Part of the Rookery, St Giles; a slum area in which the destitute are pictured selling goods, sitting on the side of the street or walking through the area. March, 1844
Watercolour over graphite sketch.
Part of the Rookery, St Giles. March, 1844. Watercolour over graphite sketch by John Wykeham Archer. © The Trustees of the British Museum: 1874,0314.113. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. 

On the south eastern edge of Fitzrovia around the still existing Bainbridge Street and Dyott Street was, until the mid-19 century, a jumble of densely populated and shambolic dwellings known as the St Giles Rookery.

Author Adam Crymble, in an academic paper for Urban History journal, asks why it became the city’s most notorious slum by the eighteenth century, and why it occurred where it did and why it lasted for so long.

Crymble argues that “we cannot take at face value either William Hogarth’s depiction of the Rookery in the background of ‘Gin Lane’ (1751), nor the serene depictions of the same in John Wykeham Archer’s paintings a century later (1844), which portrayed the Rookery as quiet, lonely and perhaps unloved”.

Instead, the Rookery of St Giles-in-the-Fields was always high risk because of happenstance of geography, a lack of leadership from its owners, and a system of urban upkeep that distributed responsibility too widely which led to its longevity and the depth of its misfortune.

Crymble, A. (2021). The decline and fall of an early modern slum: London’s St Giles ‘Rookery’, c. 1550–1850. Urban History, 1-25. doi:10.1017/S0963926821000183

The Birth of a London Slum: the St Giles Rookery and the geoeconomic factors behind slum development (A talk by Adam Crymble on YouTube).