Poverty was endemic to the district of Whitechapel throughout much of the 19th century.
It is often said that, if the Jack the Ripper murders did nothing else, they at least drew the attention of the public at large to the horrific conditions under which many of the residents in the East End of London were forced to dwell.
Every so often, however, the downtrodden – or, at least, some of them – would be pushed too far and would rise up against their plights, forcing the authorities to clamp down upon them, often harshly.
This appears to be what happened in the following case that was reported in The Illustrated Police News on Saturday the 2nd of February 1867:-
MEAT RIOT IN WHITECHAPEL
On Saturday, at the Worship-street Police Court, a great hulking fellow, although but 19 years, and who gave the name of Thomas Baker, and who described himself as a shoemaker, lodging at No 3, Osborn-place, Whitechapel (a lodging-house), was charged with stealing a leg of mutton, value six shillings.
CONSTABLE SOPER’S TESTIMONY
Police Constable Soper, 303A reserve, deposed that:-
On Saturday morning, while on duty in the Whitechapel Road, I saw the prisoner with a leg of mutton beneath his arm. He was stealthily showing it to another man, and from what I heard I walked towards them.
The Prisoner then ran off, and, as I gained on him in pursuit, he dropped the meat, which a gentleman picked up and, after I had caught the prisoner, put into my hands.
I now produce it.
At the station-house he admitted to having stolen it from a shop in Baker’s-row.”
IT IS TRUE
Mr. Newton:- “What do you say to this?”
Prisoner:- “Why it is true. A lot of us went to the Workhouse for relief, and we were turned away without anything, so we ran into the butcher’s and each of us took something; in fact, I think we cleared it out.”
THE BUTCHER’S EVIDENCE
Thomas Burton, the tradesman alluded to, said:-
“About half-past ten o’clock this morning (Saturday), between two and three hundred men of all sorts rushed into my shop, tore down the joints, and ran off with them; seeing their determination to take whatever they could lay their hands on.
I offered them a shilling to go away quietly, but that was no use whatever.
They were evidently resolved on having the meat, and they did have it.”
THE VERY WORST SORT
Mr. Newton:- “How much is your loss?”
Mr. Butrton:- “About £5, sir; and not only that, but they broke all my windows. It was very quickly over, sir.”
Mr. Newton:- “You remark that the mob was comprised of all sorts. What sort do you call this?”
Mr. Burton:- “Why, the very worst sort. There certainly did appear to be some tolerably respectable persons among them – decent people. I identify this man as being amongst the mob.”
Mr. Newton:- “Now, I wish it to be understood that this sort of thing must not be repeated. I am determined on doing the utmost possible to prevent it.”
TWO MONTHS HARD LABOUR
It is not to be tolerated that a set of idle fellows should commit such acts with impunity, and if they fancy they can it will most assuredly be found that the law is stronger than such persons probably suppose.
I send this man to prison for two months with hard labour – let it be a caution of what may follow if another case of the kind comes before me.”
The prisoner looked very chapfallen.
HEARD AT AN EARLY HOUR
In all probability, other cases would have been before the court during the day but for the fact that Bendall, tire gaoler, asked that the case in question might be heard at an early hour, the decision on which was quickly spread about the East-end.
Extra police are on, and there are 40 at or near the Whitechapel Workhouse.