Sunday Morning In Thrawl Street

Every so often, in the 19th century, and prior to the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders, newspapers published articles that provided their readers with an insight into the lives of the inhabitants who dwelt in the districts of Spitalfields and Whitechapel.

Some of the articles looked at those who were trying to minister to the needs of what were increasingly described at the time as the “inheritors of poverty.”

These articles are of interest in that it is the closest we can come today to understanding the residents who the victims of the Whitechapel Murderer would have mixed and mingled with.

The following article appeared in the East End Observer on the 29th December 1877.


“Proceeding along Commercial-street,Whitechapel, we made inquiry of many passers-by for Thrawl. street, without gaining the requisite information, but after a time discovered somewhat of its locality, which is situate near to St. Jude’s Church, and bordering upon the notorious Flower and Dean-street.

It is approached through Keate’s-court, which in itself has a dangerous aspect.

Narrow, without room enough for two pathways, it is paved across its whole width, each side sloping down towards the middle, which forms a gutter as a fitting receptacle for the mud.

The houses have a grim and tumble-down appearance, while over the door of the first a horseshoe is nailed in order to ensure luck for those who have the audacity to enter therein.

A photo of Thrawl Street.
A view of Thrawl Street Then and Now. Copyright, Andrew Firth.


At the end of this court is Thrawl-street, which certainly is one of the most unpromising places which can be found in this vast metropolis; here filth and squalor and wretchedness are found on every hand; cleanliness has no home within its confines.

The children, who literally swarm therein, are ragged, and appear for the most part to have been for a long time innocent of soap. They were revelling in the abominably dirty road, which was bestrewn with cabbage leaves, potato parings, and other vegetable debris most abundantly; while others were gambolling with half-a-dozen goats, which somehow or other had found a home there.


At a side turning, which appeared to lead towards a kindred spot were a number of costers’ barrows stacked close to the wall, but in order to secure their safety from the propensities of the gentlemen who inhabit the neighbourhood, each was made a cripple by depriving it of one of its wheels.


As to the houses themselves, they are all of a class, and appear to be fit only to be carted away as rubbish.

Most of the doors, were open and revealed a state of wretchedness and poverty which was pitiful to behold.

Not a single floor was clean; the windows were here and there broken, patched with paper, or still more hideous rags, to check the influence of Messers. Boreas and hyems, who, in spite of that precaution, however, found crevices enough through which they could make their unwelcome presence known.


Slatternly women were standing about gossiping, while coarse, brutish looking men were squatted here and there smoking short clay pipes, and making rude remarks at any stranger who might pass by.

We were greeted with several of their characteristic observations, while one fellow, to the evident delight of his companions, shouted out, “Give us a track, guv’nur.”

This immense sally of wit provoked peals of laughter from his numerous companions.

We thought of the horseshoe then, and thought also we should be lucky if we escaped from that dangerous neighbourhood without receiving personal violence.


On the eastern side, and about half-way down the street, there is a long, low, narrow, dingy room, the architecture of which is decidedly “composite,” for the designer thereof, it would appear, had not exactly made up his mind what to do when be commenced to build, for he started off at one width, then turned off sharp round the corners, and made it wider for the remainder of its length.

Upon this room the Christian Community have fastened for carrying on their admirable mission work. under the superintendence of Mr. Atkinson.

The walls have received decoration from some amateur bill-sticker, for completely around them are posted appropriate Scripture texts.

The furniture consists alone of rows of wooden benches with backs, and as we entered on Sunday morning we found each seat occupied by some inheritor of poverty.

Wretched and anxious looking men and women were seated thereon, and a low murmur of conversation was heard.


Each individual held a large mug in his or her hand, for at this place during every Sunday morning in the winter season free breakfasts are given, and these are paid for by the Homerton Mission.

By-and-bye, a supply of bread and butter, amply sufficient for the meal, was distributed, and then there came huge cans containing steaming hot tea, which was quickly poured into the mugs.

Half-an-hour was allowed for the repast, which appeared to be thoroughly enjoyed, for the countenances of the poor people bore a more cheerful aspect after the meal that they had received than when they entered.


A short religious service followed, two or three hymns were sung, and brief addresses given by three gentlemen, but as the duration of this service was limited to an hour, there was nothing wearisome about it.

The Community is doing an immense amount of good through the instrumentality of its workers here, for the room is occupied as an evening school, a Sunday-school, a place for religious meetings, and as a means of communication whereby applications may be made for assistance in time of need.

Thousands have been benefited through the operations carried on in this humble room, and it is with pleasure we announce that the society is so far encouraged in its work as to contemplate building a hall upon the site of the present ugly structure, capable of holding three times the number of persons.”