the Whitechapel murders
and Jack the Ripper


the parish of Whitechapel: prostitution and the victims of murder

Whitechapel and prostitution

The Whitechapel murders

The victims of Jack the Ripper


Whitechapel murders home page

These poor people had souls like anybody else
Comment by the jury foreman at the inquest into the death of Mary Nichols
As reported in The Daily Telegraph; 18th September 1888  

Whitechapel and




The Whitechapel district of London at the end of the nineteenth century was generally regarded as being a ‘horrible black labyrinth, reeking from end to end and swarming with human vermin, whose trade is robbery and whose recreation is murder’. While such was apparently true for some areas, as a generalisation it was inaccurate. The Poverty Map of 1889 certainly showed many streets with inhabitants described as ‘lowest class - vicious semi criminals’, or as ‘very poor – casual, chronic want’, but these were often sharply juxtaposed with streets populated by ‘middle class - well to do people’, and others by inhabitants with ‘fairly comfortable - good ordinary earnings’, although the majority of streets seemed to be a mix of types. The classification of ‘poor’ on this map corresponded to an income of 18s to 21s a week for a moderate family but there were many who earned far less than that.
     A survey of pauperism in London in 1869 revealed that within the Metropolis (population 2,802,000 in 1861) there were no fewer than 34,609 paupers indoors and 103,954 paupers outdoors making a total of 138,563. In Whitechapel in that year there were 1192 adult and children paupers indoors and 1234 adult and 1700 children under 16 paupers outdoors making a total of 4126 for the parish. 
he conditions undoubtedly provided contemporaneous writers with an endless opportunity for florid prose. Whitechapel and thereabouts was described as a maze of courts and narrow streets of low houses, nearly all the doors of which are open. The image is one of streets teeming with ragged individuals for whom alcohol consumption was preferable alternative to food and lodgings. People appeared to exist rather than live within and among houses that were black and grim and lodge within rooms that are described as being clean compared with the guests. One commentator observed areas to be;

‘Black and noisome, the road sticky with slime, and palsied houses, rotten from chimney to cellar, leaning together, apparently by the mere coherence of their ingrained corruption. Dark, silent, uneasy shadows passing and crossing - human vermin in this reeking sink, like goblin exhalations from all that is noxious around. Women with sunken, black-rimmed eyes, whose pallid faces appear and vanish by the light of an occasional gas-lamp, and look so like ill-covered skulls that we start at their stare.’

     Another observer reported that;

‘Some years ago, it was fashionable to "slum" - to walk gingerly about in dirty streets, with great heroism, and go back West again, with a firm conviction that "something must be done." And something must. Children must not be left in these unscoured corners. Their fathers and mothers are hopeless, and must not be allowed to rear a numerous and equally hopeless race. Light the streets better, certainly; but what use in building better houses for these poor creatures to render as foul as those that stand? The inmates may ruin the character of a house, but no house can alter the character of its inmates.’

     An insight into the lives of the poor comes from the very eloquent summaries of the coroner, Wynne E Baxter who presided over the inquests of several of the Ripper victims. In particular, he made some very evocative comments at the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Annie Chapman. Of Chapman’s life he said:

‘She [Chapman] lived principally in the common lodging houses in the neighbourhood of Spitalfields, where such as she herd like cattle, and she showed signs of great deprivation, as if she had been badly fed. The glimpse of life in these dens which the evidence in this case discloses is sufficient to make us feel that there is much in the nineteenth century civilisation of which we have small reason to be proud; but you [the jury] who are constantly called together to hear the sad tale of starvation or semi starvation, of misery, immorality, and wickedness, which some of the occupants of the 5000 beds in this district have every week to relate to coroner’s inquests, do not require to be reminded of what life in a Spitalfields lodging house means.’   

And of the place where Chapman was murdered he said:

‘This place is a fair sample of a large number of houses in the neighbourhood. It was built, like hundreds of others, for the Spitalfields weavers, and when hand-looms were driven out by steam and power, these were converted into dwellings for the poor. Its size is about such as a superior artisan would occupy in the country, but its condition is such as would to a certainty leave it without a tenant. In this place seventeen persons were living, from a woman and her son sleeping in a cat’s-meat shop on the ground floor to Davis and his wife and their three grown-up sons all sleeping together in an attic. The street door and the yard door were never locked, and the passage and yard appear to have been used constantly by people who had no legitimate business there. There is little doubt that the deceased knew the place, for it was only 300 or 400 yards from where she lodged. If so, it is quite unnecessary to assume that her companion had any knowledge – in fact, it is easier to believe that he was ignorant both of the nest of living beings by whom he was surrounded, and of their occupations and habits. Some were on the move late at night; some were up long before the sun.’  

