It probably won’t make national headlines–anywhere–but an 18th-century London workhouse has been salvaged from the wrecking ball and, possibly worse, the redecorators of luxury condos.
I thrilled to read Judith Flanders’ posting on this. (And, Ms. Flanders, hohumanotherworkofthedevil.wordpress.com, is possibly the greatest name of a blog ever.) While the Cleveland Street Workhouse is certainly significant for its own sake, for being one of the last surviving workhouses of that time period and a visual history of English economics, it serves another important purpose as well.
These forgotten sites and spaces are the bones of literature. In the case of the Cleveland Street Workhouse, it likely provided the mental scaffolding for several of Charles Dickens’ books. As it turns out, a very young Dickens lived only nine doors down from the workhouse. Imagine him strolling past the place each day and the effect on him . . . and the subsequent effect of his books on social reform in the country. Using humor, he enticed the glitterati of his times to read of the desperate conditions of the poor, even as they looked upon the caricatures of their own class scattered through the pages and laughed.
Isn’t it exciting when, as a traveler, you stumble upon some little-known nugget of literary history? In my experience, the best ones aren’t easily found, unless you’re lucky enough to chance upon some obscure booklet in the local shop or have a chat with a local who points you in the right direction. If you love literature, you can’t help but delight at viewing and feeling the stones and landscapes, the buildings and bricks that supported great imaginations. More, I wonder how many Cleveland Street Workhouses are being paved over before the historicists discover them?
How many of these unheralded monuments can we unearth? Send in your favorites and let’s get our own list going. Here’s two of mine:
–Visiting Lesvros, Greece, and finding not just the homeland of Sappho, but also the birthplace of the dithyramb created by the poet Arion.
–Making a reservation at Oslo’s beautiful Grand Cafe for breakfast and discovering that playwright Henrik Ibsen regularly met fellow literati there for lunch.
Best Day To You,