Tiny / relatively obscure London (UK) streets?

I’m looking for some ideas for the setting of a story taking place in the 1890s involving a series of murders in London, most of them focused in a small area. (It’s a copycat Jack the Ripper deal, except with a supernatural twist.) When originally brainstorming with the author – I’m the editor – we used Baker Street as a placeholder, mainly because of the Sherlock Holmes connection, but I think that’s a bit too cliche / on-the-nose.

So I’m hoping to find something relatively less-known that would work. Ideally it will be someplace that would’ve been not too seamy back in 1892, but not too posh either. Something small and out-of-the-way, but close enough to respectibility.

Any thoughts, London / UK Dopers?

Chelsea? It was sort of an artist hangout in the late 19th century, not an incredibly well to do area, but not a poor one. Alternately, what about Earl’s Court, which had just started to be settled after the railroad went there maybe 25 years earlier…it had become a middle class area, with people using the train to get into the City.

Soho around then was not as posh or aristocratic as some of the areas around it like Mayfair and it certainly had a seedy element to it, but at the same time it was seen as a popular place for artists, writers and intelligentsia, and it had a vibrant nightlife. It was also the crux of London’s prostitution and sex industries so that might help if it’s still prostitutes your supernatural version of Jack the Ripper wants to murder.

What kind of area are you looking for? There are a lot of tiny, obscure streets all over the place. The City is full of them, which would have been near to big business and respectability. Google a map and have a look at Change Alley. If you wanted somewhere over near Baker Street, have a look at Lisson Grove. Mentioned, as I’m sure you’ll recall, as the place Eliza Doolittle left because “it wasnt [sic] fit for a pig to live in” - so, close to posh (very near Oxford Street, Park Lane, etc) but clearly not a great area. But I’d advise you to be careful with streets changing their names (it’s happened a lot) and areas totally changing their characters. There was a survey done by Charles Booth in 1898-9 which colour-coded every street in London according to the financial status of those inhabiting it. You can see at a glance which streets were which, what they were called at the time, and where they are in relation to each other. In fact ignore everything else I said and just look at the survey.

Thanks guys! For more details, if it’ll help: Ideally I would like a bohemian type of area, and Soho definitely has the right sort of vibe. IIRC, that’s where Threepenny Opera takes place, right? Somewhere a rakish but oddly wealthy dilletante who likes slumming might have a flat. The killer is targeting women who are new to the neighborhood, and many of them live in women-only lodgings (including one home run by the protagonist’s friend). I wouldn’t want the utter squalor of where Eliza Doolittle fled from or where Fagin/Bill Sykes lived, to use an earlier example, but something with some danger / seaminess to it.

Oh holy cow, Teacake, that survey is gold. Thank you so much!!

I’d say somewhere between purple and pink, or perhaps with easy access to both:

On Gresse Street (looks like Cresse on Booth’s map), just up from Soho Square, you have everything from black to red (“lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal” to “middle-class, well to do”) within less than a hundred square yards. About a quarter of a mile to the west, you have Cavendish Square, “upper-middle and upper classes. Wealthy”. Looks like The Great Philosopher may have hit it. Also, it’s a good choice because the roads are still there. When your book has the kind of fans who want to go on pilgrimages, they won’t just find something we threw up to fill bombsites after the war!

Hee! Yes, doubtful but I do hope so. Thank you so much, Teacake. We may well go with Gresse Street, as it really does sound ideal for our purposes.

How do you pronounce that, by the way? Not that it really matters but I’m just curious so I know how to say it in my head. :slight_smile: Normally I’d just say “grehss” but you never can tell in the UK (see also: Ruthven, Cholmondeley, Featherstonehaugh, et al.).

It’s pronounced like ‘dress’.

Just wanted to say, I wouldn’t pick Soho, it’s been notorious for centuries and certainly wouldn’t be the sort of area where lone women would take respectable lodgings.

Bloomsbury (near the British Museum) might be another good area. Heard of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’? It’s the area where Virginia Woolff and the gang used to hang out, so would fit your bohemian maker.

Briset Street. Just off Farringdon, just outside the City.

A modest proposal: Of Alley.

Gropecunt Lane

I’m not kidding :slight_smile:


This is true, and why I went slightly north towards Fitzrovia rather than focusing on somewhere like Frith Street. Having said which, being seedy doesn’t mean a respectable person wouldn’t live there, especially if they’re a conscious rebel from the upper class, as choie seems to be describing. Also, the women aren’t as such lone, they’re living in boarding houses. Would there have been perhaps some theatrical type boarding houses round there, being so close to Covent Garden, Charing Cross Road, etc? I don’t know that much about the history of the area, really.

All excellent information, thanks gang! I’ll pass on Gropecunt Lane, Deflagration, heh. I don’t think that’ll work too well in a romance novel. :slight_smile:

I found what seems to be a good source for info – I wonder if you have thoughts on this? It’s about Victorian Lodging Houses, from Dickens’ Dictionary of London:

This was from 1888, which is right around my time period. Might be a bit posher than I want but perhaps New Oxford Street might be the area I might focus on?

Have a look at where Gresse Street is in relation to New Oxford Street. It’s not completely clear from that map that Oxford Street turns into New Oxford Street at the crossroads with Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road. Fitzrovia is the area the street is on the lower edge of, and Bloomsbury is slightly further up and to the right. I’m rather pleased with myself now!

What’s Drury Lane like? Thoughts of the “Muffin Man” as a bad guy in a Ripper novel brings out all the wrong interpretations…

In later Victorian times like today, I’m betting, the area around the major train stations was proably a common area for transient populations; many large and small hotels and various accomodations with a fascinating mix of odd people from anywhere and everywhere who come and disappear randomly?

I think the area around Bloomsbury is a good idea. As mentioned above, it’s obviously Bohemian. It’s very close to Grey’s Inn and Lincoln Inn, which is where wig wearing lawyers hang out. It’s a short walk to King’s Cross and St. Pancras railways stations. How about having your character living in a Mews house? It’s the accommodation above a stable. Cheap, but with easy access to rich folk. There’s a Doughty Mews and a John’s Mews in the area.

When the stables were in use, the accommodation above them was used by the people who worked there. It wouldn’t have been up for rent.

It would have been difficult, but not impossible. Owner of main house is a recluse and has no need for horses, owner has fallen on hard times, owner has died and the whole house is vacant etc. It’s a work of fiction we’re talking about, after all :smiley:

Chancery Lane baby. Not obscure, but quite messy.