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on 11 September 2008
This book will appeal to historians and Ripperologists alike, it is choc-full of interesting facts about the Spitafields area from its earliest days and sheds new light on some of the most notorious individuals to emerge from its streets. The author has adopted a compelling story-telling style which makes the book a real page-turner and not at all text-bookish. If you are interested in Jack The Ripper or the origins of the East End gangs then this is a must for your collection.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 30 December 2014
This is a great title but not completely accurate in reflecting the contents of the book. This is actually a social history of the Spitalfields area of London from its inception but most particularly during the Victorian era when Dorset Street acquired the title of the worst street in London. It is actually a history of the very poorest of London's residents from the prostitutes to the con merchants to the landlords and how they lived. The author describes the transition of the housing from individual cottage style dwellings to the overcrowded tenement buildings where the poor rented a bed for the night. As part of her story she covers the growth of London as a city and the activities of its underclass. There is an informative section about the Jack the Ripper killings which places it in its social context although it has nothing new to say about the murders.

This is a history designed for the general reader and consequently it describes the situation without going into too much details about how things ended up this way. I found it an interesting overview and there is a bibliography if you want to read in more depth. The author has an interesting writing style with plenty of anecdotes included to engage the reader. There are some illustrations in the centre of my paperback version but not many and the book could definitely have done with more maps from the very beginning,

As a study of the living conditions of the very poor this is an eyeopening book in places and certainly rather sobering. It is also a fascinating account of the changes of residential usage over time in one place.
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on 6 November 2014
I was unsure about purchasing this book as some reviews criticised the writing. As the book went on, it is certainly not perfect. Fiona Rule's descriptive vocabulary is limited; words like "salubrious," "mean" and "overcrowded" crop up again and again. Words in one sentence are immediately repeated in another. London as both a surname and as a city crops up at one point, with the author seemingly oblivious to the confusion of its interchangeable meaning.

There are times when the book feels padded out with unnecessary historical context (immigration to Australia, various facts about France during WWI), which are then barely, if at all, brought back to Spitalfields and why this information is relevant. For the last third of the book, it seems time stands still in this location: houses are overcrowded, the conditions are bad, and the author struggles to tell much about it.

Even the chapters are comically short, often at 2-3 pages. A more accomplished author would have been able to write longer chapters with greater themes and scene-setting.

Readers will struggle to even find where Dorset Street is on a map in the book - the maps included give no clear indication and it is only until the penultimate pages is a clearer map provided. It seems a missed opportunity. Indeed, by the end of the book I still didn't really feel I got a strong sense of what Dorset Street looked like. Fiona Rule does little to evoke the senses through her writing, something much needed when there are so few surviving pictures or photographs.

Overall, if you are looking for an introduction to this area, I think it is a worthy purchase and a springboard to finding other books that go into depth on key areas you find interesting.
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on 19 July 2009
This book is about Spitalfields with a focus on Dorset Street rather than being about Dorset Street per se. If you have never read anything about Spitalfields this is quite a good introduction but if you are looking for a specialist study of Dorset Street this is not the book for you.

At times the book feels padded. That an inhabitant of Dorset Street might be involved in criminality leads to a lengthy description of 18th century justice, Newgate, the Hulks and Transportation to Australia.

Its best when describing actualities, real Dorset Street residents, actual lodging houses and the murderous crimes associated with the area.

Its generally well written, quite interesting and reasonably well researched but adds little if you have read other books on the area or Jack the Ripper.

I was amused that another reviewer described it as an academic work. It is not (nor does it claim to be) but instead its a fairly good introduction to the area and a reasonably entertaining read. That it has an introduction by Peter Ackroyd might mislead some in to thinking its on similar level to his own work. However compared to his high standard this falls somewhat short.

Recommended provided you don't set your expectations too high.
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on 1 February 2009
Fiona Rule's detailed account of Dorset the street from it beginning to late 1950 is a masterpiece of not just academic research but entertaining accounts the people living there. Dorset street was made famous, or should that be infamous, as it was site of Jack the Ripper's most gory murder of Mary Kelly. I brought the book to use to research my historical novels that are set in Victorian East London and found myself drawn in by the real-life stories and characters. I would not hesitate in recommending this book to anyone who is has an interest in the East End of London and Whitechapel in particular.

Jean Fullerton No Cure for Love
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on 5 October 2014
Interesting but not well written in my opinion. I fluctuated between a 3 and a 4 star review for this as I did find it interesting but did become more and more irritated with her writing style throughout. She simply is not a very good writer, it did feel at times like I was reading a school essay, lots of repeated uses of 'however', or 'by 18xx' and as another review points out, at times there seemed to be a lot of padding.

My experience is probably made worse as I have read a couple of Sarah Wise' books previously and at the same time as reading this by Fiona Rule I am also reading 'The Blackest Streets' by Sarah Wise and the difference in quality of articulation between them is significant.

That said, if like me you are interested in these areas of Victorian London then it provides colour, interest and information. My ancestors are unfortunately from Dorset Street and the surrounds and the Old Nichol areas and its unbelievable at times that anyone survived these areas when the conditions were as described.

I would have liked to see more confirmation of where the information was from in this book. There are a lot of statements about the actions of various characters in and around the 'story' but no confirmation of how this information was gathered. Also it would have helped to have better and clearer maps for context.
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on 30 March 2009
I read this book in 24 hours as i could not put it down. I wasn't that interested when about Jack the Ripper, but bought this to try and provide some insight into why my family were back and forth to Spitalfields many years ago.

The whole book was fascinating and gave a good insight into social history and the treatment of the poor. Also an insight into early gang culture - perhaps little has changed today. This gave me far more interest that my original intention. It has a walk round modern Spitalfields in the back and would love to try and get down there soon to look round.
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on 12 July 2009
I read this book cover to cover over a few days. The style is easy to read whilst being informative about this fascinating area of London. I enjoyed the suggested walk at the back of the book, even though I am familiar with the area Fiona Rule had provided information that I had not previously known, so I looked at the area through "fresh eyes".
Some text books can leave me cold in their style & I tend to dip in & out, but this book managed to keep me rivetted.
Another book to be recommended about this area is 18 Folgate Street by Dennis Severs.
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on 27 November 2012
Spitalfields in the 17thC was the centre of the Silk weaving industry, and basically this is the history of its downward spiral until in the 19thC the area became infamous for criminality, lawlessness and it's connection with the Ripper. Along the way we discover much about the location and it's famous personalities, how people lived and died and made money, and the terrible living conditions for most of the local population. A great book for dipping into, full of anecdotes and surprising facts, it prompted me to take a more in depth discovery of the history of London.
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on 22 March 2013
The tragic history of Dorset Street in London's East End. Very sad lives of the people in the days before benefits. Also was the street where two of Jack the Ripper's victims lived. Very well written and illustrated by Fiona. Please buy it.
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