By numbers here from shame and censure free,
All crimes are safe, but hated poverty.
– Samuel Johnson, ‘London’

London is a dirty city.

It is dirty in the plain sense: a day spent in its streets, and you acquire the film of grease and universal muck stubbornly ineradicable from even the most advanced of cities. It is dirty in the noirish sense too, remarkably at ease with corruption, full of hood-lidded surprise that anyone would be so gauche as to think back-room deals and palm-greasing even worth commenting on. There are different kinds of dirt: the respectable black patina of centuries of industrialisation in the folded robes of saints on ancient churches, coating the walls and domes of London’s universities; the dirty windows and unemptied bins of the poorer districts. And, of course, the worst dirt floats and festers at the very top.

This theme – the ecology of dirt and hypocrisy, London as Babylon – has sustained many writers. The whited sepulchres of the rich, the stock virtuous poor with dirty faces, the traffic in dirty money and deeply-felt taboos about filth and propriety animate endless novels. We no longer need to pick over entrails in the street in fastidious pattens; we are no longer in much danger of an unexpected chamberpot-shower on the pavement. The Great Stink that so offended the delicate noses of parliamentarians was finally trapped in Bazalgette’s great Victorian sewers. And this is progress: for a city so perennially close to sinking in its own shit, London is miraculously clean. The cholera-ridden slums of Dickens are no more; our more modern slums are far less visible, partly outsourced to the rest of the world, the rest deftly tucked away in the less visible pockets of the endless, reaching city.

But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that London totters just on the verge of being overcome by its own dirt and disorder. It’s a continual verbal tic of those preoccupied with the maintenance of social order that dirt, disease and disorder are essentially synonyms: hence social unrest is a disease of the body politic, hence the endless clichés about demonstrators needing a wash, hence the habit of talking about last summer’s riots as a great outpouring of moral and physical dirt. At times this language is thinly-veiled racism, at others seething class hatred, but universally preoccupied with scrubbing away our problems. It’s hard not to hear an echo of the confused imperatives of the great Victorian philanthropists, who suggested all kinds of connections between moral and financial poverty, between physical and moral dirt, and for whom a regular good wash was the certain and brisk solution to feculent poverty.

With all its talk of sterile zones, quasi-militaristic securitisation and physical displacement, it’s not a surprise to see that LOCOG is in on the act, with these adverts springing up all over the tube:

To dodge the standard ripostes: it’s not as if anyone would object to treading in fewer turds on the way home from work, nor a spruced-up park, nor some public windows less encrusted with grime. It is how this exhortation is delivered, how it is supposed to be achieved, and for whom – all these are not just objectionable, but symptomatic. Having lost the stiff-necked patriotism of 19th-century public reformers, the language of public duty and civic responsibility disappears in favour of faux-chummy, colloquial drivel-copy about London being a bit like your flat, and the Olympics being a bit like your Mum coming round. This is infantilising nonsense, of course, but that’s something we’re used to from the Mayor’s office – but who is this ‘cleanup’ for? God forbid one might wish the city to be a bit better for those who have to use it, permanently, rather than to show off as a polished bauble for the various VIPs zooming around it in their special reserved lanes, then to be allowed to sink back into its casual grime.

And who is to do this work? Like much Olympic labour, it relies on the work of volunteers. The tone of Cameron’s vision for Britain – the Big Society – is here in all its squalid, hectoring, sub-paternalistic bathos. The message: after the drag and drudge of work, commute, and a snatched meal, find a few hours to plaster on a smile and do yet more work, picking shit out of the grass. And more: do it in some ersatz ‘community’ emptied of all tangible substance, presided over by five rings and skyscrapers with crystalline, sparkling-clean glass.

This must gall old high Tory moralists: no longer able to command obedience in the name of Empire or nation, they’re reduced to nagging in a tedious jolly-hockysticks buzz from the margins, invoking some international ‘Mum’ looking over your shoulder. Permanently. Kitsch nationalism is the order of the day: everything plastered with a Union Jack, a crown and bunting, but never in a simple, tidy homage to the plainly Imperial. Instead, all of this is mediated through an ironic, slightly-distant relationship to better days. Empire is still too toxic to rehabilitate, so instead a sickly-sweet glaze of red, white and blue coats everything: nostalgia for ‘values’, for a kind of better order, where everyone knew their place, talked to their neighbours, and respectable women scrubbed their doorsteps once a week.

