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The House Where Jack Swilled?
An Investigation Of Pubs, Beer & The Ripper
A. M. Phypers

It was whilst reading the interesting dissertation 'The Pubs and Jack The Ripper' by John Smithkey at the Casebook site that I was reminded of the importance of public houses in the story of Jack The Ripper. This is no coincidence; the pub has long-since been one of the great British institutions. Public houses represented an important part of life in Victorian London, and especially in that inner core which by 1888 had been recently christened ‘The East End’. All the Ripper’s victims were heavy drinkers, some were definitely alcoholics and they were all most certainly well acquainted with the local hostelries.

Spurred on by the article I have revisited some old research, which was performed in 1987-88 and added to it. It is my intention that the information contained here is a starting point in our piecing together the role of the pubs in the Whitechapel Murders. For this I believe that we need to understand the place of the pub in the society of the time, which I have tried to explain below. Following this I have attempted to correlate the information we have. Any number of pubs are mentioned in Ripper literature but the information is often confused or incorrect and it has not been tied together in one place. It is hoped that this piece will form a basis for further investigations and discussions by readers of it.

Background -- Let’s Escape to the Pub!
By the 1880s the part of London bounded by the docks of Shadwell, Wapping and Limehouse, running north through Stepney, Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch was an area characterised by poverty. Labour was frequently casual, such as in the docks and the London markets where workers were hired by the day. Even in occupations where the work was regular, hours were often long and the pay pitiful. There were pockets of affluence and some desirable addresses but the bulk of the population was living in dirty, overcrowded houses, which were frequently rented by the room, in ill-drained and ill-lit streets and courtyards. Sometimes the back gardens of larger, older houses would be built over with single or twin story shacks, the side passageway giving these new hovels access to the main street. A family of six might easily find itself living in a room under ten feet square, and to help with the rent they might even take in a lodger. If the occupants were working different shifts, several of them could use the same bed at different times of the day!

With much of the cheaper land in central London being redeveloped for commercial premises and for the new railways in the middle years of the century, a displaced working class population had moved east. At the same time the nineteenth century saw a change in the balance of the population with many thousands of country dwellers moving into the cities to fill the new industrial jobs and to service the population that lived there. Combined with the arrival at the London docks of Irish immigrants escaping the famine in the 1840s and Eastern European Jews fleeing persecution from the 1870s, East London was becoming grossly overcrowded by 1888.

Through the heart of the old East End ran Commercial Street. It was the result of redevelopment in the 1840s, which had been aimed largely at slum clearance. Unfortunately the effect of demolishing the old rookeries was short lived as a result of the factors listed above. Running off both sides of Commercial Street between Wentworth Street the south end and Spitalfields Market was a section known as the ‘Wicked Quarter Mile’. Here the back streets were characterised by the presence of the ‘common lodging houses’ in and out of which lived the lowest social classes. These ‘doss houses’ contained a communal kitchen and perhaps one other shared room downstairs for the lodgers, and charged for a bed by the night. A double bed would cost 8d, a single 4d and when the all the beds were taken a rope might be fixed down the middle of the room with residents sleeping against it back-to-back for 2d. Those without the money for their lodgings were evicted nightly. It was in the doss houses of Dorset Street, Fashion Street, Flower & Dean Street and Thrawl Street that the victims of Jack The Ripper lived, the exception being Mary Jane Kelly who had her own room in Millers Court (partitioned off behind a house in Dorset Street).

The Role of Public Houses in East London
Little wonder then that the local residents sought refuge from their miserable existence in the public houses. There were certainly plenty to choose from. It is often said that that in the old East End there was ‘a pub on every street corner’, and a glance at the records for the time suggests that this is not a huge exaggeration. Indeed the one mile section of the Whitechapel Road running from the corner of Commercial Street to Stepney Green contained no less than forty-eight pubs in 1899. In 1888, in an area thriving with various businesses connected to Spitalfields Market, there were six pubs on Commercial Street just between the corners of Wentworth Street and Hanbury Street; today there are three.

