The Murders And Sanitary Reform

One things that crops up time and time again as you read the various reports on the Whitechapel murders, is the number of people who had been prophesying that, unless something was done to improve the appalling and horrific social conditions in parts of the Victorian East End, then it was inevitable that something as horrific as Jack the Ripper was bun to happen.

On Monday the 8th of October, 1888, The Bristol Mercury republished an article that had appeared in The Lancet, which, it must be said, possessed an element of “told you so.”

The article read:-


Though no satisfactory explanation has yet been given as to the cause of the atrocious murders systematically committed in Whitechapel, this long series of tragedies has at least served the good purpose of awakening the public conscience.

It is worthy of note that the crimes have been committed in precisely the same district where, as sanitary reformers, we have often demanded the intervention of the authorities, and the more rigorous application of the Sanitary and other Acts by which the quarter could be improved.


Undoubtedly, great poverty, overcrowding, dirt, and bad sanitation have a lowering brutalising tendency, which renders more probable the conception and execution of such crimes as those that now absorb the public attention.

Possibly, the actual perpetrator of these sanguinary deeds has not himself endured, to the full extent, the misery and the squalor of the Whitechapel district; but his nature has probably been influenced by the degradation of the quarter he seems to frequent.


In any case, we are glad to note that the public have associated the prevailing misery with the present appalling record of crime.

There is already some task of rebuilding a large portion of Whitechapel, and calculations have been made to show that this can be done in a remunerative manner.


For years past we have sought to draw public attention to the miseries of the poor, and especially to the very streets where the murders were committed.

Our efforts were not altogether fruitless; assistance was given, through our Commissioners, to sone extreme cases of distress, and one of our subscribers, sent us £20 for this purpose.


We had then published a special report on the exceptional distress prevailing in London.

This report appeared on March 15th, 1879; and contained a heartrending description of the children and inhabitants of George Yard, where a woman was murdered on August 7th last.


Some time previously the lodging houses in Flower and Dean Street, where another victim, who was murdered last Sunday morning, was believed to have been in the habit of lodging were fully described by our Commissioners.

One of the worse sweating dens described in our report published four years ago was in Hanbury street, where Annie Chapman was murdered and mutilated on September 7th.

This is the very heart of the sweating district, and Pelham Street, where some of the worst cases were found, runs parallel with Hanbury Street, and is only a few yards off.

It cannot be said, therefore, that the public and the authorities have not had many opportunities of learning something of the dangerous condition of this district.


Improvements have been effected, we acknowledge, and at the time the various reports we published were extensively quoted by the press at large.

Nevertheless, what has been done is altogether insufficient, and it does not reflect creditably on our boasted civilisation to find that modern society is more promptly awakened to the sense of duty by the knife of a murderer than by the pens of many earnest and ready writers.