Saturday, 26 January 2019

Jacob's Island

Yesterday to the Welcome Collection's Living with Buildings Exhibition to find that Bermondsey's most notorious slum (above) had a starring role.

The exhibition looks at the impact that buildings have on our physical and mental health.

It charts the early efforts of nineteenth century philanthropists, activists, and politicians to deal with the appalling squalor in which London's poor lived, with the associated high levels of disease and early death.

Jacob's Island at the confluence of Folly Ditch (above) and the River Neckinger in St James's parish was widely thought to be one of the very  worst slums, described as a 'squalid rookery' and the 'Capital of Cholera.'

It was immortalised by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist. The villain Bill Sykes (left) comes to a grisly end in the mud of Folly's Ditch and the author describes Jacob's Island in these memorable words:

 "... crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it – as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage: all these ornament the banks of Jacob's Island."

Jacob's Island is long since gone. The mid-Victorian warehouses that replaced the 'crazy wooden galleries' have been converted into luxury flats, but the nearby Dickens Estate, dating from 1934, remains a reminder of the connection with the great novelist, as is this commemorative plaque in Mill Street (above).

The scene today

1 comment:

  1. My great aunt was moved to Darney House on the Dickens Estate about 1962 when her house in Clack Street was demolished. Darney House itself has gone, but some other flats remain.

    Clack Street was until 1912 Berkley Street which sounds much grander, my maternal grandmother’s family lived there from about 1882 until 1962, I remember going there.