The Jewish East End and Jack the Ripper

By the time of the Jack the Ripper Murders many eastern European Jews had settled in the East End of London and a ghetto had, effectively, been established. One of the questions that we often get asked on the Jack the Ripper Tour is, why was it that these immigrants chose to settle in this particular area.

There were several reasons for this. Most importantly was the fact that the area’s proximity to the London docks and, in particular, to Irongate Wharf which stood alongside where Tower bridge now stands. This was where the steamers from Hamburg used to dock and, since most of the immigrants arrived here they settled as close to their point of disembarkation as possible. Another reason was that the East End of London at the time, and particularly the parishes of St George’s in the East, Whitechapel and Spitalfields were comprised of some of the least sought after parts of London and the lodgings to be found in them were, on the whole, cheap and thus were affordable for the newly arrived immigrants.

The first identifiable community of Jewish workers to settle in the area were the Dutch Jews who arrived in the area in the 1850’s, colonising the parts of the district around Cobb Street, Leyden Street and Toynbee Street, all of which were located in Spitalfields.

The Jewish refugees who began arriving in the area in increasing numbers in the latter half of the 19th century brought with them three components which, up until then, had been noticeably absent in Anglo-Jewry. These were socialism, trade unionism and Zionism. These new arrivals brought a certain amount of disruption to the established Anglo-Jewish community. They dressed differently, spoke their own language (Yiddish) and they brought their radical religious or political ideas with them.

As we explain on the Jack the Ripper Walk there was a lot of animosity towards these newly arrived immigrants amongst the gentile population and, very early on in the Jack the Ripper investigation, an ugly racist element entered the case with many of the gentiles who lived in the area coming to the conclusion that the person responsible must be a member of the immigrant community. Wary that such sentiments might lead to anti-Semitic rioting in the streets of the East End the police began playing down, as much as they could, any such suggestions and Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, even went so far as to erase the infamous “Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” Goulston Street graffito, before any photographic record of it be taken, for fear it would antagonise the gentile population and lead to attacks on innocent Jews in the East End of London.