A photo show of Boundary Passage
I've written before about Boundary Passage in Shoreditch - but now I've got my act together and taken a few photos.
It is humdrum, tawdry - and about the last relic of the Jago, the slum that Arthur Morrison wrote about in his classic 1896 novel A Child of the Jago.
Morrison prefaced the novel with a very accurate street map. Boundary Passage is shown as 'The Posties' - running between Old Jago Street (actually Old Nichol Street) and Shoreditch High Street.
In the novel's opening page, Morrison writes of 'a narrow passage, set across with posts, [which] gave menacing entrance on one end of Old Jago Street'. This is the passage through which the young Dicky Perrott runs with stuff nicked from the High Street stalls.
The posts are still there - though whether they are or ever were cannons from Nelson's navy, as some suggest, I rather doubt.
Some of the menace is gone - what was the slum side of the passage is now decidedly up-market.
Though the High Street end is distinctly disreputable. The entrance to Boundary Passage runs alingside a tatty gentlemen's bar.
It's almost an inversion of the past. The slum is now smart - the high street is in disrepair.
Photo - Igor Clark
Of all the slum novels of the late nineteenth century, A Child of the Jago is one of the most compelling. And the historian Sarah Wise has tracked down the life and death of a young East Ender in the 1890s which gave the novelist Arthur Morrison the outlines of his plot. Do take a read. She also spells out how Morrison misrepresented the area he wrote about - the part of Shoreditch on which the Boundary Street Estate now stands.
There is one corner of Morrison's Jago that still stands - the little alley he called 'The Posties' through which the central character of his novel runs with goods pilfered from stalls on the high stree. Its real name is Boundary Passage. I'm posting a wonderful photo taken by Igor Clark of this alley - it captures something of the air of menace which Morrison writes about. Thanks to Igor for allowing me to use his photo - you can see his Flickr stream here.
Arnold Circus at 100
Arnold Circus, perhaps the loveliest bandstand in London, is 100 years old. An event to be celebrated! It was built a century ago by the London County Council amid the still fairly new Boundary Street Estate in Shoreditch. The bandstand itself is nice enough - what makes the spot particularly enchanting in a locality not known for enchantment is the landscaping of the small hill which once stood in the middle of the circus. Now Arnold Circus has been spruced up to celebrate its centenary - and very nicel too,
Next month the circus will be the venue for the annual 'sharing picnic'. And the Friends of Arnold Circus have organised a busy summer programme of events.
The Boundary Street Estate was built on the site of the Old Nichol - the area that the novelist Arthur Morrison described, and damned to perdition, as the criminal slum of "the Jago". One of the most evocative remnants of Morrison's "Jago" - the little snicket of Boundary Passage - is a short stroll away.
This photograph of Arnold Circus was posted by LoopZilla under a Creative Commons license.
'A farther part of Shoreditch'
My first time in Shoreditch Town Hall - a pleasantly peeling piece of municipal baroque. It was built in 1866, and extensively rebuilt about forty years later. It still has a spacious hall on the first floor with glorious balcony, and a gents loo on the ground floor bigger than some studio flats nearby. A stone's throw away is the wonderful St Leonard's and adjoining it the even more joyous Clerk's House, now a shop selling up market, expensive kitsch.
Once Shoreditch was a proud London borough, and its town hall - just like those in Finsbury and Holborn - would have been a building of importance, and not simply an elegant municipal relic. The 1965 reorganisation of London local government which consigned both Shoreditch and Stoke Newington to become part of a greater Hackney also deprived such redolent areas as Finsbury, Holborn, Hampstead and St Pancras of borough status.
A work event took me to Shoreditch Town Hall, but I was able to slip away briefly during the afternoon down Brick Lane to the Freedom Bookshop on Angel Alley, by the side of the newly expanded Whitechapel Gallery. At Freedom a fuse had blown and the bookshop was in darkness. A political metaphor if ever there was one.
On my way there, I wandered down Shoreditch High Street and through Boundary Passage. This was immortalised as 'the Posties' in Arthur Morrison's 1896 slum novel, A Child of the Jago. It was the passage through which the young Dicky Perrott, the title character, scarpered with stuff he had nicked from the high street stalls.
The Passage was in 'a farther part of Shoredicth' - the opening page of the novel records - 'off Shoreditch High Street, a narrow passage, set across with posts, [which] gave menacing entrance' onto the notorious slum of the Jago. It's almost a miracle that the Passage still stands. Still a conduit between contrasting London street cultures.
In the 1890s, the high street side was the wider world, commerce, and at least a measure of wealth - while the Jago was fetid, debauched and crime-laden. And today? Well, on the high street end of the Passage there's the Rainbow Sports Bar, with a blackboard boasting 'NEW GIRLS'. On what was the Jago side, a pub with gaudy fudge and slime green ceramic tiles has been newly converted into a creative agency, while opposite is a pricyh clothes boutique. A modern day Dicky Perrott wouldn't know which way to run.
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