On April 24th 1886, The Graphic featured a detailed four page report that dealt with the conditions and the lives of the poor and the unemployed of London, and in particular of those who dwelt in Spitalfields and Whitechapel.
As part of the research for the article, the author paid a visit to one of the many common lodging houses of Spitalfields.
The common lodging houses of Spitalfields played an important part in the Jack the Ripper saga in that the majority of his victims had been staying at these establishments at the time of their murders.
It is also evident, from the press and police reports, that the detectives who were attempting to hunt down the perpetrator of the crimes believed, rightly or wrongly, that he might be hiding out amongst the inhabitants of one or more of the common lodging houses, where few questions were asked about the comings and goings of the residents.
So articles that provide an insight into the conditions inside these places are important in helping us to understand the social conditions of the area in which the murders occurred, and the everyday lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims in the days and months leading up to their murders.
A SPITALFIELDS COMMON LODGING HOUSES
The Graphic article read:-
“The parish of Spitalfields contains some of the largest common lodging-houses in London.
They are the temporary, and sometimes permanent, home of dock-labourers, out-o’-work cabinet-makers, beggars, street-singers, and hawkers.
We paid several visits to one of these, where the nightly charge for a bed was fourpence, “doubles” eightpence.
CLEAN AND AIRY
The place was clean and airy, the sheets, though coarse, perfectly clean and white; the boards thoroughly scrubbed, and all the sanitary arrangements very good.
The bedclothes are all marked in large type with the word “Stolen,” and the name of the proprietor.
This arrangement prevents pawning, but does not always prevent the feminine lodger from making them into useful underclothing during the night, the only drawback to this being the large letters sprawling over the garments.
THE COMMON KITCHEN
The kitchen of the lodging-house forms the common club-room of the establishment.
Here each lodger cooks his or her own provisions, the landlord being the owner of all the utensils used, the frying-pans, teapots, saucepans, &c.; here the kids are washed, and here all the meals are eaten.
In the evening, when the inmates return from their lays or labours of the day, the scene in the kitchen is a busy one, and, as long as they are all sober, the good folks appear to live in a friendly, help-one-another sort of way, which makes it rather a pleasant dwelling place for all parties.
A TYPICAL SATURDAY NIGHT
Saturday night is the best time to see a common lodging-house; we spent a pleasant evening there a week or two ago.
The lodgers had evidently made up their minds to behave decently before “the gen’lman.”
They were all kind and obliging; but, alas! we were innocently and unwittingly the cause of an evening’s discord.
THE MERRY DOCK WORKER
We had scarcely made ourselves comfortable in a quiet corner with the sketch book, when there entered unto us a dock labourer, who was in that state of intoxication which might be described as jolly.
He shook us warmly and affectionately by the hand, and bade us welcome in a neat speech which was beginning to be emotional, and we almost began to fear that warm embraces would follow.
The voice of the “deputy” inquiring why he didn’t let the gentleman alone brought the orator back to mundane things, and made him think of his evening meal.
His wife, however, who had evidently been drinking the greater part of the day, here began to take up the cudgels in her husband’s favour, and assailed the “deputy” in words more vigorous than polite.
The dock labourer “‘Oped ‘e ‘adn’t offended the gen’lman ;” the “gen’lman ” said, “Certainly not.”
The lady’s tongue having begun to wag, wagged much.
JACK THE KIPPER
The old Irish women smoked their pipes in peace, and Jack Hunt, a hawker of bloaters and “kippers,” who had only one sleeve to his old frock coat, and was in the weeping stage of intoxication, counted stock, and kept slapping his herrings into the box, dropping upon them an occasional tear.
A young man and his “missus” were taking tea at a side table.
They had as a relish six of Mr. Hunt’s kippers, toasted on a spit before one of the great fires, of which there were two in the room.
The young man sat barefooted; his “missus” had her head “tied on.”
He was a good-humoured young man, and made sundry jokes about the “gen’lman as wos a sketchin’.”
The dock labourer’s wife kept her tongue wagging, was requested to “shut up” by another lodger, the only result being that she turned the torrent upon the interfering one, and made observations about the pale colour of his liver.
These observations called forth others, and there followed a good deal of “langwidge.”
A blind woman entered at this juncture, and mistaking the cause of the disturbance, immediately addressed the object of her peculiar aversion, Mr. Jack Hunt, and walking up to a perfectly innocent spectator, asked him in loud tones what he, Jack Hunt (it wasn’t Jack Hunt), meant by allowing his wife to go to the Infirmary and drinking the money he ought to send to her.
She challenged Hunt to mortal combat on the spot.
Her husband here interfered, and, setting her on a form requested her, politely, but firmly, to “hold her jaw.”
A TOUR OF THE LODGING HOUSE
The “deputy” is the responsible representative of the lodging-house proprietor.
We found him very civil and obliging.
We are also indebted to the “keeper,” himself, for his exceeding courtesy.
The “deputy” now offered to show us over the house, and as we were looking through the door of the single men’s room, we became aware of a great increase in the turmoil below stairs.
A FIGHT BREAKS OUT
The “deputy” rushed down, we following, and on reaching the kitchen we found that the musical dock-labourer and the gentleman accused of possessing a pale liver had come to blows and were sparring around each other in a highly scientific manner.
The women and children were crying, and the former asking each other in anxious tones what the “gen’lman would think of us now, with the men disgracing themselves in that ruffianly manner.”
Mr. Hunt still sat counting his herrings, and making drunken calculations.
When the gladiators had separated (they hadn’t hurt each other much), the rest of the lodgers gathered into little knots, and discussed the late disgraceful proceedings.
Presently an elderly man was levelled by a knock-down blow from a younger one, and lay motionless.
Here was a pretty affair, more inquiries as to “what the gen’lman would think, a man killed in this manner.”
The victim for a while lay motionless, but presently showed signs of returning animation.
The lodgers soon began to forget the occurrence, and walked unconcernedly over his body.
After a long while he crawled to a seat, and then we saw him bundled neck and crop into the street by the hard-worked and energetic “deputy.”
It seemed that the man was a stranger, who seeing a disturbance in the kitchen had taken advantage of it to walk in and devour a couple of “kippers” which a young man was cooking for his supper, who, finding them gone, had summarily knocked his elder down, and “sarve him right ” was the general verdict.
A FOND GOOD NIGHT
We thought it time to go now, and bidding the company “good night,” and being wished the same in return, we departed.
Outside the door we once again encountered the musical dock-labourer, who hoped, as he gave us his benediction, that we would overlook his misdeeds of the evening.
Turning away his face, he wiped a tear-drop from his eye, and informed us that the memory of that night would never fade from his heart.
CLEAN AND PREFERABLE ACCOMMODATION
The common lodging-house, clean, and under strict supervision, as it is, is a far preferable home to the wretched tenements we had visited.
It forms a humble hotel for the poverty-stricken, and the only drawback is the contaminating influence of most of its frequenters.
The house is clean, but the language is dirty.
On Sundays services are held for the benefit of the inmates in the kitchen of the establishment.”