Nostalgia in grim combination with international branding imperatives: the Proctor & Gamble ‘Capital Cleanup’ not only recalls the army of broom-wielding white people who emerged after the August riots to clean the nightmare remnant of Empire from the streets, but places its brand sponsors into a neat medal ribbon on the side of all its advertising. Brand ambassador Keeley Hawes grins manically from the website, perfectly coiffed, sharply-but-primly dressed, pulling on her marigolds to scrub, scrub, scrub away the capital’s filth. Olympic nostalgia: when women not only did all the cleaning, but enjoyed it.

We know now (we always knew) the ‘Olympic legacy’ long-touted as justification for colossal expenditure was just a guileful sales pitch. Militant cleaning is one of its less immediately objectionable faces, but a smaller part of the wave of ‘regeneration’ and social cleansing sweeping the poorer areas of London. The Heygate, Carpenters’ Estate, ‘decanting’ of communities to make way for more lucrative executive developments – this is all part of a ‘cleaning up’ with more lasting effects, taking a long broom to the unsightly or inconvenient, and pushing them further and further out of a city in which they have an increasingly precarious foothold.

Who is the city for? Struggles over housing, decent transport, clean air, the freedom to gather in public – these all float around this question. Answering it sometimes means counterposing the ‘real’ London to its unreal counterpart, rising in glass and steel in its swish-but-empty financial districts. Behind the bumptious Mayor and the ridiculous Mittal folly, the gentrifying tide of renewal in the city is determined to answer the question in one way: the city – its pleasant parts, at least – are for the wealthy alone, with those unable to hitch themselves to the property balloon banished further and further to the margins.

The scrubbed-clean city, decked with Olympic or Royal bunting, the grasping for bucolic history while ignoring the detritus of the city, sweeping it out of the way – the whitewashing of London – is a manoeuvre to establish some other city in its stead, of pleasant harmony and functioning, of little discontent and no dissension. Kitsch Britain, a bad collage of our most inglorious, vaguely bathetic moments, is well into its birth.


God made the country, man made the town.’
Cowper, The Task

In a famous essay, now historically bleak, Michel de Certeau writes of the experience of seeing Manhattan from the 107th floor of the World Trade Center:

‘To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be carried away by the city’s hold. One’s body is no longer criss-crossed by the streets that bind and re-bind it following some law of their own; it is not possessed – either as user or used – by the sounds of all its many contrasts or by the frantic New York traffic … His altitude transforms him into voyeur. It places him at a distance. It changes an enchanting world into a text. It allows him to read it; to become a solar Eye, a god’s regard.’

Well over a century beforehand, the Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew looked out from the gallery of St Paul’s and saw the span of London stretching before him, with buses ‘no bigger than tin toys’ and ‘dense streams of busy little men’ hurrying this way and that. This ‘god’s regard’ is a viewpoint familiar to any reader of writing about cities: the elevated perspective that eliminates the single human to see the vast system of the city as a greater living being, tiny individuals pumping through its arteries, unaware of the greater whole. The fantasy of the perfect city often adopts such an elevated view, from spatially-impossible medieval illustrations of the New Jerusalem, to the cosmically ordered and distressingly inhuman utopian cities of Campanella and Andreae. The viewpoint of gods encourages a certain carelessness about the common and private sufferings of the individual; swarming throngs quickly become ant-like, inconsequential. Elevation breeds contempt: John Carey was right to detect in Eliot’s modernism a disdain for the common man, a kind of pitying revulsion for the downward-gazing crowds thronging over London Bridge. But the tension between the misery of a fallen city and the refinements of urban civilisation wasn’t first revealed in The Waste Land; it’s a common enough trope to be almost unremarkable. Cities have always been mercantile, too, great centres of trade, but after the financial revolution post-1688, money, credit, and its various institutional forms, from stock exchange to debtors’ prison, becomes an ever more noticeable part of writing about London.

