Monday, 10 December 1888
Scenes of Vice, Poverty, and Crime.
Witnessed at Night by a Lady Newspaper Correspondent.
Visiting the Scenes of the Late Whitechapel Tragedies.
London., Dec 1. - "Slumming." Curious term, no doubt to you on the other side of the water, but one which London papers have universally adopted as exactly "fitting the case." For the past two years, and especially during the cold months of winter, the lady members of many of our aristocratic families of Park Lane and Belgravia have indulged in the craze of "slumming." Using their persuasive eloquence upon the male members of their families to accompany them, they have courageously visited, during the day, many of the poorest localities and slums of our great metropolis, seeing with their own eyes the abject poverty of their fellow-citizens and relieving the wants of the poor personally and to such an extent that their visits have indeed been "Angel's visits," undoubtedly saving many a poor wretch from starvation and perhaps death. At one tenement a few loaves of bread for a starving family, at another an order for a hundredweight of coal, tea, sugar, flour, or whatever they thought would best serve the necessities of the case, these kind and humane ladies have been welcome visitors indeed.
None, however, have dared to enter those terrible dens of infamy and crime so common in the district, now so well known throughout England, and I may say the civilized world - Whitechapel - up to the last few weeks, when that enterprising paper published by Sir William Christopher Leng, the Sheffield Telegraph, commissioned its lady correspondent to make a tour at night of the famous locality, accompanied by a detective, and write for its columns her impressions and ocular demonstration of the state of affairs existing there.
The lady, who is well known and who ranks high in the estimation of her brother and sister scribblers, accompanied by a detective as equally well known, has made the tour, and the result of her observations and graphic description of the scenes she witnessed in her visit have been printed. Her pictures of vice, misery, poverty and crime are so vivid and lifelike that, combined with the pluck she has shown in her hazardous undertakings, she has earned the highest praise and esteem of her fellow laborers. I send you her story, as she tells it in her own words, accompanied with a map of the Whitechapel district, so that your readers can see at a glance the streets and spots where the seven terrible tragedies have taken place.
Sights and Scenes Witnessed During a Tour by Night.
Perhaps there is no locality in the United Kingdom which at the present time is so notorious as Whitechapel. The horrible tragedies so recently enacted there in such rapid succession have sent a thrill of indignant fear throughout England, while in the neighborhood itself the panic still lasts, and will do so as long as the bloodthirsty monster remains unknown and uncaptured.
After the dreadful crimes so placidly perpetrated in Mitre Square and Berners [sic] street, I conceived an ardent desire to visit and see for myself the region of a civilized city that seems to be given up to horrors unmentionable.
The thing that puzzled me was how to go. Night is the best time, but it is hardly the place where a stranger would care to go to alone, and in a great measure unprotected.
I mentioned the difficulty to a friend of mine, Inspector R--- of the city police.
"It is not a nice neighborhood," he said thoughtfully, "and it is of no use going there unless you know your way about, or else you stand a tidy chance of getting knocked on your head, or returning minus your watch and chain."
I looked rather glum, and he went on to remark "that he would have been pleased to accompany me only he was leaving town the next day on particular business."
"Where do you want to go?" he asked.
"Well," I replied, "I want to go to Mitre square, Buck's row, Berners Street, and Hanbury street and just see for myself what class of people really do live there."
"I can manage that for you," he said. "One of our men, Mr. B----, is thoroughly efficient and highly respectable and intelligent officer, and he can go round with you."
I thanked the worthy inspector, who introduced me to Mr. B----, a tall, muscular and rather handsome man, and an arrangement was made there and then that I should meet the officer on the next night by the Law Courts.
The next evening we met at the appointed place, my escort looking very big and stalwart in his civilian dress, and I, clad in the darkest and least conspicuous of clothes.
It was a lovely night, clear and cold, the blue heavens all aglow with myriads of stars. The Strand was busy as only the Strand can be.
We hailed a 'bus, and soon we left the glare and bustle of the Strand and Fleet Street far behind. At Leadenhall street we got down and just at the end of that street and Whitechapel road is a narrow street which leads into Mitre square.
Although Mitre square is respectable, it affords facilities for crime. At night it is comparatively deserted, and, moreover, is badly lit, the corners being completely enveloped in gloom, and another thing is that there are few thoroughfares leading in and out of the square.
