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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Worst Street in London
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 19 August 2009
I was very impressed with this book and have recommended it to many of my friends and family. No, I'm not going to loan my copy because I want to read it again. The amount of information in this book is quite staggering and it all beautifully comes together in excellent script. As a keen follower and reader of the 'Jack the Ripper' enquiries, I was very interested to learn how Miller's Court got it's name, Miller Court being where the Ripper's final victim was found slaughtered in the room.
This is one of those books where you read a neat small chapter and think "I'll just read one more" and the next thing you know it's the early hours of the morning. More importantly, the way the book is written and the vivid descriptions given, it is easy to picture the squallor of Dorset Street and the neighbouring streets of Spitalfields and the reader can't help feeling some sorrow for the people who ended up there through no cause of their own. I haven't finished the book yet but I was so moved by what I was reading I just felt I had to write a review and share my wonder with other readers who might be interested in purchasing this item. Highly recommended whether you know the history of the East End of London or not, certainly you will after you've read this book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2009
No, it's not about the traffic around Victoria Station.

This is an excellent approach to exploring the colourful history of a single area of London. In a city where every cobblestone and brick has a tale to tell, THE WORST STREET IN LONDON does a ripping job (sorry, Jack) of detailing the sordid and informative legacy of what would otherwise be considered an "ordinary" street. Anything but! The only thing I missed was perhaps a few more maps or illustrations of the area then... and then... and then... and now.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2010
I am not sure why so many previous reviews mention Jack the Ripper. They could put people, who have no interest in the Whitechaper murders, off reading this fine book. The murders form only a small part of this book, which is as it should be given it's a history of a street over centuries. This said, the information on Mary Kelly, a Ripper victim who lived and was murdered in Miller's Court, just a few feet off Dorset Street, is very interesting. As is the information about the overcrowding in Dorset Street in the 1890's due to the slum clearance without sufficient rehousing, brought about by the murders. And there are some great little snippets such as John McCarthy, Mary's landlord, being the great grandfather of Kay Kendall, the lead actress in the film Genevieve!

The book has been very well researched, is well written, interesting throughout and I throughly recommend it. The only reason I don't give it 5 stars is that Fiona Rule's other book, about the history of the London docks is better, a real tour de force, so that gets 5 stars, and in comparison this gets 4.

The previous 3 star reviewer seems very harsh. The book obviously can't be literally just about one street. It has to broaden things out, both to give historical context and to simply add interest for the reader, so I think it's unfair to call this element of the book "padding".
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
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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