diamond geezer

 Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Reviewing the Fleet
Farringdon

Farringdon facts

Farringdon takes its name from William Farendon, a City goldsmith who snapped up ownership of this area in 1279.
Cowcross Street, which winds east from Farringdon, was so named because cows bound for Smithfield crossed the River Fleet here (until 1855, when the market stopped selling live animals).
Through the 17th and 18th centuries the Fleet here was narrowed to a stinking ditch by encroaching slum dwellings. The notorious Red Lion Inn backed onto the river in West Street. From here a plank could be stretched across the stream to aid the safe passage of fleeing criminals, while murdered corpses were sometimes dropped anonymously into the raging murky torrents below.
Before Farringdon Road was built, the main north-south road in the area was Saffron Hill, named after the herb grown on the slopes above the Fleet in the 18th century. It's still a tiny narrow lane, steep enough to worry the odd cyclist, lined by an incongruous mix of old inns, tatty workshops and spanking new office blocks. (photo)
Back in the 19th century Saffron Hill was a densely-packed area of slum dwellings and it was here that Charles Dickens located Fagin's Den, to which the Artful Dodger first led an innocent new recruit to his fate:
"Although Oliver had enough to occupy his attention in keeping sight of his leader, he could not help bestowing a few hasty glances on either side of the way, as he passed along. A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours.There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public–houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door–ways, great ill–looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well–disposed or harmless errands. Oliver was just considering whether he hadn't better run away, when they reached the bottom of the hill. His conductor, catching him by the arm, pushed open the door of a house near Field Lane; and drawing him into the passage, closed it behind them." (Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, 1837)
Farringdon Road was built on top of the new Fleet sewer in the 1860s, wiping away the old slums. At the same time Farringdon station became the eastern terminus of the world's first Underground railway (but we've mentioned that already). (photo)
If Crossrail is ever built, Farringdon will be a key interchange between Thameslink and the new east-west line. Crossrail's Information Exchange is located in a tiny drop-in centre next to the station.


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