The next place we visited was Berners street, and to get there we had to cross Whitechapel road and go down Commercial street [sic].
The bustle and noise was most grateful after the fearful hush of Mitre square: there were quantities of men and women, but what men and women were they?
As we got near to Berners street, Mr. B---- asked me "if I felt frightened?"
I laughed and replied in the negative, and then he showed me with a certain amount of satisfaction that he was provided with his whistle and
In another few minutes we were in what my companion tersely described as a beastly locality. A long, ill-paved, narrow, badly-lit street. The lamps are few and far between, and show a flickering, sickly, yellow light.
After the glare of Whitechapel road, the darkness seems trebly bad. The houses are small and squalid, and teeming with life. Late as it is, one must walk carefully for fear of falling over half-naked infants, who crawl about the broken pavements.
Soon we leave the groups of horrible children behind and the thoroughfare looks deserted, and is so quiet that our footsteps ring out startlingly distinct on the still night air.
We cross over, and Mr. B---- points out a door apparently leading into a house, but when he pushes it open I see to my astonishment that it encloses a court, or narrow alley.
I peep down it, and as well as I can see in the blackness - for there is no lamp in the entry - I notice that there are houses at each side. Filthy, ramshackle cottages, evidently let out in tenements, for they seem swarming with human beings.
A man half dressed, unshaven, and unspeakably brutal looking, emerges from one of the houses. He is short and thick set, one eye is blackened, and a strip of filthy plaster adorns his left cheek. He is clad in fustian trousers and a ragged blue shirt, a wisp of rag is twisted round his neck, with the end of which he wipes his mouth preparatory to speaking. When he does speak it is to gently inquire in a hoarse voice:
"What the b----- h--- we ----- ------- ------ are doing?"
The expletives roll easily off his tongue, and in the midst of his tirade he catches sight of my companion, who is keeping his blue eyes fixed sternly on his face.
The effect is magical, for instantly stops his eloquence, and he disappears into the interior. In his absence we make our exit.
"You see", says Mr. B----, "there are any amount of these alleys about, and while the police are patrolling the street the Lord only knows what goes on in the courts that branch from the man thoroughfare.
"For instance we passed a couple of constables a few minutes ago; well, they are not able to visit and properly inspect every alley in Berners street. Why, we should want at least a score of men for that duty alone. Look how dark the entries are. If a murder were committed in the street the murderer could easily escape observation by staying in one of the alleys till the first hue and cry was over, and then he could mix with the crowd and get off."
By this time we have got to a building which Mr. B---- informs me is the club rendered notorious by being so near the scene of
whilst opposite is a stone block which is a board school. Next to the club is a pair of high wooden gates which open inwards into the stable yard.
On the right is the club, the windows of which are all lit up, and further on is the side door. Opposite are three small whitewashed cottages. The place is so narrow that if the hapless victim had made the least noise it must have been heard, despite the singing and merriment that were going on in the club.
A girl of about 14, barefooted and bareheaded, with a white, frightened face and sharp furtive eyes comes out of one of the houses. She starts a little when she sees us standing, and then comes across to me.
"The woman was found there," she says, with infinite gusto smacking her lips at the chance of repeating the tale of horror to an interesting listener. "'er head was on that short stone post, and 'er legs was just over the iron railings, and the blood and gore was all down there," and she pointed out the various spots mentioned with great relish.
"Do you live here?" we asked.
"Yes, sir, in the second cottage," she answered.
"And did you not hear anything?" queried Mr. B-----.
"Not a sound, sir." says the girl, earnestly, "and nobody else down here heard nothing neither. You know, sir, I think that…"
But we were fated never to hear what the girl thinks, for a voice calls out "Lizer!" and she promptly vanished into the cottage.
Occasionally we meet a few brawny fellows dressed in corduroys, who peer at us curiously as they slouch along in an aimless sort of manner. Mr. B---- glances at them keenly, and sometimes he smiles a little as we pass on; afterwards he tells me that they are detectives.
and I may at once admit that I was agreeably surprised by it. The street is fairly wide, well paved, and not badly lit. The houses are small, but the majority are clean and respectable looking, and seem to be inhabited by the hard working poor. In fact, it is a very superior locality to Berners street.
