It is always intriguing to read accounts written by people who had experienced the East End of London as it was around the time of the Whitechapel murders.
On Saturday the 7th of March, 1891, The Eastbourne Chronicle published the following article by a a lady who had headed to London and had toured the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields:-
A VISIT TO WHITECHAPEL
(BY AN EASTBOURNE LADY)
No one would believe what trouble I had to arrange that visit to Whitechapel. Last mouth I was staying with friends near Loudon, and, as usual, they asked me if there was anything in London I wanted to see. I said that I wanted to see Whitechapel and the parish work there.
At last I got leave to write to the rector to ask him if he could show us some of the work in his parish, and it was settled that Daisy and I were to go, with Charlie (Daisy’s brother) to take care of us. There was much debate as to whether we were old enough to go (for we are all still in our teens), but then Charlie is so staid that he seems quite old!
At last the letter from the rector came. He said that he would be attending a very important committee meeting that day, but that one of his Curates would take us about.
THE JOURNEY TO WHITECHAPEL
So after breakfast we started off, after quite a touching farewell from the rest of the family. They all gazed after us out of the window as though they would never see us again.
When we reached Victoria we went by underground railway to Aldgate-street. We looked vaguely round when we got out of the station, and then made for a church which we saw in the distance.
TO ST MARY’S RECTORY
We soon recognised it as being St. Mary’s, because it was so like the picture on the report. We were fairly in Whitechapel now, but it did not seem so very horrible after all.
The people certainly looked poor, but they were not worse than we had seen in other parts of Loudon. This was our first surprise.
We went straight to the Rectory, a square, bare looking house by the side of the church, and rang the bell. Then all our courage seemed to ebb away, and I am ashamed to say we began to wish we had not come.
We had to wait some time, but at last the Rector’s wife came to us. She shook hands all round, and told us how sorry the Rector was that he had to be away that day.
THEIR GUIDED TOUR BEGINS
Very soon the front door bell rang, and in came the clergyman who was to take us about, and we very soon found ourselves in the street again.
“I want to take you first to see some schools,” said our guide, “because they close at twelve, and everything else will wait.”
As we went along he began to tell us how the Jews were increasing in Whitechapel, and pointed out a number of Hebrew bills on the walls.
Ever so many of the people we met had a Jewish type of face.
THE BOARD SCHOOL
Presently we reached a large Board School, and were taken into the girls’ part of it. The mistress took us through all the classrooms, and showed us her ‘museum’, telling us lots of interesting things.
She said they had now four hundred Jewesses in the school and only eighty Christian girls. Several of the children could only talk Russian, and they had funny sounding names, mostly ending with “sky.”
One girl talked a language which was neither Hebrew, Russian, German or Polish. Strangely enough this child could read and write English, yet could not speak it.
Such pretty children most of the little Jewesses were. Some were quite lovely, but we were told that as soon as they become mothers they lost their beauty.
BUYING AND SELLING FRUIT
Soon after we left the school we met an old man wheeling a truck or hand-cart, which was piled with boxes of Tangerine oranges.
Our guide said that many of the Whitechapel people supported themselves by buying fruit just on the verge of decay and quickly reselling it to poor people at a low rate.
INSIDE THE HOUSES
We wanted to see the inside of some of the houses very much, but Whitechapel people (naturally enough) object to being “on show.” We were told that an entire family lived in every room of the houses we passed, but they did not show themselves much at the windows.
However, we went to visit one old woman.
I followed the clergyman down the rickety steps into the cellar, while the other two stayed outside.
Half the room was taken up by a huge mangle, and there was also a table, while between the two was a sort of passage, which was all the available space.
At first I thought that there were no chairs, but the old woman brought out one from under the table and two or three stools as well, so we sat down and began to talk.
But just then the old woman spied my two companions in the street, and sent another woman up to fetch them. At first they did not care to come, but she told them they need not be afraid, which rather “put their backs up,” and they came down.
There was only just room for us all.
HOW THE POOR FOLK LIVE
It was most amusing to hear the clergyman and the old woman joking together. The old woman wanted a husband, she declared; “I don’t care if he’s deaf or blind or got no legs, if he can turn the mangle.”
After a time she turned to me, and, laying her hand on my arm, began talking in a shrill voice.
“Do you want to see how poor folk live, my dear? Well, I’ve lived in this cellar nigh twenty year, and for four year I never been outside till I went to that tea. I’ve paid my rent reg’lar all that time, for if I missed one week they’d ‘a turned me out o’ doors.
