Life In East London

There can be no doubt about it, life in the Victorian East End was tough.

If you suddenly found yourself joining the ranks of the unfortunate poor, who had fallen upon hard times, there was no safety net to bail you out, and even basic necessities, such as access to a doctor  could prove difficult, as is illustrated by the following story that appeared in The Western Mail  in its edition that was published on Wednesday January 6th, 1892:-


“Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, the coroner for East London, held an inquiry on Monday at the Poplar Town-hall respecting the death of the female child of Jeremiah M’Carthy, a dock labourer, residing at 7, Edna-place, Bromley-by-Bow.

Jeremiah M’Carthy, the father, stated that on Wednesday morning he had left home at seven o’clock to look for work, and on his return in the afternoon he found that his wife had given birth to a child, and that it was dead.

About last November his wife met with an accident at the factory where she was employed. A fanlight broke and fell on her. Since then she had complained of a pain in her head.

Witness said that he had made no preparation for the birth of the child, which had been born prematurely.

The Coroner Wynne Baxter
Coroner Baxter


He understood that one of the neighbours had fetched a doctor, but that he [the doctor] refused to stay unless he was paid.

Annie White, the wife of a dock labourer, living in the same house, said that shortly after seven o’clock on Wednesday morning Mrs. M’Carthy had come to her and had asked the witness to assist her, as she was in intense pain.

The witness, finding that the woman was about to be confined, went for Mrs. Connelly, and also for Dr. Henry.

The latter came, but said he could not stop without the money, and, as that was not forthcoming, he left.


Dr. Henry, of 50, St. Dunstan-road, Bromley, stated that when he was called he was told that the woman was seriously ill, so he went at once; but finding it was a confinement case, he told them to send for another doctor, as he had just been called to a case he had already arranged to attend.

The Coroner: The witness says it was a question of money.

Witness: I said nothing about money.

The Coroner: Was it a question of money?

Witness: No, sir; I had a previous appointment.

A Juror: The witness says it was.

Witness: And I deny it.


Dr. Henry having stated that the child was stillborn, the husband was recalled and stated that a neighbour was attending to his wife, but no doctor had been to see her since the birth.

The Coroner: Why don’t you go to the parish doctor? The woman has no business to be left without medical attention.

Witness: I can’t afford a doctor; I am out of work.

The Coroner: I think it is a case where you ought to apply to the parish for assistance. It is your duty to go, though you may not like it. She wants medical attendance and more – she wants food.

Witness: Well, she hasn’t done any work since the accident, and I’ve been out of work the greater part of the time.

The Coroner: She has worked for you. Now go and do something for her.

Witness: I’ve done what I could.

The Coroner: I don’t see much that you have done. You left her at seven o’clock, and she was taken very ill within a few minutes.

Witness said that he had no idea of the true state of things when he went out or he would have remained with her.

The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence.”


However, there were those amongst the hard working poor who, so several commentators were moved to opine on, brought destitution upon themselves, as is evidenced by the following article that appeared in The Hull Daily Mail on Tuesday the 16th of April, 1901:-


“By nine o’clock the bar of an East End public-house on a Saturday night will be a seething mass of rowdy, half-drunken people.

Of these the women will be by far the noisiest and most objectionable.


Many of them are mere girls who work in the numerous factories which are scattered all over the East End.

Their calling is plainly written on them. You can see it in their pale, bloodless faces, their slight stunted figures.


From Monday morning to Saturday evening they work under such conditions that no slave was ever forced to work under, and their average wages are about twelve shillings a week.

They will spend half of it to-night, and the rest of the week they will be starving again.”