7 August 1888
Petticoat-lane is one of those localities which the average respectable and decorous Londoner shuns with horror. He has a kind of idea that if he penetrated its unsavoury purlieus in Sabbath attire he would, at least, be robbed of everything upon him, and would indeed by singularly fortunate if he were permitted to leave it alive. There are stories told of daring individuals who have been robbed of their handkerchiefs and neckties as they went in, and have seen them exposed for sale as they went out! It is, perhaps, advisable to go unostentatiously attired, and to carry little money; but, after these slight precautions, a voyage down Houndsditch does not offer the attraction of performing a heroic feat.
As one plunges into Houndsditch from St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, a labyrinth of small streets stretches away right and left. Here are sweaters' dens; here are foul cheap "doss 'ouses" for men and women; here is the ever-present, sickly smell of fried fish; and here, in short, is the great haunt of the Jewish community. Almost all the shops contain their announcements in Hebrew, many in German or Polish as well. On the Sunday morning it is far busier than it is in the week. Costers' barrows and itinerant vendors of all wares, from mouse-traps to live mice, from buttons to light, illustrated literature, line the roadway. The clothes-market lies down a small passage, off the main street, and, between the hours of nine and none, it is certainly the liveliest and most animated spot in the whole of London. Business is at its height between 11.30 and 1, and, between those hours, it is scarcely possible to move about.
Conversation with various stall-holders of undoubtedly Jewish extraction placed me in possession of the information that a "working man" could be respectably attired from the market at a cost of 10s. He could buy a coat for 3s. 3d., trousers for 3., a waistcoat for 1s. 6d.; boots might be obtained from 2s., and that left him in possession of 3d., which would acquire a "dicky," tie, and cuffs. I was assured that it could be done for less, but those prices brought "gen-teel clothing."
A stranger visiting the place must not be surprised at being pressed to inspect the splendid garments offered. I was three times asked whether I had come to look for a "weddin' troo sow," as everything adapted to that purpose was to be had there; and one elderly Jewish female desired me very much to purchase for 10s. (she would have taken 5s.) a grey silk dress, made in the fashion of fifteen years ago, with a little tarin and drawn flounces, pointing out to me its unequalled potentialities of adaptation to the more modern style that allows of a dress-improver. One understands the poverty of those who go there to buy a dress for 1s. 9d., as can be done; but it is more puzzling to imagine whence come purchasers for dresses at from £5 to £8 which are to be found in the market.
Business is conducted there in two ways. First are stalls, set forth the length of the market in four or five rows, and devoted to the sale of every conceivable article of wearing apparel, from a coat of respectable appearance to a frayed collar, or an odd, darned sock A clothes-basket full of old braces stands beside an old tea-chest crammed with globes. Old neckties are piled up in a corner, not far from dozens of broken and bent dress-improvers. Stays, with their bones broken, silken stockings, now coarsely mended with thick wool, torn pocket-handkerchiefs, shirts patched, under-linen, so dainty once, but now bereft of its frills and embroidery, form great piles, behind long rows of boots and shoes, blackened up for sale, or hats, some good, some indifferent, and others so badly knocked about that one wonders who thought them worth rescuing from the dust-cart. There are children's suits, from the pretty Scotch dress, adopted as an intermediate step, between baby-frocks and boyish trousers, to the velvet doublet, in which some gently nurtured lad has masqueraded as a page.
One stall is entirely given over to "the theatrical line," and a motley, tawdry heap of rubbish, the tinsel facings of the stage soldier's, or huntsman's oat, or the queenly mantle of red cotton velvet, trimmed with coloured glass and yellowy-white rabbit-skin, looked in the garish light of the July sun. One thing struck me as particularly funny at this stall, in placing several well-worn gentlemen's dressing-gowns, of somewhat gorgeous colouring, under this classification. It was so suggestive of their real use not being understood in the district.
The second way in which business is done is by Dutch auctions. In the corner devoted to these, the din and clamour is overpowering. There were five or six when I visited the place, all expatiating at the tops of their voices upon the meritorious features of the goods they were offering. Two of them wore coloured silk jockey caps, and each coat that they held up was first shown inside and out, and then put on by the auctioneer, who always declared that it would fit any one in the crowd equally well, and he was ready to "give it away for five bob-well, four-and-a-tanner; come, now, four-and-three. Why, you'd be ashamed to wear a oat costing less than four bob," and so on, down, perhaps to half-a-crown; when, if it did not find a purchaser, it was given to a boy in charge to be brought out again at a more convenient season. The market appeared to be a favourite rendezvous of those not bent on the increase of their wardrobes; and greetings were exchanged, and inquiries made, with quite as much interest and concern as in the Hyde-park Sunday Parade.
The fashions represented there give a faint reflection of many byegone years' devices. Of course, a large proportion of the garments are of really good make, and have gone through many descending stages ere they reach this almost ultimate degradation. Perhaps they have figured in West-end drawing-rooms, and have been written about in Society papers. But vanitas vanitatum, is certainly the motto that ought to stand over the portals of this great, terribly realistic, terribly Zola-like bazaar. Business is carried on there during the week, but in a somewhat different way. The weekly trade may be called wholesale, while that of Sunday is retail.
The dealers in "old clo'," whose barrows stand in such localities as the Westminster or Pimlico back-streets, come there to buy their stocks-in-trade, and carry away often very large bales. The most curious thing, perhaps, to know is, that the worst of the rubbish is bought by Irish storekeepers. Numbers of these find it worth their while to pay periodical and frequent visits from the Sister Isle to Petticoat-lane in order to recuit their somewhat uninviting emporia, and it is remarked among the habitués of the market that nothing is too bad for them to take away.
The Press Association says:--About ten minutes to five o'clock, this morning, John Reeves, who lives at 37, George-yard-buildings, Whitechapel, was coming downstairs to go to work when he discovered the body of a woman lying in a pool of blood on the first-floor landing. Reeves at once called in Constable 26 H, Barrett, who was on beat in the vicinity of George-yard, and Dr. Keeling of Brick-lane, was communicated with, and promptly arrived. He immediately made an examination of the woman, and pronounced life extinct, and gave it as his opinion that she had been brutally murdered, there being knife-wounds on her breast, stomach, and abdomen. The body, which was that of a woman apparently between 35 and 40 years of age, about 5ft. 3in. in height, complexion and hair dark, wore a dark-green skirt, a brown petticoat, a long black jacket, and a black bonnet. The woman is unknown to any of the occupants of the tenements on the landing on which the deceased was found, and no disturbance of any kind was heard during the night. The circumstances of the tragedy are, therefore, mysterious, and the body, which up to the time of writing had not been identified, has been removed to Whitechapel Mortuary, and Inspector Elliston, of the Commercial-street Police-station, has placed the case in the hands of Inspector Reid, of the Criminal Investigation Department, and that officer is now instituting inquiries. Up to one o'clock no clue of any kind had come to the knowledge of the Commercial-street police authorities.
A Huddersfield Correspondent telegraphs:--Prince Albert Victor, who was to have visited the Yorkshire Agricultural Show here to-day, has telegraphed expressing his regret that he is unable to come, as he is confined to his room with a bad foot. A further telegram stated that it is unlikely the Prince will be able to leave his room this week.