The Dangers Of Spitalfields

Even without the activities of Jack the Ripper, the East End of London could be an extremely dangerous place, and not just for women.

Indeed, some of the most vicious crimes that took place in the Victorian East End, were, in fact, carried out by women.

It was, for example, quite common for prostitutes to rob their clients, and sometimes the violence demonstrated in these attacks makes for rather unpleasant reading, even though we are separated from the events by the passage of more than a hundred years.

It was also quite common for women to work with the local gangs in order to lure unsuspecting strangers into the clutches of the gangs, whereupon they would be subjected to robbery and assault.

The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette reported on one such case in its edition of Friday, 28th September 1888:-


At Worship street Police court, on Wednesday, Catherine Donovan, 22, a powerful woman, hawker of flowers, living in common lodging houses in Spitalfields, was charged with having been concerned with another woman, not in custody, in hocussing and robbing John Dines, a labourer.

People in the kitchen of a Spitalfields Common Lodging House.
The Kitchen of A Common Lodging House. From The Graphic, 24th April 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The prosecutor stated that he got into the neighbourhood of Spitalfields on Saturday night, and, at about six o’clock, was in Great Pearl Street, when the prisoner and another woman stopped him. One held him whilst the other, the prisoner, put her hand into his pocket and took out his watch – a silver one, valued at £2.

She then ran off and the other woman followed her.


The prosecutor was unable to pursue them, for he fell down half senseless, and was of opinion that the woman had drugged him. The prisoner put her hand over his face before robbing him, and he felt his senses going, though he knew he was being robbed.

He had not spoken to either woman, and he was not drunk at the time.

The Magistrate (Mr. Montagu Williams) asked if he thought the woman had chloroform in her hand. The prosecutor said that he did not know. He seemed to lose his senses as she put her hand over his face.


Police constable Caunter, H Division, said that the prosecutor gave him information of the robbery, and about 8.30 he arrested the prisoner; she made no denial when told what the charge was.

The prosecutor identified her at the police station from among several other women.

The other woman had not been apprehended.

Mr. Montagu Williams remanded the prisoner.