In The Slimy Feculence

“Such is the immensity of this metropolis, so innumerable are its thoroughfares, and so widely separated its districts, that one who had passed half a lifetime at the west-end of London might well be excused for entire ignorance as to the situation of Bethnal Green, Jacob’s Island, Mile-end, and Stepney. They are as vaguely remote to many as the Ultima Thule of Orkney or Shetland. It is exceedingly probable that we have among our readers thousands who, with or without a map, would be utterly unable to point out the localities of Piccadilly Square, Honey-lane Market, Hay-Hill, Little Britain, Cloth Fair, Cock-lane, Bell square, Long-alley, and Bleeding-heart-yard; and people are born and run their race of life, and die within a mile or two of one another, and are as completely estranged from their neighbours as though they were separated from them by rocky mountains, by unfordable streams, by stormy seas.

“This London is an amalgam of worlds within worlds, and the occurrences of every day convince us that there is not one of these worlds but has its special mysteries and its generic crimes. Exaggeration and ridicule often attach to the vastness of London, and the ignorance of its penetralia common to us who dwell therein. It has been said that beasts of chase still roam in the verdant fastnesses of Grosvenor square, that there are undiscovered patches of primaeval forest in Hyde Park and that Hampstead sewers shelter a monstrous breed of black swine, which have propagated and run wild among the slimy feculence, and whose ferocious snouts will one day up-root Highgate archway, while they make Holloway intolerable with their grunting. Seriously that may be said of the Londoner, who prides himself on his accurate topographical knowledge, which was said in modesty by the great philosopher of light. He is but picking up shells on the shore, while all before him lies a vast and undiscovered ocean.

“It has seemed, however, fated, of late days, that the London public should hear enough – if not, indeed, too much – of the remote and ungenial region at the east end of the metropolis. Murders, actions for seduction, fierce theological dissensions, followed by alarming riots, robberies, and murderous assaults – such eventualities as these have formed the staple of our most recent tidings from the outlying faubourgs of White Chapel, Spitalfields, Mile-end, Bow, Stepney, Wapping, and Rotherhithe… To the scandalous accounts of church brawls have been lately added the ghastly revelations of the charnel house. The last importation from the East-end is the revolting story of the surreptitious disposal of the dead body of an infant, the illegitimate child of one Elizabeth Yorath, and which was smuggled into the earth in the coffin of an adult person, under the auspices of an undertaker in the Borough, and a clergyman of the Church of England.”

Editorial in The Daily Telegraph, Monday 10 October 1859, quoted in Black Swine In The Sewers Of Hampstead : Beneath The Surface Of Victorian Sensationalism by Thomas Boyle (1989)

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