Journey from The Angel, Islington to Saffron Hill
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 in, as the first building was rebuilt in 1819. It would have been the first staging post in and out of the City of London and from here travelers would have been entering London. Dickens refers to the Angel three times in Oliver Twist. The first time, is when Dodger brings Oliver into London for the first time, the second, when Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver home to recover from his illness and the third is when Noah Claypole and Charlotte visit the City. This new building was built in 1899 and from 1921 to 1959 it was used as a Lyons Corner House, set over 4 or 5 floors, supplying luxuries foods, restaurants and other amenites such as hairdressers in the building known for its art deco decoration. It was here that the inventors of Monopoly met to discuss place names for the board game and they chose the Angel as one of them.
'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.'
‘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. Just pausing to observe which appeared the most crowded streets, and consequently the most to be avoided, he crossed into Saint John’s Road, and was soon deep in the obscurity of the intricate and dirty ways, which, lying between Gray’s Inn Lane and Smithfield, render that part of the town one of the lowest and worst that improvement had left in the midst of London.’
‘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.’
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Sadler’s Wells Theatre has been here since 1683 when a mineral spring was discovered on the site. In the 18th Century, Richard Sadler built a music house here to rival fellow wells such as Tunbridge and Epsom and at that time a variety of entertainment. But Dickens would have known it for its incidents and beer made from the well rather than entertainment. In fact, Dickens himself described the theatre, in the 1830s when Oliver Twist was published, in this way. “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.” Today it is known for its outstanding dance.
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.
Hockley in the hole
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.