James Greenwood (journalist)

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James Greenwood
Born 1832
London, England
Died 1929
Occupation Journalist; author
Genre Investigative journalism; social commentary
Subject London's working poor
Notable works

A Night in the Workhouse, 1866; In Strange Company, 1874;

Toilers in London, 1883

James Greenwood (1832–1929) was a British social explorer, journalist and writer who published a series of articles which drew attention to the plight of London's working poor. He was one of the first journalists to cover stories incognito, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of investigative journalism.


James Greenwood was born in 1832 in London. He was one of eleven children of a Lambeth coach trimmer. [1] He became notable Victorian journalist and social commentator. He began his career as a printer, but soon took up an interest in writing. From 1861 he began writing adventure stories which were published in Boy's Own. He subsequently turned to journalism, joining the ranks of the reporters at the Pall Mall Gazette in 1865. [2] He first became interested in the plight of the poor after spending a night spent in a Lambeth workhouse. His brother, the then editor of the Gazette, prompted Greenwood to dress as a tramp and check into the workhouse incognito; a practice that was unknown amongst journalists in Victorian England. Greenwood's account, "A Night in the Workhouse" dispensed with Victorian practice of sanitising stories for publication, and instead presented a brutal picture of workhouse conditions. It was serialized in the Pall Mall Gazette between 12 and 15 January 1866. The article caused a public outcry and firmly established Greenwoods' credentials as an investigative journalist and social commentator [3] and helped establish his brother's magazine. [4]

In the 1870s, William James Orsman (1838–1923), the Methodist minister, invited Greenwood on a tour of the Costermonger's Mission which heightened his interest in London's labouring classes and labouring poor. [5] He published an article, ‘A Mission Among City Savages’, in the Daily Telegraph and subsequently in a collection entitled, In Strange Company in 1873. [6] His commentary relates especially to the street vendors working around Whitecross Street, London. He also wrote, Toilers in London in 1883 [7] In 1869, Greenwood's The Seven Curses of London was published. In it, he identified the curses as neglected children; professional beggars and thieves; prostitution, drunkenness; betting and misguided charity. [8]

Greenwood was a prolific writer, turning out numerous novels, children's books and articles in a career spanning more than three decades. The Daily Telegraph, on 6 July 1874, published an article written by James Greenwood, in which he reported on 24 June 1874 to have witnessed a human-baiting. In 1876, Greenwood republished the article in his book Low-Life Deeps in the chapter called In the Potteries. The book was illustrated by artist Alfred Concanen. He wrote The True History of a Little Ragamuffin in 1866.

Greenwood's use of disguise for the purpose of social reporting was very influential and was copied by later generations of journalists. [9] As a journalist, he wrote under the pseudonym, The Amateur Casual. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of investigative journalism. [10]

Selected Works[edit]

  • A Night in the Workhouse (1866) [11]
  • The True History of a Little Ragamuffin (1866)
  • Unsentimental Journeys, or Byways of the Modern Babylon (1867) [12]
  • The Seven Curses of London, (1869)
  • Mysteries of Modern London (1869) [13]
  • The Wilds of London (1874) [14]
  • In Strange Company (1874) [15]
  • Low-Life Deeps (1881) [16]
  • Odd People in Odd Places (1883) [17]
  • Toilers in London (1883)


  1. ^ Jackson, L. (ed), "Introduction" in The Seven Curses of London, by James Greenwood [Kindle Edition] (1869), c.2016
  2. ^ Brake, L. and Demoor, M., Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, Academia Press [The British Library], 2009, pp 259-60
  3. ^ Koven, S., Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London, Princeton University Press, 2004, pp 31-36
  4. ^ Frenzel, F., Koens,K. and Steinbrink, M., Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics, Routledge, 2012, p. 34
  5. ^ Jones, P.T.A., "Redressing Reform Narratives: Victorian London's Street Markets and the Informal Supply Lines of Urban Modernity," The London Journal, Vol 41, No. 1, 2006, pp 64–65
  6. ^ Greenwood, J., In Strange Company: Being the Experiences of a Roving Correspondent, London, Viztelly, 1874, <Online: https://archive.org/details/instrangecompan00greegoog
  7. ^ Greenwood, J., Toilers in London, (1883), Dodo Press, 2009
  8. ^ Coleman, J., A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries: Volume III: 1859-1936, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 302
  9. ^ Donovan, S. and Rubery, M (eds), Secret Commissions: An Anthology of Victorian Investigative Journalism, Broadview Press, 2012, pp 103-04
  10. ^ Coleman, J., A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries: Volume III: 1859-1936, Oxford University Press, 2009, p 302-303
  11. ^ "A Night in the Workhouse," reproduction of original article at The Workhouse: The Story of an Institution, http://www.workhouses.org.uk/lit/Greenwood.shtml
  12. ^ "Unsentimental Journeys, reproduction of original work at Victorian London, http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications/unsentimental.htm
  13. ^ "Mysteries of Modern London," reproduction of original work at Victorian London, http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications4/mysteries.htm
  14. ^ "The Wilds of London, reproduction of original work at Victorian London, http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications3/wilds.htm
  15. ^ "In Strange Company, reproduction of original work at Victorian London, http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications4/strange.htm
  16. ^ "Low Life Deeps," reproduction of original work at Victorian London,http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications4/low-01.htm
  17. ^ "Odd People in Odd Places" reproduction of original work at Victorian London, http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications7/odd-00.htm

External links[edit]