The Amateur Casual

The second Jack the Ripper murder, that of Annie Chapman, took place in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, on the 8th of September, 1888. There was a great deal of sympathy in the press over the plight of poor Annie, since, as was pointed out, she was effectively murdered because she lacked the money (four pence) to pay for a bed in one of the area’s common lodging houses.

As the Whitechapel murders increased – both in number and ferocity – more was done to try and ensure that women who found themselves unable to find accommodation could seek shelter in one of the district’s charitable institutions.

One such institution was the Salvation Army shelter in Hanbury Street. Several newspapers published stories about this shelter, amongst them The Pall Mall Gazette which, on Monday May 2nd, 1892, published the first of two articles by a female reporter who had spent a night in this establishment and who then wrote of her experience and provided readers with an intriguing glimpse of the women and the staff that she encountered.

The full article read:-


“If comparisons are odious they are generally interesting. After spending a couple of nights in a women’s casual ward I was instructed to try a women’s shelter. There are several of these places scattered over the East-end.

I selected the one that is best known – that in Hanbury-street, belonging to the Salvation Army.

Some of the shelters are free, while others – this among them – make a charge of “tuppence” a head for admission.

A photograph showing Hanbury Street as it was at the time of the murders.
A View Along Hanbury Street


Dressed in a suit of borrowed clothes, I set out a little before seven, intending to arrive at my destination about eight.

My role this time was that of a servant out of place.

I was consequently a little more respectably dressed than when I visited the casual ward. I had on a dark serge dress, black jacket, and felt hat. To make my costume a little bit nondescript I put on an old fur cape.


It had been drizzling nearly all the afternoon, the pavements were greasy, and when I got out at the underground station Whitechapel looked as dull and miserable as I have ever seen it.

Hanbury-street is only five minutes’ walk from St. Mary’s station, and I had no difficulty in finding the shelter. The name was painted up in conspicuous letters on a board over the door. I rang the bell and was admitted into a large, well-warmed, and brightly-lighted entrance hall.


Three young women – one of them busy writing a letter – were sitting by an open stove.

The one who was writing asked me what I wanted.

“A night’s lodging.

“Very well; tuppence, please.”

“Is there anything I can do to earn my lodging? If I part with tuppence now it will leave me with nothing to pay for my supper and breakfast.”

“You can see the Lieutenant about that in the morning,” said the girl, “but you must pay the tuppence for your lodging now.”

I gave her the money and was allowed to pass.


When I got to the bottom of the hall I turned to the right into a small passage, where a woman and a young girl were waiting. I joined them, not wishing to have them take me for a novice, though I did not speak at first, but leaned against the wall trying to look unconcerned.

There were two doors leading out of this passage.

Singing and praying were going on in one room; the other appeared to be either a wash house or a scullery.


Presently I asked the girl which was the room.

“This must be it, I suppose,” she said, in broad Yorkshire. “They’re at prayers. I hope they won’t be much longer, for I’m tired to death.”

And she crouched down in the corner.

She was a good-natured-looking girl, dressed in black, with a bit of crape on her hat.

We entered into conversation, and she told me she had tramped all the way from Wales, and walked twenty miles that day.

She had been in one of the Army’s rescue homes once – Grove House, Stamford-hill – and talked a good deal about a woman officer named Colonel Cox. When she found her everything would be all right, she seemed to think.


The woman who was waiting took no notice of us for some time.

She was a rather disreputable-looking person, with a huge bundle of something in her apron that looked like rags.

She had some meat bones in a bit of newspaper, and was gnawing away at them and cracking them with her teeth like a dog. When the meal was over she looked at me and the other girl and made some remark about it being such a wretched night.


Then two or three more women dropped in.

One was a pale-faced little creature, tidily dressed in black. She went into the scullery to have a wash, but came back in a minute or so with a needle and began to stitch a string on her bonnet.

The woman who had been gnawing the bones and the girl were still talking.


“It is a great shame that girls like you should be here,” said the woman. “They’ve no business to take you in. But I know what it is. Of course – you won’t stop nowhere. It’s easy enough for young women to get homes or places.”

