The Raid On East End Brothels

The passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, in 1885, which was “An Act to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes” – provided tough penalties against those who could be proved to be running houses of ill-repute.

In The East End of London, Mr. Frederick Charrington, used the Act to lead a one-man crusade against the brothel owners, and throughout 1886 and 1887 – armed with his “Black Book” in which he recorded the names of all known or suspected brothel owners and their addresses – he swooped on as many houses of ill-repute that he could, and closed them down.

One of the problems with his actions was, that many of the girls working in these brothels, were forced out onto the streets, which made them the targets of the street gangs, and, in the autumn of 1888, of Jack the Ripper.

But, as far as Charrington was concerned, he was undertaking a public service by ridding the East End of the contagion of the brothels, and, in consequence, he put himself under considerable danger as he, almost single-handedly, went about his mission.

A photograph of Frederick Charrington.
Frederick Charrington


The East London Observer, on Saturday, 22nd October, 1887, published the following articles about his endeavours and about the dangers he encountered:-

“Although disorderly houses in other portions of the East End have been occupying the attention of Mr. F. N. Charrington and his helpers during this week, Nelson-street is still the centre of his principal operations.

This is accounted for by the facts that not only does the street contain more brothels than Lady Lake’s-grove and Oxford-street did, combined, but the inhabitants of these disorderly houses are more inclined to resist the invasion of Mr. Charrington.


And, for the purpose of this resistance, Nelson Street is peculiarly well adapted.

One portion of it runs into Bedford Street, and the other into Sydney Street, while near the centre of the street, is the famous John’s Place or Jack’s-hole, in which all the bullies who may choose to attack Mr. Charrington and his party can easily find a refuge should their escape be cut off by either of the thoroughfares at the end of the street.


Evidence of the fury excited by these men, and the keepers of the houses, against Mr. Charrington’s action in cutting off their questionable means of livelihood, have only been too frequent during the past week.

For instance, on Saturday last, a gang of ruffians made an attempt to attack Mr. Charrington, and on the policeman on duty – Police Constable Charters, 291 – who happened to be passing, attempting to interfere, they attacked him, seriously injuring his eye.


Mr. Charrington, as we have stated already in these columns, has, for some time past, been provided with police protection, but, somewhat recklessly we think, he has refused to take advantage of it except very seldom, and then one policeman is usually deemed by him to be sufficient protection against the crowd of bullies who infest Jack’s Hole.

On Tuesday afternoon when another visit was paid to Nelson Street by Mr. Charrington, another large gang of bullies and women congregated, armed with sticks and stones, and, but for the knowledge that an unusually large force of police were parading Commercial Road that day, an attack would undoubtedly have been made, the solitary policeman notwithstanding.

As it was, it required all the tactics of that functionary, together with the utmost watchfulness on the part of those with Mr. Charrington, to keep the crowd at bay, and, immediately their backs were turned, up swarmed the motley gathering, hooting, yelling, and indulging in language the reverse of complimentary.


Nearly the whole of the houses there have been cleared now by the pressure placed upon the landlords and agents, who have been made aware of the penalties to which they are subjecting themselves under the Act, in the event of their houses being under the occupation of disorderly characters.

In only one case has a refusal been met with on the part of a landlord to eject his tenants, and against him a summons was applied for and received at the Thames Police Court on Wednesday by Mr. Charrington.


The unfortunate keeper, Mrs. Blackley, of No. 78, Nelson-street, whose tragic death last week was recorded in these columns, was buried on Friday, and the house has since been taken possession of by a relative of hers, a hardworking, straightforward man, who was naturally deeply grieved at the sudden death of his relation.

Mr. Charrington called upon him this week, and learnt from him that there were three girls attached to the house, all of them relations of the deceased, who had been induced to come over from Ireland to ply their shameful vocation on the street.

This system had apparently been adopted by the woman for some long time, until she had almost exhausted her stock of Irish sisters and cousins.


As an instance of the profits made in the “trade,” it was related that £5O in gold was supposed to be concealed somewhere in the house, together with the books and vouchers for over £100 in the savings bank, but neither gold nor books had then been discovered.


As was intimated last week too, Mr. Charrington took out a summons against a Henry Green, for curers on a disorderly house in Thomas-street, Whitechapel – or rather disorderly houses, for it appears that although ostensibly Green only carried on the business of a coffee-house keeper in one shop in Thomas-street, the walls on the first and second floors were knocked down thus giving communication to a number of bedrooms in one, if not two, other shops.

The evidence adduced as to the purpose for which these rooms were used, was sufficiently conclusive as to induce Mr. Bushby to at once grant a summons returnable for Thursday, but having probably a somewhat painful recollection of previous proceedings, Green, wisely decamped in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The wholesome fear evinced by Green of these proceedings was evidently shared also by two keepers in Clark-street – on the other side of Jack’s Hole, Nelson-street – who only waited for the rumour that they were in Mr. Charrington’s “black book,” to make themselves scarce – a proceeding which was rapidly followed by the owner of a disorderly house in Baker-street, also adjoining Nelson-street.


The keeper in Canal-road, who threatened Mr. Charrington with an action for defamation of character for calling her home disorderly, has failed to send her “writ” – a prudent proceeding under the circumstances, seeing that several tradesmen and others have voluntarily given in their names as witnesses who are ready to prove the purposes to which the house was put.

Mrs. Hart, her neighbour, who recently removed with Ben Hart, under the threat of proceedings to, Hayfield-passage, Mile End, has also deemed it the policy to keep her business quiet awhile – probably because of the knowledge that the premise there are being closely watched.


Among other places which will probably occupy the attention of Mr. Charrington shortly are two well-known houses in Charles-street, Stepney, and Little Turner-street, just off the Commercial Road, where a  number of Belgian girls are known to be carrying on the trade.”