-- A puncheon of "fine old vatted rum" was under-labelled in great chalk letters "Cholera mixture!" [A West-End Cholera Stronghold]
-- It will hardly be believed that there are "swells" and dandies amongst the Portland convicts; but such is the fact. I have known men obtain a needle and thread on the sly and alter the set of their trousers - the trousers stamped with the red 'P's - to what was the prevailing fashion when they were last in the world. ['Three Years of Penal Servitude']
-- The court and alley dwellers of St. Mildred may be reckoned in thousands, and amongst them the standard of morality as regards the institution of matrimony is of exactly the height of a broomstick, and no higher. Not that they despise the ceremony, or are unwilling to engage in it, indeed - and as I have had occasion ere now to point out, once consummated they are curiously proud of it, and go to the expense of buying a frame in which to display the certificate which vouches for the fact, hanging it against the most conspicuous part of the chamber - under the clock being the spot preferred; but the marriage fee daunts them. ['At A Penny Wedding']
James Greenwood (c.1835-1927) was one of eleven children, born to a Lambeth coach trimmer. His elder brother Frederick, initially apprenticed to a publishing/printing firm, became a writer and editor; and it was under his brother's guidance that Greenwood wrote an article entitled 'A Night in a Workhouse' (pub. Pall Mall Gazette, 12-15 January 1866). This was a ground-breaking piece of undercover reporting, in which Greenwood spent the night in a 'casual ward' disguised as a pauper. In the style of the period, the article was anonymous, with Greenwood bestowing on himself the soubriquet of 'The Amateur Casual'. The article's exposé of maladministration and wretched conditions — and the exotic manner in which the information was gathered — sealed the author's reputation overnight.
Greenwood went on to enjoy a long career, moving to the Daily Telegraph, writing pieces which often focussed on the condition of the poor, and peculiarities of London life. He also wrote 'adventure' books, both fictional and non-fiction, with such 'Boy's Own' titles as Wild Sports of the World, The Hatchet Throwers, Curiosities of Savage Life and The Adventures of Reuben Davidger - Seventeen Years and Four Months Captive among the Dyaks of Borneo.
The Wilds of London collects some of his best and most intriguing metropolitan journalism: a visit to the whore-ridden, sailor-fleecing alleys of 'Tiger Bay'; interviews with paupers in the 'stone-yards' where they met the parish 'labour test'; inside a Whitechapel sugar-baking factory; a detailed first-person account from a prisoner who spent three years in various Victorian gaols, from Newgate to Portland; the midnight burial of a suicide; the abuses of the Caledonian Road Horse Market; a typical evening with a 'night cabman' - and many more. Together they combine to paint a vivid and unforgettable picture of lowlife London.