Place in the narrative
Saffron Hill is the street that leads to Fagin's den and is a market place of it's own. This is where the Artful Dodger leads Oliver on the way from the Angel, Islington after dark towards Fagin's Den at Field Lane. Dickens describes the street in minute detail as the Artful Dodger and Oliver pass through, giving the perfect opportunity to observe the people who occupy the street and what the area is like. Dickens says that the Artful Dodger ‘scudded along at a rapid pace, directing Oliver to follow close at his heels’ which gives an insight into the feeling of the place.
‘A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main.’
‘Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from the doorways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.’
‘Near to the spot on which Snow Hill and Holborn Hill meet, opens, upon the right hand as you come out of the City, a narrow and dismal alley, leading to Saffron Hill. In its filthy shops are exposed for sale huge bunches of second-hand handkerchiefs, of all sizes and patterns; for here reside the traders who purchase them from pick-pockets. Hundreds of these handkerchiefs hang dangling from pegs outside the windows or flaunting form the door posts; the shelves, within are piled with them.’
The name of this hill alludes to a time when the area was part of an country estate that grew saffron. Dickens would have known it as a notorious criminal district which is partly why he wrote about it to bring it to the attention of politicians of the time.As the location where Dickens sets Fagin's world it is depicted as where the poorest people in the capital lived.
What I wrote in London
Having walked from Angel to Saffron Hill, we were very ready to see the 'Hill'. . When Dickens described it, he said had never seen such a dirty place. Again, a common theme on this expedition, it was bizarre to think that it could have been ankle deep in grime. The Hill is massively long and moves down and ends at a flight of stairs.. Many companies are in buildings on the other side of the road so rather than raucous noise you are in fact greeted with the hush of the city workers. I would go as far as to say it as the opposite of when Dickens was there. The area I narrow houses and you get a feeling for how cramped the slums could have been. The buildings tower above the street and though the blue sky penetrates the street, it feels dark and a bit dismal. 'The One Tun' is the only thing that could possibly have any connection to the story or Dickens' London. There are no handkerchiefs in evidence still as there is little to hang them from and no shops selling stolen goods. It's bizarre how little of Dickens' London still exists. So much better however and cleaner but more difficult to imagine.
This location is one of the most changed since Dickens' time. He describes it in minute and disgusting detail with ankle high mud and children hanging from window frames. It couldn't be more different on a sunny Autumn morning in 2015. Standing at the top of the small hill leading down to another small road and office block, it is lined on both sides with grey metallic buildings that the sun bounces off. The street is cluttered with smart cars, covering the clean tarmac road and instead of chaos reigning, there is a spooky quietness that pervades everywhere as city workers grind away at their desks. Looking up, the street feels more narrow and cramped which gives more of an impression of when Dickens would have seen it. 'The One Tun', the pub that doubles for The Three Cripples in Oliver Twist sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the new buildings. It is the only building that remotely looks like it could have been around when Dickens was, with black walls inside and a weathered brick wall exterior. The Hill itself tails off at the end into stairs leading to a busy road from a city office block. I think this sums up the area as it is almost all taken over by offices. However I think it is a huge improvement of when Dickens knew it and I'm glad it has got to have forgotten its horrible past completely – probably so much so that Dickens wouldn't recognize it if he were to walk down it.