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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.

Reviews

During my long years as a hostage I had no books and no contact whatsoever with the outside world. Using my imagination I walked along the streets of London and had many imaginary conversations with the people I met there. If only I had had this book with me then. Jennifer Kavanagh has actually walked the length and breadth of this great city and recorded the many conversations she had with people. Apart from being a fascinating snapshot of London in the 21st century, it's a valuable social commentary
Terry Waite
What shines through this wonderfully engaging book is the author's genuine assumption that every life matters and, if we care to listen, has important things to tell us about our own.
Kathryn Hughes, Guardian
The openness of the people she spoke to, and the empathy and skill she devised in winning their trust, are remarkable features of this humane and attractive book
Jerry White, Times Literary Supplement
Jennifer Kavanagh's [work is a] richly detailed mapping of the stories of those who have least, are often invisible, and bear the brunt of market forces they cannot influence.
Richard Derecki, OnLondon