The Whitechapel Horrors September 1888

Realising that the press interest in the Jack the Ripper murders afforded the opportunity to reach a much wider audience, the Reverend Samuel Barnett, vicar of St Jude’s church on Commercial Street, sat down and penned a letter to The Times, which was published on September 19th, 1888.

Samuel, together with his wife Henrietta, had been campaigning for many years to bring improvement to the district around his church and vicarage, and they most certainly knew the area intimately.

So his letter was written by someone who had an almost unrivalled knowledge of the community from which the murderer probably came.

An illustration showing Samuel Barnett.
Samuel Barnett.


It read:-

Sir, Whitechapel horrors will not be in vain if “at last” the public conscience awakes to consider the life which these horrors reveal.

The murders were, it may almost be said, bound to come; generation could not follow generation in lawless intercourse, children could not be familiarised with scenes of degradation, community in crime could not be the bond of society, and the end of all be peace.


Some of us who, during many years, have known the life of our neighbours, do not think the murders to be the worst fact in our experience, and published evidence now gives material for forming a picture of daily or nightly life such as no one has imagined.

It is for those who, like ourselves, have for years known these things to be ready with practical suggestions, and I would now put some forward as the best outcome of the thought of my wife and myself.


Before doing so, it is necessary to remind the public that these criminal haunts are of limited extent.

The greater part of Whitechapel is as orderly as any part of London, and the life of most of its inhabitants is more moral than that of many whose vices are hidden by greater wealth.

Within the area of a quarter of a mile, most of the evil may be found concentrated, and it ought not to be impossible to deal with it strongly and adequately.


We would submit four practical suggestions:-

1. Efficient police supervision.

In criminal haunts, a licence has been allowed which would not be endured in other quarters.

Rows, fights, and thefts have been permitted, while the police have only been able to keep the main thoroughfares quiet for the passage of respectable people.

The Home Office has never authorised the payment of a sufficient force to keep decent order inside the criminal quarters.


2. Adequate lighting and cleaning.

It is no blame to our local authority that the back streets are gloomy and ill-cleaned.

A penny rate here produces but a small sum, and the ratepayers are often poor.

Without doubt, though, dark passages lend themselves to evil deeds.

It would not be unwise, and it certainly would be a humane outlay, if some of the unproductive expenditure of the rich were used to make the streets of the poor as light and as clean as the streets of the City.


3. The removal of the slaughter-houses.

At present animals are daily slaughtered in the midst of Whitechapel, the butchers with their blood stains are familiar among the street passengers, and sights are common which tend to brutalise ignorant natures.

For the sake of both health and morals, the slaughtering should be done outside the town.


4. The control of tenement houses by responsible landlords.

At present, there is lease under lease, and the acting landlord is probably one who encourages vice to pay his rent.

Vice can afford to pay more than honesty, but its profits, at last, go to landlords.

If rich men would come forward and buy up this bad property, they might not secure great interest, but they would clear away evil not again to be suffered to accumulate.

Such properties have been bought with results morally most satisfactory and economically not unsatisfactory.

Some of that which remains might now be bought, some of the worst is at present in the market, and I should be glad, indeed, to hear of purchasers.


Far be it for anyone to say that even such radical changes as these would do away with evil.

When, however, such changes have been effected, it will be more possible to develop character, and one by one lead the people to face their highest.

Only personal service, the care of individual by individual, can be powerful to keep down evil, and only the knowledge of God is sufficient to give the individual faith to work and see little result of his work.

For men and women who will give such service there is a crying demand.

I am, truly yours,

Samuel A. Barnett.