Get Me Out of Here! The Physical Locations of Characters in Oliver Twist
This page contains historical information about each of the locations mentioned in character movement Prezis (click here to view the Prezis). The locations are in alphabetical order and specify the individual characters associated with that location.
The Countryside:
Characters associated with this location: Oliver, Rose

Some time before the Victorian era, the population of England was decimated by the Black Plague. This of course, included the rural areas, and the population of English countryside was also dramatically reduced. Despite this, the rural areas of Britain still held a large majority of the population of England. During the Victorian Era however, tremendous amounts of people left the rural areas to work in the cities. Although a large number of people left the countryside for urban areas, the life of the farmer was not at an end.

In fact, one could argue that the industrial revolution was greatly beneficial to the farmers in the countryside. Old, worn-out, and inconvenient wooden tools were now replaced by fast, efficient, and durable equipment. This also gave many new jobs to blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and woodworkers in the countryside as well. In addition, the large population in the cities had a high demand for food and agricultural products, making country life better than ever before. Compared to life in the countryside before the Victorian era, country life in the Victorian Era was quite spectacular.

It was true that some people in the countryside did not have the most desirable living conditions. However, compared to certain areas in the city, such as Jacob’s Island, life in the countryside was very calm and peaceful. The crime rate in the countryside was much smaller than that of the urban cities in England. Oliver’s story ending in the countryside is very fitting, seeing as though he lives a happy, peaceful life in a happy, peaceful area.

East End:
Characters associated with this location: Rose

The East End of London of the Victorian era was comprised of the Bethnal Green borough in the city. During this era, the city experienced a rapid population growth, and the East End of London was affected by this unimaginably. As more and more people came to the city, the area of East End began to house the many poor families and children either in slums or on the streets alone. Many of these people were immigrants and criminals. Due to the close proximity of people and deplorable sanitary conditions, disease and illness also ran wild across the streets of the East End. Most notably would be the Cholera outbreak; it was largely spread by the amount of raw sewage open on the streets that would leak into the pipe system, and would thereby contaminate the water supply. The poor living in such unhygienic situations in close proximity of others accelerated the spread of disease in the Victorian Era.

Crime in the East End of London was also present in Victorian times. Many of these crimes consisted of pickpocketing, which was highlighted in the novel Oliver Twist. Other crimes were more serious, consisting of burglary, battery, assault, and murder. Domestic violence was also prevalent, but highly unnoted and unreported.  Prostitution was prominent in the area, and many “fallen women” lived in brothels around the area. Education in the area improved during the ragged school movement, when the poorest of children could receive at least minimal education for free. This is a likely place for Rose to have originated based on the descriptions of her childhood environment, and the proximity to the Thames, making it easy for Mrs. Maylie to cross the river and run into Rose and adopt her.

Jacob's Island:
Characters associated with this location: Sikes

A rookery was the British English name given to a city slum occupied by poor people, criminals, and prostitutes. One such rookery in the novel is Jacob's Island. Jacob’s Island was where Bill Sikes ended up hanging himself, (oops) but due to the possibility that Dickens skewed the facts slightly in order to make Bill Sikes’s final destination more “appropriate,” we decided to do further research on the actual conditions of Jacob’s Island. To our surprise, Dickens was fairly accurate in his description of Jacob’s Island. It was an infamous rookery in Bermondsey, and needless to say, Jacob’s Island was not the most desirable place to live and the residents were less than friendly.

 Charles Dickens wrote that “in Jacob's Island, the warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls are crumbling down; the windows are windows no more; the doors are falling into the streets; the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke.  Thirty or forty years ago, before losses and chancery suits came upon it, it was a thriving place; but now it is a desolate island indeed.  The houses have no owners; they are broken open, and entered upon by those who have the courage; and there they live, and there they die.  They must have powerful motives for a secret residence, or be reduced to a destitute condition indeed, who seek a refuge in Jacob's Island."

Dickens has another description of Jacob’s Island, saying it was “the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London'. He spoke of the 'maze of close, narrow, and muddy streets, thronged by the roughest and poorest of waterside people, Coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children, and the very raff and refuse of the river.” It turned out that Dickens’s description of Jacob’s Island was spot on.

