Evicted Whitechapelites

One of the important aspects in studying the Jack the Ripper case is to not take them in isolation. Indeed, to really understand the Whitechapel murders, and the impact they had on the district in which they occurred, it is essential to understand the district, no matter how unpalatable that understanding might be.

It is a huge mistake to simply focus on who the perpetrator of the atrocities was, and ignore the era and the area in which those atrocities occurred.

So, whilst studying the Victorian newspapers, it is always a good idea to be on the look out for article that, although they may not bring us any closer to solving the mystery, most certainly give us an insight into the everyday lives of the people who dwelt in Whitechapel and Spitalfields at the time.

On Saturday the 4th of September, 1880, The Graphic published the following article which looked at the impact that the slum clearances of the late 1870s had had on the immediate neighbourhood where the majority of the murders would occur in the autumn of 1888:-


“At this sultry August time the Artisans’ Dwelling Act, which was to prove such a blessing to the overcrowded labouring classes, is in certain neighbourhoods regarded, and not without some some show of reason, as one of the bitterest afflictions ever imposed on an unoffending people.

The one great blunder in connection with the said Act was that it provided for the wholesale demolition of objectionable tenements without insisting on the erection of improved dwellings within a specified time.

The result is that, in certain districts, such as those to be found in the back regions between Whitechapel and Bishopsgate, though the levellers have been there, and performed a prodigious amount of work, the remaining dwellings are more crowded than ever.

As might have been foreseen, it could not have been otherwise.

A view along Petticoat Lane in 1889.
Middlesex Street, Better Known As Petticoat Lane.


The region in question is one, as regards its poorer parts, inhabited almost solely by a population whose daily bread is earned on the spot.

It is where the great Sunday fair is held, and which, to the disgrace of the City of London, has been permitted time out of mind, and still continues at full blast during the hours of morning Divine service in the surrounding churches.

Thousands – tens of thousands, it may almost be said – flock thither from all parts of the metropolis to purchase second-hand clothes, and boots, and hats indeed everything that pertains to personal attire and adornment.

It is the great central depository for the week’s collection of the wandering old clo’ men and of the rag-shops, and the occupation of the inhabitants of the scores of back streets of tall black houses, is that of “translating,” as it is termed, and which means the patching and contriving of cast-off shoes and boots and wearing apparel ready for next Sunday’s fair.


It has been estimated that from three to five thousand pounds are expended weekly as wages amongst the tailors and cobblers, who reside within a very short distance of their employers’ place of business.

To remove even to the distance of a mile would be to throw themselves out of employment, and the consequence is that, kindly disposed to each other as they ever are, those who have not at present been deprived of their abodes “make room” somehow or other in their already over crowded houses for those who have.


Even worse than this, perhaps, the dilatory working of the Artisans’ Dwelling Act, and the resulting raising of rents, has driven a great many decent folk to seek asylum in the common lodging houses, which, in the Spitalfields and Whitechapel districts, have a more evil repute than any other in London.


On the whole, as regards the locality in question, there can be no doubt that, from a sanitary point of view, matters are now in an even worse condition than when the Metropolitan Board of Works began their “clean sweep.”

Considering what they have to contend against, the greatest credit is due to the local authorities, who during this hot weather are indefatigable in their exertions with the scavenger broom and the limewash brush.

A single day’s neglect of such a street as Wentworth Street might kindle a fire of fever that would burn probably until winter frost extinguished it.”