Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A bit of the “other side” of London life in 1851 ................. stories from Henry Mayhew

"Of the thousand millions of human beings that are said to constitute  the population of the entire globe, there are – socially, morally, and perhaps even physically considered – two distinct and broadly marked races  viz., the wanders and the settlers-the vagabonds and the citizen – the nomadic and the civilized tribes.”*

Detail of a Costermonger
And with that Henry Mayhew plunges you in to the London of 1851.

The original accounts appeared first as articles in the London daily press, were then published under the title London Labour & the London Poor in 1851.

And just over a century later my edition of Mayhew’s London was issued, bought by mum and long ago passed to me.

Here are descriptions of what he called the “Street Folk” ranging from the “life of a Coster-lad," "the Dredgers or “River Finders” and the “Bird Catchers.”

Along the way there are detailed descriptions of the area like the London Street Markets, the language of the Coster mongers and much else.

So armed with Mr Mayhew’s guide I would happily have been able to know that “Flatch” was a halfpenny “Cool the esclop” meant “Look at the police” and if I was told the beer house was “Kenneteeno” it would have been stinking while the chap in the corner who was “Flach Kanurd” would have been drunk.

the Kitchen Fox Court Gray's Inn-Lane
What makes the book just that bit more fascinating is that it came out in the year 1851 which means that it is possible to crawl over the detailed census records matching his descriptions with the streets, courts and “dark places” that made up this bit of London.

If I am honest I have neglected Mr Mayhew over the years, spending my time on the equally unforgiving streets of Little Ireland, Deansgate and Angel Meadow in Manchester.

But with long summer days ahead, I rather think I shall leave the computer and sit in the garden with this slice of mid 19th century life form the city where I was born.

That said my edition is according to the editors “has been designed for the convenience of the general reading public [and much] interesting material including all the longer passages has been sacrificed.”  
And that has meant the “contents of the entire fourth volume on prostitutes, thieves, swindlers and beggars have been omitted in entirety.”

Ah well you can’t have everything.

Location, London 1851

Pictures; the Kitchen Fox Court Gray’s-Inn- Lane and the London Costermonger, from London Labour & the London Poor 1851

*Henry Mayhew, Introduction, London Labour & the London Poor 1851

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