by Ed Fisher
The writing of this article was inspired by the viewing of a very well done 1945 move titled "The Picture of Dorian Gray" from a story by Oscar Wilde. One primary aspect of the plot is that the moral character of the lead character (Dorian Gray) continues to decline such that he takes to seeking sensual pleasures in some pretty awful places. At various points in the movie where there is no dialogue for a moment or so, a narrator will speak to fill in the gaps - at one such point, while Dorian is about to embark on one of his journeys to some unholy place to indulge his senses with Lord knows what, the narrator speaks the following words as taken from chapter 11 of the original story:
"…Then, suddenly, some night he would creep out of the house, go down to dreadful places near Blue Gate Fields, and stay there, day after day, until he was driven away…"
The scenario described above left such an impression on the writer of this summary that more had to be known about Bluegate Fields (what it was, where it was, etc.) - hence, the motivation to do some research and write this article.
Generally, the name "Bluegate Fields" was used to refer to one of the worst slum areas that once existed at the east end of London (just north of the old London docks) during Victorian times (the 1800's) - specifically, the name had also been used to designate at least two actual roadways or streets in the general area. The wretchedness that existed in the Bluegate Fields slum area is well documented - also associated with the general wretchedness are two additional measures of infamy in that (1) some of the opium dens that were in existence at the time were located at or near the Bluegate Fields area and (2) the legend on the 1889 Booth poverty map describes the general condition of the local inhabitants as "lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal" - not the best of ratings.
Some mention of the nickname, "Tiger Bay" is in order at this point due to its having been, at one time, almost synonymous with Bluegate Fields. During the Victorian times, "Tiger Bay" was used (mostly by sailors but by others as well) to refer to various of the worst slum areas or districts as well as a few actual streets near the east-end London docks. Allegedly, the nickname was inspired by the awful nature of the brothels (and their operators) in the worst areas where many of the sailors were so badly treated. Use of the name was not reserved or restricted for reference to any one location or street exclusively - hence, any area or street could be a "Tiger Bay" as Bluegate Fields certainly was. In one or more documents, Brunswick Street is referred to as "Tiger Bay". In separate articles, Dorset Street and Flower-&-Dean Street (both in nearby Spitalfields and close to one another) are referred to as "the worst street in London". There once was an actual Tiger Bay (present day Cardiff Bay of Wales) that was also a notoriously rough dock area - perhaps this was the original source of the nickname that ended up being applied to some of the east-London dock areas.
Brunswick Street can be found on the 1862 Stanford Library Map at site http://www.motco.com/Map/81006/
- the map has a "road & street index" - scroll down the list to
"Brunswick Street (14,17)" and click on the name - map segment 329
should appear - Brunswick Street is at the bottom edge approximately ¾ of the
way to the right (east) side. One can learn a little about the origin of the
nickname Tiger Bay and its application to Brunswick Street by a reading the
documents at web-sites http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications3/pauper-7.htm
http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications3/wilds-1.htm. The following site ties the nickname of "Tiger Bay" to Brunswick St:
For whatever reason, official (or even semi-official) use of the name "Bluegate Fields" to designate or refer to a general area or district did not continue into present day times as is the case for numerous other names (Whitechapel, Shadwell, etc.) and perhaps it is a bit of a disappointment as the name "Bluegate Fields" does seem to have a special kind of appeal. Curiously, tradition (a hard thing to break) seems to have carried it on. Many have used the name but, in many cases, it's difficult to know whether they were referring to one of the roads or streets, a general area, or to the actual fields themselves.
There are numerous internet web-sites where various kinds of documents and other items relevant to Victorian London can be found and one of the very best is www.victorianlondon.org - this site was created by Lee Jackson and is very well done - it features a fine listing of old maps and many wonderful old documents, many of which make reference to Bluegate Fields in one way or another. The site is very user-friendly - all items are easily found and the search engine for the site is one of the best (just remember to put what you want in quotes or many unwanted partials may show up). One rather significant item that is lacking for research relative to Bluegate Fields is the 1746 map by John Rocque - this map is available at web-site www.motco.com/map/81002/seriesa-left-frame_border.asp - perhaps it will be added to Lee Jackson's site at some future time.
