Ian Allan Publishing

Books Reviewed in 2008

London's Docklands - A History of the Lost Quarter
Edition: 1st
Format: Hardback
Author: Fiona Rule
ISBN: 978 0711033863
Publishers: Ian Allan
Price: 19.99
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher's Title Information

This fascinating insight into London's docklands is the result of extensive research into an part of London that has intrigued the author for many years. In its heyday, the area was dominated by the Port of London; a sprawling network of quays, ancient wharves, deep canals and high-walled basins that stretched along the river Thames from the City to Tilbury.
Two or three generations ago, the London Docks provided employment for over 100,000 men, yet a visit to the Docks today shows that this way of life has vanished for good. The demise of London's docklands in the late 20th century finally ended a tradition of waterside industry that had existed in London since Roman times. Yet the largest docks still stand defiantly in the face of property developers who consider them too expensive and expansive to redevelop, despite the fact that they are sited in prime real estate areas. For the foreseeable future the docks will remain part of London, a visual reminder that for a time, Britannia did indeed rule the waves.
This splendid book chronicles the rise and fall of this most under-explored part of historical London by plundering the wealth of evidence left behind by the people who worked, lived and visited the area. From archaeological finds through to diaries, newspaper articles, census returns and personal interviews, the lost docks of London are rediscovered through fascinating tales of medieval mercers, river pirates, shipbuilders, merchant adventurers, mud larks, dockers, socialist agitators, brothel keepers and opium eaters to name but a few.

The Author
Fiona Rule was born in Hertfordshire in 1967. After attending The University of the Arts in Charing Cross Road, she spent many years working in marketing for major industrial and retail companies. Over the past ten years, Fiona has written numerous articles for magazines and journals and has also collaborated on books. She lives in London with her husband, Robert.
London's Docklands is her second book. Her first book, The Worst Street in London, is also published by Ian Allan Publishing

3 May 1993 brought torrential rain to London and its surrounds. By the time I drove down the industrial lane that led to the front gate of Wood Bros'. furniture factory, the road was almost totally submerged under large pools of water, in places over a foot deep. I manoeuvred my car to where I thought the kerb lay, slowly ground to a halt and opened the door to find water lapping at the sill.
"The Lea's burst its banks again." A tall man with grey hair, whom I would later discover was George the gateman, called across to me. The path to the factory gates was entirely submerged; an inauspicious welcome to the premises of my new employer.
"Do you want a piggyback, love?" shouted one of a group of men congregated next to George, watching my reaction to my dilemma with macho relish. Cursing the fact that I was wearing a new pair of suede heels but determined not to conform to the female stereotype so hoped for by my masculine audience, I rolled up my trouser legs and waded through the murky water.
It transpired that my watery welcome was not the only surprise I received that day. After squelching into reception and being shown my desk by the sympathetic but amused office manager, I was given a tour of my new workplace by a cheerful chap named Peter, with whom I would' e working on marketing campaigns. We toured a line of offices, meeting and shaking hands with people whose names I almost instantly forgot, despite making a concerted effort not to. Finally, Peter led me to a door behind which I could hear an almighty cacophony of machinery whirring, clunking and clacking. In the vast room that lay beyond stood a huge printing press, spewing sheets of paper from its bowels in a steady; rhythmic stream, diligently watched over by a grey-haired man dressed in green overalls who distractedly waved at us as we approached. "This is Harry," said Peter. "You'll be working with him on the print."
Before walking into Wood Bros.' print shop, I knew absolutely nothing about the art of printing and was horrified to learn that I would be responsible for overseeing the production of the multitude of brochures, price lists, posters and advertising flyers that the company dispatched to its retailers. However, Harry proved to be a patient and hugely knowledgeable
teacher. As I embarked on my crash course, he taught me much about the complex facets of the process, from selecting paper to how plates were made for the press. However, it was our chats about an entirely different subject that would ultimately lead me on an adventure of discovery into a part of London that has now almost totally vanished.
During our tea breaks, Harry would tell me about his life, which began in September 1934 in West Ham, East London. When he was very young the family moved to Canning Town, an area dominated geographically, economically and socially by three vast expanses of water occupying nearly 250 acres of what had once been Plaistow Marsh.
Known collectively as the Royal Docks, the Victoria, Albert and King George V Docks formed the most visually impressive section of the Port of London; a sprawling network of quays, ancient wharves, deep canals and high-walled basins that stretched along the River Thames from the City to Tilbury. Walking the length of the Victoria and Albert Docks alone would take up to an hour, the total length of these massive bodies of water being over three miles. When constructed in 1880, the Royal Albert was the largest dock in the world, running one and three quarter miles along the north bank of the mighty Thames. At the western edge, a lock connected it with the Royal Victoria Dock, a deep water monster-structure measuring 3,600 feet long by over 1,000 feet wide enough to fit seven football pitches with room to spare. Along its warehouse-lined quayside, enormous jetties, complete with their own railway sidings, stretched out into the centre of the basin, allowing myriad goods from the four corners of the globe to be unloaded onto trucks and conveyed to an increasingly prosperous and consumerist nation.

