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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 22, April 1999. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
An East End Lodging House in the 1880's
Gerry Nixon

In the autumn of 1886 Hugh Edward Hoare took over the running of an East End lodging house. Hoare was a wealthy man who ran the house not just as an exercise in philanthropy but in order to "become acquainted with that section of the community from which the criminals of the violent unskilled kind come." His experiment lasted for some eighteen months, ending, unluckily for us, shortly before the Ripper killings began.

Born in 1854 Hoare was educated at Eton and Balliol. He was the director of Hoares' Brewery and also represented West Cambridge as MP from 1892 to 1895. He first wrote of his lodging house experiences in the National Review. This was subsequently reprinted in two very lengthy installments by the Cambridge Independent Press beginning on 14 September 1888. All quotations are taken from the latter source.

Unfortunately, Hoare did not name the street in which his lodging house stood, but the probability is that it was none other than Dorset Street. The article was published well before Dorset Street became infamously associated with the Ripper legend. Hoare had written that he was determined to make his home "in a street in the East-end, which I knew by repute as having the best claim to the title of the worst street in London." He continued:

"I had only twice walked through the street, and the first time I was warned by a policeman, as I turned down into it, to look out where I was going to,' and the second time I was advised by a man, as I was leaving it, 'not to come there again."

Encouraged rather than put off by this response, it was here that Hoare decided to convert a lodging house into what he described as a "Free and Easy" club, a place where the homeless poor could gather in the evenings to do "just as they pleased." Cards, dominoes and newspapers were provided for his visitors and Hoare made no particular attempt to "improve" his clientele or thrust religion upon them. He explained that most people thereabouts had a "lively horror" of preaching.

The house was in "a neighbourhood where most of the streets were bad; but --- Street is preeminently the worst." Hoare added that the street "is about three hundred yards long and connects two larger streets. [1 ] It is dirty, ill-paved, and ill-lighted, and it is only just wide enough for one vehicle. All the houses, which are dirty and out of repair, are, with the exception of a few which are let out as furnished apartments of the lowest possible kind, registered lodging-houses, and contain from ten to a hundred beds. Over the doors, which generally stand open, and on a canvas screen in front of the lower part of the windows is a notice that a bed may be had for fourpence a night. Through the open door, where at nearly all hours of the day or night are lounging two or three ill-dressed men, can be seen the kitchen or common sitting-room, and, if the weather is fine, there are often some men or women lying along the pavement, as one sees them in the country on the grass by the roadside, when they are on their summer tramp."

The pervading spirit of the street is aptly summer up: "I was perfectly conscious myself of a different moral atmosphere when I turned into --- Street. I not only saw the difference, but I felt it. A feeling comes over you that now you can do as you like, you become aware of a disposition to throw open your coat, to pull out your pipe, and put your hands in your pockets, and your hat on the back of your head. Over the filth, and almost illegible name of the street, might fitly be placed the words fay ce que voudras'." [2]

Much of the interest in Hoare's narrative is the detailed description of the inside of a typical lodging house in the year of the Ripper murders.

"Passing the outer door, we found ourselves opposite a little window in a recess, where the 'deputy,' or manager, sits to collect the fourpence for the night's lodging, and where he keeps the food which he sells to the lodgers. Passing through the second door, we enter a moderate-sized low 'kitchen,' where about twenty men and women were sitting on long wooden benches, or standing round the fire. An enormous red-hot coke fire... and a flaring gas-jet cast a cheerful light over the room, making even the white-washed walls [3] and bare boards look comfortable and homelike. Plain long deal tables and benches were set round the room. On the chimney-piece were several tin teapots, and in a cupboard the coarse plates and cups and saucers for the free use of the lodgers. "Underground was the washing-place and Coke cellar, on the first floor [over the kitchen and a little back room where the deputy slept] were the beds for the couples, and above that a large dormitory for single men, containing sixteen beds.

Interestingly, the privacy of the eightpenny double beds left a lot to be desired. A prostitute may have felt herself relatively safe from an attack by a client during the Ripper scare since, according to Hoare, "each couple was partitioned off by boarding about seven feet high, leaving a foot between the top of the partition and the ceiling."

Of the typical inmates of an East End lodging house, Hoare had this to say: "Their life requires an exceptionally strong physique. Insufficient food, short sleep, exposure to weather, drink, and bad air, kill many of them long before their time. The air in my house was sometime remarkably foul. Imagine a long low room filled with men; many of whom, I believe, never washed at all, and never changed their clothes, the floor giving evidence of their habit of chewing tobacco, the ceiling dotted with the chewed fragments, all windows shut, a good deal of smoking, and an enormous red-hot fire, and some idea may be got of what the quality of the air was."

