In the early days of the Whitechapel Murders, it soon became apparent that the murderer – who was destined to become known as Jack the Ripper – was choosing his victims from amongst the poorest class of women in the East End of London.
Following the murder of Annie Chapman, which took place on the 8th of September, 1888, there was a lot of mention in the newspapers of the fact that both she and Mary Nichols had been forced to go out onto the streets in the early hours of the morning in order to raise the money to pay for a bed in one of the district’s common lodging houses.
As the murders increased in ferocity, and the number of victims increased throughout September, October and early November, 1888, philanthropic efforts were made to try to alleviate the suffering that many of the area’s “unfortunates” were forced to live with on an almost daily basis.
On the 15th November, 1888, the following article appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette.
The article took a look at a refuge that had recently opened in the East End of London, with the express intention of providing shelter and safety for the homeless women of the area:-
HOMELESS AND FRIENDLESS
AN HOUR AT THE REFUGE IN WHITECHAPEL
“Homeless and friendless.”
The words strike cold when uttered in a cosy room near a warm fire, when only the imagination pictures what the words convey.
What they mean to the outcast, crouching hungry in the chill November evening, as the dank fog settles down on the dreary pavement, and not even the doss-house has shelter for the penniless wayfarer – what they mean to the footsore tramp, after a twelve hours’ weary search for work – may no reader of them here ever know.
A SHELTER FOR FRIENDLESS WOMEN
In Whitechapel, near the district that has been for this generation marked out with human blood in a way not to be effaced, a shelter has lately been opened for the homeless and friendless women thrown up as wrecks by the surge of life.
No sight more sad, more pitiful, more heart-sickening, could well be seen even in London city.
There the crowd gathers in this Whitechapel refuge as the night grows old.
INSIDE THE REFUGE
Through a dark court we reach a door, and on tapping are admitted into a plain, bare passage, a room opening on either side.
The one is the office, where all comers are registered, and a pitiful list it is, on the pages of the open book. The name, age, place of last night’s lodging, business, are all entered here; the majority of the women have passed out of youth: forty, fifty, sixty, seventy years of life have been passed – to come here.
They have lodged in every haunt of poverty – in the common lodging-house, in the casual ward; “walked the streets” comes from time to time ; “charring” and “laundry” arc the most frequent entries in the column devoted to occupations.
ONE OF THE BEDROOMS
Opposite the office is one of the bedrooms; a strong, wide shelf runs round the room; this serves as sleeping berth, and each woman is given a warm rug and a pillow: a rough, hard bed enough, but warm, clean, and safe.
To the ordinary woman, accustomed to the decency and security of home life, this last adjective may seem inappropriate.
Not so to the homeless and friendless ones who gather here.
OH TO FEEL SAFE
“Oh to feel safe!”, breathes a woman, with a delicate, haggard face and a touch of refinement that has outlived the daily roughnesses of her sad life; and she explains that in the doss-house “your very clothes are not safe”; if you have a decent apron or a pair of shoes you must clasp them close in your sleep, or you will wake to find them gone; and men come in drunk and tumble over you, and “if you dare to say a word” – an eloquent gesture completes the sentence. “And then you are so insulted,” and a quiver of anguished memory passes over the pinched face, and the eyes fill and overflow.
WOMEN ON THE BENCHES
Passing down the passage, we are in a large room, where women sit close side by side on wooden benches, eating dry bread washed down by hot fragrant coffee that sends a glow into the pallid faces and colour to the wan lips.
A bright fire is blazing, and the red gleam dances on the whitewashed walls, and falls on the weary forms and drooping heads.
What wrecks of womanhood; what hopeless, battered remnants of humanity!
WOMEN IN BLACK
Dressed mostly in black they are; bonnets, those indescribable and shapeless heaps which seem part of their wearers’ heads, and are never seen save on the dust-heap or on the heads of such as these; jackets too bad for any rag-shop, draggled skirts that have lost all semblance of human garments, dangling over sodden lumps that were once boots.
They are of all ages: here a young woman who has not lost all semblance of comeliness ; there an ancient dame, overcome with weariness, her grey hair hanging limp over her closed eyes and patient, down-drooped mouth.
THE WOMEN TALK
Ready to talk they are, cheered by the hot coffee and the dancing flames of the glorious fire.
“Ah, the casual’s cruel!”, says one, whose jaw is swollen with a coming abscess. “The gruel is depressing. When you’re ill, now, gruel is well enough, but when you’re cold to the bones it’s depressing.”
“And at the casual they don’t let you out till eleven, and then there’s no work,” chimes in another.
And it is explained that many of these ancient dames wash down doorsteps at 2 pence.
“Twopence is a breakfast,” remarks one, “and then there’s the broken victuals, and, may be, a pair of boots as they pleases to give you.”
One after another adds testimony to the cruelty of being shut up till all hope of work for the day is over, and then “you have to go to the casual again,” they say.
Truly, of all the senseless follies of our Poor-law administration, this plan of manufacturing constant paupers out of chance casuals deserves the prize for absolute idiocy.
A poor driven creature takes refuge in the casual ward; instead of being allowed to go out early to search for work he or she is kept in to pass the “labour test,” and is turned out when all hope of getting work is over for the day.
What remains but to return to the casual ward at night?
At the refuge, they may leave early and go seek such employment as they can find.
Hot water is provided in plenty; they can wash; if they have it, they can make a cup of tea ere setting forth on their weary tramp.
For these waifs and strays the refuge is a veritable paradise; their trembling lips and grateful eyes tell what its warmth and safety are to them.
It would not cost much to open fifty such refuges in the poorer parts of the East-end, and, while they would not cure poverty, they would alleviate some of the misery of the very poor.”