19th Century East Enders

When the Whitechapel Murders began in 1888, photography was beginning to catch on as a medium by which to explore the streets and places of cities the World over.

Photographers were beginning to record for posterity the streets of London and, as a consequence, we have inherited some wonderfully evocative black and white images that show, not just the streets of Spitalfields and Whitechapel as they were around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, but also the men women and children who lived through the dreadful events of the autumn of terror.

We have been collecting these photographs for many years now, and, as a result, those who join us for our nightly guided walk through the streets that were once the haunt of the ripper get to see the streets through which they are walking as they were at the time of the crimes.

However, since we are dedicated to collecting images from all over London, we have amassed a vast archive of old photographs and so over the next few months we’ll be presenting those photos on our blog.

So, here is our first evocative image. Taken around 1895, it shows a group of 19th century East Enders relaxing outside their homes or, as it would appear in this particular case, their home! Not the large white aprons that several of the ladies are wearing. These were typical of the type of aprons that would have been worn by the victims of Jack the Ripper. Since many of them lived transient existences in the Common Lodging Houses of the district, sometimes moving several times a week, the pockets of these aprons were where they often kept their valuables.

I also can’t help but wonder what these long ago residents made of the strange box that the photographer was using to capture their likenesses? In fact, if you look closely at their faces you can see that some of them seem a little unsure about the process and, one or to of them, look downright uncomfortable at having to pose and keep still for what must have been an inordinately long period of time!

A group of East End residents gather outside their houses in the late 19th century.
Taking The Air