There can be no doubt about it. The area surrounding Brick Lane in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s was a rough and dangerous area.
Notwithstanding the Jack the Ripper murders, the streets in the area where the victims were living at the times of their deaths were not particularly safe, as is illustrated by a story that hit the headlines in newspapers across the country in October 1890.
The attack in question had occurred on Friday 26th September 1890.
A MURDEROUS ASSAULT INQUEST
The Gloucester Echo carried an account of the attack on Friday 3rd October 1890 in which it reported on the proceedings at the inquest into the death of John Sparrow, which had taken place in Colchester on Wednesday October 1st 1890:-
“An inquest was held at Colchester on the body of Mr. John Sparrow who died from erysipelas resulting from injuries alleged to have been received from London roughs on Friday last.
From the evidence of his manservant and Dr. Becker, of Colchester, it appeared that the deceased left his home on Friday by the morning express for London, taking with him a large sum of money for the purchase of furniture, and stating that he would return that same night.
He came back on Saturday “battered beyond recognition”, as one of the witnesses stated; and he told his manservant that he had got, by accident, into a London street row, and had lost his purse, watch-chain, and cheque book, and had been compelled to borrow a sovereign from a Mr. Lambert residing near Bishopsgate Station, in order to pay his expenses home.
The manservant, who gave his evidence with apparent reluctance, said that the deceased also stated that he sat up in a coffee house all night, and that a piece of paper which covered a deep gash on his head was placed there by a woman.
He also said that he had given information at a police station in London.
Dr Becker said that he was called in on Monday to see the deceased, who had a deep incised wound, an inch and a quarter long, on the upper margin of the occipital bone. There were severe bruises behind the ear and on the chest, and the nose and jaws were swollen, and the right eye was closed.
He died on Wednesday morning from erysipelas, resulting from the wound on the head.
Police Inspector Buen stated that the strictest investigation would be made in the case.
The inquest was adjourned, and it was decided to hold a post-mortem examination.”
THE STRANGE DEATH AT COLCHESTER
The Whitstable Times And Herne Bay Advertiser, carried the following report on the incident in its edition of Saturday 11th October 1890:-
“It has been ascertained that Mr. John Sparrow, house agent, who died from injuries inflicted by London roughs, was decoyed to a house near Ormonde-street, Brick Lane, a low locality, rendered notorious by the Whitechapel murders.
It appears that he was robbed, badly beaten, and turned into the street in a dazed condition, and suffering from the effects of a drug.
He went to a police station and lodged a complaint, but owing to his condition his statement was barely intelligible.
The deceased made contradictory statements to his friends at Colchester regarding the way in which he received his injuries.
The post-mortem examination disclosed no internal injuries, but deceased was bruised and battered all over.
The police are still prosecuting inquiries.”
A STARTLING DISCLOSURE
The Essex Newsman gave a few more details on the circumstances behind the attack on 11th October 1890:-
“The police inquiry into the circumstances which resulted in the death of Mr. John Sparrow, house agent, of Colchester, has, it is said, already led to an important and startling discovery.
Pending fuller disclosures before the Coroner, the police authorities are naturally very reticent, but there appears little doubt that the deceased was lured at night into the neighbourhood of Ormonde-street, Brick-lane, a locality rendered notorious by “Jack the Ripper.”
Here he was robbed of his watch, and other valuables, and after being savagely kicked and beaten, was flung into the street.
In the early morning he appears to have made his way to the Police Station on Commercial-street, where he made a complaint as to the ill-treatment he had received.
He appears then to have been in a half stupefied condition, and the conjecture is hazarded that he was still suffering from the effects of a powerful drug, given to him on the previous evening.
His statements to the police were rambling and disconnected, and he seemed to have a very confused idea of the locality in which his misfortune happened.
Brick-lane is known as one of the lowest neighbourhoods in London.
The post mortem by Dr. Maybury (police surgeon) and Dr. Becker revealed no internal injuries, but the body of the deceased was bruised all over.”
CASE NEVER SOLVED
As far as I ascertain the culprits responsible for the murder of Mr. John Sparrow were never brought to justice.
Following the initial flurry of newspaper reportage, the story simply fades from the media spotlight, and this was destined to become another crime that would join the litany of unsolved East End homicides in the latter years of the 19th century.