Place in the narrative
Dickens mentions the Angel, Islington, three times within the narrative of Oliver Twist. The first and most memorable is when John Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, leads Oliver into London for the first time. He outlines all the surrounding landmarks and gives an insight into historical life of the area. The second, when Mr Brownlow takes Oliver home to recover from his illness and the third, when Noah Claypole and Charlotte visit the city. Each time he mentions the Angel as the entry point for London. It is the first impression Oliver gets of London before he is taken into the world of criminals in Shoe Lane.
‘In pursuance of this cautious plan, Mr Claypole went on, with halting, until he reached at the Angel at Islington, where he wisely judged, from the crowd of passengers and numbers of vehicles, that London began in earnest.'
‘The coach rattled away, over nearly the same ground as that which Oliver had traversed when he first entered London in company with the Dodger; and, turning a different way when it reached the Angel at Islington, stopped at length before a neat house, in a quiet shady street near Pentonville.’
Journey from Angel
'As John Dawkins objected to their entering London before nightfall, it was nearly eleven o’clock when they reached the turnpike at Islington. They crossed from the Angel into St John's Road; struck down the small street which terminates at Sadler's Wells Theatre; through Exmouth Street and Coppice Row; down the little court by the side of the workhouse; across the classic ground which once bore the name of Hockley-in-the-hole; thence into Little Saffron Hill; and so into Saffron Hill the Great: along which the Dodger scudded at a rapid pace, directing Oliver to follow close at his heels.'
The Angel, Islington
The original Angel was an inn near a toll gate on the Great North Road. However, Dickens would have known it better as a coaching inn, as the first building was rebuilt in 1819. It would have been the first staging post in and out of the City of London for travelers to the city. The building that is in existence today was built in 1899. From 1921 to 1959 it was used as a Lyons Corner House and was known for its art deco decor. It was set over 5 floors and supplied luxury foods, restaurants and other amenities such as hairdressers to the local community. It is also most famous as a location in the board game, Monopoly. The creators of Monopoly met in Lyons Corner House to choose locations for the game and chose the Angel as one of them, immortalizing it forever.
What I wrote in London
Although the building Dickens would have seen was very different, the area where Angel still is, is buzzing with traffic coming in and out of city of London. Emerging from the quiet country roads or underground station, Angel, you are caught up in the sound of the traffic and the bustle of the street. The current building which was used as a Lyon Corner House, now houses a Co-op bank and almost every building bears the name of Angel or The Angel. This is where Oliver is brought into town after dark and although I saw it in the brightness of day, the area would have been a shock to the system of any country boy. The surrounding area is now mainly officeblocks and men in suits walk in and out of the way alongside older buildings the glass fronted blacks stick out reater like a sore thumb. If this was the entry to London in Dickens' time, it hasn't changed in the volume of people but the modes of transport have changed. Coaches have been replaced by cars and buses but you still get a sense of the change from country to city. And how Oliver will have felt with so much going on and going through it so fast with Dodger.
Dickens describes Angel as the place where suburbs end and the city of London begins. And although there is no particular entry sign into London now, you still get the impression that people are travelling into the city in the same way they did when Dickens was alive. The Angel where Dodger brings Oliver past at 11 is now a Co-op bank and little of the coaching inn Dickens would have known is left. The building is a rather embellished golden stoned building and sticks out from the other buildings as it has a rather triumphant dome on top. The building is on one of the four edges of the cross roads going in different directions. Opposite is office blocks and resterants covered in glass and the pavement is full of business making their way to meetings. Arriving by tube you understand very quickly how like a fish out of water, Oliver would have felt like. The volume of people and traffic overcome everything and become all you think about. Although we only get mention of Angel in passing, Dickens obviously thought it was an important location to mention as a sign that you were going into the city of London. The building called The Angel represents the gateway to the city and makes you know you are now there.
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Place in the narrative
Sadlers Wells is only mentioned as local colour in Oliver Twist when Oliver is being taken by Dodger to Saffron Hill. At the time Dickens wrote about it however he had experience of the theatre and wrote about the theatre in 1830s saying “The theatre was in the condition of being entirely delivered over to as ruffianly an audience as London could shake together…Fights took place anywhere, at every period of the performance.”
Sadlers Wells Theatre has been on this site since 1683 when a mineral spring was discovered and attracted many people. In the 18th century, Richard Sadler built a music house here to rival other wells towns such as Tunbridge Wells and Epsom with variety entertainment. Today it is known for being home to the best contemporary dance in London.
Sadler's Wells is only on the way from Angel to Saffron Hill but I imagine it is one of the most changed from the time Dickens lived. The area and theatre known at the time and before the time Dickens was writing as a notorious place for cock fights and squalid living is now an upmarket area with chinsy shops and boutiques. The theatre is a modern construction made in a very arty way and I'm not sure what Dickens' would have made of it. The current theatre was opened in 1998 and there have been six theatres on the site to date. It is amazing how different it is to when Dickens lived.
Coppice Row and Exmouth Street
Dickens alludes to Dodger and Oliver going ‘…down the little court by the side of the workhouse;’ when they first enter London and this workhouse was that of St James and St John in Clerkenwell, situated on the west side of Farringdon Road, which used to be Coppice Row. In September 1865, the workhouse was revealed as having the worst conditions of any workhouse infirmary in London in the Lancet. This report was important in introducing the Metropolitan Poor Act which made sure that London’s unwell poor were looked after. In 1868, the workhouse was absorbed into the Union of Holborn and was then used for a few years as a housing for the elderly and infirm before falling away into the history books.
'They crossed from the Angel into St John's Road; struck down the small street which terminates at Sadler's Wells Theatre;'
'through Exmouth Street and Coppice Row; down the little court by the side of the workhouse;'
'...across the classic ground which once bore the name of Hockley-in-the-hole;'
Hockley-in-the-hole (Ray Street Bridge)
Dickens also refers to in passing the area of Hockley in the hole as Dodger hurries Oliver through London to Saffron Hill. Although extinct at the time he was writing, Hockley in the hole was well-known in the 17th and 18th century as a place of disreputable entertainment ranging from bull and bear baiting to every type of fighting imaginable. It was almost as popular as the bear garden in Bankside at one point in the 1640s but thankfully nothing remains of the wretched entertainment that once was.
to Saffron Hill