There is some evidence that pub numbers were already falling by this time. A temperance map compiled twenty years earlier shows a heavier cluster of pubs in the market area than can be accounted for in the street directories of 1888. One specific example is a pub called the Northumberland Arms at 44 Fashion Street, a mean side road connecting Commercial Street to Brick Lane. Having traded as a public house for some time, it is still listed in the 1888 Kelly’s London Post Office Directory (licensee Thomas Bergin), but then disappears suddenly the following year. It did not trade as a pub subsequently.

Pubs were not only places in which to drink. With their bright lights and warm fires they provided an excellent place for family, friends and colleagues to meet. And with many homes lacking cooking facilities they were also a source of wholesome hot meals. Furthermore pubs could be relatively inexpensive places in the days before governments discovered their true potential for raising tax. It was still possible to get roaring drunk for a shilling, but many of their patrons didn’t choose to do that, using them for conversation or for playing cards or pub games. Some pubs ran or formed a meeting point for savings clubs. Members contributed small amounts of money to local societies to provide for social outings, burial funds, or simply to save in order to secure a loan at low interest. Larger public houses with separate rooms might provide facilities for dancing or music (which included participatory singing), or for debates. This included political gatherings, with political parties hiring rooms for lectures, debates and recruitment meetings.

It is unlikely however, that many of the characters from the Spitalfields doss houses patronised public houses offering wholesome entertainment or facilities for self-improvement. Most of the pubs in that locality had small drinking areas only, though some may have had an upstairs bar too. Regulars were packed in, often whole families together. Conditions were rudimentary with most pubs favouring bare wooden floors and long tables.

Brewers and Drinks
For many patrons of these pubs the objective was to obliterate their menial existence for a while. One way to achieve this was through drinking spirits, such as gin. The latter had been a particular social problem in eighteenth century society and being a relatively cheap spirit it was still very popular. The novelist Margaret Harkness describes beggars in the docks collecting enough coins to buy their “three ha’pence of gin”.

References to Jack The Ripper’s victims continually mention their fondness for the ‘mothers ruin’. However references to at least three of them indicate that they also drank beer, which by 1888 had become the main fuel of drunkenness. This was no accident. In fact some years earlier there had been a political ‘keep beer cheap’ campaign, not only to wean the urban population away from the harmful effects of gin, but also because beer was very filling. With much of the food affordable to the working classes being of poor quality, beer was considered nutritious.

During the late nineteenth century there were many more breweries operating than is the case today, and East London was well provided for. There were still some small, independent brewers, such as in nearby Spellman Street but, as the names show, the industry had experienced considerable amalgamations already. The largest operator was Truman Hanbury & Buxton. This company’s brewery stood at 91 Brick Lane, just minutes from the epicentre of the Ripper murders. In fact the brewer Mr. Sampson Hanbury had given his name to the street in which Annie Chapman was killed. As we shall see, in the area of Spitalfields east of Commercial Street T.H. & B. appear to have had a virtual monopoly of the tied houses. Another major brewer was Mann Crossman & Paulin in Whitechapel Road, and further east where it became Mile End Road was Charrington & Co. Heavy wagons loaded with barley from the East Anglian cereal belt still rolled into the East End along this major artery, whilst the hops were brought up from Sussex and Kent, where Catherine Eddowes had been hop picking.

The beers brewed were of four basic types. In approximate order of strength these were mild; pale (which we would now call bitter); porter and stout. All except pale were dark beers brewed with well-roasted barley. (Only during the First World War did dark beer go out of fashion when the government imposed energy restrictions on the industry). A close examination of the picture of The Britannia under the Casebook’s “Victorian London/Whitechapel photographs”, section shows some of these types listed on the sign affixed to the outside of the building. Porter was a very popular style in London, taking its name from the market workers who drank large quantities of it. When the railways facilitated the transportation of beer around the country, Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire became an important centre of the brewing industry, the salts in the local water giving its beers a distinctive taste. Other brewers were copying this style of pale/bitter as ‘Burton’. All beer was more alcoholic than its equivalent brew today - even the mild would be stronger than a modern pint of best bitter and few stouts contained less than 8% alcohol by volume.

