Mapping Fleet Street in the Victorian Age

I chose to search the popular London location Fleet Street which is mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Red-Headed League.” This tale is one of the less dramatic mysteries that Holmes explores, and when I first read it, the mention of Fleet Street caught my eye. I primarily knew the street as home to Stephen Sondheim’s Demon Barber and Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies. In the story of The Red-Headed League, a man gets tricked into working at an office on Fleet Street, assisting with the manual copying of the Encyclopedia Britannica. His new “league” mysteriously disbands very suddenly and with a turn of events, we learn that the office on Fleet Street was a decoy for another crime to take place. As the map from Victorian Google Maps below shows, Fleet Street is broad and stretches across several intersections in central London.

Fleet Street on the Victorian Google Maps
Fleet Street in the Victorian Age, Courtesy of Victorian Google Maps

Fleet Street was known as “a tavern street, as well as a literary centre,” according to historicaleye.com, a website composed of a compilation of academic works about various historical events/locations. Through exploring this and several other sites, I learned that Fleet Street is known as more than Sweeney Todd’s home. In fact, by 1896 several notable writers are cited as having inhabited the street’s pubs; “Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Raleigh, Dryden, Johnson, Goldsmith…are closely associated with this famous street” (historialeye.com). In regards to this website as a scholarly archive tool, the section on Fleet Street and The Strand on historicaleye.com is difficult to find if accidentally navigated away from. There seem to be two very different parts  of this website – the Then and Now section about London that features historical summaries of London locations in 1896, and the newly “renovated” part of the site that is exposed when clicking on the home button. With no search bar on either of these parts of historicaleye.com, exploration was left only to clicking around the tabs most relevant to London.

The interesting combination of literary greats and taverns is reflected in the socioeconomic status of Fleet Street. Using the Charles Booth Online Archive (http://goo.gl/Jg­RmhL), I looked for the street to learn about its economic makeup in the 1890s. Based on the Charles Booth Poverty Classification Legend, the map below shows that the end of Fleet Street where it converges with the Strand had many middle-class/well-to-do individuals living here, as noted by the red markings. Both Victorian Google Maps and the Charles Booth map note that there are many banks on the part of Fleet Street that approaches The Strand, so the increase in well-to-do individuals correlates well.  Though the map is not very clear to read, I interpret the light blue/gray along the center of Fleet Street to represent the “poor 18-21 year olds” from the Booth Poverty Classification Legend. To the right of Fleet Street as it approaches St. Bride Street, all of light pink represents the population of people who were “fairly comfortable” with “good ordinary earnings.” From well-to-do individuals to poor young adults, this street had a variety of people passing through it in the late 1800’s, further  verifying the reputation of taverns and great Victorian writers in one place.

Using Charles Booth's Poverty Classification Legend, this map shows that the end of Fleet Street that converges to The Strand had many middle-class/well-to-do individuals living here as noted by the red markings.
Fleet Street on a 1898-1899 Map of London

 

The broad range of socioeconomic status on Fleet Street prompted interest for me to explore the types of crime that were documented at the time of the Charles Booth Poverty map. Below are cases that either took place on or involved Fleet Street and therefore surfaced as search results on Old Bailey Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/London-life19th.jsp), an archive that houses centuries of London court cases. Limiting my search to 1896-1898 to coincide with the Poverty Classification map, I found an interesting trend in crimes in the late 1890s on Fleet Street. If I were topic modeling the cases below, it’d be easy to detect the highest trending topic for court cases…theft. Two counts of burglary, two counts of pocketpicking, and two counts of fraud all point to the majority of crimes revolving around stealing money on this street. The somewhat broad range of socioeconomic status may have been responsible for these crimes. These court case crimes, including the extreme manslaughter charge and then perjury and larceny charges all sound like the London that Arthur Conan Doyle depicts by means of Sherlock’s cases, while also relating to the variation of inhabitants’ economic statuses at the time.

A list of cases from the Old Bailey Online Archive that were documented as taking place on Fleet Street in the Victorian Age
A list of cases from the Old Bailey Online Archive that were documented as taking place on Fleet Street in the Victorian Age

 

Sources:

“Booth Poverty Map & Modern Map (Charles Booth Online Archive).” London School of Economics & Political Science, Web. 09 Nov. 2014.

 

Rees, Simon. “Fleet Street and the Strand.” Historicaleye.com. Simon Rees. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.

 

Tim Hitchcock, Robert Shoemaker, Clive Emsley, Sharon Howard and Jamie McLaughlin, et al., The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674-1913 (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 24 March 2012). 09 Nov. 2014.

 

 

 

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