The Green 20

Clerkenwell 'Green' and

Sessions House

Place in the narrative


Clerkenwell 'Green' is where Oliver is taken by The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates on a foray into the world of pickpocketing. The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates spot Mr Brownlow as a wealthy target and Oliver is astonished to see them extract a handkerchief from his pocket. It is only then that Oliver realises the business that Fagin runs and why he has been trained in the way he has. He is so dumbfounded by what he sees that he doesn’t escape with the boys and is instead accused of the crime they committed. Oliver is chased by the police and curious bystanders, including The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates who attract attention away from themselves by joining the rabble. Finally they catch Oliver and he taken to Hatton Garden Police Court to be tried. Clerkenwell Sessions House also appears in the narrative as the destination of Mr Bumble’s visit to the city.  

Clerkenwell Green 3

The Quotes


‘They were just emerging from a narrow court not far from the open square in Clerkenwell, which is yet called, by some strange perversion of terms, ‘The Green’: when the Dodger made a sudden stop; and, laying his finger on his lip, drew his companions back again, with the greatest caution and circumspection.’  


‘What was Oliver’s horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eyelids as wide as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentlemen’s pocket and draw from hence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both running away round the corner at full speed! In an instant the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches , and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy’s mind.’  


“ ‘Mrs Mann, I am going to London.’ ‘Lauk Mr Bumble!’ cried Mrs Mann starting back. ‘To London, ma’am, ’resumed the inflexible beadle, ‘by coach. I and two paupers, Mrs Mann! A legal action is a coming on, about a settlement; and the board has appointed me – me, Mrs Mann – to dispose to the matter before the quarter-sessions at Clerkinwell. And I very much question,’ added Mr Bumble, drawing himself up, ‘whether the Clerkinwell Sessions will not find themselves in the wrong box before they have done with me.’”

The History


This area was known at the time Dickens was writing to be where criminals lived outside the law beyond the City. It was dubbed by the press as ‘The headquarters of republicanism, revolution and ultra-non-conformity' so it's an apt place for Oliver's first foray into the world of pickpocketing. Dickens describes the area as an open square “which is yet called, by some strange perversion of terms, ‘The Green’”. The name of the square alludes to its history as a semi-rural village. It was where cattle would have been driven through on their way to Smithfield Meat Market to be slaughtered and sold.  

Clerkenwell Green 1

My Impressions

The Green 13
The Green 19
The Green 3

What I wrote in London


This location is a rather pivotal one in the narrative as this is where Oliver discovers his accomplices are about. Off the busy Clerkenwell road, the 'Green' which looks like a commercial car park is overshadowed by the St John's Church. The Sessions House, covered in scaffolding and polythene, takes over one side of the square looking on to the square. The Sessions House features as where Mr Bumble comes when he comes London and it looks like it could be the same as the one that Dickens would have known. The 'Green' where Dodger and Charley Bates pick Mr Brownlow's pocket is now shadowed by yet more shops and the offices of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. People sit in the square enjoying the unattractive view of tarmac while eating at greasy spoon cafes. Directly below St John's is a set of a café and chic shops and are rather like the ones I can imagine a book stall at. It winds around past the church and though there are no bookshops now, there are shops that could be a book stall like where Mr Brownlow was pick pocketed. There is very little in the way of green in the square despite a few branches of trees and it look like it wasn't so different in the time of Dickens.

The Green 5
The Green 14
The Green 16

On Reflection


In a historical context, it's easier to imagine why Clerkenwell Green is called what it is but I have never seen a less green space. In its current incarnation, it looks like a glorified car park surrounded by shops, offices and the odd greasy spoon. The Sessions House is covered in scaffolding, probably undergoing repairs, but it does look as if could have been around when Dickens was. Walking from the Sessions House, you are mainly shadowed by the spire of St Johns Church which has been there since 1100 so although Dickens doesn't mention it, it's likely it was there when he was. Walking up the small, winding road to the church, it is easier to imagine Mr Brownlow being pick pocketed as the Dickens said that it happened in a 'narrow court' Back the square, there is little to see of greenery than the odd tree or window box but there is a feeling of commerce in the air and I could imagine the Mr Brownlow scene here despite the constant noise from the road. I think this is one of the locations Dickens might have felt more at home in and hasn't changed so much since he wrote. (Except the cars!)