Conditions in Spitalfields in 1888, could be harsh, especially for the children of the district.
There are numerous accounts in the newspapers of the day of children who were abused and even assaulted by their parents – albeit the majority of the cases that came before the courts were cases of neglect of children by their parents, in particular by their mothers.
Many of those cases were the result of a demon that had been endemic to the district long before the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders in the autumn of 1888 – starvation amongst the poor of the area.
But a large percentage of the cases were the result of parental neglect.
One such case was reported in The Echo on Friday, 28th December 1888:-
PAINFUL NEGLECT OF AN INFANT
“I did what I could for it. I had no one to help me to support it.”
This was the only defence of Ellen Mahoney, a woman of 29 years of age, who was described on the police charge sheet at Worship Street Police Court, today, as living in a common lodging house in Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields, and who was charged with neglecting to provide necessary food and clothing for her infant child, Mary Agnes, a baby of seven months, whereby its health was endangered.
THE DEPUTY’S EVIDENCE
Mary Price, deputy of the house, No. 36, Flower and Dean Street, said that the prisoner had lately been lodging there with an infant.
For some time past, she had been in the habit of going out and leaving the infant on a bench or a table in the kitchen of the common lodging house.
It was always filthily dirty, and was, in the opinion of the witness, dying of starvation.
LEFT ALONE AND CRYING
On the previous day, she had left it on a table, and was absent for seven hours. The child cried at intervals for food, and, after a time, the witness fed it.
She then sent for the prisoner and told her she ought to look after the child. The prisoner only abused ber and went out again.
THE MOTHER ARRESTED
Another witness, Eliza Hildyard, also – so she said – gave some attention to the child.
Eventually, as the women agreed that it looked so bad, they sent for a constable. He took the child to the Whitechapel Infirmary, and now produced a medical certificate as to its condition.
Acting on the statement of the doctor, he apprehended the mother.
The Magistrate remanded the prisoner for a week.