The Devil's Acre

Here is Old Pye Street, on the Corner of Strutton Ground. It is part of the old City of Westminster, and the great gothic Abbey may be seen and heard from within. It seems a pleasant enough place; small shops, parked cars, some offices. Few tourists call, for the allure of the Palace and Abbey prove far greater than anything these streets could offer. They are simply too ordinary. Yet 150 years ago, they were deemed extraordinary- extraordinarily wicked and dangerous. The area was called The Devil’s Acre. Charles Dickens remarked in 1850:

The law-makers for one seventh of the human race sit, night after night, in deliberation, in the immediate vicinity of the most notorious haunt of law-breakers in the empire.

The district was characterised by the very worst kind of poverty, and the terrible diseases which thrive in its shadow. Moral depravity also flourished, with prostitution, organised crime and general drunkenness and violence all carrying on with impunity. Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, the first Catholic Archbishop of the nearby Westminster Cathedral described the

...Haunts of filth, which no sewage committee can reach – dark corners, which no lighting board can brighten.

Matt Brown, writing on the Londonist website, even suggests it was the model for Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist. Almost certainly the area gained its character and reputation from the unhealthy, medieval marsh on which it developed and the reputation of the close-by Westminster Abbey as a place of sanctuary from those feeling from the law; criminals living in its shadow must have felt safer knowing they had a local escape route from constable and magistrate.


Dark alleys and crepuscular corners no longer characterise Old Pye Street, but there are plenty of sink-estates and dead-end towns in twenty-first century Britain for which the Devil’s Acre moniker would not be misspent. Yet Satan is a squatter, and has no right to be there. As gospel light penetrates dark hearts and homes, so his right to residence is terminated. One day, the Great Landlord of the Earth shall return in full authority and send him to the pit in which he belongs; until then, we rescue one soul at a time.