Let Me Take You By The Hand is a fascinating and eye-opening exploration of the life of London's streets, and is essential reading for those who read Ben Judah's This is London.
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.
Jennifer Kavanagh worked in publishing for nearly thirty years, the last fourteen as an independent literary agent. Books she represented included world rights for Chinese Lives, an oral history of China just before the Tiananmen Square atrocity, and the British rights for classic American oral historian Studs Terkel.
Since leaving publishing, she has started and run a community centre in one of the poorest wards in London's East End, started a mobile library for homeless people, volunteered at an asylum seeker centre in central London, and set up a microcredit programme for women in poverty in London, as well as in Africa. She has also been a prison visitor at Pentonville and Dorchester, and for six years was a research associate for the Prison Reform Trust, working with inmates and staff in many prisons round the country. In one of her previous books, Journey Home, she interviewed a number of homeless people, refugees and women in a refuge. She lives in central London, and talks to people on the streets on a daily basis. Jennifer is a Churchill Fellow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She has published nine books of non-fiction and two novels.