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30/12/2007

RCJ evicts thousands…

From The Times, 12 November 1866

The extensive and complicated network of lanes, courts and alleys covering the area bounded east and west by Bell Yard and Clement’s Inn, north by Carey Street, and south by the Strand and Fleet Street, lately containing a population more numerous than that of many Parliamentary boroughs, is being fast deserted. A few of the winding thoroughfares are not yet disturbed, but several of old and worse than equivocal notoriety – and in which, a few weeks ago, passage was rendered somewhat difficult by the human swarms whose modes of existence are among the unsolved social mysteries – are now almost uninhabited, only a house or two remaining, in exceptional cases, where a brief extension of term has been granted. Massive padlocks guard every door. The glass on the first and second floors has been smashed in by unforbidden missiles discharged as parting salutes by the more juvenile emigrants, and the grimy, stooping, unwholesome buildings wear an aspect of weird gloom, contrasting strangely with their recent animation, when every doorway and window arrested passing attention with grotesque and sordid samples of human nature. The ground taken by the authorities intrusted with the arrangements for the new ‘Palace of Justice’, or, in plain English, the new law courts and offices, includes nearly thirty lanes and passages, the names of some of which will be familiar to all who have made acquaintance with the topography of London. Among them is Clement’s Lane, the south part of which, nearly up to King’s College Hospital, comes down. Here still stand some old houses, the very peculiar, perhaps unique, character of whose construction is worthy of a visit. One of them is remarkable as the scene of one of those Royal intrigues and misdeeds which figure in the Mémoires pour Servir of Charles II and his Court. Then there is Bell Yard, the seat of newsvendors, law booksellers and printers… Next come Middle and Upper Serles Place, with Lower Serles Place, formerly Shire Lane; Ship Yard, mentioned more than once in the chronicles of seventeenth-century roysterings; Crown Court, a dilapidated passage… with its noisy and dangerous neighbour, Newcastle Court.

The main frontages to come down are, northwardly, nearly the whole of the south side of Carey Street, and, southwardly, the eastern and western extremities respectively, the north side of the Strand and Fleet Street, crossing Temple Bar. The pulling down of the south frontage will probably be deferred until some way has been made in the removal of the passages to the rear. By the displacement of so many hundreds of poor families, the unhealthy courts about Drury Lane, Bedfordbury, the Seven Dials and other localities, already reeking and noisome with excess of numbers, have become more overcrowded than ever, The rents of the most miserable rooms have materially risen, and another entanglement is added to the difficult problem, ‘How and where are the poor to find suitable dwellings?’

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

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