Whitechapel Waxworks

A newspaper story came to my attention this week that appeared in several newspapers over the week of February 4th 1889.

The story is of interest for several reasons, not least of which being the fact that it provides an insight into how some people had found a way of cashing in on the notoriety and the horror of the Jack the Ripper crimes, even when the terror and the panic that they had created was still fresh in peoples minds.


On Tuesday February 5th 1889 Thomas Barry appeared at the Central Criminal Court charged with “creating a nuisance by carrying on a show in the Whitechapel Road and thereby causing large numbers of disorderly people to assemble and obstruct the public highway.”

Reporting on the case on Sunday February 10th 1889, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper summarised the events that had resulted in Thomas Barry’s court appearance:- 

“The defendant was the occupier of two houses in the Whitechapel-road and it was alleged on the part of the prosecution that finding his ordinary attractions had entirely failed to arouse public interest he took advantage of the excitement which had been caused by the murders in Whitechapel to exhibit ghastly and disgusting representations of the victims. It was stated that the public exhibited disgust at this feature of the exhibition, and that it was modified to some extent, but the horrible crimes that had taken place in the neighbourhood was still sought to be made objects of attraction to the public.”


The St James Gazette, reporting the case on the 6th February 1888 stated that:-

“The defendant occupied Nos. 106 and 107, Whitechapel-road, where he carried on the business of a showman, and this case had been taken up in consequence of a memorial from the inhabitants of the district complaining of the nuisance which his exhibitions caused. In the first instance the defendant was communicated with; but he declined to close his show, so that the only remedy was to indict him for a nuisance and obtain the verdict of a jury.

A view of the site of the waxworks.
The Site of the Waxworks, April 2016


The exhibition consisted of waxwork figures and monstrosities of various kinds, and in the autumn of last year the defendant added figures of the poor women murdered in Whitechapel.

He sought to attract people by exposing a large picture outside the premises representing one of the mutilated victims; but the inhabitants became so indignant that they threatened to pull it down. A figure of “Jack the Ripper” was added to the show.

A great deal of noise was created by the yelling and shouting which went on to induce people to enter, and the result was that a vast number of disorderly persons assembled in front of the premises. There had been a number of robberies there.


After the Whitechapel horrors ceased to attract, the defendant had “a bearded woman, who was half a gorilla and half a woman,” a big fat French woman eight feet round the shoulders,” “The Female Champion Boxer of the World,” and, more recently, there had been plays lasting about half an hour.

Mr. Poland [prosecuting] said the inhabitants had been most long-suffering in this matter ; but the time had come when they were determined to ascertain whether they were longer to put up with the nuisance.”


Appearing on behalf of the defendant, Mr Purcell argued that the accused had a right to carry on the business of a showman if he pleased, and the only question for the consideration of the jury was whether he carried on his business in such a manner as to create a nuisance to the public. He called witnesses to show that exhibitions of all kinds – rifle galleries, fortune-telling, coconut shying – took place in the same neighbourhood, and that a great deal of the noise and obstruction was caused by these exhibitions, rather than by the defendants show.


According to The Era, in its February 9th 1889 edition, Police-constable 28 J.R. told the court that “as many as 200 people had assembled outside the show premises at one time. The pictures that attracted most attention were those relating to the Whitechapel murders, exhibited at shop No. 106. One picture showed six women lying down injured and covered with blood, and with their clothes disturbed.”


Police-inspector Cudmore told the court that “many known thieves loitered among the crowd that gathered outside the premises, and a large number of persons were arrested near the spot for pocket-picking and larceny.”


The Era continued its reportage on the case by reporting the testimony of Mr Henry Tate:-

“…in the employ of Mr Hunt, a cheese-monger, of 108 and 109, Whitechapel-road, [who] stated that the shop, No. 107, was principally used as a “ghost show.” Various pieces were played there, including Sweeney Todd. The showman outside kept calling out till the “house” was filled, and performers, in stage dress, appeared every time they wanted to ” draw the house full.”


Mr Purcell, told the court that he “did not intend to defend the “good taste ” of the exhibitions”. The business carried on by the defendant was not one, he said, that contravened the law at all. “The pictures with reference to the Whitechapel murders were removed a long time ago. He contended that the defendant had not conducted his legitimate business in such a way as to make him amenable to the law. The defendant did not want people to stare outside, but to go into the show, and the roughs and pickpockets who gathered outside were as much a nuisance to him as to his neighbours.”


The last witness called to testify was Thomas Barry himself who, according to The Era, told the court that:-

“.. for the two shops he paid £243 a-year rent. As far as possible he had diminished the noise made to attract people, and he wished to carry on his business with as little annoyance to others as possible. In answer to Mr Poland, the defendant said he could not carry on his business if he discontinued having a showman at the door to call out. He could do without pictures, but it was necessary to show the performers to attract the public.”


Unfortunately the Jury did not see things his way and, according to The Era:-

“After a long consultation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Mr Poland said that there was a similar case against a man named Lindley, arising in the same neighbourhood.

The defendant Lindley said that he would plead guilty. Mr Poland then suggested that both defendants should be allowed to go on their own recognisances to come up for judgement if called upon, and if the inhabitants of the locality were satisfied that there was no further nuisance no more would be heard of the matter. The only object of the prosecution was to stop a nuisance.

The Recorder adopted this course, and the defendants were discharged on entering into their own recognisances in the sum of £100 each to come up for judgement if called upon.”


The numbering of the premises on Whitechapel Road have changed since 1889, and what were 105 and 107 are now 223 to 225. Also Thomas Street has undergone a change of name and is now Fulbourne Street.