The actual spot of the tragedy, although rather in the shade, is still open. There is a house with green shutters. Next to it is a pair of high wooden gates; slantingly opposite is another lamp. Between the lamp by the gate, lying in the road itself, was found the barbarously mutilated body of the second victim of the recent murders. To my mind this is the most mysterious crime of the lot, for it seems improbable that so ghastly an act could be perpetrated in a comparatively well-lit, thickly populated street like this, without some trace of the assassin being found, or some clew to his whereabouts being discovered.
A door is open of one of the houses and it gives us an opportunity of seeing an interior so scrupulously clean, so bright and cheerful, that the remembrance of the black deed that took place outside seems to be even yet more horrible.
We have seen all there is to see. We leave Buck's row on our way to Hanbury street.
There is one exceedingly disagreeable feature of all these localities that deserves mention, and yet can necessarily be only lightly touched upon, and that is that the men and women, particularly the former, have not the least knowledge of common decency.
Their ignorance or wilful defiance of the most ordinary rules of decorum is apt to prove both embarrassing and uncomfortable to ordinary mortals who still think that modesty and decency exist even in the far East. The sights that I saw can better be imagined than described; indeed, a description would be peculiarly offensive, and I must admit that the women were nearly as great offenders as the men.
is a very different locality to any we have yet been in. It is long and narrow, and unevenly paved. The houses are rather high, the majority dirty, and the whole lot swarming with inhabitants.
I here remarked to Mr. B---- "that the place is not as bad as I thought."
He tells me that we are not yet in the thick of it, and he begs me to keep close to him.
I soon find out that I have been too hasty in giving an opinion, for the neighborhood and the people are vile. So much we see, I with horror distended eyes, my companion with the placidity born of intimate knowledge of these slums, so much that dare not be written and can only be spoken of in whispers.
The foreign element predominates. Villainous-looking Poles, ruffianly Germans, starving Russians, with the scum of half a dozen other nations all live or rather exist about here. They speak some incomprehensible jargon, they manage to find some means of earning a livelihood. I believe that they are quiet and inoffensive if left to themselves, but it is easy to see that they are looked upon with ill-concealed aversion and distrust.
I quite credit Mr. B-----'s statement that if the murderer was found to be a foreigner, all the police in London would be powerless to stay the persecution that the rest would be subjected to, in fact, they would be
A man who has been glancing at us wolfishly darts forward to make a grab at the handkerchief I hold in my hand.
"Ah would you," says Mr. B-------, and the would-be thief makes off.
I laugh at the salutary effect that my companion produces.
"They know me," he says; "I have walked into one of the doss houses (lodging houses) after a man, found him there amongst a score of his pals and have marched him off quite comfortably. They have got no real pluck; why, the majority of them are miserable cowards. Besides, as they often tell me, "We're not afrightened of you, but it's the clothes you wear that we are afraid of."
We are now near the scene of the murder; there are few shops, but any number of these common lodging-houses. The place is comparatively deserted, only a few unfortunates flitting by us, very likely seeking the wherewithal to pay for a night's shelter.
On our left is a house with the legend "Comfortable beds," written on a board outside. Opposite is the lodging-house from which the hapless victim of the Hanbury street tragedy was turned away to meet her death, because she had not the four pence to pay for her bed.
The night is still young, so the birds of prey have not as yet returned to their noisome nests. While we stand we see several girls disappear down the various entries. One woman asks us for assistance. She say she has no money, and since the last two murders she has been afraid to go out and seek it.
These woman make no secret of their calling, which they regard with callous indifference, but I cannot help thinking as we watch her go into the house opposite, that she and her class, if they could be persuaded to speak, could throw some light on the mysterious perpetrator of the crimes.
The mist begins to fall in a steady melancholy drizzle, and the wind blows cold and raw. I shiver involuntarily, for the chill breeze seems to penetrate even my thick coat. The damp is surcharged with smuts and wherever they fall they leave a black smear.
he looks wolfish and starved; a hunk of dry bread, the rejected evidently of dogs, is lying in the gutter, and this he presently sees. He gives a low cry, and with the aid of his rough crutch, he hobbles towards it, his poor maimed leg working with excitement; he clutches at the bread eagerly, drags himself back to the step and commences to gnaw and tear at the crust, more like a wild animal than anything human.
His enjoyment, however, is of short duration, for a long, yellow, thieving hand, belonging to a something that bears a faint resemblance to a woman, grasps him by his frayed shirt, and with the other hand snatches the food from him and then vanishes in the mist.