In regard to the viewing of the 1746 map at the Motco web-site, the following remarks may be of some help:
a. There is a 1500-item list of street and roadway names - if one should scroll down and click on the name "Bluegate Field", the proper map segment will come up to show the section of present-day Cable Street that is labeled as "Bluegate Field".
b. If one is lucky or skillful enough to get St. George's Chapel and church yard properly positioned on the display, it can be seen that the section of roadway (present-day Cable Street, B126) along the north side of St. George's is labeled as "Bluegate Field" and just to the north of such labelling are open fields that are wonderfully illustrated (drawn) in a style that precludes them from being interpreted as anything other than open fields - quite likely the "Bluegate Fields". The only other map found to show this scenario is one from the Bolles collection (info for access to the Bolles map is listed further down in this summary).
One might wonder as to the origin of the name "Bluegate Fields". Thoughts of open fields certainly arise and it's easy enough to see how the word "fields" might become part of the name - the "bluegate" part is a bit more challenging - perhaps there once was an actual blue gate that led into St. George's church yard, a nearby building, or one of the open field areas - at this point in time, it would be difficult to know with any certainty but there really were plenty of open fields at the early times before things really started to get built up as is the case with most every location. On some of the maps, "Blue Gate" (not "Bluegate") is actually used as the first part of the street or roadway name which implies that there may have been an actual, literal blue gate - if so, the most likely location for a blue gate would have been along the north or east edge of the St. George's church yard.
It is uncertain as to whether official use of the name "Bluegate Fields" to designate a general area (or district) was ever the case - the name does not seem to appear on any of the old (or new) maps for such a purpose as does so many others, such as Whitechapel, Shadwell, etc. but the terms "Blue Gate Field", "Bluegate Field", and "Bluegate Fields" were used as actual roadway and street names at various times - these do appear on some of the old maps. Tradition seems to have perpetuated at least verbal useage of the name - there is a Bluegate Fields Primary School on present-day King David Street which is just to the east of Dellow Street and no doubt other entities in modern-day London still make use of the name in one way or another.
Whatever the case, the old Bluegate Fields area seems to have been located very close to the chapel of St. George's-in-the-east and present-day Dellow Street which, at various times, appears to have actually been named as "Bluegate Fields Street". The first use of the name "Dellow Street" seems to be associated with the 1895 Reynolds Shilling Map, so Dellow St has been around for a good long while.
Curiously, one of the key players in locating the old Blugate Fields area and streets is the chapel (church) of St. Georges-in-the-east. At present, the church property is bounded by the following streets: Cable St B126 along the north side, Smithfield A1203 along the south side, Dellow St along the east side, and Cannon St B108 along the west side. On the 1746 Motco map, the streets surrounding the church grounds are labeled as follows:
a. The roadway along the north side is labeled as "Bluegate Field" (present day Cable St B126) - note the open fields about the area and how wonderfully they are drawn on the map - one of them could easily have been the Bluegate field. Starting at the west, other sections along the "Bluegate Field" roadway are labeled in order as follows: Rosemary Lane, Cable St, Knock Fergus, Bluegate Field, then Back Lane. Other names for the Bluegate Field roadway were New Road, and Royal Mint Street.
b. The roadway along the south side is labeled as "Ratcliffe High Way" (present-day Smithfield A1203) - not many of the other maps show this. Starting at the west, sections of Ratcliffe High Way are labeled in order as follows: Smithfield, Ratcliffe High Way, then Upper Shadwell. Other names for Ratcliffe High Way were Saint George Street and High Street.
c. The short N-S street along the east edge of the St. George's property that joins Bluegate Field and Ratcliffe High Way is labeled "George Street" (present-day Dellow St) which is most likely the street that was once named "Bluegate Fields Street" Apparently, Dellow Street had been named near the end of the 19th century as the name appears on the 1895 Reynolds Shilling Map.
There is some confusion as to exactly which name for George Street was the official name in use at any given time - in order by date, various names for George Street as found on various maps are as follows:
Map Street Name
1746 John Rocque Map George Street
1827 Greenwood Map Bluegate Fields
1852 Watkins dictionary Map Bluegate Fields
1854 Pictorial Handbook Map Bluegate Street
1859 Reynolds Map Victoria Street
1862 Stanford's Library Map Victoria Court
1871 Whitbreads Map Bluegate Street
1889 Booth Poverty Map (Obscured by a dotted line)
1895 Reynolds Shilling Map Dellow Street
1899 Pocket Atlas Map Victoria Street
5 of the Bolles collection maps Ratcliffe Street
(dates of these maps are uncertain)
d. The roadway along the west side is labeled as "Cannon Street" (present-day Cannon Street Rd) - Cannon Street seems to have kept the same name over a very long period of time.
