Pauperism In Whitechapel

It is often said that it was the Jack the Ripper crimes that alerted society at large to the horrific social conditions in Whitechapel, and led to improvements in tackling the plight of the poor.

Strictly speaking, this is not true.

For much of the 1880s, the authorities had been struggling with the problem of the vast underclass that had been allowed to develop, largely unchecked, in the poorer districts of many of Victorian Britain’s largest cities – and in Whitechapel in particular.

Change, albeit slow change, had started to be seen in the East End of London long before the advent of the Whitechapel murders, and, in its edition of Monday the 25th of June, 1888, The Evening Standard published the following article about what was being done:-


Mr. William Vallance, Clerk to the Poor Law Guardians of Whitechapel, gave evidence today before the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Poor Law Relief in London and big centres of population.

Earl Kimberley occupied the chair.

A look into an slum alley of Victorian London.
Poor Children In An Alley


The Witness stated that up to 1870 the system of giving outdoor relief by small doles of payment in money or in kind to able bodied men for work had fostered pauperism and created on occasions so much disorder that the police ware called in to maintain order, and even protect the guardians.

A change of policy was adopted.

Outdoor relief was restricted in out of work cases, and the prohibitory order was strictly enforced, with the result that between 1868-70, when the change took place, to 1888, the number of out-door paupers had been reduced from 2903 to 48.


However, there had been an increase of sick poor under the separate infirmary system, there also been a diminution of indoor pauperism.

The condition of the poor, moreover, had been improved.


In the workhouse, built at South Grove for the able-bodied and “healthy infirm poor” of Mile End, oakum-picking and stone-breaking had been practically abandoned.

Instead, there had been substituted corn and coffee grinding, wood-chopping, sawing and bundling (for firewood), smith work, carpentering, coffin making, furniture making, bricklaying, whitewashing, painting, glazing, chimney-sweeping, shoe making, tailoring, water-pumping, gardening etc.; workmen outside seldom being required for repairs on work of any kind.


“Mental instructors” had been introduced among the adults with successful results, and the children were trained by a female teacher, and they were kept apart from adult paupers.

Afterwards, they were sent to the Forest Gate District School, or certified schools.


Orphan children under ten years of age were sent to “country homes.”

Boys, if they desired, were sent to the Exmouth training ship.

Vicious parents hindered the work of training.


He was in favour of the prohibitory order being extended to London generally, save on occasions of extraordinary pressure.

The Mansion House Fund had attracted a large number of the poor of other districts to London.

The Committee then adjourned.