Robert Claudius Billing (1834 – 1898) was the Rural Dean of Spitalfields from 1878 to 7th July, 1888, on which date, the selfless work he had performed amongst the poor and the destitute of the East End was recognised by the church authorities with his appointment as Bishop of Bedford.
THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS
Because of his associations with the area where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred, he was in a particularly good position to comment on the effect that the crimes had had on the area as a whole.
On Sunday the 10th of March, 1889, he preached a sermon in Kensington in which he expressed the opinion that, awful as the Whitechapel murders were, they had in a way done some good for the people of the area in that they had drawn attention to the appalling social conditions which the people of the district were forced to endure on an almost daily basis.
A REPORT ON HIS SERMON
The South Wales Echo, published the following summary of his sermon, in its edition of Monday, 11th March, 1889:-
The Bishop of Bedford, in preaching yesterday morning on behalf of his East London Church Fund, at St. Jude’s Church, South Kensington, referred to the sensation which he said was created by the murders known as the Whitechapel atrocities.
He believed that good would result in the main from the attention that had been directed to the poor in the East End and the conditions under which they lived; but he strongly deprecated the conclusion which had been drawn that after all that had been done things were as bad, if not worse, than they were before.
A MANIFEST IMPROVEMENT
Having been rector of Spitalfields for more than ten years, he could bear testimony to the fact that a manifest improvement in the condition of the locality had resulted from the Whitechapel murders.
This improvement was largely due to the exertions of the clergy and the faithful laity, both men and women, who led devoted lives, and sought the religious, moral, and social good of the people.
It was cheering to find that these exertions were appreciated by the public at large, who showed their sympathy, some by personal service, and some by liberal contributions to the East London Church Fund, which from the exceptional circumstances of the East-end required a large and largely increased income.
THE SYMPATHY OF QUEEN VICTORIA
It was most gratifying to the poor people of the East-end, as well as encouraging to the workers, to know they had the sympathy of her Her Most Gracious Majesty.
When the women of the East-end humbly addressed her Majesty at the time when terror was upon their hearts because of the Whitechapel atrocities, the reply was of necessity a formal one, through the Home Secretary.
The terms used were official, and they failed to give expression to the keen and personal interest which her Majesty felt, and always had felt, in the condition of those of her subjects who lived in the dreadfully poor and crowded districts in the East-end and in the South of London.”