The colony, called The Rookery, was like an honeycomb, perforated by a number of courts and blind alleys, cul de sac, without any outlet other than the entrance. Here were the lowest lodging houses in London, inhabited by the various classes of thieves common to large cities.

The Rookeries of London
Thomas Beames

The origin of the name is explained by Thomas Beames using an analogy between the Corvus Frugilegus and the poor and dispossessed "Other birds are broken up into separate families - occupy separate nests; rooks seem to know no distinction". The Rookeries of St Giles were the most notorious of all the slums in London a city almost renowned for them, also well known to Charles Dickens who lived in nearby Fitzrovia and who would later describe the conditions that the paupers, immigrants and villains of London lived with within the pages of Bleak House.

'Jo lives - that is to say, Jo has not yet died - in a ruinous place known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone's. It is a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants who after establishing their own possession took to letting them out in lodgings. Now, these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch vermin parasites appear, so these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards; and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in; and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever and sowing more evil in its every footprint than Lord Coodle, and Sir Thomas Doodle, and the Duke of Foodle, and all the fine gentlemen in office, down to Zoodle, shall set right in five hundred years - though born expressly to do it.'

Eventually the rat infested buildings were torn down at the end of the eighteenth century and replaced with more distinguished ones, in a determined effort to drive away the vermin both animal and human. New Oxford Street now marks where Tom-all-Alone's stood although if you look carefully you can still see the people they tried to get rid of all those years ago when they had a name to describe them. I will leave you with a final quote from The Rookeries of London that found a name for The Beggar's Opera.

Then the stream of vagrants who have driven their profitable trade return to their lair, - trampers come in for their night's lodging; the beggar's operas, as they were wont to be called, then open their doors to those whom necessity or crime has made skulkers or outcasts: no questions are asked, it is sufficient that the money is forthcoming, - and they, who are driven to such dens, are seldom in a condition to ask questions.

The Rookeries of London
Thomas Beames

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