Berner Street October 1888

By November, 1888, a whole month had passed with no further Jack the Ripper murders having taken place, and the newspapers were starting to focus on different agendas, rather than just reporting the gruesome details of the latest “‘orrible murder” in Whitechapel.

Some newspapers were enlightening their readers as to what the area where the atrocities had occurred. was actually like.

One such paper was The Weekly Telegraph, which, in the last week of October and in early November, published a series of articles for which a female journalist had ventured into the East End by night, and was then able to present her readers with a vivid view of the streets and people she had encountered.

She was accompanied by an off-duty police officer, whom she refers to simply as Mr B—.

Keep in mind as you read the following article – which appeared in the newspaper on Saturday, November 3rd, 1888 – that the murder of Mary Kelly had not yet taken place.


“As I have before mentioned, Berner Street is badly lit, and as we go down it, so does the gloom seem to increase.

We meet a few policemen, and for a moment they scan us seriously under the flickering gleam of one of the few gas lamps.

Evidently, decently-clad strangers are somewhat of a novelty in this most unsavoury neighbourhood, but my companion seems to be recognised, for a brief smile momentarily irradiates the professional stolidity which is the characteristic of our blue-coated guardians of the peace when on duty.

A view of the houses in Berner Street.
Berner Street, 1909.


Soon we leave the groups of horrible children behind, and the thoroughfare looks deserted, and is so quiet that our footsteps ring out startlingly distinct on the still night air.

The atmosphere is impregnated with a cold damp mist, and now and again as doors are opened smells the reverse of agreeable are wafted to our reluctant nostrils.

We cross over, and Mr. B—- points out a door apparently leading into a home, but when he pushes it open I see to my astonishment that it encloses a court or narrow alley.


I peep down it, and as well as I can see in the blackness – for there is no lamp in the entry – I notice that there are houses at each side. Filthy, ramshackle cottages, evidently let out in tenements, for they seem swarming with human beings.

Ragged, dirty muslin curtains are hung across the bottom of the windows, bundles of rags are stuffed in the broken panes; the wretched rooms are lit by tallow candles stuck in empty bottles.


The smell is vile, the whole atmosphere seems heavy and surcharged with the foul odour of decaying vegetable and animal matter.

The narrow pathway is paved and broken away here end there, and down it flows a stream of abomination, which settles into little pools before it discharges itself into the gutter.


A man half dressed, unshaven, and unspeakably brutal looking, emerges from one of the houses. He is short and thickset, one eye is blackened, and a strip of filthy plaster adorns his left cheek. He is clad in fustian trousers, and a ragged blue shirt, a wisp of rag is twisted round his neck, with the end of which be wipes his mouth preparatory to speaking.

When he does speak it is to gently inquire in a hoarse voice, ” Whet the b— h— we — — are doing?”

The expletives roll easily off his tongue, and, in the midst of his tirade, he catches sight of my companion, who is keeping his blue eyes fixed sternly on his face.

The effect is magical, for it instantly stops his eloquence, and he disappears into the interior.

He evidently is familiar with the police, and has no wish to voluntarily renew the acquaintanceship.

In his absence, we make our exit.


“You see,” says Mr. B—, “there are any amount of these alleys about, and while the police are patrolling the street, the Lord only knows what goes on in the courts that branch off from the main thoroughfare.

For instance, we passed a couple of constables a few minutes ago, well they are not able to visit and properly inspect every alley in Berner Street, why, we should want at least a score of men for that duty alone.


Look how dark the entries are.

If a murder were committed in the street the murderer could easily escape observation by lurking in one of the alleys till the first hue and cry was over, and then he could mix with the crowd and get off.

Of course, the place is poverty-stricken, but the poverty is of the lowest and vilest description.

Wait till we get you in Hanbury street, and then you will notice that poverty and crime are so closely allied that the former is never seen without the latter.


And the great friends and helpers of vice are the want of light, the almost entire absence of sanitary convenience, and the want of proper dwelling accommodation.

Old houses are rightly condemned and are pulled down, but none are erected in their stead, the consequence being that the lower and criminal classes are forced to this locality where the sexes herd indiscriminately together like animals.

A lot has been written and a lot said about the East end, but as yet there has been no description strong enough to portray the actual state of things that exist here, and the newspaper that will fearlessly open its columns to a statement of unexaggerated facts will be doing a public service.”


By this time we have got to a building which Mr. B— informs me is the club rendered notorious by being so near to the scene of the Berner street tragedy, whilst opposite is a stone block which is a board school.

Next to the club is a pair of high wooden gates which open inwards into the stable yard.

We go inside, first taking a hasty glance behind the gates to see if anyone is lurking there, for there is plenty of room for a hiding place.

On the right is the club, the windows of which are all lit up, and further on is the side door.

Opposite are three small whitewashed cottages, the place is so narrow that if the hapless victim had made the least noise it must have been heard, despite the singing and merriment that were going on in the club.

A view of the murder site where Elizabeth Stride was killed.
The Murder Site In Berner Street.