All Wednesday and Thursday I never tasted a bit o’ food, miss, but last night that young ‘ooman, she brought me a bit o’ mangling to do.
But I’m cheerful, you see, my dear; yes, I’m allus cheerful; don’t see no good o’ complaining. If I can get a bit o’ mangling I’m quite ‘appy; never want anything if I can get as bit o’ mangling.”
We went away soon after this.
I was the last to leave, and, as I was climbing the steps, the old woman called out, “Thank you for coming to see us, miss.” “Thank you for letting us come,” I called in reply.
“She’s a dear old woman,” said the clergyman as we walked down the street. “She’s a very good old body, too, and all she told you is quite true. You saw that she had no bed; she sleeps at night on the top of her mangle.”
LOTS OF SHAKING HANDS
A house down a side street was pointed out to us as where one of the murders took place. We were surprised to see our guide shake hands with so many people.
Even the brewers’ men held out their beery hands when they saw him coming, while dirty little boys grinned with delight as he patted their cheeks or put his arm round their necks.
He said, “You might as well come to Whitechapel without a tongue as be unwilling to shake hands freely.”
Our guide asked us if we had ever seen a Tee-to-tum? On our replying in the negative, he said, “It is quite worth seeing. A Tee-to-tum is a working men’s club. They are all over the East-end now.”
We went through the swinging doors and waited till a woman, who sat in a sort of cashier’s box, gave us leave to go over the house.
There were rows of tables down the room, at which a few men were sitting, and at the end was a part partitioned off for a girls’ coffee-room. In this room services are held every Sunday for the men. There was a billiard-room, containing several billiard tables, and upstairs more billiard tables, a concert-room and a little reading-room, very nicely furnished, of which the owner of the place seemed very proud.
The owner of the Tee-to-tum is a tea merchant, who makes a good deal of money by selling tea in packets.
We went next to the Church Coffee Tavern, the “Oriental,” but I have rather mixed it up in my mind with the Tee-to-tum and do not remember all the different rooms.
THE SALVATION ARMY SHELTER
When we left the “Oriental ” we were not sure where to go next, but, seeing the Salvation Army Shelter on the other side of the road, one of us suggested that we should go there so as to see the difference.
Our guide hesitated a little at first, but ultimately took us in.
Such dirty, ragged, horrible looking people I never saw before. Some were sitting, eating a sort of thick soup out of dirty plates, while others were standing in a crowd, talking loudly and apparently quarrelling.
We were glad to get out again, as the air was not of the purest.
PAUPERISING THE PEOPLE
Our guide spoke to several of the people and a number of little boys followed us out of the door, but he told them to go away.
“The other day,” he said, “I saw a lady open her purse and give one of them a penny, and all the others rushed and nearly tore the clothes off her back.”
Then he explained to us about the Salvation Army Shelter.
He said it pauperises the people by giving them food under cost price. It collects together the scum of London and these men stand outside ready to attack passers by. This gives Whitechapel a bad name, while really there is scarcely a true Whitechapel man in the shelter.
THE IRISH QUARTER
We went next through the Irish quarter, where many of the most disreputable characters live, and as we were standing on the pavement near one of the brewery gates the clergyman startled us by saying suddenly, “On the spot, where you are now standing, one of the murders was committed.” It gave me such a horrid feeling.
TOURING THE BREWERY
Going over the brewery was great fun.
The overseer showed us over a part of it.
“You see that man,” said the clergyman (as the overseer went in front of us down some steps), “he gets between two and three thousand a year for overlooking the making of beer, and yet people complain at giving a curate two hundred!”
At half-past one our guide left us for a time and we went to a restaurant opposite the London Hospital.
TIME FOR LUNCH
The people seemed somewhat surprised to see us, but we found the rolls and butter very good, and a discussion of our adventures flavoured our repast pleasantly.
Luncheon ended, we want to the clergyman’s lodgings to wait for him.
THE SCRIPTURE READER
A black bearded Scripture reader opened the door to us and ushered us upstairs.
Then taking off hat and scarf, he prepared for a chat. “We’ve been expecting you, sir, the rector told us a party was coming.”
Charlie asked if people often came to see the parish. “Folks often come to spy round by themselves, I think, but they don’t come to the clergy. They come to find out how bad we are.”
This man told us that it took him just nine months to visit every house in his district. He worked under the clergyman of the district. He began at one end and the clergyman at the other, so that every family was visited at least twice in nine months, while the sick were visited every week.
