Modern Globetown as shown on Google Maps. Bonner’s Fields, where the Chartists held rallies, has been subsumed into Victoria Park.

Situate to the east of Bethnal Green, — bounded on the north by Bonner's Fields, on the south by the Mile End Road, and on the east by the Regent's Canal, — and intersected by the line of the Eastern Counties Railway, is an assemblage of narrow streets and filthy lanes, bearing the denomination of Globe Town. When compared with even the worst districts of the metropolis, — when placed in contrast with Saint Giles's or Saffron Hill, — Globe Town still appears a sink of human misery which civilisation, in its progress, has forgotten to visit. The majority of the streets are unpaved, rugged, and broken. The individual who traverses them in the summer is blinded by the dust, or disgusted by heaps of putrescent offal, the rotting remains of vegetables, and filth of every description, which meet the eye at short intervals; and, in winter, he wallows, knee-deep, in black mud and stagnant water. But even in the summer itself, and in the very midst of the dog-days, there are swamps of mire in many of the streets of Globe Town, which exhale a nauseating and sickly odour, like that of decomposing dead bodies.

In the winter time Globe Town is a complete marsh. Lying low, in the vicinity of the canal, and on a naturally swampy soil, the district is unhealthy in the extreme. Nor do its inhabitants endeavour, by any efforts of their own, to mitigate the consequences of these local disadvantages. They seem, for the most part, to cling with a sort of natural tenacity, to their rags and filth. Perhaps it is the bitterness of their poverty which makes them thus neglectful of the first duties of cleanliness: perhaps their pinching indigence reduces them to a state of despair that allows them no spirit and no heart to do any thing that may conduce to their comfort. Whatever be the cause, it is nevertheless a fact that, with the exception of one or two streets, Globe Town is a district which necessity alone could compel a person of cleanly habits and domestic propriety to reside in.

And yet Globe Town contains streets delighting in aristocratic names. There is Grosvenor Place in which a carriage and pair would have some trouble to turn; there is Parade Street, where a corporal's guard could not find space to manœuvre; there is Park Street, whose most gorgeous embellishment is the sign of a mangle; there is Chester Place, formed by two rows of miserable shops; and there are Essex Street and Digby Street, where single men may obtain lodgings at the rate of threepence a night. How strange is this affection for fine names to distinguish horrible neighbourhoods! In the lowest parts of Whitechapel we find Pleasant Row, Queen Street, Flower Street, Duke Street, and Rose Lane. In Bethnal Green, a place inhabited by the poorest of the poor is denominated Silver Street; and, in the same district, a filthy thoroughfare is christened Pleasant Street. Globe Town and its immediate vicinity abound in cemeteries. To the north there is the Eastern London Cemetery; and to the south there are two Jews' burial grounds, and two other places of sepulture. With the exception of the first-mentioned one, which has only been recently opened, and is a large airy space neatly planted with shrubs, those cemeteries are so crowded with the remains of mortality, that it is impossible to drive a spade into the ground without striking against human bones.

When you once merge from the Cambridge Road, pass the new church in Bethnal Green, and plunge into Globe Town, it seems as if you had left London altogether, — as if you were no longer within the limits of the metropolis, but had suddenly dropped from the clouds into a strange village strangely peopled. You encounter but few persons in the streets; and those whom you do meet are, for the most part, squalid, emaciated, pale, and drooping. The only sounds of mirth which meet your ear, emanate from the casements of the public-houses, or from the urchins that play half-naked in the mud. With these exceptions, Globe Town is silent, gloomy, and sombre.

The shop-windows are indicative of the poverty of the inhabitants. The butcher's shed displays but a few slices of liver stretched upon a board, sheep's heads of no very inviting appearance, and hearts, lungs, and lights, all hanging together, like a Dutch clock with its weights against a wall. The poor make stews of this offal. The fish-stalls present "for public competition," as George Robins would say, nothing but the most coarse and the cheapest articles — such as huge Dutch plaice, haddocks, &c. In the season the itinerant venders of fresh-herrings and sprats drive a good trade in Globe Town. In a word, every thing in that district denotes poverty — poverty — nothing but pinching poverty.

The inhabitants of Globe Town are of two kinds; being weavers, and persons who earn their livelihood by working at the docks or on the canal, on the one hand; and thieves, prostitutes, and vagrants, on the other. When a burglar or a pickpocket finds St. Giles's, Clerkenwell, the Mint, or Bethnal Green too hot to hold him, he betakes himself to Globe Town, where he buries himself in some obscure garret until the storms that menaced him be blown over. Globe Town has thus acquired amongst the fraternity of rogues of all classes, the expressive denomination of the "Happy Valley."

In one of the narrowest, dirtiest, and most lonely streets at the eastern extremity of Globe Town, there was a house of an appearance more dilapidated than the rest. It was only two storeys high, and was built in a very singular manner. From the very threshold of the front door a precipitate staircase, more nearly resembling a ladder, led to the upper apartments; so that when any one entered that house from the street, he had to thread no passage nor corridor, but immediately began to ascend those steep steps. The staircase led to a landing, from which two doors opened into small, dirty, and dark chambers. These rooms had a door of communication pierced in the wall that separated them: but there were no stairs leading down into the lower apartments of the house. The only way of obtaining access to the rooms on the ground-floor, was by means of a door up an alley leading from the street, and running along one side of the house into a court formed by other dwellings. Thus the upper and lower parts of this strange building might be said to constitute two distinct tenements. The windows of the ground-floor rooms were darkened with shutters, at the upper part of which holes in the shape of hearts had been cut to admit a few straggling rays of light. [Chapter 97, “Another New Year’s Day”

Related material


Reynolds, George W. M. The Mysteries of London. vol 1. Project Gutenberg EBook #47312 produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team from images available at Google Books. Web. 2 August 2016.

Last modified 8 October 2016