The summer of 1888 saw some alarming weather conditions, not just in London but across the whole of the country.
Heavy rain and gale force winds swept across England, causing widespread flooding, as well as terrible damage to crops and property.
The people of the East End saw more than their fair share of heavy rainfall, and this was coupled with severe thunderstorms and gale force winds.
Some of the railway lines heading out of London flooded, as did many of the houses of the poor in the East End of London, and, as August 1888 was ushered in, there seemed to be no improvement to the conditions.
As August progressed, the residents of the East End were also coming to terms with the brutal murder of Martha Tabram, which took place on 7th August, 1888, in Geroge Yard, off Whitechapel High Street.
This, seemingly motiveless, crime, was reported on an almost daily basis by the newspapers throughout the last three weeks of August, 1888, and was, in consequence, highlighting some of the dangers of everyday life in Whitechapel to the country at large.
A PRELUDE TO THE AUTUMN OF TERROR
This awful murder, coupled with the seemingly apocalyptic weather, was making people feel very uneasy.
Indeed, with hindsight, it almost seems that some grim summer prelude for the autumn of terror and the Jack the Ripper murders was being played out throughout the month of August 1888.
THE HEAVY RAINS AND ALARMING FLOODS
The Leicester Daily Post published the following report on the appalling weather conditions in its edition of Saturday, 4th August, 1888:-
“Reports from all parts of the country show that heavy rain continues to fall, and serious floods and consequent damage to house property and crops have occurred.
In the East End of London, streets are flooded and provisions have to be fetched in tubs used as boats. There is great distress among the poor people…The unfortunate people of the Isle of Dogs have been flooded out of their houses again.
It has become quite an old grievance, and the poor people have almost learned to take the pollution of their rooms, the ruin of their furniture, and the injury health, very much as the rest of us take a wet July – as something it is quite useless to deplore.”
A SHOWER OF FROGS IN LONDON
Meanwhile, according to an article that appeared in The Fife Free Press, and Kirkcaldy Guardian on Saturday, 4th August, 1888, there had been a surprising shower in London:-
“In addition to placing a portion of the East End of London under water and putting a stop to railway traffic, the great rainfall produced an extraordinary shower of frogs.
The correspondent of a London evening paper states that some millions of frogs of infinitesimal size fell with the rain in the north of London.
In the Alexandra Palace grounds, the earth was literally covered with these small reptiles.”
A CROP OF CRIMINAL HORRORS
The month continued with numerous reports of crop failures as a result of the dreadful weather that was sweeping across the country.
However, Eddowes’s Journal, and General Advertiser for Shropshire, and the Principality of Wales, on Wednesday, 22nd August, 1888, pointed out that, although the country might be in the throes of a crop failure in the agricultural sense, there was a crop of a different kind that was, most certainly, positively blooming:-
“But, if there is nothing very exciting to hear or to see in town, there is plenty to read.
I never remember such a constant succession of crops of criminal horrors as are on hand just now. It is almost an epidemic.
East End tragedy is a stereotyped line in the newspapers.
Whitechapel has a constant succession of mysteries, women are hacked to death in all parts of London; men are waylaid and robbed, and children are found made into paper bundles almost every day.
Infanticide has increased to an alarming extent of late, and calls for active exertion on the part of the police.”
HORRIBLE DISCOVERIES IN THE EAST END OF LONDON
To demonstrate the horrors that the East End was prone to, The Edinburgh Evening News published the following disturbing article on Thursday, 23rd August, 1888:-
“Information of the discovery of the bodies of three children has been forwarded to Mr Baxter, the coroner for South-East Middlesex.
An examination of the bodies left little doubt that foul play had been done.
The first case was that of a female child, which a boy named Spencer found lying between some logs in Millwall Dock. It was quite naked, and had evidently been in the water for a considerable time, as decomposition had set in, and made it impossible for a medical examination to ascertain the cause of death.
In the second case, Police-Constable Preston was on duty in Turner Street when he noticed a bundle in a doorway. He opened it, and found the body of a newly-born male child. He conveyed it to Arbour Street Police Station, where it was seen by Dr. Houchin, the divisional surgeon, who pronounced it to be that of a fully developed child, which had lived and breathed.
As death appeared have been caused by strangulation, a post-mortem examination will be made.
The third case is one of unusual character.
It appears that on the 4th of this month some persons saw a man and a woman going along Baker’s Row, Whitechapel, and when passing some vacant ground they threw a bundle over the hoarding.
The bundle was afterwards recovered, and was found to contain a living female child.
It was conveyed to the Whitechapel Infirmary, where it was fed artificially, and lived until Monday last.
The man and woman were allowed to escape.
Inquests will be held on the bodies due course.”
HEAVY THUNDERSTORM IN LONDON
Finally, as the month ebbed to a close, the thunderstorms and heavy rain returned, as The Northern Whig reported in the following article that was published on Friday, 31st August, 1888:-
“London, Thursday Afternoon.
After a magnificently fine morning, the weather completely changed, and a heavy thunderstorm broke over London at half-past two o’clock this afternoon.
The lightning was extremely vivid, and the thunder loud.
A woman and a house are reported to have been struck by the electric fluid.
Rain descended in torrents for some hours, and the floods are again serious.
Many families are homeless.”
HARBINGERS FOR THE HORROR
Reading these accounts of the dreadful weather and the horrors that were being reported in the newspapers, it is almost as if the people of the Victorian East End were being forewarned of the horror that was gestating in their midst.
Indeed, you could almost say – admittedly with hindsight – that the foul weather and the acts of horror that were being reported throughout the month of August, 1888, were, in fact, harbingers for the advent of their autumn of terror.