The Condition Of East London

The Jack the Ripper murders most certainly exposed many of the horrors of every day life that, by 1888, had become endemic to the East End of London.

As the murders increased in ferocity, and it became more than apparent that his victims were drawn from a class of women that was often referred to as “the unfortunate class”, people began taking notice of the fact that these poor women had, in fact, been driven into their lives of poverty and degradation by the shortcomings of society.

Women gossiping outside a house.
From The Graphic, 24th April 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Throughout October, 1888, many readers were writing in to the London newspapers to highlight the conditions under which the poorer classes of women were being forced to live in the East End of London, whilst also discussing some of the remedies that were underway to try to save the women from the conditions that had, in many ways, led the victims into the fatal clutches of the Whitechapel murderer.

Below are three letters that appeared in The Morning Post on Wednesday October 10th, 1888.


“SIR, – Nine years ago I came down to live in Ratcliffe-highway with the simple determination of finding out how best to help that class of poor, miserable women whose mode of living has been so prominently brought forward by the events of the past few weeks.

During all that time I have been able to keep an open door for them, and, with my fellow-helpers, have been learning, as we could only learn, by experience how most wisely and effectively to help those who came to us.


The work has been very quietly carried on, but our houses have always been full to overflowing, and whilst hundreds of young girls and children have been rescued from the most dangerous surroundings, trained as little servants, emigrated to the Colonies, and in other ways given a fair start in life, still many more from among the fallen have found our Home a “Bridge of Hope” by which they have passed to better things.


The revelation of existence in Whitechapel lodging houses, and in the streets of our great city, must not simply evoke words of commiseration, or be allowed to die out as a nine days’ wonder, but must surely result in very practical measures being adopted for permanently benefiting those, at least, who are anxious to be helped.

Hundreds of women in this sad East-end lead their degraded lives of sin for daily bread, or to secure a night’s shelter in a fourpenny lodging-house, a fact of which none can now plead ignorance, for the horrors of a few weeks (to our shame as a nation be it said) have brought out in awful relief the conditions under which so many of our fellow creatures exist, and which, though told persistently and without exaggeration by East-end workers, have made but little impression.


Finding that the missing link in the work in Ratcliff-highway was a night shelter, we have during the past year built one, as a wing to our new Refuge, and which will be opened on the 30th inst. by the Bishop of Bedford, although circumstances have compelled us already to give shelter in it to many who needed immediate help.

Night shelters, answering only to the purposes of casual wards, may be the means of as much harm as good; but managed with judicious discrimination and constant personal supervision, I believe our Bridge of Hope Night Shelter will be a means of helping not only those who have fallen, but of saving very many young girls from utter despair when they have come to their last resources.

At this moment the strain of the work is very great.

Whilst people are devising, and very rightly so, how best to organise new methods and larger schemes, it sometimes appears that those who have been plodding on in the midst of the misery, and who have to bear the brunt of sudden emergencies, are apt to be forgotten, and, however unwilling we may be, it seems right to call attention to our present need of financial help.

We are always thankful to see visitors, or to send reports if desired.

Apologising for taking up so much of your valuable space.”

I am, &c.,


Hon. Supt. Ratcliff-highway Refuge,

St. George’s-in-the-East, Oct. 9.


“SIR, – The letter of the Rev. Walter Bourchier in your issue of to-day discloses the real want of the people in the East-end.

What is wanted is not so much penitentiaries, night refuges, technical schools, and recreative institutes, but enough clergymen and churches to insure some sound moral and religious training, some means by which better thoughts and better principles may be brought into the homes of the people, and some endeavour made to provide for the religious training of the young children.


By all accounts the parish of St. Peter’s, London Docks, shows what can be done by an efficient and energetic body of clergymen.

The moral and physical wants of the people can be better ascertained and supplied through the ministration of the clergy than by any other means.

Board schools alone will never regenerate the masses, they will but make more clever scoundrels of those who are devoid of all moral training.

It seems a wicked misappropriation by the Charity Commissioners of the surplus funds of the City parochial charities to give large grants to recreative institutes and the preservation of open spaces, when the East-end of London is crying aloud for that parochial machinery and supervision which alone can cope with the present evil.

It is most praiseworthy of private individuals, and bodies such as the Goldsmiths’ Company, to encourage technical schools, &c., but it seems hardly the object for which money was left to the City parishes.

Every scheme for increasing the church accommodation and parochial supervision for the people should now be prominently brought before the public, and we ought not to rest satisfied until a church, a vicarage, and a clergyman are supplied for every 2,000 people in the East-end.”


M.D. (Confab). Oct. 9.


“SIR, – As one who lives and works among the poor in the East of London, may I be allowed through your columns to urge the public to respond promptly and liberally to the Bishop of Bedford’s wise suggestion in your issue of to-day, that a working home for women be established in our midst, where washing and other work shall be carried on?

That is the refuge we need here.


The “nothing corning in,” the “nothing doing,” which shall bring in the next meal, is the real cause of this terrible degradation of our poor women, and a provision of work for them would be both preventive and curative of much misery and much scandal.

It is among the women that evil is growing at such a fearful pace; it is on woman that the increase of poverty and distress falls most heavily.

She has to take the boots off the child’s feet and the petticoat from her own person to carry them to the pawn-shop for bread.

Small wonder, then, that in her dark despair she should throw up all efforts to “keep herself straight,” and yield to a temptation which offers relief, if only in forgetfulness.


The often-heard remark, “If you offer them work, they will not take it,” is not made of woman but of man.

It is a fact that as a class women are much more industrious than men, and should the bishop be able to carry out his wish of providing them with work, he and the interested public will see that hands and hearts are eager to accept it, instead of eating the bread of sin and shame.”

Yours, &c., E. B. LEACH.
Whitechapel, Oct. 9.”