Horrible London

One of the aspects of the Jack the Ripper murders that tends to get overlooked in the ceaseless search for the perpetrator of the crimes, is the fact that social commentators and reformers, philanthropists, clergymen, politicians, newspaper editors and journalists were, from a very early stage in the saga, wondering aloud who was to blame for the appalling conditions in the Victorian East End which, so many of them seemed to believe, were as guilty of the deaths of the unfortunate women as the knife-wielding maniac who had actually carried out the foul deeds.

This is, in many ways, a great pity; because in looking at these conditions, and the various newspaper reports on them, we get a real insight into how the murders were perceived by the various sections of society.

We also get to see how various agendas were at play, as various political factions showed their willingness to use the killings to further their own ends; some of them even resorting in the newspapers to almost apocalyptic comparisons to warn readers that, unless society was dramatically changed, the murders taking place in the East End of London, were nothing short of harbingers for the end of the civilised World as they knew it.

Indeed, reading some of the politically drive rhetoric that appeared in the newspapers at the time, it becomes evident that their were some commentators who were hoping to use the Whitechapel Murders to stir up nothing short of class war in the country as a whole.


An excellent example of this “we’re all doomed unless we do something” school of journalism appeared on Sunday 16th September 1888, in Reynold’s Newspaper, under the headline, “Horrible London.”

The article read:-

“The appalling crimes of which Whitechapel has recently been the scene exceed in atrocity everything of the kind within the memory of living men.

We are surfeited with horrors.

We, metaphorically speaking, breakfast luncheon, dine, and sup on human blood and viscera. And, all the while, the murderer or murderers, stalk about in our midst with impunity.

For the sake of human nature, we would fain adopt the police theory that a cunning maniac. wholly irresponsible for his dreadful deeds is the sole agent of these awful tragedies.

But, even then, there is very little room for any abatement of the feelings of profound pity, indignation, and consternation which have laid hold of the public mind.


The police at the moment of writing are as far from any clue to the perpetrator, or perpetrators of the abominations as ever.

They are simply helpless, and, in a measure, childish, in their endeavours to get on the track of the Whitechapel ghoul, regarding whom the testimony is so slender and so conflicting.

Their promptitude in “running in” harmless Socialist speakers, and breaking the heads of respectable workmen in Trafalgar Square, is certainly a singular commentary on their total inefficiency in dealing with the worst imaginable form of outrage.


There are hundreds of undetected murderers in London today not to speak of innumerable burglars and professional thieves; and our well-found constabulary seemingly reserve their truncheons for Socialists and other workmen, who contribute from their hard-won earnings towards the maintenance of “the force.”

An Illustration showing the Bloody Sunday riot in Trafalgar Square.
The Bloody Sunday Clash Between Police and Socialists in Trafalgar Square, November 1887.


Two Socialists have been imprisoned since the murder of Annie Chapman [which had taken place on the 8th of September 1888]; one of them, it is reported, for roundly charging “Society” with being the indirect cause of the poor woman’s sickening end.

Well, we have no authoritative statement of what Mr. Fitzpatrick really did say on the occasion of his arrest; but if there was nothing more than a general impeachment of the existing constitution of “Society” as inevitably leading up to acts of unbridled savagery, then we not merely agree with him, but applaud him.

“Society” must be told, and told in words of thunder, that it bears within its very bosom the seeds of its own destruction.

The grandeur of the West-end of London could not exist but for the poverty-stricken degradation of the East-end.

While wretched Annie Chapman was prowling about the midnight streets of Whitechapel in quest of fourpence for her lodging-house “doss,” a Duke of Westminster was lying on a bed of down, dreaming of safe millions of “unearned increment,” which he had never so much as lifted his little finger to earn.


A thief is one who appropriates that for which other men have toiled.

Yet here you have a “noble lord ” doing this on a gigantic scale, not merely without challenge, but with all but universal approval, while a hungry wretch who purloins a trifle – take, for example, the case of the lad Woodland, who was sent to gaol for fourteen days for sucking a partridge’s egg on Lord Brabourne’s estate –  is treated by the law, which is cynically declared to be the same for rich and poor, with Draconian severity.