Drunkenness and Prostitution
Overall a population which sweated out its beer by performing long hours of hard, physical work appears to have held its drink well. However drunkenness was a common problem, especially at weekends and in the lowest districts. Given the moralistic nature of Victorian society this inevitably gave rise to considerable debate amongst the chattering classes. Often this was conducted through the columns of the newspapers, which had become obsessed with the condition of the underclass in what would now be described as ‘the inner cities’. The question as to whether people were poor because they drank, or drank because they were poor was well aired. In fact this debate pre-dated the Ripper murders by a few years. Early sociologists such as Charles Booth (who performed studies in the East End) had already investigated the subject. Booth had reached the unfashionable conclusion that it was the poor socio-economic conditions of the area that caused excessive drinking.

Whatever the cause, newspaper reports and court records of the time show a constant stream of offenders being dealt with by magistrates. A study of the penalties for being drunk and disorderly shows a full range of sentences, from fines to jail sentences with hard labour. Miscreants were frequently imprisoned because they could not afford to pay the fine. Elizabeth Stride was a regular at the Thames Police Court. She had been convicted eight times since the beginning of 1887 under her own name and probably under other names too. Catherine Eddowes was released (in line with a City of London Police policy), after being arrested for drunkenness, only to run into the killer.

A study of the books dealing with the Whitechapel Murders show that Spitalfields pubs contained their share of notorious characters. Of these, some of the most vivid portraits appear in Tom Cullen’s ‘Autumn of Terror’. An interview conducted in the late 1950s or early ‘60s with an old market porter called Dennis Barrett describes a shirtless Irishman who went from one pub to another starting fights; a legless man who when in drink would use one of his wooden legs to smash up pub interiors and a woman with the wonderful name Mrs. Flower-on-the-Flock who was mean with a knife! All three of these undesirables apparently lodged in Dorset Street. Barrett also described how Mary Jane Kelly plied her trade outside the Ten Bells. Cullen’s descriptions are very colourful, but they cannot always be taken as gospel. One gets the impression that either some of his elderly witnesses’ memories were faulty or else they were concocting or embellishing stories in the same way that so many witnesses did to journalists at the height of the panic. That said, accounts like this are useful in giving a flavour of Spitalfields at the time.

Preying on the unwary drinkers in the pubs was an unsavoury mix of characters looking to turn a quick buck. The worst houses were patronised by pimps, prostitutes, pickpockets, cardsharps and illegal bookmakers, all just waiting for their opportunity to part the visitor from his money.

In the dock areas women hung around the public houses aiming to pick up sailors who had been discharged from their ships with money to spend. After a few drinks the sailor would be lured away to the prostitute’s den. At or on the way to it he would be attached, robbed of his money and thrown into the road. Some students of the Frances Coles murder have alleged that the attack on Thomas Saddler in Thrawl Street after a drinking bout in the local pubs was just such an incident. Street garroting was one means of attack. Here the victim was grabbed from behind by a tall man and lifted by the throat. An old East End villain called Arthur Harding, writing about a slightly later period, mentions Flower & Dean Street and specifically the Fleur de Lis in Elder Street as favourite sites for garroting in the Spitalfields area. (He probably confused a pub called the Elder Tree with nearby Fleur De Lis Street).

Some prostitutes would sit in the pubs awaiting clients. However with little money to spend this was not a profitable means of attracting custom, and the chance pick-ups here were likely to be those of the ‘casuals’ who resorted to prostitution occasionally. Furthermore she had to be discreet, landlords were wary because the conviction of a prostitute for soliciting in his pub could lead to the loss of his license. Therefore for the hardened ‘pro’ a more reliable trade could be obtained by waiting outside the premises. Unfortunately the police had powers to arrest soliciting prostitutes and were under instructions to move loiterers on, so she had to keep moving, (though so numerous were these women in some places that the police didn’t bother them as long as they weren’t making nuisances of themselves). Prostitutes therefore developed beats of their own, walking the same streets for long periods and dipping into likely pubs periodically. This is why they were known as ‘street walkers’. Kelly, for instance, is known to have worked a beat in the Leman Street area as well as soliciting closer to home around Commercial Street. On the night she was murdered, Stride may have been working in the area on and to the south of the Commercial Road.

