No. 800: Meard Street, W1
Meard Street, London, W1. Photo © Roger Dean 2013
The Night Side of London – J. Ewing Ritchie, 1858:
Let the reader walk with us to a fashionable clothing establishment – a mart, we believe, as it is called. The building, as you approach it, seems a palace. It is redolent with polished mahogany and plate-glass and gilt. You pass it when the lamps are lit, and you think of the Arabian Nights. It is illuminated as if peace had just been proclaimed, or some great national desire had been realised. You enter with cash, and all is fair and smooth within. Whatever you want in the way of apparel is there, and at a price for which no honest tradesman can afford to sell it. Honest! asks the reader, is not the man honest? Does he steal the cloth? Certainly not. Does he not pay rent, and taxes, and wages? Most certainly he does. Do not his creditors all get twenty shillings in the pound? Most undoubtedly they do; the law protects them, and with them the man, willing or not, must keep himself right. So far as they are concerned, honesty is the best policy. How, then, does he make his profit? How is this monster establishment maintained? Out of what fund is it that its glitter and glare are paid for? We shall now see. Come down this stinking court. Go up those creaking stairs. Enter that miserable garret. Look at those men, who know nothing of labour but its curse, and of life but its misery. Mark the haggard faces already stamped with the impress of death. If you can bear the polluted atmosphere, you will hear from these men how they toil from early morning far into the night for two shillings a day; how for them the fine air and the golden sunshine, and the rest of the sabbath, exist not; and it is by them, by their sweat and blood and sinew, that the profit is made. And now go back and look into the gilded shop, and it will seem to you a Golgotha – a place of skulls.
[The skulls in the above photograph belonged to and can still be found in the flat in Meard Street that was once home to Sebastian Horsley. The artist and Soho dandy was perhaps most famously known for the crucifiction he undertook, and only narrowly survived, in the Philippines, as part of his research for one of his works. He tragically died at the flat on 17th June 2010 having taken a cocktail of drugs.
I would like to thank Ivan, Stephanie and Kate at Mulcahy Associates and the author Anya Lipska for their assistance with this post. R.D.]