The Devil’s Acre was a notorious slum near Westminster Abbey in Victorian London. The streets that encompassed The Devil’s Acre were Old Pye Street, Great St. Anne’s Lane (now St. Ann Street) and Duck Lane (now St. Matthew Street).
The area appears to have been a notorious rookery for over a hundred years before the Victorian Era and in his 1852 assessment of the rookeries of London, the preacher Thomas Beames wrote:
Rookeries still remain! Westminster, at once the seat of a palace and plague spot; senators declaim, where sewers poison; theology holds their councils, where thieves learn their trade; and Europe’s grandest hall is flanked by England’s foulest grave-yard.
Charles Dickens and the Devil’s Acre.
There are multitudes who believe that Westminster is a city of palaces, of magnificent squares, and regal terraces; that it is the chosen seat of opulence, grandeur and refinement; and that filth, squalor, and misery are the denizens of other and less favoured sections of the metropolis. The error is not in associating with Westminster much of the grandeur and splendour of the capital, but in entirely dissociating it in idea from the darker phases of metropolitan life. As the brightest lights cast the deepest shadows, so are the splendours and luxuries of the West-end found in juxta-position with the most deplorable manifestations of human wretchedness and depravity. There is no part of the metropolis which presents a more chequered aspect, both physical and moral, than Westminster.
A number of initiatives were made during the Victorian period in an attempt to clean up the area and improve the lives of people in the Devil’s Acre. This included One Tun Ragged School , a school for poor children opened in what had been the One Tun pub in Perkins Rents by Adeline Cooper in 1853. It moved to Old Pye Street in 1879, continuing as a mission until 1930.
In the mid-1840’s plans were approved to run a road, Victoria Street, between Westminster and Victoria carving a channel right through the Devils Acre slum and work started in the Spring of 1847. The move was one of a number in the Victorian era to deal with the issue of a growing slum problem by simply bulldozing infrastructure through them. However the work led to the displacement of hundreds of families who simply moved to existing overcrowded slum areas in the capital.
Further Reading (external sources).