4 August 1889
Whitechapel, Theatre of Jack the Ripper's Performances
The east end of London, the Whitechapel district, is probably the most degraded spot in Christendom. The series of horrible murders which have been done there during the last year or two by a criminal who, for want of a better name is spoken of as Jack the Ripper, has called public attention to the district.
"Whitechapel" is the name given to the parish - or, rather, to the union of nine parishes, of which the old parish of St. Mary Whitechapel is the largest - beginning at the eastern side of the Aldgate boundary of the old city of London, and, within 406 acres, containing, according to the census of 1881, 8,312 houses and a population of 71,863 human beings.
Whitechapel is the recognized abode of poverty, wretchedness and crime in London. It is a vast criminal colony in the heart of a great city. Its population is made up of the outcasts of society - the lowest of the low. In its narrow streets and narrower alleys, in its filthy court yards and vermin plagued tenements and lodging houses, thieves and abandoned women form a greater part of the population, while it is literally true - proved by the records of the London police - that the number of murders in proportion to the population is four times as great as in any other part of London. Suicides, too, there are in grewsome plenty. Many a beam or hook is pointed out to the visitor by some wretched inhabitant of the slums as the place where some other human being, only a trifle more wretched than the narrator (who laughs, perhaps, discordantly in the telling) took death by hanging as the easiest way open for permanent removal from bloody Whitechapel. Or a dark stain on floor or wall or wretched furniture tells the visitor who has braved the terrors of the "registered lodging house" more eloquently then words how some one has ended his wretchedness with a bullet or a knife.
The "registered lodging houses" form a distinctive feature of this plague spot. To the thousands whose scanty store of coppers will not suffice to pay the few shillings demanded as rental for a room in one of the rickety tenements, these lodging houses furnish warmth and shelter. There are many of them and they are all under police supervision. Fourpence (eight cents) is the usual charge for a bed. The smallest of the houses have from 50 to 75 beds and the largest have from 200 to 250. The linen is, according to police regulations, changed once a week. Some of them bear on their dingy signs the words "For Men Only", others are form women, while still others provide for both sexes and "married" couples. In order to obtain accommodation in one of these places the price of a bed must be paid at the door. At 10 in the morning the beds must be emptied. In some of the lodging houses there are great kitchens on the lower floor, with bright fires burning in an open range or two, where the lodgers care allowed, without extra charge, to cook such poor provisions as they are able to buy, or sit around on the long benches warmed by the fire and smoking their pipes.
The women of the Whitechapel streets have reached the nethermost depths. Generation after generation they come and go, knowing no life but that of the gutter, no language but that of the lowest ginshops, no association but with brutes in human shape,. Many, to be sure, have drifted here from brighter, better lives; but the surroundings are debasing in the extreme; there is no resisting them. Dozens, scores, of these miserable creatures are absolutely homeless. No body cares for them, few known them by sight, and fewer still know them by name. They are the most abject of all creatures on earth.
One of the features of Whitechapel is the Socialists' club. It is located in Cleaver's Yard, not far from where one of the murders was committed.
There is a brighter side to Whitechapel life, however, of which but little has been written. The rector of St. Mary's, Rev. A. J. Robinson, has done wonderful work amount the east end poor. He by no means confines his efforts to preaching. He works and lives among the people, has clubs and classes for them, and brightens their lives in a hundred ways; and, curious to relate, he has a large personal following among the Jews. Out side his church is an open air pulpit, the only one in England, where services are regularly held, and in the summer evenings no less than 300 rough looking people are ever in attendance there.
Rev, S. A. Barnett, of St. Jude's, is another earnest worker among the masses of Whitechapel, and he, too, works in a thoroughly practical direction. So, too, do the Oxford men at Toynbee hall, an institution not unlike the one that Robert Elsmere gave his life to establish. The Bishop of Wakefield, in an admirable article in the Fortnightly Review, throws what to most people will be a new light on east end life, and takes an optimistic view. He does not believe, with the writer of "The Bitter Cry of Outcast London," that "the poor are getting poorer, the wretched more wretched and the wicked more wicked," and he declares, indeed, that "nothing can be more diametrically opposed to the fact." As a former east end clergyman and a worker among the poor, he may be credited with a clear personal knowledge of his subject. "I have," he says, "met with no one who has known East London for the last twenty years who is not perfectly clear as to the great improvement that has taken place in every direction."
But how terrible the east end must have been twenty years ago! It seems impossible that it could ever have been worse than it is today.
The bright spots of St. Mary's, St. Jude's and Toynbee hall are but small oases in the vast desert of Whitechapel misery and dirt and vice. What the east end needs is emigration. But who wants emigrants from the east end? Surely not the American people, who have among them enough of this sort, and to spare. But Whitechapel is overcrowded. And, to make bad matters worse, its dense population, growing denser daily by natural (or ought one to say "unnatural") causes, is increased constantly by an influx of poverty from the continent.