Angus Reach, the son of a solicitor, was born in Inverness in 1821. He received a good education at Inverness Royal Academy and the University of Edinburgh. While at university Reach began to contribute articles for the Inverness Courier, a newspaper owned by his father.
In 1841 Reach moved to London where he was appointed as parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle, a post previously held by Charles Dickens. Reach developed a unique style of "picturesque reporting" that helped influence a generation of journalists. One critic wrote that: "He had the power to bring a vivid picture before the reader, a practice which was then associated with the novelist rather than the journalist. Under his influence the public saw what he saw, heard what he heard, and shared all the emotion and excitement of a spectator at the scene."
In 1849 Henry Mayhew suggested to the editor of the Morning Chronicle, John Douglas Cook, that the newspaper should carry out an investigation into the condition of the labouring classes in England and Wales. Cook agreed and recruited a team that included Reach, Mayhew, Shirley Brooks and Charles Mackay. Reach was given the task of investigating the Manufacturing Districts. He told his readers that he intended to investigate the question: "What was the impact of the social and economic development of the age on the life of the working man and working woman". Angus Reach went into the homes of working people and encouraged them to speak about their lives. Reach visited most of the important industrial towns and cities including Manchester, Oldham, Leeds, Halifax, Bradford, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Sheffield.
The publication of Reach's investigations in the Morning Chronicle, increased his reputation as one of Britain's leading journalists. His work was in great demand and he contributed to various newspapers and journals. Reach was also a talented humourous writer and wrote Town Talk and Table Talk for Punch Magazine. He was also joint editor of the journal The Man in the Moon.
Reach's health began to deteriorate during his late twenties. His friends warned him that he was suffering from overwork but he refused to take it easy. Other book produced in his final years included The Natural History of Bores (1847), Natural History of Humbugs (1848), A Romance of a Mince-Pie (1848), Clement Lorimer (1849), and Leonard Lindsay: The Story of a Buccaneer (1850).
In the final months of his life, Reach was supported by his great friend Shirley Brooks. The date of his death is not known but his fellow writer at Punch Magazine, M. H. Spielmann, says he died before he was thirty.
The traveller by railway is made aware of his approach to the great northern seats of industry by the dull leaden-coloured sky, tainted by thousands of ever smoking chimneys, which broods over the distance. The stations along the line are more closely planted, showing that the country is more and more thickly peopled. Then, small manufacturing villages begin to appear, each consisting of two or three irregular streets clustered around the mill, as in former times cottages were clustered round the castle.
You shoot by town after town - the outlying satellites of the great cotton metropolis. They have all similar features - they are all little Manchesters. Huge, shapeless, unsightly mills, with their countless rows of windows, their towering shafts, their jets of waste steam continually puffing in panting gushes from the brown grimy wall. Some dozen or so of miles so characterised, you enter the Queen of the cotton cities - and then amid smoke and noise, and the hum of never ceasing toil, you are borne over the roofs to the terminus platform. You stand in Manchester.
There is a smoky brown sky over head - smoky brown streets all round long piles of warehouses, many of them with pillared and stately fronts - great grimy mills, the leviathans of ugly architecture, with their smoke-pouring shafts. There are streets of all kinds - some with glittering shops and vast hotels, others grim and little frequented - formed of rows and stacks of warehouses; many mean and distressingly monotonous visas of uniform brick houses.
There are swarms of mechanics and artisans in their distinguishing fustian - of factory operatives, in general undersized, sallow-looking men - and of factory girls somewhat stunted and paled, but smart and active-looking with dingy dresses and dark shawls, speckled with flakes of cotton wool, wreathed round their heads.