Opening Of The Working Lads Institute

The Working Lads’ Institute – or at least the building that was formally the Working Lads’ Institute – still stands on Whitechapel Road, close to Whitechapel Underground Station.

It was here that the inquests into the deaths of several of Jack the Ripper’s victims were held, presided over by the Coroner Wynne Baxter.

A photo of the Working Lads Institute showing it today.
The Working Lads’ Institute As It Appears Today.


In its heyday, it provided educational and exercise facilities for the working lads of London, as well as accommodation for those able to secure for themselves a berth behind its walls.

It was opened, to great fanfare, on Saturday October 31st 1885, by the Prince and Princess of Wales, accompanied by their eldest son, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence.

A week later, on the 7th November 1885, The Illustrated London News, published the following article on the opening ceremony:-


The Princess of Wales, who was accompanied by the Prince of Wales and their eldest son and daughter, paid a visit on Saturday afternoon to the east end of London, where the Princess opened the new Working Lads’ Institute, which has been erected in the Whitechapel-road, nearly opposite the London Hospital.

The entire length of that road, from the corner of the Commercial-road, was gay with flags and mottoes of welcome, and despite the rain which continued throughout the day, there was an immense assemblage of people along the roadway through which the Royal party had to pass.

The Institute, which has a bold front elevation of four floors, is of red brick, with Portland and Ancaster stone dressings, a prominent feature being a three-sided oriel window, with bay windows on either side upon the first floor.

An illustration showing the exterior of the Working Lads' Institute.
The Working Lads’ Institute, Whitechapel Road. From The Illustrated London News, 7th November 1885. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The interior arrangements include reading and conference rooms, gymnasium, class-rooms, laundry, mechanical work-rooms, dormitories, and kitchen.

Only twenty-four beds are ready at present, but there is room for sixty when the necessary funds are obtained.


The Royal party arrived at the Institute at four o’clock, and were received by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Mr. Alderman and Sheriff Evans, Mr. F. H. Bevan (treasurer), Mr. Hill, Sir James Tyler, Dr. Tyler, and others, with a guard of honour with the band of the Tower Hamlets Rifle Brigade, under Colonel Mapleson.

Their Royal Highnesses, who were attended by Lord Colville of Culross, Colonel A. Ellis, and Miss Knollys, were conducted to a prettily decorated canvas pavilion in the rear of the building, which was well filled.


A bouquet was presented to tho Princess of Wales by Mr. Hill on behalf of the boys of the Institute, and the proceedings having been opened with prayer, Mr. Hill. the honorary secretary, described the purposes of the Institute, which was the development of a very small beginning nine years ago.

The effort then made to attract young working lads from the streets, and the evils of low music-halls, theatres, and penny gaffs, had been eminently successful; so much so, that in the period referred to 1620 lads had taken advantage of the old Institute.

After detailing the difficulties they had experienced in procuring a suitable site when the removal and enlargement became imperative, he said the estimated cost of the whole Institute, which would accommodate over a thousand boys, was £12,000, of which one half was still required.

The amount they had received had been expended in erecting the building about to be opened, but to that they intended to add, upon the ground occupied by the pavilion, the second portion, which would include a swimming-bath and a lecture hall.


The Princess of Wales then, amidst the cheers of the company, declared the new building opened and devoted for ever to the welfare of the working lads of London.

The Prince of Wales briefly addressed the meeting, and expressed his interest in the objects of the institution.

Mr. Bevan spoke to return thanks to their Royal Highnesses for this visit, and took the opportunity of announcing subscriptions promised that day to the amount of nearly a thousand pounds, of which £450 had been collected by Mr. Arrowsmith.

The Royal Party opening the Working Lads' Institute.
The Royal Party At The Opening Ceremony. From The Illustrated London News, 7th November 1885. Copyright, The British Library Board.


A number of ladies and children presented purses, each containing five guineas, to the Princess of Wales, and the Prince of Wales awarded a cup to a lad named Cooper, the champion swimmer of the Institute, after which the National Anthem was sung, and the Royal party retired for an inspection of the building.

The Princess graciously acceded to the reading-room being known as the “Alexandra Room,” and the Prince of Wales promised to place a clock in it.


As their Royal Highnesses left the building they received another great demonstration of goodwill from the crowd.

During the afternoon some of the pupils of the Guildhall School gave a selection of music.”