—Cat and Dogs’ Meat Dealers.
  • Letter XIV.
    • The Hucksters of the Metropolis.
    • Itinerant Meat and Fruit Pieman—Hucksters of Crockery Ware—Itinerant Old Clothes Dealers—The Street Lucifer-match Trade—Sellers of Boot and Stay Laces—Street Vendors of Blacking—Hucksters of Tape and Cotton.
  • Letter XV.
    • The Hucksters of the Metropolis.
    • The Flying Stationers—The Standing Patterers—Sellers of Play-bills—Wall Song-sellers—Hare and Rabbit Skin Buyers—The Flower Girls—The Rag Gatherers, Bone Pickers, and “Pure” Collectors—Mudlarks.
  • Letter XVI.
    • The Operative Tailors.
    • Coat, Waistcoat, and Trowsers Hands—Captains, Fully Employed Operatives, Casual Hands and the Intemperate and Improvident Tailors.
  • Letter XVII.
    • The Operative Tailors.
    • Eastern Slop Tailors—Show and Slop-shops at the East-end.
  • Letter XVIII.
    • The Operative Tailors.
    • The Slop-trade and Sweating System—Street kidnapping.
  • Index   ** print editions only **

For anyone interested in family history or social history, the “Labour and the Poor” series really is an invaluable resource.