A Walk Around Our Parishes

There can be little doubt that there were certain parts of the Victorian East End that were, to say the least, thoroughly unpleasant to live in or near.

Indeed, long before the advent of the dreadful Jack the Ripper murders drew public attention to the the appalling social conditions in some neighbourhoods of the East End of London, people were complaining about the conditions in the streets of parts of Spitalfields and Whitechapel.

On January 6th, 1877, the following letter appeared in the pages of the East London Observer.

The reader wrote in to complain about the practice of dumping and storing refuse at locations around the parish – in this instance, close to Burdett Road – and of the fact that this practice resulted in a dreadful stench that hung constantly over the immediate vicinity and which, according to the writer, may well have been the cause of outbreaks of disease in the area as a whole.

The letter read:-


“Sir, – If on walking through the parish within a three-mile radius of our great city, would you not be surprised to hear that there are places that are made depots for thousands of tons of street and house refuse, that is allowed to lay not only for weeks but for months, casting forth their vile stench that carries with it death and desolation into many homes that may happen to lay in the wind tracks of these shoots?

What can the local authorities be about?


They certainly are active enough in some respects, with their inspectors of nuisances, who compel you to have removed any refuse from your houses that he may consider necessary, providing you don’t cause it to be removed yourself; but how can this be an advantage to remove it from one place in a small quantity to heap it up in large quantities in another part of the parish, to the injury of innocent people who may live near these favoured depots, and to the profit of the contractors, who store it up for the season trade?


What are the inhabitants of the Burdett-road about to allow this state of things to go on at their back door year after year, or are they aware that such a depot actually exists in Dod-street, Burdett-road, and it so happens that this favoured street is a hive of industry for the employment of hundreds of females in factories, with which this street abounds.

Who can tell but that some of the employees may carry disease to their homes, at night, after inhaling for hours during their employment the deadly fumes that arise from such an accumulation of vile refuse that is allowed to lay for months?


Again, I see another parish conferring a great boon upon its neighbour by conveying a large quantity of its refuse and depositing it on its neighbours’ land, which, from its extent, promises to be a depot of huge magnitude; and by the tide of vehicles that hourly deposit their vile burden upon the land, we cannot hope to see any falling off in the next medical report on the death rate.

It is to be hoped that the people will be up and doing, and see for themselves what favours are being conferred upon them; but perhaps the parish of Whitechapel, with its heavy traffic, its slaughterhouses, and crowded neighbourhoods, are cautious enough to disinfect their refuse before they deposit it just over Stratford Bridge.


I am quite aware there must be receiving wharves to shoot into barges, but this can be done without making depots of them to hoard it up for the season, let that be done at a longer range.

It is to be hoped that the West Ham Local Board will follow the good example set them by the Poplar Board of Works, who justly refuse to have the refuse of other parishes deposited on land under their control: it must be distracting to that Board to see the caution they used to stamp out the disease, that we are so fatally labouring under, frustrated by a depot actually being opened nearer to the metropolis than one they have so recently successfully closed,

Yours, etc.

A Constant Reader”