The Not So Bad East End

Today the Victorian East End of London that was the haunt of Jack the Ripper is often perceived as one giant slum where the residents lived in horrific conditions, and where crime, vice, violence and drunkenness were almost endemic.

Whereas there were parts of the East End of London which were like this, they were, it has to be said, few and far between.

Indeed, much of the East End of London was extremely respectable, and many of the residents, although, perhaps not wealthy, were reasonably well off and hard working.

Throughout the 1880s several newspapers published articles that argued that the whole of East London was being unfairly maligned.

Missionaries visiting the residents of a London slum in the 19th century.
A London Slum In The Late 19th Century


On Thursday the 27th of August, 1885, The Southern Reporter took issue with those who, for political, philanthropic or religious reasons were portraying the East End as a whole as a festering sore on polite society:-

“These are times of rhetorical exaggeration. It is held to be necessary, indeed, to exaggerate in order to produce the effect of truth, or at any rate to produce an impression.

Amongst other things which are exaggerated is – I say it fearlessly – the East End of London.

There are bad parts certainly, though a Scotch clergyman visiting the worst slums of Bethnal Green assured me that he knew worse places in his own parish in Dundee.


But there are parts of the East End which are neither unpleasant nor unhealthy, nor famine-stricken, nor vicious.

For example, Poplar, Millwall, or Blackwall would compare favourably with any localities in England as places of residence for a fairly well-to-do artizan population.

There are other parts of the East End like them, where you may walk, as I did the other Sunday, for miles amongst a quiet, well-disposed, and apparently well-fed population.


And, talking about dress, I doubt whether there are any babies in the world so gorgeously arrayed as the East-End babies on a Sunday.


Home missionaries and perfervid philanthropists enjoy describing “the Docks” and all London eastwards of the Tower and Mint as a huge Pandemonium.

It is nothing of the sort.

Like other places it has slums in it; but it is not all nor chiefly “slummy.”


To tell the truth on the subject ought not to check the flow of charity.

The good parts of the East End owe their goodness in great measure to the religions and educational effort expended there. Poplar and Millwall, for example, are well off for schools and churches, and the general condition of the populations there ought to be an incentive to work in the same directions elsewhere.”