Mayhew would be astonished climbing St Paul’s today. Not simply because of the sprawling megalopolis touching the span of the horizon, but because of the vast skyscrapers dwarfing it. What might the inhabitants of those eyries think of the world below them, how might they see those in its streets? The vantage-point of of the utopian, the social planner – the elevated position adopted by anyone who wants to grasp the totality of a city – always suffers this tension: in order to see general principles otherwise obscured by the dense undergrowth of particular sufferings, singular stories, human beings become virtually indistinguishable ants. Only from so high a position, as de Certeau points out, can we begin to read a city. But what is tragic, disquieting to de Certeau, is that the high places of the world engender a false freedom from the streets below; to theorise only from the tops of towers is to tilt inevitably toward megalomania, to flatten out the millions of ants below, always for the benefit of the city. But we always have to descend.

For Mayhew, truly understanding the city – the many Londons that rubbed shoulders, but never quite looked each other in the face – involved descending from the cathedral dome and beginning to speak to people in the streets. The extraordinary series of interviews with the impoverished and the ‘Street-Folk’ of London in the middle of the 19th century (which would later make up the substance of his London Labour and the London Poor) attest to a method flexible enough to account for both the vastness of the city as a social system and the multiple voices and individual miseries suffered by the poor. Nestled in the second volume of LLLP is the conclusion that Mayhew drew from his wide-ranging interviews:

Our poverty increases while our wealth increases, and our paupers grow nearly four times as quick as our people, while the profits on trade nearly double themselves in little more than a quarter of a century.
LLLP, II, p.318

This conclusion – as adroit a reproof to disciples of the trickle-down effect now as it was to Victorian philanthropists then – was not a consequence of any dogmatic political conviction on Mayhew’s part. In the course of his research, he became increasingly outspoken about the worst instances of exploitation (especially where employers lied brazenly about the wages they were paying their workers) but was always reluctant to declare himself for any social panacea. His refusal to mince words led to rifts with editors, but the work was widely and hungrily read. What was Mayhew’s particular success? Despite his admirers’ (true) claims that LLLP is one of the richest documents of Victorian urban life and poverty, the period was not lacking in concerned reports (‘blue book’ and otherwise) on the miserable state of the very bottom rungs of society; Engels’ 1844 Condition of the Working Class in England remains one the most famous accounts.

Yet Mayhew’s method was not that of dry political economy – though he certainly takes potshots at Malthusian orthodoxy throughout his work – but a heterodox anthropological inquisitiveness, oscillating between vignettes of ‘Street-Folk’ in their own voices and precipitous quantitative tables of the amount of money flowing through London, demonstrating how little of it ever reached the hands of the poor. To open LLLP is to find, on virtually every page, startling and disquieting stories of poverty in the midst of the wealth, in hundreds of different voices. E.P. Thompson points out that Mayhew’s calculations were always a little rough around the edges, and his detractors would point out that he often had a team of runners working for him – but LLLP remains a benchmark in the discovery of another London, real, human, but concealed, right on the doorsteps of money-men and gentry.[1]

It is hard not to see LLLP through the light of the great Victorian novels, and this is certainly partly to do with the influence Mayhew’s accounts of poverty had on contemporary fiction – though he was critical of Dickensian sentimentality. Thackeray pinpoints Mayhew’s particular genius when he cedes that ‘readers of romances’ had never encountered anything so wonderful or so awful:

‘…the griefs, struggles, strange adventures depicted exceed anything that any of us could imagine. Yes; and these wonders and terror have been lying by your door and mine ever since we had a door of our own. We had to go but a hundred yards off and see for ourselves, but we never did.’
W.M Thackeray ‘Waiting at the Station’  (1850)

