Lost London – Holywell Street…

January 15, 2016

Holywell Street, which ran parallel to the Strand in the West End, was – as we pointed out in a story earlier this week – named for a ‘holy well’ which is still located in the basement of Australia House.

Holywell-StreetOnce a favoured location for secondhand clothes dealers (it was then known to many as ‘Rag Street’), the street became known as something of a hot-house for those selling books containing radical and dissenting opinions in the late 18th century and early 19th century and it was during this time that it also started to attract a less reputable trade – that of the pornography industry.

So much so that by the 1820s, the narrow street – also then known as Bookseller’s Row – had effectively become the centre of the pornographic industry in London (one estimate puts at 57 the number of purveyors of indecency in the street by 1834). William Dugdale, who died in ignominy in prison, was the most infamous purveyor of such goods to work in the street.

The combination of its proximity to the church of St Clement Danes – which sits at the eastern end of what was the street (St Mary le Strand stands at what was the western end) – and the indecent trade which went on in it led to it being nicknamed the “Backside of St Clements”.

The street and is disreputable trade were removed during the building of what is now Aldwych – a crescent at the southern end of Kingsway – in 1901.

PICTURE: Holywell Street shown in 1888 book, The District Railway Guie to London, with coloured maps, plans etc./via British Library Flickr

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