Safron Hill (Dickens-era site), London

Safron Hill (Dickens-era site), London

Once at the heart of London’s most infamous "rookeries" (or slums), Saffron Hill will forever be linked with Charles Dickens' 1838 novel "Oliver Twist", particularly through one of its lead characters, the arch-criminal Fagin.

Back in the 19th century, Saffron Hill was known as the Italian quarter, deriving its name from the saffron once cultivated in the area, although this saffron had vanished by the time Dickens penned his novel. Beyond being Fagin's hideout, the street is also home to the salubrious pub The Three Cripples, a favored watering hole of Bill Sikes, the primary antagonist in "Oliver Twist". During Dickens's era, The Three Cripples was apparently the name of a lodging house in Saffron Hill, located next to a pub named The One Tun.

This area also served as the inspiration for another, albeit smaller, Dickensian masterpiece, "A Christmas Carol". The inspiration struck during a visit to a destitute local school in September 1843, where he was profoundly affected by the harrowing conditions he encountered. The children were already mired in lives of thievery and prostitution, grappling with illiteracy, disease, and squalor.

Describing the wretchedness of the neighbourhood in "Oliver Twist", Dickens portrayed it as "a dirtier and more wretched place he [Oliver] had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours... Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands."

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Safron Hill (Dickens-era site) on Map

Sight Name: Safron Hill (Dickens-era site)
Sight Location: London, England (See walking tours in London)
Sight Type: Attraction/Landmark
Guide(s) Containing This Sight:

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