London Night Life

The Jack the Ripper murders did much to expose the horrific conditions under which many of the people of Whitechapel and Spitalfields were forced to exist.

As the Whitechapel murders increased in their ferocity, so the appeals from those who were trying to do something to attempt to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and the destitute of London also increased.


Towering over the west side of Dorset Street, was the Providence Row Night Refuge, a building that still stands, albeit it is now student accommodation.

At the time of the murders it was very much a place of resort for those in need, and people came – and were brought – from all over London to seek shelter behind its walls.

The exterior of the former Providence Row Night Refuge.
The Former Providence Row Night Refuge.


On Saturday the 15th of December, 1888, The Tablet published an appeal on behalf of the Refuge, asking for contributions to help it continue its work amongst those who had simply fallen through the net of Victorian society:-

“Few have any adequate conception of the appalling destitution that is in the midst of us, and the number of persons who are walking the streets for nights, homeless.

There are more than 100,000 men out of employment, and who cannot find work at starvation prices.

There are numbers of women who, under the sweating system, toiling from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., and sometimes to 3 a.m., can only earn from five shillings and sixpence a week, making children’s knickerbockers at one and a halfpence a pair, and children’s suits for 4d., and so families are driven from their homes because they cannot meet their rent, and women are turned out of the lodging houses after midnight, as they cannot pay their doss money.

There are thousands who, night after night, feel the pangs of hunger, and during the past year there were 32 who, in the metropolitan district, died of want, or whose deaths were accelerated by privation, according to the verdict of the coroner’s jury.

The applicants for the Poor Law relief exceed by 3,000 the number last year, when there was an increase of about the same number on the previous one, and the charitable institutions are besieged and have not adequate funds to meet the demands made upon them.


Women and girls, who could bear their trials no longer, have turned to what their souls abhor, and some have been beaten and blackmailed, and others murdered and mutilated so revoltingly, that London is horror-stricken, and the kind-hearted are saying, “Let those who have experience tell us how we can lessen this frightful misery.”

Men and boys, rendered desperate by want and suffering, have their worst passions developed, and become thieves, burglars, and worse, and dwell in by-ways, courts, and rookeries; where no respectable person would be safe, even at midday, and, notwithstanding the police regulations, there are hundreds pacing the streets nightly, shelterless, hungry, and miserably clad.


In February and March, the Committee of the Providence Row Night Refuge appointed two persons to explore the different districts of London from 7 to 12 p.m.; and each night during these hours as many as 25 persons were sent to the Institution from the City, Whitechapel, Commercial-road, Stepney, Wapping, St. George’s-in-the- East, Regent-circus, Piccadilly, Oxford-street, &c.

During the period named, on certain occasions 28 night workers were employed from 10 p.m. till 3 a.m., having London divided among them, when more than 200 admission tickets were distributed and 150 homeless men and women came to the Refuge.


Some nights they were drenched with rain or covered with snow, and among them were many of the most wretched objects that could be seen, so deplorable that the ordinary people in the Refuge would not associate with them.

Large fires, with plentiful supplies of bread and butter and tea were prepared for them, with temporary beds in the sitting-rooms, and with the usual 250 beds, which were a 4 tilled before 7 p.m., there were, on these occasions, 400 persons in the Refuge, exclusive of the inmates of the two Homes.

An illustration showing homeless people in Whitechapel in 1888.
The Homeless of Whitechapel. From The Illustrated London News, 13th October 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The outcasts who were at a distance, at Stratford, Victoria Station, Hyde Park, New-road, Dalston, and Hackney, had the bus fare paid for them to Liverpool street, but most of them were so ragged and dirty that the conductors would not admit them, and so they willingly walked those long distances for food and shelter in this Institution.

The night workers received every assistance from the police, who, since the conference at the Mansion House, have the addresses of the London Refuges, and several times have brought some wanderers to Providence-row.


There is, no doubt, heart-rending distress on every side, but, thank God, there are generous hearts ever ready with their money to lessen the sufferings of their neighbours, and who have for years liberally aided this necessary charity to save thousands from starvation, crime, and suicide.

In the Providence (Row) Night Refuge and Home nearly 2,100 nights’ lodgings, with suppers and breakfasts, are given every week to the destitute from all parts, absolutely without any distinction of religion, while the number from the commencement has been nearly 850,000.


Every bona fide applicant is at once admitted, and each case is investigated by a committee of ladies and gentlemen, who, with the manager, receive no remuneration whatever, and, according to the merits of the case, persons are allowed to remain for weeks, and sometimes for months.

Among those in the Refuge last year, were a hotel-keeper, a publican, chemists, reporters, commercial travellers, clerks, grocers’ and drapers’ assistants, seamen, miners, jewellers, waiters, dressmakers, machinists, tailoresses, housemaids, laundresses, cooks, &c.


Besides these, more than 1,100 persons have been specially helped.

Those who had come to London with the certain conviction of finding employment, and who, in their bitter disappointment, did not know where to go, have been assisted to return to their homes.

Those who had sold their clothes to buy bread and have walked the streets, night after night, shelterless, have been clothed and fed.

Those who, to keep hunger away, had eaten the forbidden fruit, have been sent to asylums.


Those who preferred death to what their souls loathed, and had bravely borne the cutting winds and piercing sleet, and those whose sorrows and trials had tempted them to think there was more sympathy in the dark river than in the star-lit heaven have been rescued and enabled to start again.

Clothes have been provided for servants and shopmen of every description to procure situations. Artisans have had their tools taken out of pawn or purchased for them. Labourers have been supplied with shovels. Hawkers, costermongers, fruit and flower sellers, have been furnished with a little stock and enabled to earn a living.


At the recommendation of the Lord Mayor, gangs of 25 men were sent on different occasions to work from 4 a.m. till 8 p.m. at unloading frozen sheep from the barges at three a penny, and every man in the Refuge expressed his eagerness for the employment, except one, who said he did not want to work, and he was immediately dismissed.

The men gave great satisfaction. but one poor fellow was so weak, owing to previous privations, that, after three hours’ labour, he fainted, and had to return to the Refuge for food and shelter.


In addition to this, a weekly allowance has been granted to families when the breadwinners were sick had no work, and help has been given to doctors, graduates of universities, and ladies in distress. such are the works of charity carried on by the Providence (Row) Night Refuge and Home.


You who are asking how to aid the outcasts, the friendless, and the homeless, will you assist us continue and extend this important Institution?

You who have the means, will you join us lessening the mass of bitter misery which is at your very doors?

You who, in the winter nights, have comfortable fires and warmly curtained rooms, forget not the destitute who are shivering with cold and hunger and asking God to touch some benevolent hearts to come to their assistance.

You who love to protect the weak and raise the fallen, pity the women and girls who, for food and shelter, are leading lives so repellent to them that night after night they have to drown their remorse in drink, and send the means to rescue them.


You who have sensitive feelings, compassionate those who have to keep up appearances, and are often more hungry and sad than those who are not ashamed to beg, and save them from being evicted from their homes, with which they are threatened.

Contributors are respectfully invited to visit the Refuge. Parcels of old clothes, which can be made up for the poor by the inmates of the Home, will also be thankfully accepted.”