“You don’t know nothin’ about it, missus,” said the girl, “so it’s no good you talking. I know my own affairs and my own heart, thank God. If I was all bad I shouldn’t be here.”

“Ah, you ain’t like us,” went on the woman. “There’s always homes and places for young women. You know that right enough. It’s very easy while yer young to get everything you want.”

“Well, I’ve seen enough of that, and I don’t want to see no more,” said the girl. “There’s worse places than this. It’s better here than hell,” said the girl.

“That’s true enough,” said one of the others. “God’s good; God’s good,” said the girl. “As I heard a woman say once, ‘God’s good, and the devil isn’t bad if you trust him.’ But I don’t believe that.”

“No,” put in the little woman who was sewing her bonnet;” if it wasn’t for the devil I don’t believe any of us would be here.”


But the other woman who had been talking to the girl went on in the same strain again, and there seemed likely to be a passage of arms between the two.

The girl’s blood was up “You ‘ad better mind what you say, missus, I tell you,” she said.

“What harm did I say to you?” said the woman, who, however, seemed to know that it would be safer to get out of the way (she went into the wash-house).

“Shut up.”

“I won’t,” answered the other sharply. “I’ll be quiet for nobody if I think I won’t. If that woman doesn’t mind what she’s about ” – she said turning to me, “I’ll give her a crack over the nose; I am just in the humour for it.”

“Do be quiet, please,” said a young girl, coming out of the room where prayers were being held, “they can hear everything you say in there, and you’re disturbing them.”


Silence reigned for a few minutes, and then several others dropped in.

One, a little old woman of fifty in a black shawl and bonnet, hat bought an evening paper.

“I’ve knocked up nine pence to-day,” she said to the one standing next to her.

“Oh, you nasty disagreeable old faggit,” she suddenly burst out glaring at a miserable old thing standing a little apart from the rest. “I’ve a good mind to give her a knock on the nose (shaking her fist menacingly). She gave me a shove when we was outside the door. She’s like a dog in a fair. The nasty faggit. Got her skin full to-night. Look at her  hair – just like mine. It’s a good job for her I haven’t got to be near her long.”

The object of these remarks, strange to say, held her peace. She looked as if she hadn’t even heard them.


They began to come in fast now. There were women of all ages – some with children, two or three with babies in arms – and a few young girls.

Some of them went in to prayers, others went to the wash-house, the rest stayed in the passage to gossip.

The woman who tried to pick a quarrel with the Yorkshire girl had been talking about her in the wash-house, and now several others were expressing the opinion that young women had “no business to be allowed in.”

One woman scowled horribly at me. “Do you know how long they’ll be?” inquired a girl of me.

“If you ask a question here, they snap yer head off. I am a stranger.”

“Don’t talk, please,” said the same voice as had asked for silence before. “You’re preventing them going on with prayers.”

“The more we talk, the longer they always keep us,” said one woman. “So be quiet for goodness sake.”


All this time I had been hesitating as to whether I should go in to prayers or stay where I was.

When the door was opened I noticed that the room was very full.

They were singing the “Rock of Ages” now, and I could hear children’s voices among the rest.

The passage was crowded. The poor creatures wanting shelter were coming in fast. Many of the women, I learned, were in the habit of coming regularly.

“It’s chock up to-night,” said one. “There’ll be a rush for beds.”

I asked a sad-faced little woman standing next me – the woman who had been sewing her bonnet – whether the place was generally full?

“Yes,” she said, “it is generally. Sometimes, when the bunks are all full, some of ’em has to sleep on the forms all night and go without leathers.”

Women bedding down in the boxes in the Hanbury Street Salvation Army shelter.
The Women In The Salvation Army Shelter On Hanbury Street, From The Graphic, 27th February, 1892. Copyright, the British Library Board.


This woman struck me more favourably than any of the others. She looked cleaner and neater and had less to say.

I discovered that she was Irish, and she told me that she got her living by charing.

She worked among the Jews of Whitechapel. But work had been scarce of late owing to the keeping of the Passover.


When the singing ceased and the door was thrown open there was a bit of a commotion.

The crowd in the passage rushed in, and those in the room rushed out – to secure beds, I suppose.