Many things attributed to Jacob’s Island’s notorious reputation, including not only the criminals and prostitutes that filled the streets, but also the diseases that went rampant in the city. In fact, Jacob’s Island was sometimes referred to as the “heart of Cholera.” Clearly, this was a terrible environment to live in, filled with criminals such as Bill Sikes. It was very fitting that he died in Jacob’s Island, seeing as though he never sought to escape this terrible, terrible environment, and chose to stay there to live the corrupt life of a criminal.

Newgate Prison:
Characters associated with this location: Fagin

Newgate Prison was located in London, originally built in 1188, and rebuilt in 1770. It was known for housing especially notorious criminals and for having extremely unsanitary conditions. The prison was actually separated into two parts: one to house the poor criminals, and the other to house the more wealthy convicts who could afford better accommodations. There was also a section for women and children to be kept. Generally these criminals were held at this prison until the time of their execution. Many public executions occurred here--and drew large crowds--until public executions were abolished in 1868.

Newgate Prison is the setting where Oliver sees Fagin hanged at the novel’s conclusion. Throughout the novel Newgate is referenced as an ominous and terrifying place because “those dreadful walls of Newgate…have hidden so much misery and such unspeakable anguish” (354). Essentially, it is a constant looming threat to the criminals of the story, and is seen as a place of ultimate punishment. It is fitting for Fagin to end here as he is the most despised character of the novel. Additionally it is appropriate for Fagin’s story to conclude here because it supports the argument that remaining in a negative environment determines the manner in which a character’s story ends: Fagin was introduced in the infamous Saffron Hill district and spent his days there being a thief (and training others to do so), and thus his final resting place is only a few blocks away in Newgate Prison.

Characters associated with this location: Charlie Bates

Northamptonshire in the Victorian era was shaped by industrialization. Within the span of Queen Victoria’s reign gas powered streetlights scattered the area, a lunatic asylum was built, the railway was extended, the Guildhall was built for council meetings and other civic purposes, and a pipe and sewer system was implanted. Industries that blossomed in the period were brewing, shoemaking and the cattle market. All of the listed reasons help to explain the enormous population increase within the area, and can further provide evidence as to how this could be a possible ending location for Charlie Bates. The area was changing into a much more industrialized area, attracting many people from the overcrowded London to an open countryside rife with new jobs and less stress. The evolution of a new cattle market also suggests that Charlie Bates easily could have settled in Northamptonshire, as the book suggested he fled to the country to raise cattle, which matches the Victorian-age Northamptonshire very well.

Saffron Hill:
Characters associated with this location: Charlie Bates, Fagin, Monks, Nancy, Sikes  

Saffron Hill was a district of London--between Holborn and Clerkenwell--that was associated with criminal activity. The name comes from the crops of saffron that it bore while it was still a part of Ely-gardens. This district was densely populated with thieves (namely pick pockets) and poor citizens. Many characters of Oliver Twist dwell in this area of London including: Fagin, Sikes, Nancy, Charlie Bates, and Monks. Saffron Hill is a logical place for these characters to be introduced since each is associated with some criminal activity such as thievery or prostitution. Many of the previously mentioned characters also spend their entire lives in Saffron Hill and—not surprisingly—most of them are not alive at the novel’s conclusion. In fact, Charlie Bates is the only character who prospers because he underwent a personal reformation and actively distanced himself from the people and activities of Saffron Hill.
Characters associated with this location: Dick, Oliver

The orphanage and workhouse conditions in the Victorian era were generally unwelcoming and fairly unhealthy. Though there were orphanages available in England, many of the orphanages in London were somewhat reserved for the middle and upper classes of orphaned children. Many of the kids in the densely populated and poorer areas of London were left on the streets when orphaned, and had to tend for themselves. This desperation led to many of the orphans stealing and turning to prostitution to support themselves. Considering Oliver was born in a very rural area at a workhouse, it is more believable that he was able to live in an orphanage up until the point where he could go back to the workhouse to work.

The workhouse conditions were also less than desired. Many orphans of poor families caught begging or stealing were tried as adults and put into workhouses, as well as other poor children and adults. Families in workhouses were split up and the women, men, and children had different tasks to complete. The children were promised education, but this was sparse and did not include reading and writing. The meals were bland and not filling, and every worker wore a uniform to belittle the idea of individuality. The work hours were not regulated until later in the Victorian era, when the maximum number of work hours for children under thirteen was set to 6.5 hours, and the maximum number of hours for women and children between thirteen and eighteen was set to 12 hours. The inhabitants in the workhouse did not have an easy life, and poor conditions led to disease and illness whilst inside.