A girl of about fourteen, barefooted and bareheaded, with a white, frightened face and sharp furtive eyes, comes out of one of the houses. She starts a little when she sees us standing, and then comes across to me.

“The woman was found there,” she says, with infinite gusto, smacking her lips at the chance of repeating the tale of horror to an interested listener.

“Her ‘ead was on that short stone post, and ‘er legs was just over the iron railings, and the blood and gore was all down there,” and she pointed out the various spots mentioned with great relish.

“Do you live here?” we asked.

“Yes, sir, in the second cottage,” she answered.

“And did you not hear anything?” Mr. B— queried.

“Not a sound, sir,” said the girl, earnestly,” and nobody else down here heard nothing neither. You know sir, I think that….”

But we were fated never to hear what the girl thinks, for a voice called out “Lizer,” and she promptly vanished into the cottage.

An illustration of the finding of the body of Elizabeth Stride.
From The Illustrated Police News, 23rd December, 1905. Copyright, The British Library Board.


We retrace our way back along Berner street; we pass a public-house brilliantly lit up, clean and comfortable, and affording a striking contrast to the wretched habitations we have just seen.

The bar is full of men and women, many of the latter having babies suckling at their bosoms.

Children are going in and coming out, carrying jugs of beer or bottles containing gin or rum.


Two women standing outside commenced quarrelling; from words they come to blows; one smacks the other’s face, whereupon she rushes forward, catches hold of her assailant by the hair of her head and proceeds to shake her by it.

The children stand and laugh; a knot of men smoking clay pipes encourage the combatants by calling out, “Gave it her, Bess! “Never mind, Sukey!” and so on.

The shaken woman claws at the other one’s face, and just as we are going to interfere, someone says, “The coppers are coming.”

So the men leave off smoking, part the two furies, who are making use of choice language, and take them into the public-house to “stand them a drink,” the women settling their dresses and fastening up their bodices, which have got disordered in the fray.

It is worthy to note that they are both in an interesting condition!

This has created a little diversion, though there seems to be a smouldering feeling of indignation amongst the onlookers that the police should have been in the neighbourhood, thus to stop an innocent and exciting little spectacle, and they clearly show that they feel injured at the performance being stopped just when it began to get interesting.


The houses we pass next are still small and shabby, and nearly every door is propped up by either a man or woman in various stages of dishabille.

Some of the windows are adorned with weedy-looking plants; a few have melancholy birds in wicker cages.


A youth passes with his arm around a girl’s waist; he is kissing her, and she is laughing.

He says something and her merriment is excessive.

Then he makes a coarse jest about being “Jack the Ripper,” and he puts his arm round her neck and draws her head back.

Her laughter ceases abruptly; she wrenches herself away, and as we approach them we observe that the colour has faded from her cheeks, and she looks very nervous.

She is shaking.

“No, Jim,” we hear her say, “you have upset me tonight.”

He apologises and evidently makes his peace, for presently they re-pass us again, and he again has his arm around her, though she is no longer laughing.


A batch of girls are coming towards us, the majority carrying infants, the eldest is, perhaps, nineteen and they are all wearing wedding rings.

Men are loafing about at all corners, evil-looking and desperate.

At first, they seem inclined to hustle us, but directly they catch sight of my companions face they slink away.

True that he is in private clothes, but there is something about him, his walk, his calm, stern face, and his intimate knowledge of the slums that seems to awe these loafers, who clearly recognise in him a representative of law and order.

Occasionally we meet a few brawny fellows, dressed in corduroys, who peer at us curiously as they mooch about in an aimless sort of manner.

Mr. B— glances at them keenly, and sometimes he smiles a little as we pass on; afterwards, he tells me that they are all detectives.


At length, we reach Buck’s Row, and I admit that I was agreeably surprised in it. It is fairly wide, well paved, and not badly lit.

The houses are small, but the majority are clean and respectable looking, and they seem to be inhabited by the hard-working poor.

It is quiet and orderly, and the few females that pass us have their heads covered.

In this respect, it is a very superior locality to Berner Street.

In addition to the regular beat in Buck’s Row, policemen are also on duty at the top and bottom of the street so that it cannot be left for more than a quarter-of-an-hour at a time without the police being either at the top or the bottom of the row.

The situation is so open that it looks like the very last place where an undetected murder could be committed.

The murder site in Buck's Row.
A View Of The Murder Site In Buck’s Row


The actual spot of the tragedy, although rather in the shadow, is still open.

There is a house with green shutters, by it and there is a lamp.

Next to it is a pair of high wooden gates, which fall back from the road, perhaps a couple of inches, and slantingly opposite is another lamp.

Between the lamp by the gate, lying in the road itself, was found the barbarously mutilated body of the second victim of the four recent murders.

To my mind this is the most mysterious crime of the lot, for it seems impossible that so ghastly an act could be perpetrated in a comparatively well-lit, thickly populated street like this, without some trace of the assassin being found, or some clue to his whereabouts being discovered.”