I went in with the Yorkshire girl, and we sat down together on a front form.

It was a large room – as large as most village chapels – with a row of forms on each side and another up the middle. The walls were painted two shades of terra-cotta, and hung with religious mottoes.

I noticed, too, a portrait of the General and one of Mrs. Bramwell Booth.


In one corner of the room were a table and some shelves, both full of big white mugs.

Many of the women who had rushed out in such a hurry when the door was opened now came back – some of them half undressed – for mugs, which they took somewhere and got filled with tea and coffee.

Those who went in for supper had a good-sized roll apiece cut in two, with a thin layer of jam between.

I hadn’t a penny, so I couldn’t have any supper.

My companion was worse off. She not only had no money, but she also hadn’t tasted food that day. She obstinately declared she would go without anything now rather than ask for it.

The Lieutenant and one or two officers were standing together talking.

There were half a dozen girls not in uniform – one with a baby in her arms – clean and respectably dressed, who I afterwards learned were living in the house. They had the same supper as the other women. I suppose

I must have been looking disconsolate, for one of the girls touched me on the shoulder and said, “Cheer up now, don’t be down-hearted.”


I roused myself, but I felt rather sick when I looked round.

Here was one woman combing her head with a small tooth-comb and wiping the comb on her apron, while another just near her was eating her supper.

In another part of the room two or three old crones were taking snuff together.

One of the girls who lived in the house was sweeping the floor. When she got to my end of the room she was driving a big heap of refuse before her.

“Don’t trouble about moving,” she said in a pleasant tone; “you’re not in my way.”

“You’re the only one here to-night as hasn’t told me I was in the way,” said the Yorkshire girl.

“Oh, don’t say that,” replied the other.

“What’s that? who told you you were in the way?” inquired the lieutenant, coming up and looking kindly at the girl.


“Good evening,” she said, nodding to me. “You feel a bit strange if this is the first time you’ve been in.”

“I very near went for a woman outside, lieutenant,” said the girl. “She said young women has no right to come here; but there’s many young girls that comes in where they would be in a worse place if they didn’t. A woman old enough to be my mother ought to know better than talk like that, I say.”

Then she begged the lieutenant to tell her where Colonel Cox had gone to. She had had a fruitless journey to Grove House that afternoon, hoping still to find her there.

“And they directed you here, did they?” inquired the Lieutenant. “How did you find us?” she asked, addressing me.

“I asked a pleeceman,” I replied.

“I know I shall cop it when I go up to see her,” said the girl. “She’ll look me through to a ‘T,’ I know; but I shall take it all and say nothin’.”

“Did Colonel Cox get you a situation?”

“Yes,” replied the girl. “I couldn’t help it, Lieutenant,” she burst out.” I couldn’t help it.”

“And you’ve been a naughty girl again. How long were you in your place?”

“I don’t believe I was there quite a week, Lieutenant. Oh, yes, the place was all right, but I – I had a companion I wanted to go to. Oh, dear, if I’d seen Colonel Cox this afternoon it would be all over now.”

“Well,” said the Lieutenant, “you must show her that you are sorry, and she’ll forgive you.”

I didn’t hear the end of the conversation, but I gathered from what the girl had said that her chief fault was drunkenness.


Another officer – a woman with a sweet face and a slightly foreign accent – came up and spoke to me. She asked me whether I had had any supper. I said no, and that I hadn’t a penny left. If the shilling that I had sewn in the hem of my petticoat had been get-at-able, though, I fancy I should have changed it, for I was beginning to feel hungry.

The kind creature went and got me some supper – a roll and cup of tea, I offered half of it to the Yorkshire girl, but she obstinately refused to eat.

“Eat it yourself, my lass, eat it yourself,” was all she said when I pressed her to take it.

However, I succeeded in inducing her to drink half the tea.

My Good Samaritan came back presently.

“It’s not only cheering to the stomach, but to the heart, isn’t it?” she said, pressing my hand sympathetically.


A number of women had come in within the last half-hour, and there would probably be more before eleven, when the doors were supposed to be closed.

Two young women came in looking very weary, and sat down behind us.

