Hanbury Street November 1888

On Saturday the 10th of November, 1888, The Weekly Telegraph published the third instalment of a series of articles for which a journalist had been taken on a tour of Jack the Ripper’s London by night, in the company of a police officer who is simply referred to as Mr. B—–.

In between the article having been written, and the newspaper hitting the streets on that Saturday morning, the Whitechapel murderer had claimed the life of another victim, with the killing of Mary Kelly in her room in Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, in Spitalfields, on the 9th of November, 1888.

The article read:-


“A door is open of one of the houses of Buck’s Row, and it gives us an opportunity of seeing an interior so scrupulously clean, so bright and cheerful, that the remembrance of the black deed that took place outside seems to be even yet more horrible.

Two young girls, neatly but plainly dressed, and looking like dressmakers, go in, and are met in the oilcloth passage by a cosy-looking old lady, resplendent in a lace cap.

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


We have seen all that there is to see, so, passing several warehouses, looking very large and dark, we leave Buck’s Row on our way to Hanbury street.


There is one exceedingly disagreeable feature of all these localities that deserves mention, and yet can necessarily be only very lightly touched upon, and that is that the men and women, particularly the former, have not the least knowledge of common decency.

Their ignorance or willful defiance of the most ordinary rules of decorum is apt to prove both embarrassing and uncomfortable to ordinary mortals, who still think that modesty and decency exist even in the far East of London.

The sights that I saw can better be imagined than described, indeed a description would be peculiarly offensive, and I must admit that the women were nearly as great offenders as the men.

Surely some means might be taken to prevent the eye being outraged by spectacles that are a deep disgrace, even to the squalid quarter that we are at present in?

A group of people drinking outside a pub.
People Outside An East End Pub.


Hanbury street is a very different locality to any that we have yet been in.

It is long and narrow and unevenly paved.

The houses are rather high, the majority dirty, and the whole lot swarming with inhabitants.

The street is light and busy; this, by-the-bye, is at the commencement, for I here remarked to Mr. B— “that the place is not as bad as I thought.”

He tells me that we are not yet in the thick of it, and be begs me to keep close to him.

A view of Hanbury Street as it was at the time of the murder.
Hanbury Street Around 1918


I soon find out that I have been too hasty in giving an opinion, for the neighbourhood and the people are vile.

So much we see, I with horror distended eyes, my companion with the placidity born of intimate knowledge of these slums, so much that dare not be written, and that can only be spoken of in whispers.


There are any number of the noisome alleys like the one in Berner Street, and at first it gives one quite a start to be suddenly confronted by gaunt and grimy men, who stare at me with fierce, wolfish eyes, and make towards us as if to clutch at our watch chains, only to find my companion’s eyes fixed sternly on them, and then they draw back and noiselessly disappear in the entries.

It is very ghostly, the unexpected manner in which these human birds of prey appear, and then abruptly vanish in the mist.

The savage way they leer in my face, their low, brutal aspect, the expression of sullen wrath that flits across their ferocious faces, as they recognise who my companion is, inspires me with a secret anger as well as a half-formed dread, and I keep very close to Mr B—.


These men are thieves, professional loafers, pickpockets, bullies living on the earnings of the prostitutes who, God knows why, live with them.

They are the scum of the criminal class; they are the offspring of the foulest and most unbridled passions; they are the noxious fungi of the worst type of humanity.


Yet, vicious and degraded as they are, they one and all express and have a deep abhorrence of the human devil who through his barbarous crimes is making Whitechapel a region of horrified dread.

If once the assassin was caught in Hanbury Street, his miserable life would not be worth ten minutes purchase, and he would suffer death from the hands of those who are also “wanted.”

Their ideas of morality are peculiar, for we hear one man say in reference to the mythical personage known as “Jack the Ripper,” “If a man quarrels with a woman let him knock her down and give her a ———- kicking, but ——-  ——- ——  don’t let him rip her up and make such a —— mess of her.”

Thus blows and kicks seem to be frequent occurrence to the lives of the Hanbury Street females, for these humane remarks are received with profound satisfaction by the men standing round.


Women pass me; I suppose we must call them women, though, truth to tell, there is nothing womanly about them.

How can they be described?

The ragged, filthy finery, the pinched or bloated faces, daubed hideously over with white and red paint; the red blearing eyes; the matted hair, with the thick fringe growing right over their eyebrows; the close, sickly smell that clings round them; the eager watchful glances that they cast round.

Ah, me! It is all too fearful.

They still appear nervous and dissipated, for they seem to go about their frightful trade with manifest dread and reluctance.

MR B—- tells me that it is only the last few nights that these unfortunates have ventured out, and, as it is, very many have sought “fields and pastures new” in the vicinity of the Strand and Drury Lane.

Some of them are quite young girls, these are mainly all half drunk and inclined to be noisy.

One woman passes us with a face that is so battered and bruised that there is very little expression left in it.

Indeed, this seems the place for the flotsam and jetsam of human wreckage to float in.


The foreign element predominates.

Villainous looking Poles, ruffianly Germans, starved Russians, with the scum of half a dozen other nations, all live, or rather exists, about here.

