The incredible human misery on display at the workhouse attached to central London's Middlesex Hospital inspired Charles Dickens to write "Oliver Twist"; now, Camden council has granted a developer permission to develop the site into luxury flats (just in time for the luxury flat crash!), in exchange for a commitment to build some below-market-rent social housing flats, which will be accessible through "poor doors."
Poor doors were the inspiration for my novella "Unauthorized Bread", the lead story in my new book Radicalized: these are separate entrances that developers build for luxury properties that have attained planning permission due to a promise to build below-market units. These separate entrances — a cross between Jim Crow segregation and a Victorian servant's entrance — ensure that the full-rate people don't have to ever encounter the subsidy people, but more importantly, they serve as a constant reminder to the subsidy people that they don't really belong there, they are mere charity cases. As I write in Unauthorized Bread: "even the pettiest amenity would be spitefully denied to the subsidy apartments unless the landlord was forced by law to provide it," or as John Siman paraphrases, "Free markets is a euphemism for fuck you."
I've been writing about poor doors for years, and this isn't even the most vile, guillotine-inspiring example of the genre (that would be this one). But the irony of turning a site that inspired a social revolution over performative cruelty to poor people into a place where such performative cruelty happens again?
Well, there's something uniquely English about it, isn't there? Like that time that three successive Prime Ministers took Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four on as a manual for statecraft. Or when Hackney council approved a planning request to both knock down all the offices housing small tech startups, killing 90% of them, and replace their offices with a grifty hotel for overseas university students and rename a street nearby "Silicon Way" to celebrate the tech industry they'd just literally demolished.
Flats in the new building are expected to list for about £2m.
But while private owners will use an entrance at the front of the refurbished listed building in Cleveland Street, buyers of the affordable properties will reach their homes via a "poor door" down an alley.
About 150 people have objected to the project including Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, a patron of the Charles Dickens Museum in Holborn, and a descendant of the writer.
"Our city is overrun with apartment blocks full of flats that Londoners cannot afford to buy," she says. "We need to stop eroding our heritage and start caring about the people of London and their very important history."
Central London 'Oliver Twist' workhouse flats to have separate poor door entrance [Ruth Bloomfield/Homes and Property]
(via Robbie Richardson)