Where does the time fly to? It is a couple of weeks or so since I last posted on here. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy reading though – or watching. I have now finished ‘The worst street in London’ by Fiona Rule. The street in question is Dorset Street, Spitalfields London. I was inspired to read this book after our excursion to Denis Severs House in Spitalfields (read my post on echostains a collection of time-travel experiences and atmospheres)
Though the book has an introduction by Peter Ackroyd it’s really nothing like Ackroyds ‘London’ or in his style. Neither is it a dry text-book nor really academic, but it is a good read, once it gets going. Common lodging houses, Jack the Ripper and his victims, crime, vice and unsavoury characters – this was their stomping ground, where they earned their living and their bed for the night: where they drowned their sorrows and ultimately, where they died – sometimes by violence, sometimes by dissipation and sometimes, I suspect – with blessed relief
We have 17th century Huguenot silk weavers weaving their own strands on the loom of Dorset street and the Spitalfields area. The immigrants, the opportunists, the lodging house proprietors. When machinery replaced the silk workers they left the area. The 1870’s saw the tranformation brought about by the slum clearances which in turn made way for tenement blocks – ruled by landlords like John McCarthy. Jack the Ripper features strongly in this book. Mary Kelly, the Ripper’s last victim was killed on Dorset street and Rule retells her sorry story, somehow made even more poignant by placing Kelly in the context of her environment.
The street was later renamed Duvall Street, but the bricks were so well seeped with disrepute that the black marketeers, gangsters, spivs and the East End gangs are embedded in its fabric. The Kitty Ronan murder in 1909 has an eerie echo of Mary Kelly’s. In fact the whole of the Dorset Street story relates like a cinema projection of a danse macabre – the dance never finishing and the film on continuous reel. The book ends in a car park – but the crime continues. A good researched and interesting read. There’s an added bonus at the back – a detailed walk of the Spitalfields area!
More about the book and it’s author here
image 1 Dorset st 2 Millers Court (Ripper Walks), 3 Dorset St 1888 and 4. Dorset St today (London walks)
book image here