No. 903: Old Street, EC1
Old Street, London, EC1. Photo © Roger Dean 2013
The Wilds of London – James Greenwood, 1874: – A West-End Cholera Stronghold
Alas! it is my melancholy duty to inform you, Mr. French-polisher, or Birdfancier, or whatever you were, that you are altogether mistaken when you suppose that the immunity from cholera enjoyed by the inhabitants of the West-end is due to the destruction of the old hot-beds of disease above enumerated. I have been there to see. Alighting at Great Smith Street, I found my way to Peter Street, the filthy and thief haunted, and there were Cook’s Court, and Leg Court, and Shepherd’s Place, and the Laundry Yard, exactly as of old, except that nearly all of them wore a false front of white-wash that would scarcely bear scratching with the nail without betraying the hideousness beneath. The faith of those whose business it is to look to such matters in whitewash is wonderful. I met a man and his labourer emerging from an alley, the one with a ladder and the other with a great empty pail and a brush. “What have you been doing down there?” I asked. “Polishing of ‘em up a bit, sir,” said he with a satisfied air; “limewashed ‘em back and front.” “But how about the insides ?” said I; “how about the rotten floors and the leaky roofs? Pray have you done anything as regards the water-closet accommodation, have you enlarged the little cistern that supplies the vast number of people that live up here with water?” “How could I, sir? You can’t do all that with lime-wash.” “But surely you have other remedies for these things besides lime-wash?” “Oh, yes, sir; there’s Condy’s fluid, and there’s chloride of lime; no fear of anything breaking out while you let us have enough of that sort of thing.”
No fear of the mad dog biting while you muzzle him and hold him down by the throat, but you can’t be always holding him down; or even if you had the time and the patience how foolish it would be to do so, when by a few vigorous blows the ferocious brute might be put an end to and no more difficulty over the matter. Cholera is this mad dog that periodically makes its appearance amongst us worrying and ravaging; but we don’t shoot it or knock it on the head; we pat it and coax it to lie down, and after it has grown weary of running a-muck, and probably bitten to death several kindly hands engaged in its pacification, it consents to curl down to sleep – till dog-days come again.
That the mad dog has not at present extended its ravages to the west-end of the town is little short of miraculous, and would really favour the idea that there is a degree of dirt and nastiness nauseating even to cholera itself.