An Attack At A Lodging House

Following the initial surge in the crimes in the saga now known as the Jack the Ripper murder spree, that began on August 31st 1888 with the murder of Mary Nichols in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel, and culminated with the “double murders” of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on 30th September 1888, the people of the East End were given a respite from the terror.

Indeed, there were no murders throughout the whole of October 1888.

Quite why this should have been is impossible to ascertain.  It could have been that the murderer was away from London during this period; or it could have been that the intensification of the police activity in the area made it impossible for him to strike again.

However, just because there were no Jack the Ripper murders during the month of October 1888, it doesn’t mean that crime ceased in the district.

Indeed, the criminals of Whitechapel and Spitalfields remained as active as ever and several cases throughout October ensured that the newspapers were able to report on various attacks that occurred during October, albeit the circumstances surrounding them were nowhere near as dramatic as the circumstances surrounding the initial Whitechapel Murders.

A woma sits by the couples cubicles of a Spitalfields Common Lodging House.
Couple Lodgings Inside A Spitalfields Common Lodging House.


Central to the lawlessness of the district were the common lodging houses of Spitalfields and Whitechapel, which, thanks to press reporting on the murders of Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman, were being portrayed in several newspapers as dens of thievery and vice.

Historically, it can be quite difficult to gauge what the inhabitants of these places were like, since those who ran them, and who were associated with them, were reluctant to speak badly of them.

However, every so often, cases came before the courts that provided an insight into that went on in many of the lodging houses; and, it has to be said, if these cases were typical of life in an East End common lodging house, well, let’s just say that the inhabitants weren’t a particularity pleasant bunch, and the less street-wise, who found themselves having to spend a night within their decaying walls did so at their own risk and they, quite literally, took their lives in their hands.


The following article, which appeared in Reynolds’s Newspaper on October 14th 1888 illustrates just how dangerous the district could be  for strangers who found themselves on its streets late at night.

It features the story of an attack on a Swedish student that had taken place at a common lodging house in Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields.

The article read:-

“Mary Hawke, 18, who gave an address in Gun-street, Spitalfields, and James Fordham, 21, a painter, refusing his address, were charged before Mr. Montagu Williams with having been concerned with others in assaulting Carl Edwin Hellman, and robbing him of a purse containing £4 and a pair of trousers.

The prosecutor’s evidence was taken through M. Karamelli, interpreter.

A photo showing the interior of a common lodging house kitchen.
A Common Lodging House Kitchen


Hellman, who is a Swede, described himself as a student.

Late at night he was in the neighbourhood of Whitechapel, the worse for drink, and he got into the company of some women, one of whom he accompanied to Thrawl-street, Spitalfields, whence he was taken into a common lodging house in Flower and Dean Street.

Almost immediately he did so, four or five men rushed in, seized him and threw him on the bed, where he was held down by the throat and robbed of his purse and his trousers.

He was then taken from the room and thrust down the stairs.

He was screaming very loudly then, and just as he was thrown down-stairs Police constables Wright and Dennis, H- division, burst in at the street-door.


It seemed from the evidence of a Mr. Percy Carton, ship’s steward, that he and a friend had noticed the prosecutor being pulled down Thrawl-street by the women, and had informed the constables.

Directly they passed the lodging house in Flower and Dean-street constables Wright and Dennis heard screams, and when they entered the house the men who had been attacking Hellmen vanished.

The police said the deputy was not to be found, and they were shown by the prosecutor the room in which he had been robbed.


It was explained that these apartments are merely divisions of a very large room, the partitions not reaching to the ceiling, so that it is possible, by mounting a table or short ladder, to look over the top into the next “room.”

Police-constable Wright did that, and saw the prisoners in bed.

They seemed to be asleep, but he made the woman open the door. She was then seen to be trying to shuffle something out into the next “room,” and the article, picked up proved to be the prosecutor’s trousers.

She denied all knowledge of them, and so did Fordham; but, when the latter got out of bed, the prosecutor said that he was one of the men who had attacked him.


When the bed was searched the purse was found, but only with £1 10s. in it. A handkerchief belonging to Hellman was also discovered, and he said he believed Hawkes to be the young woman who took him to the lodging house.

Fordham asserted that he had been in bed for two hours, and knew nothing of any robbery.


Mr. Percy Carton stated that Fordham was out in the street, watching the women and the prosecutor, and had even spoken to him on the matter.

He left, and the witness and his friend saw him enter the lodging-house, where, ten minutes later, the complainant was heard screaming.


On Friday the prisoners were again brought up.

Margaret Brown, a young woman, deposed that she acted as “deputy” of the house.

The house was owned by Mr. Coates, who kept a chandler’s shop in Dorset-street, and lived in Whitecross-street.


Replying to the magistrate, the witness said that there were nineteen “double” beds and seventeen “singles” in the place. She had sole charge of the place, and was paid six shillings a week for the duties she performed.

Police-constable Dennis, 57 H, recalled, said that the “single” beds were undivided, and stood in rows in a large room, the “double” beds being in small rooms that were made by partitioning a large one. The partitions did not touch the floor or the ceiling, a space of about eighteen inches being left top and bottom. A person might pass from one “room” to another with a good squeeze.


Police-sergeant 32 H said that the registered lodging houses in the district were 127 in number – common lodging houses, accommodating about 6,000 persons.

They were all visited once a week on average.

He doubted if a single registered lodging house would be found without thieves and prostitutes among its lodgers.

Thugs outside a lodging house being watched by a police officer.
A Cheap Lodging House In Spitalfields. From The Illustrated Police News, 15th September 1888. Copyright the British Library Board.


Mr. Williams directed that the proceedings at the lodging house in question were to be reported at Scotland Yard.

The prisoners were committed to the session.”