Street Life of London

Parts of The Murder of Mary Russell take place in 1925, but much of it goes back to the mid-nineteenth century.


Isembard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian spirit.

The Victorian era was a time of brilliant light, spectacular technological development, and enormous social development.


For the wealthy.


Gustave Doré

For the rest, it was a time of rotting teeth, foul diseases, hunger, cold, and the workhouse.

Life expectancy was in the low 40s, one in five children died before their fifth birthday, and the Thames in London stank like the sewer it was.

Copyright Ben Cavanna

In 1876, the year young Clara Hudson was returning to London in The Murder of Mary Russell, photographer John Thompson set up his camera tripod and began to record the lives of common people in the capital city. He was joined by radical journalist Adolphe Smith, whose essays describe, in honest and even affectionate terms, the men and women in Thompson’s photographs. Here are the dustmen with their spavined horses, the public disinfectors, the Covent Garden labourers, baskets on head. Men carry advertising boards, men work on the decks of barges.

And the women in their many-layered clothing, their faces worn-down and older than their years, but their eyes gaze into Thompson’s big lens with dignity and strength.An-Old-Clothes-Shop-Seven-Dials

And the children? They look cold and wary even in the photographs of summer.Sufferers-from-the-Floods

You can read Street Life in London online, and there’s a video made from the photographs:

murder of mary russell UK


The Murder of Mary Russell can ordered as:

A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

A UK hardback from Waterstones, or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.


  1. Diane on April 8, 2016 at 9:36 am

    I love looking at period pictures! I often wonder how they lived, what they thought and felt. It often amazes me how mankind (and womankind) have been able to survive and improve society. It is always interesting how they dressed; even laborers appear to dress well – coats, nice shirts (no collars), etc. Everything is relative to its respective time period.

    Thank you for the real glimpse into London in the mid-nineteenth century.

  2. MaryL on April 8, 2016 at 11:23 am

    I’m just surprised the species survived at all with disease, filth and discomfort as the norm , not the exception.

  3. on April 15, 2016 at 2:28 am

    Thank you for this great post, it is always interesting to see how people used to live

Leave a Comment