They speak some incomprehensible jargon, they manage to find some means of earning a livelihood. I believe that they are quiet and inoffensive if left to themselves, but it is easy to see that they are looked upon with ill-conceived aversion and distrust.

I quite credit Mr B—‘s statement “that if the murderer was found to be a foreigner, all the police in London would be powerless to stay the persecution that the rest would be subjected to, in fact, they would be hounded out of Whitechapel.”


Amongst the many foul smells that assail us, the worst, because it is the strongest, emanates from the fried fish shops,

There are a number of of these establishments, and they do a brisk trade.

The fish is cut into pieces and fried a deep brown.

I should not care to hazard an opinion as to what compound the fish is cooked in, but judging from the odour, inquiries and research would probably be the reverse of gratifying.

This delicacy is retailed out from a halfpenny a-piece, each piece being wrapped up in paper, which is promptly taken off and thrown into the road, which presents, in consequence, an extraordinary spectacle of torn fragments.


Several baked potato cans are in the street, so a halfpenny potato and a halfpenny piece of fish make a choice supper, which is eaten in the street.

For everyone seems to eat and drink and sit and rest in these thoroughfares, as well as also performing their little toilet operations in public.

There are bakers shops, a few vegetable stores, and some butchers shops, which are perfect marvels of dirt and disorder.


Sometimes a wretched, hungry-looking cat slinks past me, but, if the truth be known, the place is so squalid that, on the whole, even the animals shun it.


A man, who has been grimacing at us wolfishly, darts forward to make a grab at the handkerchief I hold in my hand.

“Ah, would you?” says Mr B— , and the would-be thief makes off.


I laugh at the salutary effect my companion produces.

“They know me,” he says, “I have walked into one of the doss houses (lodging houses) after a man, found him there amongst a score of his pals, and have marched him off quite comfortably.

They have got no real pluck; why, the majority of them are miserable cowards.

Besides, as they often tell me, ‘We’re not frightened of you, but it’s the clothes you wear that we’re afraid of.’


Sometimes they cut up a bit rough.

I remember once getting in a doss house, and not being able to get out again. I blew my whistle, and fought like a demon.

Lor,’ how I laid about me; just as I was getting the worst of it, three constables came to my assistance, and then the scoundrels let go their hold of me, and we managed to get out whole, but I was in a pretty plight.”

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.


“Talking of doss houses,” he continued, “they’re the worst part of a policeman’s duty.

I mean when you have got to inspect them. Phew, the smell is enough to knock you down.

You cannot imagine anything like it, the rooms are generally low, and not too large, and perhaps eighteen unwashed, half-drunken creatures are lying in each apartment, with windows and doors tightly shut.

You can imagine how nice and pleasant the atmosphere must be!

The beds inside a common lodging house in Spitalfields.
From The Graphic 24th April 1886. Copyright, the British Library Board.


The most trying, however, are the female doss houses.

I’ll never forget the first time I went into one.

I had not long joined the force, and was a modest lad fresh from the country, and shy of anything belonging to a petticoat.

Well, there was a woman “wanted,” and from information received we ascertained that she was hiding in a common lodging house in Flower and Dean Street, so I was told to go and arrest her.

It was late of night when I got there.

However, I had to go in and see for myself.

The first room I went into was full of women who had precious little clothing on.

The light from may lantern woke them up, and I suppose I must have looked uncomfortable, for they commenced to chaff me.

I went from one room to another, and in every one the confounded creatures laughed at my modesty.

At last, I picked out my woman, but devil a bit of clothes had she on. She declared that she had none, whilst I felt ready to sink into the ground.

I wanted some of the females to lend her some, but they were shrieking with laughter and wouldn’t.

I offered to purchase a couple of the most necessary articles, but no one would sell them.

I dare not leave her there, so I had to force her to wrap my coat around herself. I had horse’s work to make her keep it on, and if I hadn’t have handcuffed her she would have had it off in the street.

It was a bitterly cold night, but the perspiration rolled off me in beads when I got her safe into the police station.

By Jove! That walk haunted me for weeks afterwards.”

Women gossiping outside a house.
From The Graphic, 24th April 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


We are now near the scene of the murder; there are few shops, but any number of common lodging houses.

The place is comparatively deserted, only a few unfortunates flitting by us, very likely seeking the wherewithal to pay for a night’s shelter.

On our left is a house with the legend “comfortable beds,” written on a board outside.

Opposite is the lodging house from which the hapless victim of the Hanbury Street tragedy was turned away to meet her death, because she had not the fourpence to pay for her bed.

The night is still young, so the birds of prey have not as yet returned to their noisome nests.

While we stand we see several girls disappear down the various entries.


One woman asks for assistance, she says that she has no money and, since the last two murders, she has been afraid to go out and seek it.

We give her a coin, and then enquire if she has any suspicion of anyone.

She glances round fearfully, as if to see if there are any listeners about, and then she says hurriedly, “No she doesn’t know, she wishes she did, he must be a ——– monster to cut up the likes of her.”


These women make no secret of their calling, which they regard with callous indifference, but I cannot help thinking as we watch her go into the houses opposite, that she and her class, if they could be persuaded to speak, could throw some light on the mysterious perpetrator of the Whitechapel crimes.”