One of the reasons we know so much about the Whitechapel murders today is that the newspapers, once they realised that the interest in the crimes could mean thousands of extra sales, were sending reporters in their droves into the East End of London to dig out as much information as possible on the district where the atrocities were occurring.
Thanks to the newspaper coverage, we have an unrivalled daily record of life in Spitalfields and Whitechapel, and the opportunity to glimpse the everyday lives of the people who lived there and of their reactions to the Jack the Ripper crimes as they unfolded.
What we tend not to think about too much, if at all, is the dangers that those reporters encountered as they grubbed around for information in one of the most criminally active neighbourhoods of the Victorian metropolis.
On Monday, 15th July, 1889, The South Wales Echo published the following article which looked at some of the dangers posed to strangers in the district, and which looked at the means used by the newspaper men to acquire stories about the crimes that, by this time, had gripped the entire world:-
LIFE IN WHITECHAPEL
REPORTERS IN JEOPARDY
Mr Henry George has been visiting Whitechapel, and writes:-
I had an interesting talk with some of the newspaper men whom the Whitechapel murders took into the poorest quarters of this district.
They say that there is no danger of bodily harm to a visitor, but that if a well-dressed man steps out of the main thoroughfare someone will quickly knock against him, as if by accident, and as he turns he will find himself spinning around for a moment or two too quickly to resist what is going on. When he recovers full control of his senses, he will find his pockets turned inside out, and a crowd grinning at him.
WOMEN EXPECTED TO BE PAID
The women whom the newspaper men interviewed with regard to the Whitechapel murders, always expected something for the interview, and one reporter had to give 40 of them a banquet before he could escape. But the banquet consisted of a penny bloater, a pennyworth of bread, and two pennyworth of beer – 4d each.
At first, the women were quite willing to be interviewed by the reporters at this rate, but, as the demand increased, their price rose till it got to 3, and 4s.
AN ATTACK ON A REPORTER
One press reporter, after the last murder, secured all the interviews he could use at rising prices, but the more he took the more he was beset with women who wanted to be interviewed; and when he finally shut up his notebook, declaring he had enough, and prepared to jump into his hansom to drive away, the non-interviewed became indignant, and, before he knew where he was, his hat was smashed over his eyes, he was spun round, his pockets rifled, and his notes torn up. He was glad enough to get away with a whole skin.
THE PANIC HAS WORN OFF
The reporters say that the panic about the murders has now worn off, and the women who were at first so frightened make quite a joke of it.
As for “Jack the Ripper,” their theory is that he has been frightened away for a while, but will again come back.
The reporters say that the police have not yet had the slightest trace of him.”