List A. Pubs Of The ‘Wicked Quarter Mile’ 1888
With hundreds of pubs to choose from in the East End it was not possible to document all of them in my research. So to begin with let us focus on the immediate area where the victims lived. Here they would have taken a social drink, as well as one when working. Obviously they would have been familiar with the pubs over a much wider radius, like those on the beats they pounded, but this is a good starting point especially since both Chapman and Kelly appear to have made their fatal encounters around this locality.

For this particular pub crawl we shall start at the Prince Albert in Brushfield Street, walk down to Crispin Street and then up Dorset Street. From here we cross Commercial Street and make our way straight to Hanbury Street, where we work back to the main road and along the eastern side of Commercial Street to Wentworth Street, nipping off down Thrawl Street for one drink on the way.

21 Brushfield Street

1 Crispin Street

5 Crispin Street

32 Dorset Street

87 Commercial Street

23 Hanbury Street

17 Hanbury Street

110 Commercial Street

92 Commercial Street

84 Commercial Street

74 Commercial Street

13 Brick Lane

42 Commercial Street

List B: Other Local Pubs of Interest
A study of the available material reveals a number of other public houses with connections to the case. These and some others of interest are listed here, grouped by their location and connection with individual incidents.

142 Commercial Street

154 Brick Lane

20 Whitechapel High Street

89 Whitechapel High Street

2 Whitechapel Road

34 Settles Street

46 Berner Street

68 Berner Street

24 Batty Street

14 Widegate Street

50 Middlesex Street

36 Jewry Street

74 Mile End Road

Points for Debate and Further Research

With Thanks To…
Casebook - Jack The Ripper. Especially to Stephen Ryder.
Casebook Productions Inc.
Cloak & Dagger Club website.
Adam Wood Esq.
Jack The Ripper - The Uncensored Facts, by Paul Begg (Robson Books, 1988).
The Jack The Ripper A To Z, by P. Begg, M. Fido & K. Skinner (Headline, 1991).
Autumn Of Terror, by Tom Cullen (Bodley Head, 1965).
Jack The Ripper First American Serial Killer, by Stewart Evans & Paul Gainey (Arrow, 1996).
Crimes, Detection & Death of Jack The Ripper, by Martin Fido (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1987).
The Streets of East London, by William J. Fishman (Duckworth, 1979).
East End 1888, by William J. Fishman (Duckworth, 1988).
Jack The Ripper - The Final Solution, by Stephen Knight (Harrap, 1976).
The People Of The Abyss, by Jack London (Nelson, 1903).
Jack The Ripper - In Fact & Fiction, by Robin Odell (Harrap, 1965).
The Complete Jack The Ripper, by Donald Rumbelow (W.H. Allen, 1987 edition).
East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life Of Arthur Harding, by Samuel Raphael (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1981).
The Complete History Of Jack The Ripper, by Philip Sugden (Robinson, 1994).
The Illustrated Police News.
The Daily Telegraph.
Kelly’s Post Office London Directories 1873-1910.
City Of London Directory 1888.
The East End Tourism Trust.
J. D. Wetherspoon Plc.
The Bishopsgate Institute.
The remaining pubs in the area. Cheers!

Related pages:
  Adrian Phypers
       Authors: Obituary: Adrian Phypers 
       Dissertations: The House Where Jack Swilled? 
       Ripper Media: Victorian Pubs 
       Victorian London: The Britannia Pub 
       Victorian London: The Princess Alice Pub 
       Victorian London: The Pubs of Whitechapel 
       Victorian London: The Ten Bells Pub 
       Victorian London: The Ten Bells Pub 
       Victorian London: The Ten Bells Pub - Discussion 
  The Viper
       Dissertations: Hey Joe! Your Porter Story Sounds Fishy! 
       Dissertations: Jack the Ripper and ”The Coffee Connection” 
       Dissertations: The Whitechapel Dossier: Dorset Street and Miller’s... 

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