The Pandemonium Of Posters

As the Jack the Ripper murders raged in London, more and more newspapers and magazines came to see the Whitechapel horrors as an inevitable consequence of the bloodthirsty literature and drama that people were enjoying in their daily and weekly newspapers and on the London stage.

In its issue of September 15th, 1888 Punch magazine published an editorial that fulminated against the effect that the posters used to advertise these presentations – and their graphic depictions of murder, gore and violence – might have on the minds of certain members of the public:-


“Is it not within the bounds of probability that to the highly-coloured pictorial advertisements to be seen on almost all the hoardings in London, vividly representing sensational scenes of murder, exhibited as “the great attractions” of certain dramas, the public may be to a certain extent indebted for the horrible crimes in Whitechapel?

We say it most seriously:- imagine the effect of these gigantic pictures of violence and assassination by knife and pistol on the morbid imagination of unbalanced minds.

These hideous picture-posters are a blot on our civilisation, and a disgrace to the Drama.”


Punch returned to this theme in its issue of October 13th, 1888, with the following cartoon that showed the devil as a bill-sticker attaching these gruesome advertisements for the latest gore-feasts that audiences could delight in on the London stage.

The Punch Cartoon The Pandemonium of Posters.
The Pandemonium Of Posters. From Punch Magazine, 13th October, 1888.


The cartoon was accompanied by a poem, which left the reader in no doubt as to Punch magazine’s stance on the effect that the posters might be having on the minds of the some of the less-able-to-cope members of London society:-

“The Demon set forth in a novel disguise
(All methods of mischief the master-fiend tries)
Quoth he, “There’s much ill to be wrought through the eyes.
I think, without being a boaster,
I can give their most ‘cute Advertisers a start,
And beat them all round at the Bill-sticker’s art,
I will set up in business in Babylon’s mart,
As the new Pandemonium Poster !”

So he roved the huge city with wallet at waist,
With a brush, and a stick. and a pot full of paste,
And there wasn’t a wall or a hoarding,
A space in a slum, or a blank on a fence,
A spare square of brick in a neighbourhood dense,
Or a bit of unoccupied boarding,
But there the new poster, who didn’t much care
For the menacing legend, “Bill-stickers beware!”
Right soon was tremendously busy.

With placards portentous in purple and blue
Of horrible subject and hideous hue,
Enough to bemuddle an aeronaut’s view,
And turn the best steeplejack dizzy.

Oh, the flamboyant flare of those fiendish designs,
With their sanguine paint-splashes and sinister lines!
Gehenna seemed visibly glaring
In paint from those villainous daubs. There were men
At murderous work in malodorous den,
And ghoul-women gruesomely staring.

The whole sordid drama of murder and guilt,
The steel that strikes home, and the blood that is spilt,
Was pictured in realist colours,
With emphasis strong on the black and the red,
The fear of the stricken, the glare of the dead;
All dreads and disasters and dolours
That haunt poor Humanity’s dismallest state,
The horrors of crime and the terrors of fate,
As conceived by the crudest of fancies,
Were lined on those posters in terrible tints,
In the style of the vilest sensational prints
Or the vulgarest penny romances.

That Bill-sticker paused in his work with a look
Which betrayed the black demon, and gleesomely shook
His sides in a spasm of laughter.

Quoth he, with a sinister wag of his head,
“By my horns, the good artist has lavished the red!
This home of coarse horror – this house of the dead
Looks crimson from basement to rafter.
How strange that a civilised city – ho! ho!
‘Tis their fatuous dream to consider it so
Which is nothing too lovely at best, should bestow
Such a liberal licence on spoilers!

These mural monstrosities, reeking of crime,
Flaring horridly forth amidst squalor and grime,
Must have an effect which will tell in good time
Upon legions of dull-witted toilers.

Taken in through the eyes such suggestions of sin
A sympathy morbid and monstrous must win
From the grovelling victims of gloom and bad gin,
Who gapingly gaze on them daily;
A fine picture-gallery this for the People!
Oh, while this endures, spite of School Board and Steeple;
My work must be going on gaily!”