Destinations Magazine

The Seven Deadly Dials

By Lwblog @londonwalks
Here's David on one of Sunday's special London Walks
The Seven Deadly Dials
It was London's Fort Apache.
It was the St. Giles Watch House.
It stood dead in the center of Holborn (the street not the district - the street's of course known as High Holborn today). The prominent position was intended to steady the nerves - reassure - western-bound travellers.
A confidence booster was called for because they were about to enter "Apache country" - the slum of slums.
St. Giles we call it today.
St. Giles is of course appropriate because he was the patron saint of "marginals" - society's outcasts - lepers, cripples, beggars, etc.
But Londoners back then had another name for it. A shiver-up-the-spine name. They called it the narrows.
Narrow lanes. Narrow means. Narrow looks. Narrow escapes.
And for that matter, even the Watch House wasn't safe. Here's a 1720s entry in the wonderfully named Malefactors Register.
"Not long afterwards this Edgworth Bess was apprehended and lodged in The Round House of the parish of St. Giles where [Jack] Shepherd went to visit her and the beadle refusing to admit him, he knocked him down, broke open the door and carried her off in triumph; an exploit which acquired him a high degree of credit with the women of abandoned character".
For anybody who doesn't know, Jack Shepherd and Edgworth Bess were the Bonnie and Clyde of early Georgian London. A carpenter by trade, he was the most famous gaol-breaker of them all. She was a Drury Lane prostitute - Drury Lane was of course just a street away - who stood by her man: she fenced the goods he stole.
Come to think of it, she was one of the goods he stole, spiriting her out of the St. Giles Watch House as he did! The which goods Ms. Bess would have - well, er - fenced once Jack the Lad had sprung her.
For the record, the St. Giles Watch House was a revolving turnstile for Jack Shepherd. Not only did he break into it - he also broke out of it. First time he was busted they locked him up there for the night. He broke out in less than two hours.
And Jack Shepherd's last "get away"? Well, they were finally able to catch him, hold him and do for him. The great favorite of "women of abandoned character" ended up swinging.
Edgeworth Bess ended up American. They transported her to Maryland.
Now where, exactly, was the St Giles Watch House - Georgian London's Fort Apache? Answer: opposite the north end of Newton Street. Where the My Old Dutch Pancake House - that bastion of New Age victualing and goodness - stands today.
Pretty much the neck of the woods that Hogarth's Gin Lane surveys.
London. You gotta love it.
And just a bit of a toot on our horn - it's a hoot to see this place for a couple of hours through the eyes of a London Walks guide. In this case, Adam. He's created - and guides - one of our great "occasionals": a From the Repertory walk that explores the old St. Giles Rookery - "the slum of slums."
The Hidden West End Gin City, The Seven Deadly Dials, The Slum of Slums goes this Sunday 7th August at 10.45a.m from Tottenham Court Road Station (exit 3)

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