The Spitalfields neighbourhood that comprised Flower and Dean Street, Thrawl Street and George Street, was, in the late 19th century, notorious as a hotbed of vice and villainy, and it crops up time and time again in the reporting of the Whitechapel murders.
Indeed, Martha Tabram, who some people believe may well have been the first victim of Jack the Ripper, was residing at this very common lodging house at the time of her murder.
It was also where Emily Horsnail, who had died under mysterious circumstances in November 1887, was living at the time of her death.
THE EAST-END LODGING-HOUSES
It was widely believed – and, to be honest it is backed up by historical evidence – that many of the common lodging houses in this tiny enclave, were fronts for criminal enterprises and brothels, and, as the following case – which was reported in The People on Sunday, 6th January, 1889 – makes plain, any man who went with a woman to one of these establishments was putting himself in danger:-
“Harriet Sinfield, 21, who described herself as a maker of fiddle-strings, was charged at Worship, street Police Court with robbing William Barrett, a seaman, of a purse and £1 15s. in money in a common lodging-house situated in George Street, Spitalfields.
The prosecutor, who belongs to a ship called the Buckhurst, of Cardiff, lying in the London Docks, said that he had met the prisoner and had been taken by her to a house.
HIS MONEY WAS MISSING
After some time she left him on the excuse that she wanted a drink.
When she had gone, he examined his coat, which he had put on a chair, and he found that a purse containing his money had been stolen from his pocket.
He ran after the prisoner, and caught her in the street.
She screamed, and he demanded his money, finally giving her into custody.
A COMMON LODGING HOUSE
In reply to the magistrate (Mr. Montagu Williams), the constable in the case said that 19, George Street, Spitalfields, was registered as a common lodging-house for men and women.
The magistrate said that he had guessed as much, and he had asked the question so that the public authorities might know the facts.
SHE THOUGHT HE WAS JACK THE RIPPER
The prisoner denied the robbery, and neither the money nor the purse were found.
She said that she ran away because the seaman told her he was “Jack the Ripper,” and that he meant to cut her up. That was why she screamed and went down on her knees and begged him not to hurt her.
The prosecutor denied all this, but stated that the woman had said something to him about “Jack the Stabber,” he thought.
The prisoner was ordered to by remanded for inquiries, the magistrate doubting her statement as to her age, she really looking not much more than sixteen.”