Scarlet Woman

Michael Young

  • East End 1888: A Year in a London Borough among the Labouring Poor by William Fishman
    Duckworth, 343 pp, £18.95, June 1988, ISBN 0 7156 2174 2

I do not see how Professor Fishman could do more than he has done to convince us that he was there in 1888, qualified as only an eyewitness can be to guide us 1988ers through the streets of Tower Hamlets as they were, and are, to him. We can walk with him downwind and eastwards from the Mansion House and are soon slowed by the all-pervading smell of poverty and filth as we traverse streets with the same names – Great Alie Street, Flower and Dean Street, Bethnal Green Road. Can he be right when he says of the crowds around us that the men and women stepping through the midden are too poor to afford underclothes? Can this angular man see where we can’t among the organ-grinders, the kerb acrobats and the fire-swallowers? He reads out a letter to the Times which refers to an event of November 1888:

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