The truth is, our whole society is based on a foundation of colossal injustice, fraud, and robbery; and the longer it contrives to subsist, the more terrible from day to day will be the yawning fissures descriable in its tottering fabric.

One of the speakers at the British Association, the other day declared that when the centenary of the first Reform Bill comes to be celebrated in 1932, there is one London ground landlord who alone will be in receipt of an annual “unearned increment” of £5,000,000!

What a Reform Bill, to have produced or suffered such a social monstrosity to grow up.


And per contra, how many “unfortunate” Nichollses and Chapman’s shall we then have pursuing their awful calling in the dismal human wastes of the East-end? A hundred thousand now. Two hundred thousand then – eh?

What think you, gentles?

Will your boasted “society” go on developing itself with accelerated speed so long?

It may even be so; but one thing is certain – the longer the existing social order contrives to keep afloat, the more overwhelming will be its final submersion. Continuance can only heap calamity on calamity at the inevitable reckoning.


Wise men have for centuries contemplated ever swelling ocean of humanity in London with undisguised dismay, and predicted to the mighty city the fate of Babylon, Nineveh. and Rome.

In Fletcher of Saltoun’s famous Letter in favour of decentralization or Home Rule, as opposed to centralization and the fatal principle of incorporating National Unions, the following sentences occur on the dangers of great cities:-

“These last words revived in me the image of that corruption of manners which reigneth in this place (London), which has infected the whole nation, and which must at length bring both the city and the nation to ruin. And if one may judge by the great sea of  the corruption, this fatal period is not far off. For no regulations of Government are sufficient to restrain or correct the manners of so great a number of people living in one place, and exposed to so many temptations  from the bad example they give to one another. And the frequency of ill example, which can never fail to be where great numbers live together, authorizes the corruption, and will always be too strong and powerful for any magistracy to control. For, though every man has his own scheme to reform and regulate these disorders, yet experience has taught us that no human prudence can preserve the manners of men living in great cities from extraordinary corruption; and that where great power, riches and numbers of men are brought together, they not only introduce a general deprivation of manners, but destroy all good government, and bring ruin and desolation on a people.”

This is no merely an indictment of London, but of all great cities from the dawn of civilisation till now.


The truth is popularly embalmed in the adage, “God made the country and man made the town.”

Dame Nature is not to be outwitted in her operations or behests by any contrivance of art or science.

Frequent contact with Mother Earth is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the race.

Like Saturn, great cities with incredible tenacity devour their own children – devour them with unhallowed lusts, flagrant crimes,
raging intemperance, congenital diseases, debility and sterility.


What we want is small towns and populous rural districts.

The instinct of the skilled artisans which impels them with ever increasing unanimity and determination to demand the restoration of the national soil, is the only genuine sign of health in the body politic.

The rage for manufacture and commerce at the cost of agriculture, is a disease which has been the eventual ruin of every nation that has suffered from it.

Nor can we hope to escape the consequences of its deadly ravages, unless by retracing our footsteps before it is too late.

That we should be huddling into great cities and importing half our food supplies at enormous cost – food which we could readily produce at home under conditions alike conducive to moral and physical health – is a species of madness, which strange and irrational as it may appear, is susceptible of easy explanation.


The middle classes are at the bottom of it.

They are in haste to be rich, and cannot tolerate the slow results of honest agricultural industry, in which the landlords carry off the cream of the workers’ produce.


As for the toiler, his cue is to escape from the toils of the urban capitalist without falling again into the clutches of rural landlords. “Back to the land,” is his motto, but back to the land no longer as serf, but as master.

The cure for the great city, with all its infinite sorrows of hunger, homelessness, prostitution and murder, is the reconstituted rural ownership; where the rights of all men in the commercial soil will be equal, and want of food,, clothing or shelter is impossible.

The work to be achieved before this happy consummation can be attained is, in truth, the work of giants; but that it has got to be accomplished, at the peril of our national existence, is certain; and the sooner, consequently, it is undertaken by all responsible men, the better.”