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We take it for granted, that Clerkenwell is known to every breakfast table in this kingdom. To the careful reader of the police reports, the name of this district must be as familiar as the commonest household word. The constant conflict of its turbulent population with the guardians of the public peace, has given it a universal reputation. It is low London of low London. All great cities have their Clerkenwells. Manchester has its Deansgate; Liverpool its Waterloo-road; Nottingham its Marsh; Glasgow its Salt-market ; Dublin its Liberty. The metropolitan district is only a type of one of the conditions of a town population, which prevails more or less intensely everywhere. It is the chief scene of violence and outrage which the capital has to boast. Although not so exclusively the haunt of thieves, burglars, prostitutes, and vagabonds, as St. Giles's and the low neighbourhoods about the Broadway, Westminster, it is, nevertheless, far more remarkable for crimes of the darkest kind than either of these notorious localities. More murders and attempts at murder take place in Clerkenwell, than in any other part of London. Not that the other characteristics of a criminal population are unknown here—far from that. The various species of crime have no segregating power. Thieves are not found confined to one locality ; coiners to another; burglars to a third ; and so forth. On the contrary, all these professions have points of affinity
- bonds of interest, which bring them together. The prostitute, generally, takes up her abode near the burglar, her paramour, for protection ; and the thief will of course choose to reside in the neighbourhood of the prostitute, because he finds her a useful ally in his depredations,—more especially in robberies from the person. The same criminal will also not unfrequently combine the practice of two or three different orders of crime in his own person. For example, the same individual will be a burglar, a common thief, and an utterer of base coin. Females who walk the streets and frequent the theatres, are almost all thieves. The offender is forced to change his tactics according to seasons and circumstances. Sometimes he is one thing, sometimes another. Crime is thus eminently sporadic. It is migratory as well. The bandits of society seldom remain long in a place. They have no wish to cultivate an unnecessary acquaintance with the police, and are always shifting about to avoid it.
Thus it is impossible permanently to describe any given locality by a simple criminal characteristic.
But still a rude characterisation of the criminal districts is not impossible. St. Giles's is
unlike Wapping ; Westminster is not like Whitechapel ; Saffron-hill, again, cannot be compared with Lambeth. Threading his way from Newgate, through Smithfield-market, along Cow-cross, and by Saffronhill, into the heart of Clerkenwell, the pedestrian passes through some of the worst quarters of the great city. Some parts of this route lie through localities worse than the lowest parts of Paris ; worse, perhaps, than the low haunts about the Canongate, in Edinburgh. He traverses narrow dirty streets and courts, crowded and filthy as the by-places in Houndsditch, miserable and destitute of light, water, almost of air ; he sees property dilapidated and falling to a mass of foul and ugly rubbish ; children with pale and ghastly faces; forms hideous with premature disease, arising from the unnatural and unhealthy circumstances into which they are helplessly cast. Of late years public attention has been drawn to this solid mass of misery, of low vice, of filth, fever, and crime. Respectability has become alarmed for its own safety. Unwelcome truths have been brought from these low regions of vice and disease, to the comfortable homes and costly palaces of luxury. By means of such agents as fever and cholera, the mass of putrefying humanity has asserted its intimate connexion with all other sorts of humanity breathing the selfsame air, and the misery has got to be looked at without eye-glasses. When the truth was felt that white kid and Russian sables were no protection against the contagion of misery-made diseases, then philanthropy began to flourish in high places. Field-lane and Saffron-hill ceased to be thought picturesque. Men began to pull down and rebuild. This work has proceeded somewhat, and is now going on. God speed it! The new street, in continuation of Farringdon-street, has opened up some clear vistas into the former condition of the locality. Field-lane has been broken into, and but a remnant of its former glory now remains; enough, however, to enable one to understand what it must have been in its palmier day. Let the inspector of the London prisons--after emptying all his outer pockets, and buttoning up his coat to secure his watch, pocketbook, and handkerchief-penetrate this celebrated receptacle for stolen goods. The lane is narrow enough for him to reach across from house to house, and the buildings so lofty that a very bright sun is required to send light to the surface. The dwellings on either side are dark; in some of them candles or gas is burning all day long. The stench is awful. Along the middle of the narrow lane runs a gutter, into which every sort of poisonous liquid is poured. This thoroughfare is occupied entirely by receivers of stolen goods, which goods are openly spread out for sale. Here you may re-purchase your own hat, boots, or umbrella ; and, unless you take especial precaution, you may have one of the importunate saleswomen-daughters of Israel, who are greater aclepts in the arts of cajolery than many of the fair ladies who pique themselves on their success at charitable bazaars—attempting to seduce you into the purchase of the very handkerchief which you had in your pocket at the entrance.
Let the observer emerge at the Clerkenwell end of Field-lane, and then notice the character of the place he is in. Let him pause for a moment to contemplate this hot-bed of crime and demoralization. Here is one of the great dunghills on which society rears criminals for the gallows; as on other dunghills it rears melons for the table. Look there, across the
gap thrown open for the new street, at the sections which are laid bare-—at the low, crowded dwellings, the broken windows, the tiles which have fallen out of their places, the dirt and haggard wretchedness which meet the eye at every turn. No wonder, indeed, to find a gaol in such a neighbourhood! The flavour of the fruit depends upon the quality of the soil : and here we have some of the richest rankness in the world.
In the very heart of this ill-conditioned districtin the very midst of this disorderly and povertydoomed, though only in part felon, population-stand two of the great London prisons : namely, the House of Detention for the County of Middlesex, and the House of Correction for the same. We approach the first of these, the object of our present visit, by Field-lane, Saffron-hill, and similar thoroughfares in the notorious locality. Fitting vestibule of such a temple !
There is nothing at all striking in the appearance of the House of Detention. It is newly rebuilt, on