In the wake of the murder of Mary Kelly, which took place on the 9th of November, 1888, a journalist took a night time stroll through the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields to gauge the mood in the area where the most recent murder had occurred.
His subsequent article appeared in several newspapers.
The article provides us with an unrivalled opportunity to walk the streets of Whitechapel in the wake of a Jack the Ripper atrocity and to witness the effect that the murders were having on the local populace.
It also provides an insight into the police endeavours to catch the killer which, as far as many were concerned, had drawn a complete blank.
Finally, the author was able to report on some of the “unfortunates” that he encountered as he made his way through the East End Streets and, as he comments, any one of whom could become the next victim of the unknown killer that was lurking in their midst.
SATURDAY NIGHT IN WHITECHAPEL
The following version of the article appeared in The Western Times on Monday November 12th, 1888:-
“The clock of St. Mary’s pointed towards ten o’clock as I last night emerged from the Whitechapel Station of the Underground Railway bent on visiting some of the spots made hideous by the series of inhuman atrocities which have of late made the East End a byword and a reproach.
At first sight the appearance of the great highway did not present anything very noticeable to the observer. The shops were still open, and, for the most part, brightly illuminated. The passersby seemed light-hearted and careless to a degree, and the whole aspect of the surroundings was one of everyday bustle.
INTO BUCK’S ROW
On leaving the station I turned to the left, and, traversing a by-street, found myself in a long narrow street, bordered by tall buildings, factories, warehouses. and the like.
This is Buck’s-row, the scene of one of the first of the recent tragedies.
But the thoroughfare is deserted save for an occasional passer-by, and the spot where Mary Ann Nicholls was discovered done to death on the 31st of August last, is recognisable only to those who visited the place at the time.
A DESERTED MITRE SQUARE
I therefore retraced my steps, and, traversing Whitechapel-road, make for Duke-street, Aldgate, through which I reached Mitre-square, another spot rendered famous by the same uncanny circumstances on the 30th of September.
The square is a deserted scene save for the presence of one man, a constable in plain clothes who patrols the place, and eagerly scans my features as I pass along.
It is the same in Goulston-street hard by.
The excitement caused by the tragedy which has been enacted has merged into that claimed by more recent butcheries, and the atrocity of yesterday is forgotten in the contemplation of the horror of to-day.
NOT MANY PEOPLE OUT
While retracing my steps along Aldgate I am struck by two undoubted facts.
The number of people to be seen in the street is far smaller than usual. The crowded condition of this main artery of the East is well-known.
On a Saturday night the pavement is impassable, and the hurried foot-passenger has to take to the kennel.
Last night the footways were but thinly covered, and the usual crowd was strangely diminished.
Nor need this be a cause of surprise.
There can be no question but that the recent tragedies have taken a firm hold on the imagination of the more respectable inhabitants of the East End, and they very wisely refrain from loitering in the streets longer than their business avocations require.
A LARGE NUMBER OF POLICE
The second unusual feature I noted is the abnormally large number of police, both in uniform and in plain clothes, who are to be seen about the streets.
They can be numbered by the hundred.
Constables are to be seen every few yards, while at equally short intervals are detectives on the alert and ready to fellow any person whose appearance or conduct way be open to reasonable suspicion.
ALONG COMMERCIAL STREET
On reaching the beginning of the Whitechapel-road I turned up Commercial-street en route for the scene of the latest atrocity.
There the surroundings were entirely changed.
The passers-by are comparatively few, and are of the lowest order, navvies, dock labourers, and the heterogeneous class dwelling in the common lodging-houses which in this quarter abound.
There was one other class in evidence, and this was unquestionably prominent. A large number of ragged and degraded women, women in draggle-tail skirts and huge hats and feathers, women in gaudy dresses and hat less; women in every stage of drunkenness – these patrolled the street by the dozen, singing their loudest and jostling one another in their degradation.
One trio of women, mere girls in years, I saw singing a “flash” song in praise of the dread “Jack the Ripper.”
AND SO TO DORSET STREET
About half way down Commercial-street stands Christ Church, one of the finest buildings in the East End; immediately opposite this is Dorset-street, leading to the scene of the murder of Friday morning.
Down here I turned, but only to find a small knot of people gathered outside the entrance to the court in which the bloody deed was penetrated.
The court, a narrow alley – so narrow, indeed, as to allow of only one person going in at a time – was guarded by police, who refused to allow anyone to pass, but the thirty or forty people assembled seemed satisfied with their proximity to the place, and lounged about talking to one another in hushed tones.
SCENE OF THE MURDER
The scene of the murder is the fourth house on the right hand side up a passage, but even were the curious admitted they would find but little to satisfy their curiosity, seeing that the solitary window giving light to the human shamble is boarded up.
The scene without is lugubrious in the extreme.
