One of the first location we visit on our Jack the Ripper tour is Gunthorpe Street. This East End thoroughfare still possesses the atmosphere of the Victorian East End, and stepping into it as we begin the walk really does give you the impression that you have stepped through a portal and have been transported back to the London of 1888.
However, if you were to look for Gunthorpe Street on a 19th-century map of London, you wouldn’t find it.
It’s only actually been named Gunthorpe Street since the early 20th century. At the time of the murders, it was called George Yard.
It was here, on the first-floor landing of George Yard Buildings, that the body of Martha Tabram, the second Whitechapel Murders victim was discovered, on the 7th of August, 1888.
WORK AT GEORGE YARD ON A SUNDAY EVENING
On Saturday, 20th April, 1878, The East London Observer paid a visit to George Yard, and published the following article about it:-
There are comparatively few living, even in the immediate vicinity of George Yard, Whitechapel, who know anything of its history or the dangers attendant upon entering its precincts some thirty years ago.
It was at that time the home of vice, the haunt thieves and the vilest of characters existent at that comparatively recent date. No one could enter within its confines who would be assured of escaping with his property intact or his head in a sound condition.
Even the police, unless they were in considerable numbers, were afraid to turn into the dark defile, where iniquity set the law of the land at defiance, and many a wayfarer has had to regret that he ever found himself even in its immediate vicinity.
THE CADGERS HOTEL
At that time, and until a few years ago, there was within the yard a public-house known by the name of the Black Horse, or in the thieves vernacular “The Cadgers Hotel.”
This infamous den had many outlets known only to the initiated in vice, and from which escape from “the powers that be” was certain, whenever any “the fraternity” could reach this “house of refuge.”
A house of refuge indeed! Refuge from what? Not from vice, but to encourage it, and to aid the evildoer in his downward course.
Such was the state of things in George Yard but a few short years ago.
A CHANGE OF SPIRIT
A change has come o’er the spirit of the scene, and the ragged schools under the patronage of Lord Shaftesbury have been established there. The poorest of the poor children of Whitechapel find a free home of instruction therein, and Mr. George Holland for twenty-five years has worthily worked for their elevation to a nobler condition of life than their parents implanted in their infantile minds.
It is not, however, to the instruction of the young that reference is now made, but to other work on Sunday evenings which has followed the moral purification George Yard.
THE WAIFS OF HUMANITY
Look now on any Sunday evening into the late Black Horse public-house, the “cadger’s hotel” of old, and you will find at least a hundred children, of ages ranging from five to fifteen years, being carefully taught, and instructed also in the truths of the Gospel.
Miss Dodd superintends these waifs of humanity, but the children look happy under the surrounding influences of geniality, and the voices of those who have a considerate care for their future welfare.
Every child seems to smile upon a stranger’s entrance, and the gathering of these little ones speaks volumes for the good efforts that have proceeded from the foundation twenty-five years ago of the George Yard Ragged Schools.
THE COMMON LODGING HOUSES
A few steps further outside the main building itself, and there are the “escarpments” of the work to be found at ten common lodging-houses. Enter one of them and poverty and wretchedness will be found stark and dreary. The walls are placarded here and there with incongruous pictures relating theatrical, music-hall, or religious affairs; but if a gaudy picture can be obtained it is sure to be posted in a conspicuous position.
Those assembled to obtain the shelter of a night’s lodging are promiscuously engaged, some reading newspapers, others eating a scanty meal, some toasting a slice of bread, while others, without a morsel of food to eat, slick away from their richer neighbours.
THE GEORGE YARD MISSION
It is altogether a sad sight to see, but amid this conclave of misery which exists in ten houses the good people in connection with the George Yard Mission work and labour in the cause of the poor and their salvation.
Without fee reward, about thirty of the friends scatter themselves every Sunday evening amid the denizens of these lodging houses, and they are at all times now received with welcome.
The voice of the “Spirit which teacheth good” is listened to attentively, and while the speakers address their respective limited audiences, the utmost silence otherwise prevails. Good is thereby done, and many are by the influence of the George Yard Ragged Schools and its emissaries lifted from the regions of poverty and vice into a higher pathway in life.
GATHERING THE OUTCASTS
This is not all the Sunday evening work at George Yard, for busily engaged in the schoolroom are Mr. George Holland, Mr. Pitts (who has laboured in this excellent work for twenty-one years), and a number of young ladies who are teachers in the schools.
They are all busily “gathering in” from the outcasts those who perhaps have not previously heard the Gospel preached to them. No matter how badly clad, they are welcomed at George Yard, and seats are provided for them. Some are indifferent and careless, but Mr. Holland and Mr. Pitts, with the ladies’ assistance, know how to manage them.
The service begins. There is a small organ; plenty of singing; reading of the Scriptures; and a short, simple, but telling address delivered. After the Benediction is pronounced, the preacher comes round and welcomes each stranger as he or she passes out, and they often return to listen to the voice of truth, and hundreds upon hundreds have had cause to bless the work that has been done on Sunday evenings in George Yard.