Wapping, which stretches from London docks to the Tunnel, is a seething mass of misery. One catches glimpses of courtyards full of filth, littered like pig-sties and just as nauseous. Whole families vegetate there - mere skeletons, covered with rags of such incredible dirt that it makes one retch to approach them. Unless you have seen rags in London, you can have no conception of the meaning of the word. A man pushes his head through a patchwork of tatters, his arms and legs stick out through the largest holes, and he is clothed. The skin of these wretched creatures is so tanned, so thickened by exposure, so encrusted with grime, that it is unrecognisable at first glance. But the most incredible thing is that these scarcely human creatures attach the greatest importance to the wearing of a hat, or some portion of one, if only a brim. The women also, however scanty their clothing, always wear some battered, bedraggled, shapeless headdress.
Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935