Henry Mayhew (1812-87)
Henry Mayhew was a man of many talents - a journalist, author, playwright and co-founder of the famous satirical magazine Punch. He was also a leading social reformer, responsible for shining a light on the lives and living conditions of those at the margins of society.
Like a number of fellow Victorian reformers, Mayhew was influenced by the deadly impact of cholera on London. Following the deaths of some 13,000 Londoners during the second major outbreak in 1849, Mayhew wrote an article detailing the effects of the disease on Bermondsey, an impoverished area of London. This led to his involvement in a broader survey of the condition of the poorer classes that produced a series of almost daily newspaper articles published later that year and well into 1850. While criticised by the right-wing press, these articles were praised by socialists, radicals and fellow reformers.
The collected articles were first published in 1851 as London Labour and the London Poor, a book that remains a landmark work of social journalism. For the first time, the realities of days spent struggling to make a living - not always legally - on the streets of London followed by nights spent crashed out in its cheapest, dirtiest boarding houses were set out in great detail. In exposing such desperate people, blighted by disease, homelessness and unemployment, Mayhew provided real-life counterparts to the characters and stories of Charles Dickens, one of his great admirers.