This system of not seeing – or of failing to realise what seems elementary – that the poor can, in fact, speak and understand, would seem like a grave ethical and political failure of Mayhew’s contemporaries, were we not still so practiced in it ourselves. The complex of taboos around money – which Ruskin called the ‘forbidden deity’ of his contemporary social order – had its role to play here. ‘Genteel mystifications’ prevent open discussion of the permanent anxiety about debt that suffused the Dickensian world; sentimentalising the poor was only one consequence of this, the curious tug-of-war between open pursuit of financial gain, and the virtue of such a belief, and a residual Christian belief that poverty (of a sort, anyway) had some kind of moral status. On the back of such conflicts, empires are built. Marx caught some of this distorting power of money and its piling up of ‘contradictory attributes’ in ‘The Power of Money’:

‘Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy.’

Where Mayhew is known at all, he is often sketched as a quaint emissary among the poor, later settling back into comfortable habits of reaction in other work – and there is doubtless some truth to this. Mayhew was certainly no historic communist idol, but over the course of his work, he became ever more caustic about what he saw as deliberate exploitation in sweated labour, and the way in which ‘free’ trade rested on the permanent immiseration of part of the populace. He was certainly inclined to look at philanthropic benevolence with a jaundiced eye: having called a public meeting of female slop workers in December 1849, he was somewhat surprised to find Lord Ashley and Sidney Herbert take the stage without warning and announce a beneficent solution to the assembled poor women. Claiming there were 500,000 surplus women in England and Wales, they had purported to discover that there were – by the grace of God, no doubt – 500,000 too few women in the colonies; thus their woes were to be remedied by philanthropic funding for emigration. Victoria and Albert headed the subscription list for shipments; the distressing condition of the poor had found its perverse solution in exportation.

No doubt experiences like this are what led Mayhew later to turn his guns on philanthropy itself. Far from assenting to the implicit suggestion by many of his contemporaries that poverty implied a preceding moral failure – that the filth and hard practice of the poor were pre-existing flaws of character, inclinations to lassitude, addiction, that kept them in poverty – he accurately diagnosed the nasty character of the nominally benevolent:

‘[T]his overweening disposition to play the part of pedagogues … to the poor, proceeds rather from a love of power than from a sincere regard for the people. (…) But such as seek merely to lord it over those whom distress has placed in their power, and strive to bring about the villeinage of benevolence, making the people the philanthropic, instead of the feudal, serfs of our nobles, should be denounced as the archenemies of the country.’ — LLLP, II, p.298

In an era of austerity, when praise for ‘great Victorian philanthropists’ is never far from the lips of the government, it is crucial to remember Mayhew. Not solely for his cynicism about grand philanthropic gestures from on high, but for his willingness to speak with, and record the voices of, people given no voice – the multitude of ants in the street. A kitsch history of the 19th century would tell us that the forward march of progress met slums and moral degradation, and inculcated industriousness and virtue by means of better plumbing, but the early-morning susurration of the poor as they scraped a living did not disappear with the advent of sanitation. Guides to the ‘Cries of London’ – the distinctive morning shouts of sellers of scraps and their sartorial habits – are centuries older than Mayhew’s child crying ‘water-cresses!’ into the dawn, but in Mayhew they are, distinctively, given the dignity of speech and real personhood. Kitsch Victoriana would make these trudging dawn-tide street-sellers little better than set dressing for the bustle of the city’s proper business; but even in its fullest form, the various happy sale-songs from a number in Oliver!, despite the cheery broadened vowels and dancing, none of the street-sellers have actually managed to scrape together even a penny.

Three street-sellers and their cries, from a British Museum copy of ‘The Cries of London’