Then he began to talk very excitedly about Mr. Booth, but without mentioning his name. “It’s a shame that a man should talk as if no one was working in the East-end but himself – saying he is the only one that helps the poor, &c., &c.”
THE POOR AND THE WORKHOUSE
After the Scripture reader had left us we had to wait for the clergyman.
When he came he told us that he had been visiting some poor people and trying to get them to go into the Workhouse.
He said that people often came out of the Workhouse with just enough to support them for a few days, and then they came to the clergy for relief. The clergy relieved them if they saw any prospect of their being able to support themselves afterwards, but if not, sent them back to the Workhouse.
A WHITECHAPEL DRAWING ROOM
Making our way along several streets, we arrived at a bare-looking house in the middle of a block, in front of which hung a sign board with the name “Davis’s.”
We had to wait outside while our guide went to see if they would let us in.
At last he came to fetch us, and we followed him down some steps into a long, low, very dark room with rows of seats, on which a number of men were reclining in various attitudes.
Many of them were very ragged and dirty. Some were smoking and one man was cooking something – I think it was herrings – suspended in front of the fire by a string.
The clergyman asked why so many were there that afternoon?
“No work to do, yer see, sir: and it’s warmer ‘ere than in the street,” was the reply.
“You’re a clever cook,” he said to the man by the fire, “that smells very good.”
“Don’t get tin food unless I work ‘ard enough for it.”
“Neither do I,” the clergyman answered promptly. “I have brought some ladies to see your ‘drawing-room:’ they wanted to know what a Whitechapel ‘drawing-room’ was like.”
“Let ’em go upstairs,” said a rough-looking man by the door, “they’re welcome to see it all. Here, Tom, take the ladies upstairs.”
So we followed the man upstairs, stumbling two or three times.
The room that we reached was the same size as the “drawing-room” below. It was filled with rows of wooden beds, but without any other furniture. Up another flight of stairs were some smaller rooms with several beds in each. Over every bed was a little tin shelf fixed on the wall to hold a light.
ANOTHER COMMON LODGING HOUSE
Next door there was another lodging-house, and the landlord appeared delighted to see us. He insisted on taking us all over his house of which be seemed very proud.
It looked quite a small house outside, but there were seven hundred beds in it. We had to go into every room and got terribly tired of the winding passages and narrow stairs.
The house seemed like a maze.
Each bed had a pillow, a couple of sheets and two, or sometimes three, thin brown blankets, the latter much patched and darned. There were no pillow cases and on the sheets was printed “Stolen from,” with the landlord’s name.
This house had a kitchen, where the men were allowed to use the cooking utensils gratis.
The landlord showed us the little candles provided for his lodgers. They were about an inch and half as thick as a pencil, in little tin stands.
Next we were taken to the wash-room, which was quite underground. Here there were several basins in a row, with taps. One man was washing some garment in a basin, while on a rickety table an old man had spread out his shirt, and was scrubbing it with is brush, very slowly and solemnly.
We were told that at both lodging-houses the charge was threepence a night.
LAZY EAST END BACHELORS
“You see how the bachelors of the East-end live,” said the clergyman, as we went down the street.
“Now, most of those men desire nothing better; they only want to get enough to eat and to be free to loiter, and they will not work unless they are obliged. Once a week we want our football field swept, and this takes a man about two hours. We offer half-a-crown for the job, and you would not believe what difficulty we have to get it done. The men are lazy, that’s what it is.”
I wondered why he did not try to get the fathers of families for his work, if the “bachelors of the East-end” are so lazy!
BACK TO ST MARY’S CHURCH
Reaching the High-street again, we crossed and went to the church, stopping on our way to look at the open-air pulpit.
It is such a nice church, so bright and fresh looking inside.
At the west-end is the baptistery, where adult baptisms are held nearly every Sunday, and there is a lovely reredos at the east-end of alabaster and marble.
We went into the vestry, where the clergy robe, and then into the church-room, where I think the choir don their surplices.
At half-past ten every morning one of the clergymen sits in the church-room to hear anything that any parishioner has to tell. Numbers of people come every day and a sort of court seems to be held.
The clergy must have had hard work during this severe winter, but our guide told us that not one deserving person had been overlooked, or neglected, or cared for by any other organisation.
“The Church of England in the East-end is ‘in possession’, in spite of all the attempts to oust her.”
GO AND SEE FOR YOURSELF
St. Mary’s station is only a few steps from the church, and, making our way there, we were soon in the train.
I want to end up with a suggestion.
Good people, you who read this account, don’t believe all the stories that you are told about the East-end of London. Go yourself and see what the Church is doing there.”