Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century London (Paperback)

Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century London By Oskar Jensen Cover Image

Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century London (Paperback)


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Dickensian London is brought to real and vivid life in this innovative, accessible social history, revealing the true character of this place and time through the stories of its street denizens—shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2023

London, 1857: A pair of teenage girls holding a sign that says “Fugitive Slaves” ask for money on the corner of Blackman Street. After a constable accosts them and charges them with begging, they end up in court, where national newspapers pick up their story. Are the girls truly escaped slaves from Kentucky? Or will the city’s dystopian Mendicity Society catch them in a lie, exposing them as born-and-raised Londoners and endangering their safety?

With its many accounts of people like these who lived and made their living on the streets, Vagabonds forms a moving picture of London’s most compelling period (1780–1870). Piecing together contemporary sources such as newspaper articles, letters, and journal entries, historian Oskar Jensen follows the harrowing, hopeful journeys of the city’s poor: children, immigrants, street performers, thieves, and sex workers, all diverse in gender, ethnicity, ability, and origin. For the first time, their own voices give us a radical new perspective on this moment in history, with its deep inequality that bears an astonishing resemblance to our own era’s divides.

Oskar Jensen is an author and academic with a doctorate in history from Oxford University. He was named a BBC New Generation Thinker for 2022, and his previous books on British and European history have been published by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses. He is currently an arts and humanities fellow at Newcastle University.
Product Details ISBN: 9781891011429
ISBN-10: 1891011421
Publisher: The Experiment
Publication Date: February 20th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English
Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2023

A Times (UK) Book of the Year

"A buoyant account without the upper-class condescension. . . . Jensen’s vivid and crisp recreations of scenes plucked from his archival research reveal his subjects’ canniness and solidarity. Readers will love this.

— Publishers Weekly, starred review

A jostling chorus of distinct and previously unheard voices from the streets of Victorian London.
— The Wall Street Journal

Evocative, personal and moving. This book uses first-hand accounts to evoke the streets of 19th-century London. Richly woven with the voices of the city’s poorest and most resilient residents.
— Wolfson History Prize judges

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 . . . For two exquisite days, this book was my best friend.
— Gerard DeGroot, The Times

Rescuing these diverse individuals from both the condescension of their contemporaries and the silence of so many historians since, Vagabonds narrates their lives with a sympathy and sensitivity that is often moving—not least because they speak obliquely but powerfully to urban life in our own troubled and unsettled times.

— Matthew Beaumont, author of Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London

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

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

The stories . . . make for fascinating and sometimes disturbing reading. Jensen weaves them together into a tapestry of pain and misfortune.
— Ana Alicia Garza, Times Literary Supplement

Rich in research . . . a telling account.
— Martin Chilton, Independent

Social history as it should be: fascinating, well-written, passionate, revelatory, and deeply humane. Terrific.
— KJ Charles, author of The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen

A very readable and historically well-researched picture of the nineteenth-century poor.
— Gareth Stedman Jones, professor of the history of ideas at Queen Mary University of London

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 Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

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, author of This Is Not America

Warm, vertiginously wide-ranging, and eloquent all at once, with the breadth and intensity of an academic study but the light touch of a skilled, sympathetic writer who lets every character in it speak for themselves.
— Niamh Campbell, author of This Happy