The Horrors And The Slums

The Whitechapel murders most certainly awakened people to the horrors of the living conditions in the east End slums – and it was being widely observed that, unless these conditions were tackled, head on,  society as a whole would suffer.

Whoever the perpetrator  of the crimes – who was soon to be given the name “Jack the Ripper” – was, his atrocities had certainly managed to expose a sordid underbelly that was present, not just in London, but in almost every major city and town throughout the country.


However, the repercussions from the murder were still being used by philanthropists and social reformers long after Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror had actually ended.

On Sunday 16th September 1889, a sermon was preached at York Minister in which a direct correlation was drawn between the murders and the horrific conditions in the slums of East London.

The York Herald provided a synopsis of the sermon in its edition of  Saturday 22nd September, 1889:-


On Sunday morning the Rev. Canon Residentiary Fleming, B.D., preached to a crowded congregation in the Choir of York Minster.

He took for his text the words,”He answered him to never a word,” Matt. xxvii., 14, and thereon based an eloquent and forcible discourse upon our Saviour’s marvellous power of silence.

Towards the close he said that this silence of our Lord was a key for us all to the great silence of God in Heaven – that God who never interfered.

No matter what might be the human passions or the human crimes upon which the sun of Heaven was looking down, never once did God intervene, never once did He speak, never once did He break the silence, whether it be slow murder in a mansion by arsenic, or horrid butchery in some of the dark courts and dens of East London.

Alas! the work of destructiveness needed no genius.

An insect could destroy a flower which an Archangel could not restore.


They were just now learning the terrible lesson of the force and meaning of that expression “the dangerous classes,” when they were confronted again by a crime and an atrocity which seemed to battle all the resources of the Home Office and all the intelligence of the police.

And yet churches and chapels, hospitals, and infirmaries, mission halls and temperance halls, and institutions of every charitable kind never were so liberally supported as they were in England to-day.


Never believe any man who told them that the rich do not care for the poor.

He knew many rich men who cared a great deal more for the poor than many of the poor cared for themselves.

And yet, whatever charity was doing and had been doing for the bodies and souls of men, women, and little children, there was one point in which this country had been sadly neglectful, and which had a great deal more, perhaps, than they were aware of to say to this secret, hidden, and undiscovered crime – he meant, he said, the dwellings of the poor.


Most of those atrocities had been perpetrated in the worst courts and in the vilest dens of East London.

It was a cursed instance of the love of money which manifested itself in squeezing out of the working classes rents for tenements which were not fit for a dog to live in.

Perhaps they might answer:- “If men will live the lives of pigs you must have pigstyes for them.”


Yes! He knew full well, as one who had laboured for more than twenty years in the cause of temperance, that however bad those tenements were they were rendered ten times worse by the habits of those who occupied them.

There was no necessity for such wretchedness as this in this country, but if men – the wage earning classes of this country – would spend so much of their money on strong drink, if women would pawn even the shawl from off their backs for gin, then of course squalor and poverty and misery and crime must follow on those things.

They could not help those who would not help themselves.


The people had a remedy for all this state of things in their own hands.

If they would they could come out of those horrible slums by temperance and by thrift.

There were countless instances which formed noble exceptions to this state of misery.

Such men as the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Bedford, and Lord Cadogan were not backward in doing all they could to meet this question.


The Peabody trustees were every year adding to these dwellings for the working classes.

Their rental now amounts to more than £11,100 per annum from the Peabody dwellings which existed throughout the metropolis, and with that money, which they had no necessity to fund, they bought a site and pulled down those crazy tenements that were unfit for habitation, and reared up dwellings for 2,000 people every year.

Let all who could do what they could to assist, even by the force of public opinion, towards a better state of things in this direction.


He took leave of that part of his subject that day with his best wishes for the destruction of every filthy court and every loathsome den in London, and the sanitary improvement of the rest.

He ventured, most respectfully, in the presence of the Lord Mayor and the Sheriff and the representatives of the Corporation of this ancient city, to say that when their hands were free from more costly work which they had to do, there was plenty of good work to be done in this city of York in some of its lowest and worst parts in that direction.

They did not wish to see one landmark of the old times removed or destroyed from the city; rather let it be restored.

But they wished to see tenements which were uninhabitable for the body and impossible for morals in every large town and city swept away, and healthy and sweet homes in their stead.

When would the humblest homes of England be the abodes of happiness and virtue, of health and cleanliness, of peace and comfort, of religion and love?

Let them not lose their faith in goodness, which was another way of saying “Let us all still have faith in God,”