Although the Jack the Ripper murders, as far as we are able to ascertain, did not actually begin until August 31st, 1888 – when Mary Nichols was murdered in Buck’s Row, Whitechapel, the worry about the dangers of the streets of London had been causing angst for several years.
There had been several police scandals for which Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had been pilloried by the press, not to mention several other murders and assaults that had caused people to believe that London was in the grip of an epidemic of crime that might well threaten the very fabric of society.
The Derby Mercury, on Wednesday, 30th May 1888, published the following brief article that highlighted the dangers that people faced whenever they ventured out onto the streets of the Victorian metropolis:-
THE DANGERS OF LONDON
A very unpleasant feeling has been created by the number of street robberies which have been perpetrated recently in broad daylight in some of the most frequented thoroughfares in London.
Scarcely a day passes without some daring piece of villainy being brought to light, and the worst of it is that the thieves invariably get off scot-free.
ROBBED IN THE STREETS
One day a judge is robbed of his watch and chain in Oxford street, another day an old gentleman is waylaid and robbed in the Thames subway; a third, a clergyman, while looking in a shop window in a street leading from Holborn to the Strand, is attacked and deprived of a valuable gold presentation watch; and lastly, a gentleman proceeding along Great Queen-street, near the Freemason’s Tavern, has his watch wrenched from his pocket, and would have lost it had he not pressed the thief closely and compelled him to drop it to save himself from capture.
FAR FROM DISCOVERY
These cases, in conjunction with the Canonbury murder, the perpetrators of which are apparently as far off discovery as ever, have given rise to an impression that the police force is not so active and well organised as it might be.
As far as the street robberies are concerned a judicious distribution of plain clothes policemen would be an effective means of suppressing what threatens to become an intolerable danger.