By Mike Pentelow
The underworld that existed 200 years ago and in the present day in St Giles Rookery were graphically linked by Jane Palm-Gold’s exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery in May.
The original Rookery was literally a den of thieves and a no-go area for the police in the 19th century as the alleyways and tunnels that extended from St Giles High Street to the bottom of Tottenham Court Road could be used to trap them.
These slums were bulldozed in 1847 to make way for New Oxford Street, just as part of the area has been bulldozed today to make way for the Crossrail Link.
Back in 1847 however no compensation was paid to the poor (depicted in Hogarth’s etchings of gin swilling) who were made homeless. The dwellers of this “noisome neighbourhood” as it was officially described were herded north into what is now called Fitzrovia.
Charles Dickens had visited the notorious “Rat’s Castle” in the Rookery to get inspiration for some of his characters. This was the same Rat’s Castle where the inhabitants threatened to skin the dog of sculptor Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823 who lived at 44 Mortimer Street) and hang it up if he did not pay one of his models her full fee.
Nowadays some of the crack addicts who live rough around St Giles church would have been a natural for Hogarth to depict.
Luckily we have modern day artist Jane Palm-Gold to perform this task. She has combined her own paintings of the present with drawings from the past with the help of the Museum of London Archeology. Entitled “London’s Underworld Unearthed, The Secret Life of the Rookery” it is to be hoped it will be exhibited again. Much of the work can be seen on her website (www.janepalmgold.com).