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Street Life in London

People of Victorian England

by J. Thomson and Adolphe Smith
With Permanent Photographic Illustrations
Taken From Life Expressly For This Publication


new material in this edition copyright © 2014


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Get to Know Dickensian London

The authors of this book invented photojournalism as they roamed through London creating this book, with Thomson taking pictures and Smith interviewing and writing about the poor people they met on the streets. Smith wrote that, by talking to the poor in this same way,

“Dickens acquired his marvellous stores of material and knowledge of the people. Exaggerated as some of his characters may seem, their prototypes are constantly coming on the scene.”

You will see that he was right when you read this book and meet a host of Dickensian characters such as:

  • John Day: After years of drunkenness, he “chanced to obtain a glimpse of his own countenance reflected in a public-house mirror. His bleared eyes, his distorted features and ignominious, degraded appearance produced so sudden and forcible an impression, that he … called for a penny glass of beer, and swore that it should be the last.”
  • Jacobus Parker: Known as the “dramatic shoe-black,” he worked for the government and acted in many plays in London theaters. Then, “Suddenly I fell ill, lost the sight of my left eye, and had to leave my regular work … Now, I am stationed as a shoe-black, at your service, armed with a peddler’s licence. … To tell you the truth, when I think of my past and present, I am surprised to find myself so happy and contented.”

You will also learn about the trades that helped the poor of Victorian London to survive. You will meet the swagsellers, the mush fakers, the old-clothes dealers, the wall-workers, the ginger-beer makers, the flying dustmen, the street doctors who impress their poor patients by diagnosing them in “crocus Latin,” and many others.

Call your family into the parlour on some bleak wintry day, stir up the coals on the grate, and read this book aloud, so everyone can be warmed by its descriptions of a bygone time.