‘Jacob Ornstein’ 1870


Jacob Ornstein is hot, it’s noisy and there’s a smell of sawdust in the air. He is weary on this bright autumn day in 1870, weary of schlepping timber into the workshops of Mount Street and Old Castle Street in Shoreditch. Weary of this hard working life. Time for a break.

Jacob has no money in his pockets, but he does have one last battered cigarette end. It’s hard to find a quiet corner in this bustling industry, but the dead end of Old Castle Street offers a haven amidst the weather-boarded houses, small furniture workshops and timber-yards. He finds a passer-by who can offer him a light and sits in the street, his back against a rickety picket fence.

Jacob’s dozing off, the heat of the day and the exertions in his muscles helping him relax. But he awakes with a start – he’d promised Hetty some wood shavings and offcuts to start building their fire supplies for winter, which can’t be far away. He scrambles to his feet and, pausing only to reflect on where he saw those sizeable shavings and splinters of unwanted wood, he limps off down the street. The cigarette, still alight, has fallen from his slumbering hand and is lying in some sawdust.


This is pure fiction. Except there was a major fire in Castle Street in 1870…

About the authors | About Dan Jones | About the project

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