Dickensian Workhouse Spared the Rod
A building in central London believed to have been used as the model for a poorhouse in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist has been placed under protection by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. A report by English Heritage advised that although the Cleveland Street Workhouse had no architectural value, its literary value alone was reason enough to save it. The decision, the result of a campaign to save the site by local residents, puts in doubt a proposed redevelopment. Redevelopment is still possible as long as the building’s facade is preserved.
The derelict Georgian building, built in 1775, is in Fitzrovia’s Cleveland Street, which has historical significance for other reasons. Dickens lived at 22 Cleveland Street as a young child and again as an adolescent, and lived only a mile away when he was writing his most famous novel, although Oliver Twist’s workhouse was set in Mudfog, north of the capital. Dickens' depiction of the workhouse’s institutional cruelty, with its exhortation to “Avoid idleness and intemperance” written above its entrance, helped change public perceptions of child labour laws and were a milestone on the road to labour and social reform.