London today does not look like it did then – the cholera district of Jacob’s Island is now swish loft apartments, and no-one cries their wares in the street any more – but for all the plate glass, its poor are as various and numerous as ever. More than half of the children in Tower Hamlets live in poverty. Parental income remains the greatest determinant of future ability to survive. Austerity under a Tory government has seen a return of the rhetoric of moral failure to account for poverty. These political facts should be remarkable, outrageous; but they are so commonplace as to be unremarkable. The geography of London changes, shifts, stratifies. Last year’s riots were partly so startling because of the bewildered commentators asking where ‘they’ had come from: ‘but a hundred yards from your doorstep’, Thackeray might say. If we still fail to see the poor, it is perhaps because London is even better at stratification than it used to be: the erosion of public space and the right to use it, precarious and variable short-term employment as de rigueur, the pricing-out of all but the wealthy from the city – these are all simple facts. Even the public systems we use in common enable classes not to overlap: the makeup of a tube carriage at 6 a.m. differs profoundly from that at 8:30. Most obviously, cleaners, baristas, low-grade service staff are rarely travelling at the same time as their employers or patrons; the unemployed can scarcely afford to travel, and certainly not at peak hours.

If Henry Mayhew were here today, who would he be speaking to, where would he be wandering? Today’s metropolis might require sharper eyes even than his; even in his work there is a sense of London so multiple and complex that it is on the verge of falling into incomprehensibility. But he might well start on those redeye morning tube carriages, almost a universe away from the gallery of St Paul’s, or the top of the Gherkin.


What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

One of the interwoven threads that make up Italo Calvino’s extraordinary novel Invisible Cities is called ‘Continuous Cities’, and it is one of the more nightmarish of categories, five brief fables about the persistence of cities – in their repeated generations of inhabitants, layers of new city on old city, in their economy of recycled mounds of rubbish and filth, and, lastly, of geographic continuity. The last portrait is of a city, Penthesilea, without any defined edge or centre, full of ‘vague spaces’, a kind of permanent suburbia. The chapter ends:

‘You have given up trying to understand whether, hidden in some sac or wrinkle of these dilapidated surroundings there exists a Penthesilea the visitor can recognize and remember, or whether Penthesilea is only the outskirts itself. The question that now begins to gnaw at your mind is more anguished: outside Penthesilea does an outside exist? Or, no matter how far you go from the city, will you only pass from one limbo to another, never managing to leave it?’

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (London: Vintage, 1997) pp. 157-158

This might be taken as an indictment of the many endless cities of the US, or Cameron’s vision for new ‘garden towns’, but its terror of endless uniformity, the non-specific city, poses the question: what does a city do when it loses its purpose? Or when its sprawl is so vast and endless it is impossible to say where it begins or ends? If London faces either of these problems, it is the latter that is the most obvious – it is far from the horrifying flat city of Calvino’s bad dream, but travelling out into the further satellites of the megalopolis, one begins to touch on its substance. All of Calvino’s meditations were meditations on one city, Venice, also on cities in the abstract, and as representations of death, infinity and the novel.

We have more concrete questions to ask of London, about its purpose and its function. London is not without its centres, the vast retail crossroad of Oxford Circus, or the seat of government, or the brash financial centres of the City and Canary Wharf; or the dozens of smaller centres, sometimes self-proclaimed in regentrifying ‘villages’ assimilated into London’s outward expansion, sometimes sad and redundant, sometimes simply personal, centres of memory, the streets where we grew up. London proclaims itself central, too: the capital, the economic engine of England and indeed the UK, but also as an imaginary horizon, promising freedom, excitement and success as a lure from smaller towns. However unjustified, London sucks people to it, Charybdis-like, from its feeder regions, more often than not spits out its less fortunate as broken flotsam and jetsam, too. Cities are also the prime terrain of revolutionary political movements – London’s history is distinguished here – if more so, now, only because more and more people live in them. David Harvey, most prominently, is asking these questions of the city at the moment – Who owns it? Who has the ‘right’ to it? Why are our most potent fluxes of political consciousness located in them? What about our cities are we not yet seeing? – but he is far from the only person divining a crucial political thread in urbanisation. Mike Davis’ trilogy about L.A., and his astonishing Planet of Slums, serve as reminders that first-world cities are far from the urban phenomena rapidly growing elsewhere in the world; Owen Hatherley remains by far the most penetrating commentator on the collapsing city-projects here on our doorstep.

