The Whitechapel Bullies

The problems associated with prostitution in London had been constantly in the news over the years preceding the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders. The Miss Cass case, that had generated a huge amount of press coverage throughout the summer of 1887, was still fresh in peoples minds as the autumn of 1888 progressed and the Whitechapel murders increased in number and ferocity.

The fact that the victims were being widely reported as being East End prostitutes elicited much comment from newspapers, philanthropists and politicians alike, and, certainly from the murder of Annie Chapman, which had taken place on the 8th of September, 1888, more information about the lives of the victims, prior to their arrivals in the East End of London, and the fact that poverty and drink had effectively been the root causes of the circumstances that had led to their murders was drawing constant comment in the features articles and the letters pages of newspapers across the country.


One aspect of East End prostitution that was commented on an awful lot by the reporters, who had been flocking to the area since early September to cover the murders, was that many of the prostitutes in the district were, in fact, being controlled by husbands, live-in lovers, or local roughs or gangs – and that much of the money that the women earned was going into the pockets of these ne’er-do-wells, most of whom were spending it on drink.

These men, who we today would refer to as pimps, were known at the time as “bullies”, and they were as varied in their characters and style of operation as it was possible to be. Some of them were, as already mentioned, the husband’s or concubines of the women they controlled and were local loafers, who saw prostituting their spouses or cohabitees as a means of making easy money, and who were happy to live off the immoral earnings of their partners.

Others were more businesslike in their approach, and may well have had numerous women under their control, the money then being used to fund other schemes, such as operating common lodging houses, local shops or slum dwellings.


The Whitechapel murders most certainly focussed press and public attention on this sordid underbelly of East End life, and, it must be said, this attention would have been unwanted by the local bullies, who, I have no doubt, were making their own enquiries in the district with a view to locating the murderer and either handing him over to the police, or dealing with him according to their own rules and code of justice.


One person who, at the time, was taking on the East End bullies, and doing his utmost to disrupt their sordid business was Frederick Charrington.

Since the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, in 1885, Charrington had been on an almost one-man mission to close down the East End brothels and to bring the problems associated with prostitution in the district under control.

A photograph of Frederick Charrington.
Frederick Charrington


Following the murder of Mary Kelly, which took place in Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street, Spitalfields, on the 9th of November, 1888, Frederick Charrington began a campaign to use the publicity that the murders had generated to take action against the men who were blatantly and openly profiting from the distress of the women of the community from which that Jack the Ripper was choosing his victims.

As far as Charrington was concerned, the men who controlled these women were as culpable in their murders as the perpetrator himself was.

To that end, on Thursday, 22nd November, 1888, he wrote a letter to The Pall Mall Gazette in which he expressed his opinion that the bullies were as much to blame for the crimes as the murderer, and in which he hoped that Parliament would do something to tackle what he saw as a scandal that had no place in a civilised society.

His letter read:-



I trust you will allow me, now that public attention is again aroused by another Whitechapel horror, to say that I hope something will be done to reach those who are second only in criminality to the murderer himself – namely, the class of infamous scoundrels who are commonly known as “bullies.”

These are the wretches who live on the earnings of these poor creatures, and who, in the midst of all this terror, have driven them out to their awful doom that they may eat the bread of idleness and sink themselves still deeper with drink.

Only a little while ago a young girl, only fifteen years of age, came to us for protection from one of these fellows, and after we had placed her in charge of the matron of our “Home” for fallen girls she informed us that she had been decoyed into a house of ill-fame, and they threatened (with an uplifted knife over her head) to murder her if she dared to try and escape.

Now, I was only able to get this man and his wife six months’ hard labour each on another indictment – namely, for harbouring a girl under sixteen years of age for immoral purposes, as they were the keepers of the house.

Happily, the law does now reach those who keep the houses, but I do hope, before these horrors are forgotten as a nine days’ wonder, some member of Parliament will be led to press a short Act of Parliament to be passed as an addition to the Criminal Law Amendment Act, so that these scoundrels may be reached, as at present the police are utterly powerless, although these fellows are as well known as the public-houses at the corners of which they are continually loafing and looking out for fresh victims to entrap, and where they may be seen at all hours of the day, and, if questioned, will pretend to be labourers out of work.

Hoping that we shall at least have this one reform in our law, though others are also greatly needed,

I am, yours obediently,


Great Assembly Hall. Mile End Road.”