Dorset Street, E1

Road in/near Spitalfields, existed between 1674 and 1963

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Road · Spitalfields · E1 ·
APRIL
18
2017

Dorset Street was a small thoroughfare running east-west from Crispin Street to Commercial Street.

Nos.26 and 27 Dorset Street with the entrance to Miller’s Court between, 1928.
Credit: Leonard Matters
Developed as a footpath across the south side of the ’Spital Field’ in 1674. Originally known as Datchett Street after the Berkshire home of the Wheler family who owned much land in this area, the name was soon corrupted to Dorset Street.

By the mid 18th century, Dorset Street, like many others in the area, was the home of artisans and silk weavers, living and working in four-storey townhouses with attic workshops, however these prosperous times came to an end by the 1840s and many properties were turned into common lodging houses. A pub, the Blue Coat Boy, stood on the north side (first recorded in 1825, but thought to be considerably older), approximately half way along the street and is believed to be one of the first pubs to serve the nearby market. The Blue Coat Boy was later joined by two more pubs, The Horn of Plenty on the northern corner with Crispin Street and the Britannia, a beer house, on the corner with Commercial Street.

There were many lodging houses in Dorset Street by 1888, at nos.9, 10, 11-12, 15-20 (Commercial Street Chambers), 28-30 and 35 (Crossingham’s Lodging House), earning it the nickname of ’Dosset Street’. John McCarthy owned a chandler’s shop at No.27 and also No.26, known as ’the shed’. Between these properties was a brick archway which led to Miller’s Court.

The street was notable for its poor character - on 17 March 1898, it was visited by George Duckworth, a survey assistant collecting information which would eventually lead to an update of Charles Booth’s ’Descriptive Map of London Poverty’. Accompanied by Sergeant French of H-division, he was taken aback by the conditions he saw:

"The worst street I have seen so far - thieves, prostitutes, bullies, all common lodging houses. Some called ’doubles’ with double beds for married couples but merely another name for brothels. Women bedraggled, torn skirts, dirty, unkempt, square jaws standing about in street or on doorsteps."

Probably as a result of the street’s poor reputation, its name was changed to Duval Street on 28 June 1904. In 1920, the Corporation of London purchased Spitalfields Market and planned a major expansion which resulted in the construction of the Fruit Exchange and the demolition of the north side of Duval Street (including Miller’s Court) in 1928. That year, the author Leonard Matters visited and photographed the street mere days before redevelopment:

"What Dorset Street was like seventy years ago can only be imagined from an inspection of the district today and a walk through narrow lanes and byways leading off Commercial Street and Brick Lane. Duval Street itself is undergoing change, and the buildings on the left-hand side going east have nearly all been torn down to make room for extensions to Spitalfields Market.

"At the time of my first visit to the neighbourhood most of the houses on the left-hand side of the street were unoccupied, and some were being demolished. The house in which Kelly was murdered was closed, save for one front room still occupied by a dreadful looking slattern who came out of Miller’s Court into the sunlight and blinked at me. When she saw me focus my camera to get a picture of the front of the house, the old hag swore at me, and shuffled away down the passage.

"I took what is probably the last photograph of the house to be secured by anybody, for three days later Miller’s Court and the dilapidated buildings on either side of it were nothing but a heap of bricks and mortar. The housebreakers had completely demolished the crumbling wreck of the slum dwelling in which "Jack the Ripper" committed his last crime! Miller’s Court, when I saw it, was nothing but a stone flagged passage between two houses, the upper stories of which united and so formed an arch over the entrance. Over this arch there was an iron plate bearing the legend, "Miller’s Court." The passage was three feet wide and about twenty feet long, and at the end of it there was a small paved yard, about fifteen feet square. Abutting on this yard, or "court", was the small back room in which the woman Kelly was killed - a dirty, damp and dismal hovel, with boarded-up windows and a padlocked door as though the place had not been occupied since the crime was committed.

"But the strange thing was that nobody in the neighbourhood seemed to know the history of Miller’s Court..."

Spitalfields

Spitalfields is near to Liverpool Street station and Brick Lane.

The area straddles Commercial Street and is home to several markets, including the historic Old Spitalfields Market, and various Brick Lane Markets on Brick Lane and Cheshire Street. Petticoat Lane Market lies on the area's south-western boundaries.

The name Spitalfields appears in the form Spittellond in 1399; as The spitel Fyeld on the 16th-century Civitas Londinium map associated with Ralph Agas. The land belonged to St Mary Spital, a priory or hospital erected on the east side of the Bishopsgate thoroughfare in 1197, and the name is thought to derive from this. An alternative, and possibly earlier, name for the area was Lolsworth.

After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Spitalfields was inhabited by prosperous French Huguenot silk weavers. In the early 19th century their descendants were reduced to a deplorable condition due to the competition of the Manchester textile factories and the area began to deteriorate into crime-infested slums. The spacious and handsome Huguenot houses were divided up into tiny dwellings which were rented by poor families of labourers, who sought employment in the nearby docks.

The area has recently attracted a IT-literate younger population.
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