An air of apocalypse hangs over Calvino’s novel, particularly as it gathers to its conclusion; and the apocalyptic city has always roiled underneath images of London. Even when Mayhew tries to take a prospect of the city, there is some sense of foreboding about the belching metropolis, lifted only briefly in night’s quiescence:

‘Yet all think of it as a vast bricken multitude, a strange incongruous chaos of wealth and want – of ambition and despair – of the brightest charity and the darkest crime, where there are more houses and more houseless, where there is more feasting and more starvation, than on any other spot on earth – and all grouped round the one giant centre, the huge black dome, with its ball of gold looming through the smoke (apt emblem of the source of its riches!) and marking out the capital, no matter from what quarter the traveller may come.’

Mayhew was writing when London still smoked with industry; the cranes that once attended the docks now build banking offices and luxury developments in the docklands, and industrial London is no more. On the skeleton of the industrial city, a different city is put together from scraps of the old, but this means strange disjunctions between the ideal and the real. Under each tube station sits a great pump, in continual furious motion, at the very limits of its capacity, keeping the rising water table from oozing between the toes of commuters. Far from being a consequence of further development, the ebbing away of industry has meant the workshops and factories that kept London’s waters artificially low until mid-century now means they are trickling slowly upward. It is some small consolation that we might one day see The Shard eaten by the mud.

‘Apocalypse’ suggests conflagration, overturning, but it also means ‘revelation’. China Miéville’s recent essay, London’s Overthrow, can be taken as apocalyptic in both these senses: its grainy digital photos of urban inbetweens and waste spaces, its interviews with people whose discontent never make it into regeneration PR splashes, its shadowy texture of other Londons under the shadow of the financial citadels – all these make up a spectacular counter-Olympic apocalypse narrative, unanswerable in its collage of a city torqued between vast wealth and poverty.

Miéville’s writing recalls the work of Laura Oldfield Ford, or of John Constable’s poetic uncovering of the Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark; ‘ghostwalks’ as Miéville calls them. These dérives can read like bad flânerie if they give in to slack nostalgia or the sickly bucolic; these examples don’t, because of the tang of apocalypse scented through the route. Some cataclysm always seems close, not quite here, or perhaps having already happened; it’s hard not to feel we’re surveying some kind of wreckage.

The theme of the city is not new to Miéville: New Crobuzon, Besźel, or the London of Kraken, his fiction often works its way around a grim city of multiple strata inaccessible or even unnoticeable from elsewhere: The City & The City is, among its many virtues, a study in the practice of ‘unseeing’ that has become the sine qua non of living in London; a practice that would be familiar to Henry Mayhew. But, as in ‘London’s Overthrow’, Miéville’s interest often lies at the liminal, the thresholds between two cities, or two seemingly incommensurable ways of being. I do not think it is pushing it to suggest that Miéville’s political awareness is present in his attention to the way in which contraries or opposites produce monsters or disjunctions, that between-spaces hold potentials for other visions, other perspectives, new configurations.

His title is taken from an etching by Jonathan Martin, a classically apocalyptic vision of the city in flames. Martin’s art, made in Bethlem asylum is full of the distortions now paradigmatic in a study of London; his self portrait is an impossible reflection, like a double-take in a circus mirror. Another London visionary, artist and madman, Austin Osman Spare, painted similarly distorted portraits over a century later. He would call them ‘sidereal’, evoking astrological time, or a time adjunct to normal time, from which light reaches us distorted, both truer and less real than clock time.

Jonathan Martin, Lambton Worm & Self Portrait

Austin Osman Spare, ‘Dragon’

Sidereal London; synoptic London. Gated communities, while homelessness rises precipitously; Olympic kitsch and multiplying retail castles, built on former housing and sustained by the evisceration of the vestiges of workers’ rights. These things are not two different cities, but exist side-by-side, one parasitising and digesting the other. The Mittal helter-skelter rising absurdly on the Stratford skyline, as social housing is demolished and never replaced. Filth and manic cleanliness side-by-side. All of this lacquered in red, white and blue; all of it built on a techne of not blindness, simply, but willful unseeing:

‘For some time past our main streets are haunted by swarms of beggars, who try to awaken the pity of the passers-by in a most shameless and annoying manner, by exposing their tattered clothing, sickly aspect, and disgusting wounds and deformities. I should think that when one not only pays the poor-rate, but also contributes largely to the charitable institutions, one had done enough to earn a right to be spared such disagreeable and impertinent molestations. And why else do we pay such high rates for the maintenance of the municipal police, if they do not even protect us so far as to make it possible to go to or out of town in peace? I hope the publication of these lines in your widely- circulated paper may induce the authorities to remove this nuisance; and I remain,

– Your obedient servant,
“A Lady.”’
(A correspondent to the Manchester Guardian, quoted in Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England)

Time to look again.

