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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 March 2015
This is an interesting read but its focus goes beyond the worst street and covers the surrounding area, so the title is a little misleading.

On the plus side, no one can fault the research that Fiona Rule has put into this book - her detail has been something of an education.

On the downside, there is so much information and elements of repetition that it can be heavy going in places - that said, you want to read on to build up the full picture.
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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 14 August 2017
Very informative and interesting
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on 8 November 2014
Having Huguenot family history in this area makes for interesting reading.
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on 11 February 2014
This book gave a vivid account of our capital's worst area. Made me want to read more about the characters. I even began to feel a little sorry for Jack McCarthy! Read when we were remembering 100 years since the start of world war one, made it even more poignant. Most enjoyable, couldn't stop until I'd finished.
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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 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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This book is a biography with a difference – it looks at the rise and fall of Dorset Street in Spitalfields. Despite its mixed history, the location is actually excellent for business; being close to both the City and the docks. It began life as the Priory of Saint Mary Spital, a priory and hospital which was not spared the dissolution.

Like all of London, the area regularly absorbed large groups of refugees. These began with Huguenots – Protestants fleeing Catholic France in the 1600’s. Many were skilled silk weavers and brought jobs to the area. Later, Irish immigrants arrived, fleeing famine, then Jewish Russians escaping pogroms and revolution. Each wave of immigrants brought change and also caused the local population to become one of the most densely populated in London.

This then tells the tale of a place which changed from a prosperous part of London to a place of notoriety and poverty. In the early eighteenth century there was the notorious criminal Jack Sheppard, who was linked to the area. Later, of course, there was Jack the Ripper, who found his victims on the streets packed with common lodging houses and prostitution.

This is not only a book about crime though, it is about attempts by the government to improve the location, which often only made matters worse. For example, there was The Cross Act of 1875 (the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Act) which attempted to demolish and replace unfit property. Although the intentions were good, the results were disastrous, with landlords the only people making money from the resulting evictions and homelessness.

Overall, this is an interesting read, if a little repetitive at times. I enjoyed reading the history of the area – from French silk weavers to the Kray twins. It is an area of London I know well, and has now been redeveloped, but is still a place where history feels all around you.
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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 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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