At web-site http://nils.lib.tufts.edu/4000.01/ is The Edwin C. Bolles Collection (A Digital Archive on the History and Topography of London) which contains 21 digitized maps of old London. Five of the maps show the short street along the east edge of St. George's church yard as "Ratcliffe St". One map, captioned (at the bottom of the thumbnail overview) as "The London directory, or a new & improved plan of London, …", is very similar to the 1746 John Rocque map - it shows the "Bluegate Field" roadway and the open fields along the north edge of the St. George's church yard - this is before the whole area had been built upon so that those open fields almost have to be the original "Bluegate Fields" but where was the "blue gate" if there was one - possibly along the north or east edge of the St. George's property. The Bolles' maps are all very easy to navigate.
It is most interesting and instructive to compare the Bluegate Fields area of the 1746 John Rocque map to that of the 18xx Bolles map.
Numerous old documents (police reports, social investigations, fictional writings, etc.) contain references to Bluegate Fields - some refer to the actual streets that were so named while others use the name only to refer to the general area or district; many of these documents can be found at various web-sites, some of which are listed in separate files that are part of this summary.
One interesting aside that emerged during the researching of information for
this writing was that one article, "Suspicions Early On", at web site http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/history/cream/on_2.html?sect=6
places the area (district) of Spitalfields in the same category as Bluegate Fields by referring to both as being in "the dimmer sides of London". The 1889 Booth Poverty Map #1 does show several of the infamous streets close to Christ's Church bordered in black to indicate that the worst of conditions once existed at the Spitalfields area (or district). Curiously, in a few places, Spitalfields is actually referred to as "Spittle Fields" (no wonder the name was changed). If one looks up Church Street on the 1746 John Rocque map, the yard of Christ's Church is actually marked as "Spittle Fields Church Yard" and just to the north and west of Christ's Church is the "Spittle Fields Market".
At this point, it would seem that one could safely conclude that the name "Bluegate Fields" (or one of its variations) has been used to designate certain roadways or streets as well as for making reference to a certain local area or district, much as Whitechapel, Shadwell, and other names have been and still are used today.
A number of other document and image files that serve to substantiate what is written in this summary (and also provide some interesting reading material as well) are listed below. Although the files listed below are all WORD (.doc) documents, many contain primarily image data as the "Print Screen" function was used liberally to quickly capture segments of maps that were being viewed so that they could easily be pasted into a WORD document. - within limits, the "zoom" function can be used to magnify the map images. As needed, one can go to the appropriate web-site and navigate the actual map of interest.
BGF - Bolles Maps Summary.doc
BGF - Drawing-1 by Gustave Dore.doc
BGF - Drawing-2 by Gustave Dore.doc
BGF - Locating n Naming info.doc
BGF - Primary School.doc
BGF - Refs from victorianlondon-org.doc
BGF - Rehoboth Chapel.doc
BGF - Tiger Bay.doc
BGF - Web-Sites.doc
BGF 1746 Motcos John Rocque Map.doc
BGF 1827 Greenwood Map.doc
BGF 1852 Watkins Dictionary Map.doc
BGF 1854 Pictorial Handbook Map.doc
BGF 1854 Pictorial Handbook Map.doc
BGF 1862 Stanfords Library Map.doc
BGF 1871 Whitbreads Map.doc
BGF 1889 Booth Poverty Map-1.doc
BGF 1889 Booth Poverty Map-2.doc
BGF 1899 PocketAtlas Map.doc
BGF 18xx Bolles Map Segment.doc
BGF 2005 - Dellow Street East London.doc
Brunswick n Berner Sts locating info.doc
Brunswick St - 1862 Stanfords map.doc
Brunswick St - Booth Poverty 2 map.doc
Brunswick St as Tiger Bay.doc
Dorset St - 1862 Stanfords map.doc
Dorset St - 1871 Whitbreads map.doc
Dorset St - 1889 Booth Poverty 2 map.doc
Legend on Booths Poverty Map.doc
Map of Modern Day London.doc
Notes and web-sites.doc
Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray.doc
Red Lion Square on Booth Poverty Map.doc
Tiger Bay - Cardiff Bay - Wales.doc
Web-sites etc from Lee Jackson.doc
Documents available on request from Ed Fisher (email@example.com)