The London docks provided employment for over 100,000 men and Harry's father and numerous neighbours and friends all worked at the waterside. Work was physically demanding but plentiful and dockworkers' pay, while not a king's ransom, was sufficient to raise a family, (albeit in less than idyllic surroundings), and keep a bit back for beer money. Naturally enough, Harry always assumed that the docks would eventually provide him with his own living until a conversation occurred that had a profound effect on the rest of his life. A short time before his fourteenth birthday, the boy's father announced that he had secured him an apprenticeship with a local printer. Harry was bewildered by this resolution; why would his Dad eschew Canning Town's major employer in favour of a trade he knew nothing about? His father's response was remarkably prescient: "There's no future in the Docks," he told his son.
Until Harry told me his story of a lost London community, I knew little about the docks or the people that once lived there. However, a visit to the Royal Victoria Dock showed that his father's prediction was utterly and undeniably correct. The terrace of the ExCel event centre, built over what was once the Dock's North Quay, overlooked a placid expanse of redundant water, used only by the occasional canoeist. Over on the South Quay, a new development of luxury flats sat alongside the long-deserted, empty hulk of Spiller's Millennium Mills; a relic of the dock's commercial past. Further eastwards, the shimmering glass walls of an empty office block reflected the ripples running across the deserted waters of the Albert Dock. Occasionally, the tranquil atmosphere was interrupted by the engines of a short-haul plane landing on a windswept runway that stretched along the Albert's south quay. To erstwhile residents of Canning Town, many of whom, including Harry, moved northwards to Essex after the war, the scene is as unrecognisable today as it was unimaginable fifty years ago. Intrigued at how evidence of what was until very recently such an integral part of London had been so quickly swept away, I began to explore the history of the area.
London's docklands and its people were hugely influential not only in shaping the commercial destiny of the capital, but also the development and social structure of the entire eastern side of the city. At this uncertain and precarious point in their history, it is important that their story is told before all remnants of their illustrious past are erased forever.
"More Details on the Ian Allan Website"

The Worst Street in London
Edition: 1st
Format: Hardback
Author: Fiona Rule
ISBN: 978 0711033450
Publishers: Ian Allan Publishing
Price: 19.99
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information

Halfway up Commercial Street, one block away from Spitalfields Market, lies an anonymous service road. The average pedestrian wouldn't even notice it existed. But unlikely though it may seem, this characterless, 400ft strip of tarmac was once Dorset Street - the most notorious thoroughfare in the Capital; the worst street in London and the resort of Protestant fire-brands, thieves, con-men, pimps, prostitutes and murderers, most notably Jack the Ripper.
Spitalfields as a whole is now a vibrant and fashionable place to live, work and play; the home of artists and artisans, just as it was when the Huguenots settled there. However, as dusk falls, the seemingly indelible, sordid side of this fascinating part of London begins to emerge once again as the unknowing descendants of Mary Kelly, Mary Ann Austin and Kitty Ronan and others begin to ply their trade around the hallowed walls of Christ Church. All signs of Dorset Street, 'the worst street in London', may all but have disappeared from the map but its legacy is too powerful to ever be entirely erased.
This book chronicles the rise and fall of this remarkable street, from its promising beginnings at the centre of the 17th century silk weaving industry through its gradual descent into iniquity, vice and violence to its final demise at the hands of the demolition men. Its remarkable history gives a fascinating insight into an area of London that has, from its initial development, been a cultural melting pot -the place where many thousands of immigrants became Londoners. It also tells the story of a part of London that, until quite recently, was largely left to fend for itself, with truly horrifying results.

The Author
Fiona Rule was born in Hertfordshire in 1967. After attending The University of the Arts in Charing Cross Road, she spent many years working in marketing for major industrial and retail companies. Over the past ten years, Fiona has written numerous articles for magazines and journals and has also collaborated on books. She lives in London with her husband, Robert. The Worst Street in London is her first book.