First the lad curses and blasphemes, and then he gives way to a dreadful misery; he moans and cries and the tears form grotesque little rivulets down his grimy face. He wishes he was dead and prays for the pluck to cut his throat; he shrieks out for the woman's heart, her vitals; he curses her with every curse, and then he falls moaning again.
Mr. B----- stands behind me as I drop a coin into the poor wretch's hand. He doesn't thank me but glares and blinks at me out of his wicked, tear-stained eyes, and in a low, hoarse voice says that he'll "Go and get something to eat before she comes out again."
I inquire if she is the person who took the bread from him. He nods his head volubly.
"And who is she?" I ask.
"My mother," he responds, laconically.
I shrink back the remembrance of the curses ringing in my ears, and I shudder.
As we go along we pass another lodging-house, and there we see a sight so indescribably painful that I find it difficult to realize that I am in a wealthy and humane city.
It is an unfortunate: young, and as well as we can see under the dirt and paint, pretty. She has boots and stockings on and an old silk skirt, with a torn velvet bodice showing the flesh through the rents. She smells strongly of spirits, and we hear her imploring the deputy to trust her for a night's shelter. She offers him anything only to let her rest there that night. He refuses; she catches him by the hand, she almost kneels to him, but he is obdurate, shakes her from him and shuts the door on her.
At first the poor creature seems paralyzed, then she shrieks and batters at the door with her hands, then she sobs with impotent misery, and calls on Christ to assist her.
She tears at her dress, and falls to beating her bare breasts. She seems to take a fierce delight in torturing herself, for she strikes her head against the wall and drags out her lank hair by handfulls.
I look stealthily at my watch, and I find that it is getting late, so we proceed to direct our footsteps toward Whitechapel road, which is the first stage of my return journey homewards. As we go along the
"These men," says Mr. B-----, "are professional loafers: they sleep and drink all day, and at night they come out of the alleys and courts and lurk about the dark corners to see who they can knock down and rob. Why, if I had not been with you, you would have had every bit of your valuables stolen by this time. These fellows don't work because they won't; thieving pays them much better, and it is exciting. They know me, and they know that I know them; so that is the reason they have left us alone."
I hint a doubt as to the desirability of our detectives being so well known; but this Mr. B---- laughs at.
"I'm in plain clothes," he says, "and the folks about here recognize me; that is, because I want them to. We are not down here on business; we are merely sight-seeing, and I did not want our pleasure to be spoiled by getting into rows which I knew we could avoid by letting my calling be clearly noticeable. You mentioned a few minutes ago that since we left Berners street we have met no policemen. None we have met in uniform, but we have kept constantly running against our men so artfully dressed that you have seen no difference in them and the other individuals who were lounging about. The number of police that have been drafted down here is surprising."
We are now in Commercial street, and it seems to me a very paradise after the slums we have left. The mist has cleared away, and if it were not for the all-pervading and abominable smell of fried fish, the air would be delightfully fresh in comparison with Hanbury street.
Whitechapel road itself is a great delight to me - it is wide and noisy and presents all the appearance of a fair. Either side of the road is a long row of stalls brilliantly lit up with portable gas, and everything under the sun can be bought there.
There are butcher stalls presided over by loud-voiced men, who assure the bystanders that as it is late they are almost giving the meat away. A lean, pale woman carrying a baby, is haggling over the price of a piece of mutton. It is a fair-sized piece, and he at length agrees to take fourpence; she pays him in half-pennies and a little boy that is clinging to her skirt claps his thin hands rapturously.
Men lounge about here, but they give me the idea of idling after work is done, for they have very little of the raffish look of their Berners and Hanbury street compeers.
In short, the East End cannot be judged from the flourishing and busy Whitechapel road. It is the places that branch off from it that are so vile. It is the places where the moral sewage flows till they become hideous cesspools of vice and crime.
Fine ladies, and white-handed gentlemen will do no good down here; indeed nothing will remedy the evils while lighting is deficient, sanitary conveniences absent, and these filthy dark alleys exist. I say my goodbye to Mr. B----- at the Aldgate station and thank him, as well as I may, for his courtesy and kindness, and for his presence, which has kept me from insult and robbery in what he describes as "one of the (if not the) worst localities in London."
And as I return to my hotel I think with a thrill of disgust of the many horrible things I have seen and heard during my night's slumming in Whitechapel.