Number 8 White’s Row was one of the many common lodging houses that were located all across the enclave of Spitalfields in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
These places were home to a mix of residents, some of them law-abiding, some of them skirting the periphery of lawlessness, and others, quite simply, out and out ne’er-do-wells.
As a consequence of this eclectic mix of clientele, crime was commonplace and it wasn’t unknown for people to die in bed, some from natural causes, others having been murdered overnight as they slept.
THE DEATHS OF TWO WOMEN
However, in 1901, Number 8 White’s Row was the scene of the mysterious deaths of two women who were found dead in their beds, having been accompanied to the lodging house on the nights before their deaths by men who, when the bodies were found, had vanished without a trace.
One of the women was found dead in March, 1901, and, by the end of May of that year, she had still not been identified, nor had the man with whom she had spent the night been traced.
The other woman was found dead on the morning of Thursday, 23rd May, 1901 and, by the time of her inquest, which took place on Friday, 31st May, 1901, she had been identified as 38-year-old Minnie Newman.
ANNIE AUSTIN’S MURDER
Then, on Sunday, 26th May, 1901, Annie Austin was murdered at a common lodging house in neighbouring Dorset Street, and the police investigation, as well as the Coroner’s inquest into her death, ran parallel to the investigation and the inquiry into the death of Minnie Newman.
MINNIE NEWMAN’S INQUEST
The East London Observer carried a full report on the inquest into Minnie Newman’s death in its edition of Saturday, 8th June, 1901.
As you will read, the Coroner, Wynne Edwin Baxter, was somewhat incredulous of the welfare for vulnerable women afforded by the lodging house staff, and he considered it something of a “coincidence” that two women should have died under mysterious circumstances at the same lodging house over a period of just eight weeks.
He was also somewhat taken aback when he discovered that overall management of the White’s Row lodging house and the Dorset Street lodging house, where the murder of Annie Austin had occurred, were in the hands of the same man.
The article read:-
ANOTHER SPITALFIELDS SENSATION
“On Friday night, Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, the East London Coroner, held an inquiry at the Stepney Borough Coroner’s Court, concerning the death of a woman supposed to be Minnie Newman, 38 years of age, who was found dead in bed at. a common lodging house, 8, White’s-row, Spitalfields, Thursday last.
The discovery following closely on the terrible crime in Dorset-street caused considerable excitement, and rumours quickly spread that another murder had been committed.
It is also a singular coincidence that, only about eight weeks ago, a woman was found dead in this same lodging-house under suspicious circumstances.
MARY ANN ENGLISH’S TESTIMONY
Mary Ann English, a widow, stated that she was a lodger at 8, White’s-row, and knew the deceased. She last saw her alive on Wednesday morning in the “Queen’s Head” public-house. A fortnight ago the deceased told the witness that she had a child to support.
The Coroner: “Did she ever tell you anything of her history?”
Witness: “I have been told that she had been a nurse at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and had married one of the doctors.”
MARGARET DAVIS GIVES EVIDENCE
Margaret Davis, the deputy, said that shortly after twelve o’clock on Thursday the deceased came to the lodging-house accompanied by a man, and the witness showed them up to the room.
The man came down at five o’clock in the morning, but, before he left, the witness took him back to see that the woman was all right
The Coroner: “That was an excellent idea. How long have you done such a thing?”
Witness: “I have always done that.”
The Coroner: “Or only since the other woman was found dead and the man had disappeared?”
Witness: “I have never missed doing so.”
The witness added that the woman was all right, and the man left; but, on going up again later, she found the woman dead, and sent for the police.
The Coroner: “Sent for the police! That is another capital idea. How long have you done that?”
The witness made no answer.
ELIZA MAPPIN’S TESTIMONY
Eliza Mappin said she occupied No. 30 opposite, and, at about five o’clock, she heard the deceased and the man talking.
The Coroner: “You surely don’t mean to say that you heard anything? I thought you were all as quiet as mice and didn’t make a noise in a lodging-house; at least that is what I understood from evidence I heard the other day.”
BARNEY LIPMAN APPEARS
Barney Lipman, of 17, Dorset-street, said that he was the manager.
The Coroner: “Anything to do with 35, Dorset-street?”
Witness: “I am the general manager for the lot.”
The Coroner: “I may want to see you on Tuesday next then.”
The witness (continuing) said that he was called after the woman had been found dead, and he sent for the police and the doctor.
The Coroner: “The police first; that is very surprising. How long ago is it since the other woman was found dead at this house?”
Witness: “About eight or nine weeks.”
The Coroner: “I suppose that is about the average. One woman found dead about every eight weeks. If what Mrs. Davis tells us is true, you are adopting a good principle to take the man back and see if the woman is dead or alive; but, unfortunately, on the last occasion the man had gone, how was that?”
Witness: “The woman neglected her duty. I have never let anyone out before seeing that all was right.”
The Coroner: “I am very pleased to hear you say so. I shall get you to repeat the statement next Tuesday.
DOCTOR KENNARD’S TESTIMONY
Dr. Frederick Kennard, of 139, Hanbury Street, deposed to being called and to finding the deceased lying dead in a natural position. There were no marks of violence, and the woman had been dead about four or five hours,
The hands were clenched and the tongue was protruding between the teeth. There was blood-stained fluid coming from the nostrils.
The cause of death was syncope following epilepsy.
THE CORONER: “If you are not quite satisfied as to the cause of death, I would rather you made a post mortem examination.”
Witness: “I am perfectly satisfied, sir.”
THE CORONER SUMS UP
The Coroner remarked that there did not appear to be anything suspicious about the case, but, in view of the recent tragedy, it was advisable to inquire carefully into these cases.
The Jury returned a verdict of death from natural causes.”