The street to qualify as the 'worst in London' is the former Dorset Street, a stone's throw from Spitalfields Market and the City of London boundary. It was renamed Duval Street in 1905, in an unsuccessful attempt to rid the street of its dreadful reputation. In the second half of the twentieth century developers moved in and razed the remaining buildings to the ground. The grim, non-residential replacements make any hope of a further 'history' beyond the second half of the twentieth century a forlorn one. Today the 'worst street in London' is a mere quarter mile stretch of tarmac and scant evidence remains of its former notoriety.
Few streets have a 'history' other than that connected to their original naming. Any history that arises tends to come about as a result of the activities of people who construct, frequent, reside or do business in them. The history of Dorset Street was further affected by a mixture of events arising from the behaviour of individuals who lived or owned property in it. Sometimes the history itself was affected by people and decisions made well away from the area. In some cases by Parliament and, more distant still, by governments in foreign countries, driving sections of its citizens to escape persecution by moving elsewhere. It was a street for the poor and throughout its history attracted the disadvantaged for whom it, and the neighbouring parts of East London, became a favoured destination.
None of these points is missed by Fiona Rule in her first published book. She traces the history of Dorset Street throughout the ages from promising beginnings in the 17th century as part of a silk-weaving industry, through the decline of the silk industry, followed by years of poverty, the lodging house industry and a general exploitation of the poor, before becoming a hotbed for criminal activity and finally to the present day.
Ms Rule examines the issues which brought groups of people from overseas to seek sanctuary or employment and the eventual recognition that the area had become 'a problem'. She also points to the sometimes futile attempts of parliamentarians to 'do something', usually achieving nothing, and the efforts of philanthropists, which at least had some impact.
The illustrations used throughout, are, on the whole, well-known to any London historian or Ripperologist. None the less they give a fair indication of the area and the problems it experienced between the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries in general and to Dorset Street in particular.
It is not often that a reviewer feels driven to comment on covers of a book, but this one is worthy of note. The bottom third of the front cover is taken up by the title and author's name. The top third comprises a picture, circa 1900 of Dorset Street, including some of its inhabitants. The central portion is taken up by an 1890s map of the area. The map itself then merges in with both the picture and the title in a most effective way. The final touch is a faint trace of blood droplets and smears hinting at the violence throughout the street's history and which eventually contributed to its downfall. Those who consider that covers should indicate the content will be well-pleased.
The book as a whole is an excellent dissertation on the social history of this part of London. In covering the lodging house landlords, frequent mention is made of the Crossingham and McCarthy families of 'Jack the Ripper' fame. Ripperologists will find much of interest in the book. A summary of the Whitechapel murders is included and the text includes some facts about the area not mentioned in most standard books on the subject and which will be of considerable interest. The work as a whole, brings vividly to life the environment in which the victims and witnesses eked out a precarious living.
To sum up, an entertaining and most competent social history of the area and extremely well-researched. Fiona Rule is to be congratulated on such a fine first book. Readers will look forward to a series of other similar books by the same author.

The Worst Street in London
Edition: Paperback
Forward: By Peter Ackroyd
Format: Paperback
Author: Fiona Rule
ISBN: 9780711033634
Publishers: Ian Allan
Price: 8.99
Publication Date: 2009
Foreword by Peter Ackroyd

There are sonic parts of London that live in perpetual shadow, their air and atmosphere tainted by centuries of poverty and sorrow. They are the streets of darkness, running like a thread through the labyrinth of London. One such street has been traced here by Fiona Rule, in a book that is part history and part reverie, part celebration and part lament.
Dorset Street, laid down in 1674, some four hundred feet in length, was once unremarkable enough, but the weight of London soon fell upon it. It was part of the haunted ground of Spitalfields, a place of small and narrow houses that soon became a byword for misery. A report, written in the middle of the seventeenth century, describes the overcrowding caused by "poor indigent and idle and loose persons". They became the inhabitants of Dorset Street. Fiona Rule charts the evolution of misery. By the eighteenth century the houses had become ramshackle. In the early nineteenth century they were knocked together and became what were known as common lodging houses. The relatively spacious back-gardens were converted into cobbled courts so that more and more people could be accommodated. Crime and disease were rampant.
This book helps to elucidate what might be called the spiritual topography of London, whereby a certain neighbourhood actively influences the lives and characters of the people who live within it. So it is that the inhabitants of Dorset Street were described in the nineteenth century as evincing "the same want of hope - the same doggedness and half-indifference as to their fate". The houses themselves suffered the same weariness; there were cases when they simply collapsed. It is a street in which people disappeared, and where their suffering became invisible to the larger world. The various tides of immigrants - Huguenots, Jews and Irish - ebbed and flowed.
But this book is not simply a London history. Fiona Rule knows the names and addresses; she gives poverty and squalor a human face. She chronicles the simple or not so simple lives of the dispossessed. That is why, for example, she throws such an unusual and intriguing light upon the crimes of Jack the Ripper. Three of his victims lived or worked in Dorset Street and one of them, Mary Kelly, was butchered there. The cry of "murder" rang out that night, but no one paid the slightest notice.
Despite the attentions of journalists and philanthropists the condition of Dorset Street became worse in the last part of the nineteenth century. It was described by Charles Booth as "the worst street in London", and the police would venture through it only in pairs. It was known as "Dossett Street" because of the number of doss houses. It was filled with gamblers and prostitutes; dog fights and bare-knuckle fights were common. It kept up these traditions well into the twentieth century, and the last man to be murdered here was found bleeding on its stones in February 1960.
Dorset Street has now gone, part of it turned into an unlovely car park. But in twilight and night, when the shadows grow longer, it may be wise not to come too close. The old darkness may engulf you. You may hear the cry of "murder", and the hands of the dead may reach out to claim you. This is a book for all lovers of London to read.

"More Details on the Ian Allan Website"


"Internet Law Book Reviews", Copyright Rob Jerrard 2009