The slippery pavement, the drizzling rain – for it is raining now – and the little crowd assembled without, conversing in hushed tones, all combine to give an air of dread to the surroundings.
The only voices to be heard are those of itinerant vendors of street literature, and their cries of the wares they have to sell jar on the ear of the spectator.
“‘Ere you are. All about Jack the Ripper.” shouts one pedlar, while another hawks “The truth about the Whitechapel murders” in husky voice, but without attracting much custom.
THE CAMBRIDGE MUSIC HALL
Within a stone’s throw of this is a building, brilliantly illuminated, towards which a goodly stream of people are yet wending their way. This is the Cambridge Music Hall, an extremely popular place of entertainment, which is nightly crowded with large audiences.
I went in to satisfy my curiosity, and found the place crammed from floor to ceiling, some 2,500 persons being accommodated.
The contrast between this place of amusement and the purlieus of the surrounding alleys is marked indeed.
THE BRITANNIA PUB
On quitting the music hall I again went down Commercial -street.
It is close on midnight,but the public-houses are not yet closed, so, on the chance of seeing some characters, I enter the nearest.
It is the “Britannia,” situated at the corner of Dorset-street and I have a difficulty in wedging myself through the crowd which fills the bar to overflowing.
And a rare conglomeration this crowd is – English, Germans, Swedes, and Lascars, of all creeds and callings.
And there is only one topic of conversation – the murders.
I have a word with the landlady “You are doing a rare trade tonight,” I say.
“Yes,” comes the reply “more than we care about, and more than we care to do, again.”
The answer is suggestive.
And so the time passes on.
BACK TO DORSET STREET
Midnight is past; the pedestrians are fewer and noisier than before, but the drunken men and the dissolute women are as notable as earlier in the evening.
At a quarter to one I pay a second visit to Dorset-street.
The entrance to the court where the murder was committed is guarded by a single constable; in the road stands a second, engaged in persuading the loiterers to pass along.
The people hanging about are not more than a dozen; but most of them are the worse for drink; the majority women.
Immediately opposite the court are large common lodging-houses.
On the pavement outside this lies a gipsy woman, in her arms an infant not more than five months old. The woman is sleepy and quarrelsome, the infant crying.
A policeman stands over the mother, endeavouring to reason with her, but it is a difficult task; at last, however, he succeeds, and she moves unsteadily on, to lie down in the mud in some more peaceable pitch.
The whole surroundings are miserable and depressing.
The existence of such wretchedness is sufficient to account for any horrors, and the very spectacle of so many luckless females wandering about friendless and homeless, panic-stricken by the atrocities so fresh in their ears, and no one knowing but that she may be the next victim of the fiend or madman still at large, are facts pregnant with materiel for the student of sociology.
It is one o’clock, and I move along the muddy pavement for one last round.
It is raining hard, and every other doorway forms a temporary shelter for some luckless castaway.
COMMERCIAL STREET POLICE STATION
As I near the police station I meet a group moving along.
Two policemen with a man between them, a pale man walks alongside and a dozen curious loungers tramp along, led on by curiosity.
The constables and their captive enter the station.
I follow them, while the crowd is shut out.
The scale within is instructive. The charge room is a large apartment, bare in furniture, but scrupulously clean.
In the dock stands a man, none too cleanly bearded like a pard.
By the side of the sergeant’s desk stands a thin and emaciated woman. She is his wife, and she is charging him with assaulting her. Her sentences are uttered convulsively, and now and again she gulps down a smothered sob.
The picture is not a pleasant one.
On the bench in the-far corner is perched a little boy. He cannot be more than six years old, if so much. He is “lost” and has been rescued from out the streets by some gallant policeman.
The new-comers are speedily accommodated.
The prisoner is motioned to a seat, while a young man has an interview with the Superintendent.
He enters a charge of intending an act of violence against a woman and possible connection with the recent tragedies.
The prisoner, a well-dressed man of foreign aspect, speedily settles down on the bench and goes to sleep.
He has evidently been drinking.
The charge brought against the husband by his wife is finished.
She staggers, nearly fainting, to a seat while the man is led to the cell to await his trial on Monday.
A FINAL WALK ALONG COMMERCIAL STREET
The young man finishes his charge against the suspect, whom he has followed for a mile or more, and I leave the station to traverse Commercial-street once more, and to have my ears jarred by the bacchanalian uproar of a score of homeless women, possible prey for any evil doer.
As I make for Aldgate through the pouring rain in search of a hansom, I am again struck by the large numbers of police about.
THE STREETS ARE BEING WATCHED
The purlieus of Whitechapel are, without question, being watched as no streets have ever been before, and there can be no question that the police are exerting every nerve to cope with one of the most ghastly problems of modern crime.
And yet there are people who think fit to attempt to bring charges of incompetency against the force.”