Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-century London – Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2023

Oskar Jensen author


Publisher:Duckworth Books

Published:16th Feb '23


Available for immediate dispatch.

Vagabonds cover

'Vagabonds is a collection of exquisite stories... Jensen is the real deal; I’ve never encountered a historian quite like him’ The Times, Book of the Year

Dickensian London is brought to real and vivid life in this Wolfson History Prize-shortlisted portrait by a rising-star historian and New Generation Thinker.

Dickensian London is brought to real and vivid life in this Wolfson History Prize-shortlisted portrait by a rising-star historian and New Generation Thinker

Until now, our view of bustling late Georgian and Victorian London has been filtered through its great chroniclers, who did not themselves come from poverty – Dickens, Mayhew, Gustave Doré. Their visions were dazzling in their way, censorious, often theatrical. Now, for the first time, this innovative social history brilliantly – and radically – shows us the city’s most compelling period (1780–1870) at street level.

From beggars and thieves to musicians and missionaries, porters and hawkers to sex workers and street criers, Jensen unites a breadth of original research and first-hand accounts and testimonies to tell their stories in their own words. What emerges is a buzzing, cosmopolitan world of the working classes, diverse in gender, ethnicity, origin, ability and occupation – a world that challenges and fascinates us still.

‘Rich in research… a telling account’ Martin Chilton, Independent (Books of the Month)

'Compellingly written, utterly captivating... Jensen’s book is stuffed to bursting with original voices and sources alongside his well-crafted expert analysis… every page of Vagabonds rings with the thrum and bass of a city that saw itself as the centre of the world' Fern Riddell, BBC History magazine

'Vagabonds is a collection of exquisite stories. Open the cover and a beguiling crowd of characters run amok... Jensen gives these past lives a monument, a dignity and recognition they deserve. Jensen is the real deal; I’ve never encountered a historian quite like him’ Gerard de Groot, The Times (Book of the Year)

'Jensen’s fascinating, delightfully readable book is animated by a formidable passion for recovering the stories of some of metropolitan London’s poorest, most precarious, but also most creative people, a passion that is all too rare in accounts of the period... Vagabonds narrates their lives with a sympathy and sensitivity that is often moving' Matthew Beaumont, author of Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London

'A very readable and historically well researched picture of the nineteenth-century poor' Gareth Stedman Jones, Professor of the History of Ideas, Queen Mary University of London, and author of Outcast London

'Not only a notable accumulation, from original sources, of the horrors of survival on the streets of nineteenth-century London, but a devastating exposure of pseudo-charity as a form of coercive policing. A vigorous and necessary account made timely by the widening chasm between obscene wealth and dire poverty in our contemporary metropolis' Iain Sinclair, author of The Last London

'Oskar Jensen's Vagabonds is an elegantly-written and vivid account of the people that lived and worked in Georgian and Victorian London. Jensen doesn't just present these hitherto marginalised figures on the page; like a delightful sorcerer, he brings them back to life' Tomiwa Owolade, award-winning author of This is Not America

‘Oskar Jensen has coaxed out of the archives a vast range of original voices of the street poor of London. With great sensitivity and scholarly rigour, he ensures that, once again, we hear the lived experiences of those who lived and died on the margins of metropolitan life’ Sarah Wise, author of The Blackest Streets and Inconvenient People

'Superb... Writing with an elegance and emotional intelligence that exceeds many novels, he presents us with the lives of beggars (children and adults), match sellers, buskers, milkmaids, pickpockets, prostitutes and the odd famous actor... We are left with the sense that despite poverty, monotony and grinding hard work, these people’s human spirit, optimism and humour helped them triumph over their surroundings... This book provides an invaluable source to anyone setting their fiction in this world, which is also an immensely entertaining and informative read in its own right. One of the best history books I have read recently' The Historical Novel Society

ISBN: 9780715654958

Dimensions: unknown

Weight: unknown

352 pages