IN THE NEWS
TOUR OF THE MONTH
ON THIS DAY IN LONDON
4th April 1984 Michael Frayn's Benefactors premieres in London
4th April 1956 Enid Bagnold's Chalk Garden, premieres in London
4th April 1940 Born today: Bijan, Iran, mens apparel designer (Beverly Hills, NYC, London)
4th April 1929 New Moon musical opens in London
Jacobs Island & Oliver Twist
Bill Sikes came to a grizzly end here in Oliver Twist
Location: off Jacob Street
Description: Jacob's Island was a notorious rookery in Bermondsey, on the south bank of the River Thames in London. It was separated from Shad Thames to the west by St Saviour's Dock, the point where the subterranean River Neckinger enters the Thames, and on the other two sides by tidal ditches, one just west of George Row and the other just north of London Street (now named Wolseley Street).
Jacob's Island was immortalised by Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist, in which the principal villain Bill Sikes meets a nasty end in the mud of 'Folly Ditch'. Dickens provides a vivid description of what it was like:
... 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.
Dickens was taken to this then-impoverished and unsavory location by the officers of the river police, with whom he would occasionally go on patrol. When a local politician attempted to deny the very existence of Jacob's Island, Dickens gave him short shrift, describing the area as the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London. The area was once notoriously squalid and described as The very capital of cholera and The Venice of drains by the Morning Chronicle of 1849. The ditches were filled in the early 1850s, and the area later redeveloped as warehouses.