Esoteric London

No. 428: Maple Street, W1

Posted in Housing by esotericlondon on October 19, 2011

Maple Street, London, W1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

Unsentimental Journeys; or Byways of the Modern Babylon – James Greenwood, 1867:

Below the hazy attics are two and even three floors, then the shop, and beneath, so deep that a flight of fifteen wide-apart steps barely reach from the street pavement to the bottom, are the cellars-mere black pits-swarming with inhabitants, not chickens nor rabbits, nor rats or other sort of vermin, but human beings -babies and grandmothers, and broad-shouldered men, and hoary-headed men, and little old women, and matronly dames.

It should be distinctly understood that when I speak of these underground dwellings (several feet below the sewers) as cellars I apply to them no other than their proper and recognised appellation. They have just the ordinary double flap one sees closing the entrance to the beer-cellar of a public-house, and when one becomes vacant, “This cellar to let” will be chalked on the said flap. It would seem that we are indebted to St. Giles for this amongst other eyesores, for the books pertaining to the affairs of his parish bear the earliest record of cellar-dwellers. “To prevent the great influx of poor people into this parish,” says an entry dated 1637, “ordered that the beadles do present every fortnight, on the Sunday, the names of all new comers, under-setters, and persons that have families in cellars, and other abuses.” For more than two hundred years then has the doctor scrambled down those cellar-steps to let more life into the world, and the undertaker has grasped the muddy rail, shouldered out of the deep hole the coffined dead to lay it nearer the earth’s surface than ever it was -for any length of time-while in life.