No. 890: Rosebank Villas, E17
Rosebank Villas, London, E17. Photo © Roger Dean 2013
The Mysteries of London, Volume I – George W.M. Reynolds, c.1845:
However filthy, unhealthy, and repulsive the entire neighbourhood of West Street (Smithfield), Field Lane, and Saffron Hill, may appear at the present day, it was far worse some years ago. There were then but few cesspools; and scarcely any of those which did exist, possessed any drains. The knackers’ yards of Cow Cross, and the establishments in Castle Street where horses’ flesh is boiled down to supply food for the dogs and cats of the metropolis, send forth now, as they did then, a foetid and sickening odour which could not possibly be borne by a delicate stomach. At the windows of those establishments the bones of the animals are hung to bleach, and offend the eye as much as the horrible stench of the flesh acts repugnantly to the nerves. Upwards of sixty horses a day are frequently slaughtered in each yard; and many of them are in the last stage of disease when sent to their “long home.” Should there not be a rapid demand for the “meat” on the part of the itinerant purveyors of that article for canine and feline favourites, it speedily becomes putrid; and a smell, which would alone appear sufficient to create a pestilence, pervades the neighbourhood.
As if nothing should be wanting to render that district as filthy and unhealthy as possible, water is scarce. There is in this absence of a plentiful supply of that wholesome article, an actual apology for dirt. Some of the houses have small back yards, in which the inhabitants keep pigs. A short time ago, an infant belonging to a poor widow, who occupied a back room on the ground-floor of one of these hovels, died, and was laid upon the sacking of the bed while the mother went out to make arrangements for its interment. During her absence a pig entered the room from the yard, and feasted upon the dead child’s face!
In that densely populated neighbourhood that we are describing hundreds of families each live and sleep in one room. When a member of one of these families happens to die, the corpse is kept in the close room where the rest still continue to live and sleep. Poverty frequently compels the unhappy relatives to keep the body for days – aye, and weeks. Rapid decomposition takes place;- animal life generates quickly; and in four-and-twenty hours myriads of loathsome animalculae are seen crawling about. The very undertakers’ men fall sick at these disgusting – these revolting spectacles.