Brook Street, Limehouse

Brook Street, Limehouse by Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). 1899. Illustration for Walter Besant's East London (London: Chatto & Windus, 1901), p. 139.

Chapter V of Besant's book is entitled "The Factory Girl." Here he traces the life-story of a typical working-class girl. One of Pennell's illustrations for the chapter shows Brook Street, which Besant calls the "boulevard of her quarter," and describes as having "neither rest nor quiet nor godly talk" (143). But, as usual, Pennell has his own take on the scene. Far from looking "ungodly" in this illustration, it looks picturesque, with women chatting at the greengrocer's shop, a greengrocer's barrow on display outside, and similarly decorative street-lamps on show as well.

Brook Street is still there, but not under its own name: data from online parish registers shows that it is was once the eastern stretch of Cable Street, which now runs all the way from Commercial Road near Limehouse to Mint Street near the Tower of London. The road was indeed once known for its cheap lodging houses, inns, brothels and opium dens. "Barclay Entire" on the sign hanging over an inn here, was a brand of beer. In The Old Curiosity Shop, Kit Nubbles gratefully accepts the offer of a regular "pint o' porter" from Dick Swiveller, who describes it as having "a spell in its every drop 'gainst the ills of mortality" (Ch. 61).

Scanned image and text by Jacqueline Banerjee [This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Besant, Walter. East London. London: Chatto & Windus, 1901.

Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop (1841). Available here.

Last modified 21 April 2008