In 1876, six years after the death of Charles Dickens, the streets of the English capital still looked very much like the famous author had described. Poverty, disability and filth were everywhere: people lived a precarious and marginal existence working on the streets of London. Two men became determined to document this – and the book they produced shocked a nation.
Radical journalist Adolphe Smith conducted interviews with the poor and down and outs of London. Yet this had been done before. The unique selling point of this book was his collaboration with photographer John Thomson. They stunned the British middle classes and made their book – Street Life of London – an immediate best seller.
Here we have the ancient and wonderfully named Jacobus Parker who, as well as being a shoe shine, described himself to the author as a pedlar and dramatic reader. Although still financially struggling at the age of almost seventy he has no regrets: "Greed of gain, sir, has never been my motto. It is but a poor object to fill up every nook and cranny of a human heart from boyhood to old age, as it does with many."
Having driven an omnibus for almost half a century, 1876 was to see the retirement of Cast-Iron Billy (left). Younger drivers had continually overtaken the old man, consistently stealing his passengers from him and so his firm had no choice but to pay him off. “I’m lost, I’ve been put off my perch. I don't mind telling of you I’m not so ‘andy wi' the ribbons as in my younger days I was. Twice in my life I’ve been put off, and this finishes me. I'll never hold the whip again that's been in my hand these three and forty year, never! I can't sit at 'ome, my perch up there was more 'ome to me than 'anythink.' Havin' lost that I'm no good to nobody; a fish out o’ water I be."