With a basic education, Holmes became an ironworker until an accident and subsequent illness forced him to change his job. For some years, he taught night school, but in 1885 he joined the police force as the Police Court Missionary at Lambeth. Over the years there and subsequently in North London, he helped to found various housing charities. Today he is best remembered for his study London Underworld (1912) which highlighted the plight of London's poor. He served as editor of the London Homeworker and was a regular contributor of articles to contemporary reviews. His other works include Pictures and Problems from London Police Courts (1902), London Home Industries and the Sweating of Women (1907) and Known to the Police (1908).
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