Violence was ever present. The East Ender's notorious reluctance to become involved in what are regarded as personal or domestic disputes was chillingly summed up by Hoare: "In other parts of London, if a street assault is committed, the first idea is to call the police; but here that would be the last thing that would be thought of. So far as this let-alone spirit carried that, I believe, a woman might be kicked to death without anyone interfering."

Hoare slept in a room on the ground floor and confirmed the regularity with which violent incidents occurred: "Two or three times I was awoke by appalling shrieks of murder, and many times by fights in the next kitchen. One night I had only just gone to sleep when I was awoke by loud yells of "Help! Help!" followed by a shriek and a heavy fall."

Robbery was responsible for most of the crime. "If the police had used my house as a post of observation, as one detective wished to do, he could have made a great many captures. The worst hour for robberies is between twelve and one, after the public houses have disgorged their customers, and while they are standing about the doorways of the lodging houses, or talking in groups in the street, before going to bed. At that time it would be a considerable risk for a stranger to walk there alone, and of all nights of the week Saturday night is the worst.

"I asked my manager to watch on four consecutive Saturday nights, between twelve and one, from the top windows, and he reported to me that in those four hours he had seen twelve robberies committed, or an average of three for each night. Some of them, he said, were so heartless and so brutal that he could have cried for rage and pity. The police do not profess to patrol the street, but to have men stationed at the outlets of this and the neighbouring streets, and I was informed that one or two should be on guard at each end of the street, but this was not done."

According to Hoare, when arrests were made in lodging house, they were usually effected in the middle of the night at a time when "resistance is seldom or never attempted; the prisoner's friends, if they are roused up by the noise or by the flash of the detective's lantern in their faces, bid him good-bye or tell him to come and see them when he comes out, and in another minute are asleep again..."

Hoare summed up the "charm" of a lodging house as follows: "A regular frequenter of a lodging-house would be often allowed to sit by the kitchen fire till one o'clock, even if he had not the fourpence to pay for his lodging, and at four he would begin again the heart-breaking business of looking for work. The complete freedom of the lodging-house has many charms which go far to compensate for its hardships. The lodging-house man is absolutely his own master, and has absolutely not ties. He has no property except what he has on his back; and when he goes out in the morning, there is no reason why he should come back to his old house rather than to any other in some different part of London. He can go to look for work, or not, just as he likes; he can go where he likes, and leave off when he chooses. If he is tired he can stop in bed; if it is wet he can stop indoors. In the evening he hears and tells the fortunes of the day, eats his tea, and has his pipe in the kitchen by the side of the fire, visits the public houses with his friend, or goes to a music-hall or a sparring match."

When times were bad, however, much of this charm wore off. Rather than a male lodger as depicted by Hoare, one thinks of the spectre of Annie Chapman, killed just six days before his article appeared.

"When night comes, he tries to persuade the deputy to trust him for the fourpence for his night's lodgings, but the deputy cannot afford to do that, and has let him sit by the fire so often that he must put a stop to it; so for that night he walks about the streets, sits in doorways, or lies in corners, and at four in the morning resumes his search for work."

Hoare ended his lodging house experiment in the spring or early summer of 1888. The previous summer had taught him that the numbers using his house would fall off dramatically during the warmer weather: "There were several reasons for this. In the warm weather the streets are more attractive; and as there is more work, they have more money to spend on public houses and places of amusements. But the principal reason was that in the summer time there is a great exodus from London into the country, and the common lodging houses, which are nearly full in the winter, have half their beds empty in the summer."

References:

1. If the location was indeed Dorset Street, Hoare had badly over-estimated its length. Paley, for instance, calculated its length as only 150 yards.

2. Literally "Do as you will". This phrase was later echoed by Detective Sergeant Leeson: "Dorset Street was know to local people as the "do as you please".

3. Registered lodging houses were required by law to have all internal walls white-washed as a support against the spread of infectious diseases such as smallpox.

Sources:

Cambridge Independent Press, 14th and 21st Sept 1888
Benjamin Leeson: Lost London
Bruce Paley: JTR: The Simple Truth.


Related pages:
  Gerry Nixon
       Dissertations: Le Grand of the Strand 
  Lodging Houses
       Official Documents: Parliamentary Debates - November 16 1888 
       Official Documents: Parliamentary Debates - November 22 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily News - 17 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily News - 23 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily News - 3 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily News - 6 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 17 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 21 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 22 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 23 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 24 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 26 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 6 October 1888 
       Press Reports: East End News - 05 October 1888 
       Press Reports: East End News - 4 January 1889 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 10 November 1888 
       Press Reports: East London Advertiser - 6 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 3 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 5 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 23 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 3 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 5 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Leytonstone Express and Independent - 1 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 14 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 17 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 5 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 12 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 20 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 3 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 10 June 1914 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 3 October 1888 
       Victorian London: The Worst Street in London