[1] – Mayhew’s book still lacks a full critical edition, which would be a gargantuan task. However, OUP have published an excellent selection, superbly edited and introduced by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. See Henry Mayhew (ed. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst) London Labour and the London Poor (Oxford University Press, 2010). E.P Thompson published a wide-ranging selection of Mayhew’s letters to The Morning Chronicle, with an excellent introductory essay as The Unknown Mayhew (London: Penguin, 1984); Thompson’s article ‘The Political Education of Henry Mayhew’ can be found in Victorian Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Sep., 1967), pp. 41-62


14 thoughts on “LONDON

  1. This is a wonderful post. A quibble that’s insignificant really but may be fruitful to think about: the one group that still reliably cries its wares is Big Issue sellers. Some of the street markets — particularly Epping, which is barely still London — have a culture of crying your wares too, but not most of them.

    • OK I liked this. It’s very you. Although I do think you suggesting that those (admittedly ghastly) olympic cleanup adverts are trying to push a sexist agenda is a bit ridiculous, maybe if they had a big group of women, or a load of different women on different posters then you would have a point, but they’ve chosen one woman. There’s a 50% chance this was going to happen

      • But it’s hardly as if they tossed a coin to decide between a male and female representative and it just happened to come down on the right side to choose a woman, is it? The assumption was clearly made that when it comes to representing cleaners, a woman’s the correct, ‘natural’ figure every time.

      • But it’s not just that she’s a woman, it’s that her styling is so ’50s – the point is to do with misogyny as nostalgia; so, y’know, if I say “1950s” you say “gender roles” or whatever. That’s why it’s so telling. As well as what McTodd said.

      • how are you supposed to style someone looking a bit enthusiastic about cleaning? OH MY GOD SHE’S WEARING RUBBER GLOVES. And a dress. She’s hardly dressed in clothes that look out of place in 2012. When there’s enough actual gender inequality I don’t think it’s appropriate to imagine sexism which is not tangibly there. You can decide that the advertising execs are all misogynist pigs because they dared to suggest that a woman might want to do some cleaning, but what would you say to the woman who chose to be in the campaign? How dare she reinforce gender stereotypes like that?

  2. “that LOCOG is in on the act” is perhaps slightly inaccurate. P&G ‘signed up’ as IOC TOP sponsors (aka Worldwide Partners) in July 2010 for ten years, so this is their first Olympics buut they’ll move on with the circus to Sochi, Rio…
    And after cleanup will swiftly follow the completion of the brand enclosure – formerly known as the ‘Dressing The City Programme’. Its all in the Technical Manuals, under Brand Protection and the Outdoor Advertising Programme:
    The IOC Outdoor Advertising Policy
    • Beginning with the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, each OCOG is required to obtain —
    through working with government agencies and billboard owners — control over all city
    advertising opportunities: airport, train, bus, and other transport advertising, as well as
    billboard advertising.
    • Control must be maintained for one month prior to the Olympic Games period plus the
    duration of the Olympic Games period…

    • Extraordinary exhibition – though I understand the received opinion is to read him as a copyist, or some kind of mad pastiche of his brother. I think he’s quite individually interesting, and precisely removed from the tone of ridiculousness or insincerity that his saner brother sometimes seems to be adopting. Maybe we should collect together a whole exhibition of Bedlam artists…

  3. Pingback: London 2012: media myth vs. reality « Andy's Miscellany

  4. Pingback: Whose games, whose city? | housingforthe99

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