“Apart from being a fascinating snapshot of London in the 21st century, it’s a valuable social commentary.” –Terry Waite
In 1861, the great journalist and social advocate Henry Mayhew published London Labour and the London Poor, an oral history of those living and working on the streets of Victorian London. Nothing on this scale had been attempted before.
On the surface, the streets of London in 1861 and in 2019 are entirely different places. But dig just a little and the similarities are striking and, in many cases, shocking. Taking Mayhew’s book as inspiration, Jennifer Kavanagh explores the changes and continuities by collecting and mapping stories from today’s London.
Beggars, street entertainers, stalls selling a variety of food, clothes, second-hand goods, thieves and the sex trade are all still predominant. The rise of the gig economy has brought a multitude of drivers and cyclists, delivering and moving goods, transporting meals and people, all organized through smart phones but using the same streets as Mayhew’s informants. The precarity faced by this new workforce would also be familiar to the street-sellers of Mayhew’s day. In terms of resources, gone are the workhouses, almshouses, paupers’ lunatic asylums. Enter shelters, day centres, hostels, and food banks.
Let Me Take You By The Hand is an x-ray of life on the streets today: the stories in their own words of those who work and live in our capital.
Published in the UK & Commonwealth by Little Brown, £16.99. It will be available in paperback and in the US in 2022