This locality is celebrated as the heart of one of the poorest districts in London. Of late years various improvements have been made in the neighbourhood, and the Dials are now transverse by omnibuses, and have made considerable progress towards civilisation. But the locality is still a singular one, and as it lies in close proximity to the West End, can be easily visited by those curious to see one of the seamier sides of the inner life of London.
The readiest approach to it is from St. Martin’s Lane, crossing between Cranborne Street and Long Acre. Turning up northwards here, the stranger finds himself in a street altogether unique in its way. It is the abode of bird-fanciers. Every variety of pigeon, fowl, and rabbit can be found here, together with hawks and owls, parrots, love-birds, and other species native and foreign. There is a shop for specimens for the aquarium, with tanks of water-beetles, newts, water-spiders, and other aquatic creatures. Others are devoted to British song birds, larks, thrushes, bull-finches, starlings, blackbirds, &c. Here and there are shops filled with cages of every kind, and one or two dog-fanciers have also settled here.
Passing through this lane we are in the Dials, a point where seven streets meet. If it be desired to see poor London, it is better not to go straight on, but to turn up any of the side streets. Here poverty is to be seen in some of its most painful aspects. The shops sell nothing but second or third hand articles – old dresses, old clothes, old hats, and at the top of the stairs of little underground cellars, old shoes, so patched and mended that it is questionable whether one particle of the original material remains in them.
Children sit on door-steps and on the pavement, they play in the gutter, they chase each other in the road, and dodge in and out of houses. It is evident that the School Board has not much power in the neighbourhood of the Dials. Public houses abound, and it is clear that whatever they may be a lack of in this territory of St. Giles, there is no lack of money to pay for drink. At night the public houses are ablaze with light, and on Saturday evenings there is a great sound of shouting and singing through the windows, while the women stand outside and wait, hoping against hope that their husbands will come out before the week’s money is all spent. Nowhere within reach of the West End of London can such a glimpse of the life of the poorer classes be obtained as on a Saturday evening at the Dials.
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