With the tube strike in London over the last couple of days we have had to explore ingenious new ways to get to work, and so it was that I found myself on the number 100 bus this morning.
The 100 runs between the twin delights of Shadwell and Elephant & Castle. At the Shadwell end it passes briefly along the road called The Highway. Back in the 19th century it was known as the Ratcliff Highway and was the most notorious district in London - close by the docks and where every visiting sailor went to raise Hell, with a den of iniquity every few yards. A particularly entertaining description from 1857 can be found here:
According to the author of this piece, the denizens of the district included "women, wild-eyed, boisterous, with cheeks red with rouge and flabby with intemperance… all alike equally coarse, and insolent, and unlovely in manners and appearance”. If you have ever been to karaoke night at The Shakespeare in Bethnal Green Road you will know that such women can still be found in the East End.
Naturally Ratcliff Highway's lawlessness ensured that it was immortalised in many ballads of the time, including "The Deserter", performed here by Fairport Convention on "Liege and Leif":
When I was a boy dens of iniquity still existed, but in a rather different form: