17 | 11 | 2017

A Parish Swamp And Fever-Nest In The Heart Of Bethnal-Green

The Demolition Of Thorold-Square, Bethnal-Green.

The houses forming this square, to which we have repeatedly drawn attention , are condemned at last, and are now in course of demolition. If ever a parish swamp and fever-nest existed in this metropolis that knew no intermission in the sad havoc it made of human life and human morals, that hot-bed in the heart of Bethnal-green was one. Yet for years the local authorities allowed it to exist, though its public shame was monstrous, and the dwellers within that ill-fated square were living and breathing in daily contact with the infectious dead. Its state twenty years ago, ten years ago, and last year, was nearly similar, but its latest phase was worse in one particular,— that the houses in the interval had grown older, and become absolutely uninhabitable. Here is the picture of the sanitary condition of this place of ill omen given in the Builder nearly a dozen years since :—

“At one inquest it was stated that, in twenty-two houses forming Thorold-square, twenty children had been attacked with illness, and that twelve of these had died. The Koger family occupied one room, and were ten in number,—eight children and the father and mother. Here, even without any other cause, overcrowding was sufficient to produce pestilence; but George Stratford, a weaver, tells us that there had been no water supplied to any of the houses but three for eighteen months, except through a broken and unusable pump. In the heat of summer they never had a pailful of water at any time for three weeks except what they begged from others as best they could. The closets had no pans and were not trapped;— in fact, they might be called cesspools;—sometimes they were empty, but he had seen them running over with soil. There were sixty families in the square, and about 350 children among them.”

From 1860 to 1871, Thorold-square mended but little indeed in its water supply or closet accommodation, if we were to judge by a personal visit we made on two occasions last year. It was then simply disgusting to view the courtyard around, an open sesame into which the side channels of one side of Bethnal-green drained down a pretty steep gradient, carrying unmentionable filth and sewage to the very doors of those wretched tenements. The closets or perches, or by what other name they could be rightly termed, were indescribable; —the ash-pit or bin overflowing, and the middle of the square, or rather its whole length, one spread out dunghill. Sickness was still rife in the wretched abodes; the children were ragged, barefooted, bareheaded, and hungry, and not a few of them had the shrivelled and hardened features of old age. The aged were ghastly pale and broken down, and possibly broken-hearted; for how could they be otherwise, condemned in a manner to live as they were ?

Is it not a mercy that such a slaughter-yard is abolished at last, though we hope at the same time that the evicted have found a housing of an improved kind near at hand to the centre of their employment. The houses that backed against the square on a line with Turin-street, and which, of course, formed a portion of this square, are being demolished also as we write.

Let it not be imagined that in the destruction of this villainous house property Bethnal-green gets rid of her worst evils. There are various other streets, lanes, and courts quite as bad, as we have long since instanced. Such as Nichols-street Old and New, and Half Nichols-street, Phoenix-street, and several other narrow and crooked defiles extending from the back of Shoreditch Church to a considerable distance eastward—right and left of Bethnal-green-road. In the demolition of Thorold-square a tablet with its name bearing date 1792 will disappear. The houses looked much older than that date would indicate.

The Builder, 1872

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