They were from Nottingham, and one of them said they had that day walked eighteen miles.

At the lower end of the room was a door leading to the dormitory occupied by the women with children – the creche – and, judging from what I could see of it, it seemed to be full.

The other dormitories, I concluded, must be through the door on the right from the fact that the half-dressed women were passing in and out that way to and from the wash house.

Some of them looked horribly dirty and ragged.

I am sorry to say that at the sight of one old woman with a filthy chemise and protruding bones the Yorkshire girl burst out laughing.

“Well, I’ve never seen anybody look so pretty as that about the waist,” she said to me. “Of all the pretty sights I’ve ever seen she’s the best.’


The officers had been absent from the room for some little time.

When the young woman who brought me my supper came in again she asked me whether I would like to go to bed. I told her I would, and followed her through the door on the right into the dormitory.

It was a large room – larger, it seemed to me, than the one we had just left. There were bunks on the floor all round, and two rows down the middle.

“There doesn’t seem to be room here, so you must go upstairs. Here are a couple of empty beds; good night.”

This “room,” exactly over the other, was a sort of gallery running round the four walls. The space in the middle served to light the room underneath.

I got into my bunk, and considered for a minute whether I would take off any of my clothes.

Some of the women had gone to sleep with their clothes on, others seemed to have partially undressed. The greater number were sitting up and scratching themselves. The sight quite decided me to keep my clothes on.

The woman in the bunk on my left said: “If you take them off you’ll feel more refreshed,” but I told her I should be more comfortable with them on.


Curiously enough, she turned out to be the clean-looking, quiet little woman whom I saw sewing downstairs. We talked for some time. She told me that a good many of the women there, like herself; earned what little they got by charing among the Jews. But the pay was poor, and the living worse.

“It’s starvation almost. All I had for three parts of a day’s work Saturday was nine pence and a few biscuits, made of their Passover meal, with a cup of weak tea.”

She had earned nothing since, and had been existing on one meal a day.

“You’re forced to keep your lodging-money – you must keep that. They won’t trust you a ha’penny. A poor little woman – half-starved she looked – was at the door the other night when I came in with only three ha’pence, and they wouldn’t take her in. The girl at the door said, ‘No, we can’t trust you.’ I said, Well, if that’s your religion, I don’t think much of it and gave the poor little thing a ha’penny myself. ‘I am very sorry, my dear,’ she said to me, but those are the rules and I am obliged to keep them.'”


“And what will you do yourself if you don’t get work on Wednesday and have no money left?”

“Go into the casual ward, I suppose. I haven’t had to trouble those sort of places much, thank God. I shall never forget my experience of the first casual ward I went into. I had been working the other end of the town, and foolish-like let my money run on. It’s about two years ago. I came in here for a night with five and tuppence in my pocket and never thought of hiding it at night.

The next morning it was wet and miserable, and I thought I would go out and get myself a comfortable meal. When I felt in my pocket though, it was empty.

Well, that night I had to go to the casual ward. I went to one at Stratford, where they told me you got tea – I can’t take the gruel they give you.

Well, I had a bath and tea and went to bed.

The next morning some pieces of rope was thrown into my cell – they treat you almost the same as a dog. Of course I didn’t know what to do with it, as I’d never seen oakum before. I cried till I was sick.

At last one of the poor old workhouse women came and asked me what was the matter. She showed me how to do it, and I tried to work.

Women picking Oakum
Oakum Picking


The next morning the missus came along and looked at me very hard, for the task was not half finished. She threatened to take me before the labour-master. I told her I didn’t know how to do it – that I’d never seen oakum before.

‘Well, in that case it’s different,’ she said, but remember, if you come in here again, I shall expect you to do your task; and if you don’t do it you will be taken before the labour-master and punished.'”

At last the talking ceased, but that grim scratching went on incessantly for the next two hours.

“Good night, and God bless you,” said the woman I had made friends with, turning over and composing herself for sleep.

Poor thing, she had a hacking cough. I wrapped my fur cape round my head, tucked the leather coverlet round my legs, and tried to rest. I thought and thought and thought till the small hours of the morning, when I lost consciousness.”