A Clergyman’s Adventure

The East End of London, and the district of Spitalfields, in particular, held a great deal of fascination for Victorian journalists, notwithstanding the notoriety it achieved at the time of the Jack the Ripper crimes.

On Friday, 3rd of March, 1899, the following article was published in The Torquay Times which lifted the lid on the squalor, vice and general hell-on-earth, that the East End of London was perceived to have been.

The article seems to have made quite a few exaggerated claims, such as the number of child deaths in the area, but, as an historic piece, it is important in that it gives us an idea of just how the country as a whole was viewing the area where the Whitechapel murders had occurred.

The article read:-


“Lecturing at the Caledonian Road Baths, London, on “Modern Babylon, or East London of Today,” the Rev. Tom C. Collings said that among the wretched outcasts in the East End of London, he had found the daughter of a baronet, the daughter of a Scottish peer, and the daughter of a master of the Gloucestershire hounds.

They had fallen, been deserted, and desired to be forgotten.

One poor wretch in Spitalfields said to Mr. Collings, “I don’t care what Hell is like. It can’t be worse than things down here.”

In the underground cellars, rats, cats, and human beings struggled for the supremacy.

At one of his Bible meetings, Mrs. O’Flannagen, Jane Cakebread’s associate, insisted on singing “A Bicycle Made for Two.”

A Portrait of Jane Cakebread.
From The Cardiff times, Saturday, 17th December, 1898. Copyright, The British Library Board and Richard Jones.


She had to be expelled, but even the “chuckerout,” an accomplished pugilist, did not care for the job. Mrs. O’Flannagan was herself a famous bruiser, and had spoilt the faces of several constables.

In desperation, Mr. Collings tackled her himself. Taking his arm, she offered no objection to leaving the building. But at the door, she lifted him up in the air, kissed him on both cheeks, and then dropped him on the pavement.

Subsequently visiting her, he found two bantams in the room. Alluding to the birds, she said:- “I like a bit of company, especially when the governor is doing time in one of her Majesty’s hotels.”


Dorset Street, the lecturer declared to be the most wicked street in the East End.

He had known Kate Marshall, the murderess, and her family very well.

He took to visiting the house soon after Mary Jane Kelly was murdered there by “Jack the Ripper.”

More than once he had been locked in a house in that street, and had witnessed fights between factory girls stripped to the waist.

Mr. Wynne Baxter once said to him:- “Can’t you do something with Dorset Street! Every year 300 or 400 children are murdered in that district, and no one is brought to justice.”

A sketch showing Dorset Street.
Dorset Street, Spitalfields. From Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 2nd June 1901. Copyright The British Library Board.


In Brick Lane, women squatted on the pavement, and sold their clothes. Young girls about to marry on half-a-crown were thus able to purchase a cheap trousseau.

A penny brass ring was used at the church ceremony.


The lecturer gave details of the East End “Bridge cf Sighs.”

Several policemen are stationed there, the number being largest during fogs. But starving, homeless, and hopeless men and women are constantly trying to sneak past the constables and commit suicide.”