Lost London: a Victorian Street for Friggers and Radicals

1868 map of London showing Holywell Street running alongside Strand. (http://mapco.net)

1868 map of London showing Holywell Street running alongside Strand. (http://mapco.net)

Now a street in London’s lost history, Holywell Street was a narrow alleyway once notorious for radical politics and erotica…

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My latest post published on the excellent Unofficial Britain website which is a hub for unusual perspectives on the landscape of the British Isles, exploring the urban, the rural and those spaces in between.

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Illustration of Holywell Street, London

Illustration of Holywell Street, London


10 thoughts on “Lost London: a Victorian Street for Friggers and Radicals

  1. I enjoyed your description of Dugdale: “general shady character of the Victorian underworld.” Sounds like a boss at the end of a video game level. Then again, I never played any video games where the boss handed you porn if you defeated him. Maybe that should be a video game.

    He sounds like a nineteenth-century Larry Flynt, although I give the nod to Dugdale on creativity for publication titles. Lady Bumtickler’s Revels? I probably wouldn’t be able to put it down.


  2. Fascinating! I cross the shade of Holywell Street on my way to work each day. Looks like most of it would have run where the Australian High Commission now stands. Interesting to see how few of the old roads survive – I can see a couple (Houghton Street, Clare Market & Clements Inn Passage) which survive as the main pedestrianized roads within LSE. My Birkbeck pals and I used to be regulars at Ye Olde White Horse on St. Clements Lane which used to be decorated with old maps and old photos of this area. Learned a lot from perusing these with a pint in hand! Sadly the pub had a make-over during Easter. They ripped out all the old furnishings, replacing them with new décor which has been ‘distressed’ to look old! (… D’urrh?!), and sadly all the old photos and maps were cleared out too. ‘Twas ever thus, I suspect – but great to see little windows on to the past still opening up in blog posts such as this one!

    I know the area around St. Pauls was well known for its booksellers and publishers in Daniel Defoe’s time. I wonder if it extended this far west along the Strand at that time, or if this area was a remnant on the fringes of that trade, even as late as this?


    • First of all sorry to hear about the loss of the old style and character of the Ye Olde White Horse. It’s happened to quite a few pubs I have loved over the years and it’s always a wrench. Fascinating to hear that some of these old roads still survive within the LSE. I must admit I don’t know much about the St Paul’s book trade but I guess with so much history of writing, print and journalism from Aldwych / Holywell Street to St Pauls why not? I suddenly remembered Grub Street and got all excited about that as a possible link to Holywell Street until I found out it was in the Barbican area which surprised me, plus the timing was out for their respective heydays. Might have to look into all that for the next post!


  3. Great post Alex. There’s a really nice section on Holywell St in Lynda Nead’s book ‘Victorian Babylon’, if you’ve not yet seen it.


    • Thanks Iain. Slightly scary but it always sounds fascinating and lively when you read about it though you would definitely not want to be poor! Perhaps the nearest modern-day equivalents would be a teeming cities like Delhi (or at least how I remember Delhi some many years ago when I was there).


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