Shelter for those lucky enough to be able to afford a bed for the night was provided by single rooms in lodging houses, many subdivided for that purpose and offering little by way of facilities. Those men and women who could not afford to sleep in a bed in a lodging house would end up at the casual ward of the workhouse or on the street. The casual ward provided temporary shelter in the form of ‘dormitories set out like barracks’ in exchange for work such as picking oakum – the loose fibre obtained by teasing out old ropes which was then sold to ship-builders for mixing with tar and use as caulking.
Henry Mayhew wrote on the matter of labour and the poor around the middle of the nineteenth century. He convened a meeting of needlewomen and slop-workers in order that he could investigate their income. The women revealed their lives of poverty and of prostitution as they spoke at the meeting: 

‘I am a slop-worker, and sometimes make about 3s 6d a week, and sometimes less. I have been drove to prostitution, sometimes, not always through the bad prices. For the sake of my lodgings and a bit of bread I’ve been obligated to do what I am very sorry to do, and look upon with disgust. I can’t live by what I get by work. The woman who employs me and several more besides, gets 11d and 1s a pair for the trousers we make, and we get only 4d or 5d. We can’t do more than a pair a day, and sometimes a pair and a half. It’s starving. I can’t get a cup of tea and a bit of bread. I was married, and am left a widow, and have been forced to live in this distressed manner for the last four years. I’ve been to several different people to get work but they are all alike in taking advantage of our unfortunate situation.’

‘I am a shirt-maker and make about three shirts a day, at 2¼d apiece, every one of them having seven button holes. I have to get up at six in the morning, and work till twelve at night, to do that. I buy thread out of the price; and I cannot always get work. I sometimes make trousers; but I have not constant work with both put together. I sometimes make 2s 6d a week; 3s is the most I ever made, and I have to buy thread out of that. I am now living with a young man. I am compelled to do so, because I could not support myself. I know he would marry me if he could. He is a looking-glass frame maker. He has earned nothing for the past three weeks. If he had the money I know he would marry me.’

‘My firm belief before God and man, is that three out of every four young women of London who do slop work are obliged to resort to either private or public prostitution to enable them to live. But I hope better things are coming at last, and I hope that, public attention now being called to these matters, the oppressed will be oppressed no longer. But I am sorry to say the good are not always the powerful, nor the powerful always the good.’

It was apparent that most women in similar straights had no change of clothing; had pawned everything that they could possibly pawn, including their beds, shoes, and underclothing; that none had meat as part of a meal on any day of the week from their own endeavours; and that several had not eaten at all for periods of up to two days. The conclusion was that one quarter of women who worked in these trades as a whole, and one half of those who did not have a husband resorted to prostitution. Figures for 1857 indicated that across the seventeen Metropolitan Police Districts there were a total of 8600 prostitutes, of which 5063 were classified as ‘Low, infesting low neighbourhoods.’  In 1868 the figures were a little improved with a total of 6515 prostitutes across 20 Metropolitan Police Districts of which 4349 were ‘In low neighbourhoods.’ Of this latter figure, 623 were active in the Whitechapel police division and there were 126 places where they lodged. By the provision of such a service one can only imagine that there can have been no shortage of clients.
     There is a temptation to think that because Mayhew's meeting was concerned with investigating the low wages earned by these women, they would be inclined to overstate their case. However, I doubt that such is true and given the many similar and supporting observations from other independent sources, the descriptions of the miserable existence of these women was probably depressingly accurate. Almost without exception they engaged in prostitution out of absolute necessity rather than from choice.
     It is interesting to note the two distinct categories of prostitution; private and public. Public prostitution is self-explanatory and private prostitution one imagines is more ‘relationship’ based but still reliant upon the man giving money to the woman even though her sexual availability is more along the lines of those in a more conventional relationship. The comment of one woman is informative; ‘I have not resorted to prostitution any further than with my young man. I still keep company with him, and we wish to get married.’ The partners in this relationship seem to spend much time together but their independence and distance is obvious. Frequent talk of marriage and husbands underlines the perception of these women that they were outwith respectability and somehow marriage would change their circumstances. Often women continued with street prostitution while living with a man - Eddowes had been living with the same man for seven years in common lodging houses - but the men either did not know or did not admit to knowing that their women continued to work the streets. John Kelly with whom Catharine Eddowes lived claimed that he ‘did not know of her going out for immoral purposes at night. She never brought me money in the morning after being out at night,’ was his response. It is also interesting that the population, even in rough areas, was to some extent in denial about the existence of prostitution and several witnesses at the inquests were emphatic that they were not aware of lodgings or yards being used for ‘immoral purposes’ even though many took money for lodging from the women.
     Payment for the beds in common lodging houses was on a daily basis with cash up front. The price of a single bed was 4 pence, and 8 pence a night could secure a double bed. The price for sex on the street was probably no more than a few pennies; an extremely cheap way to catch venereal disease and a pathetic income for the risk of losing one’s life! There was no post mortem evidence to suggest that any of the victims had contracted a venereal disease but there was an absolute epidemic among the prostitute population during the late eighteen hundreds with syphilis and gonorrhoea prevalent.   
Women were allowed to take men back with them to the common lodging house and there they could presumably spend the night. But if a prostitute needed to earn more money then she would need to work the streets and engage with as many clients as she could find. Staying out late at night, even when a woman had secured her lodgings, was not considered unusual and in the words of the coroner at the Elizabeth Stride inquest prostitution was, ‘an offence very venial among those who frequented the establishment [common lodging house].’  Those prostitutes not having a bed to use would have to have sex on the street. It is clear from testimony during the inquests that many prostitutes knew of places they could use that afforded relative seclusion. Quiet streets, yards, passages, alleys and courts were all likely places to use if a room were not available. Prices inevitably reflected this and the sex act on the street was unlikely in most cases to involve any horizontal activity; more likely, the act would take place against a wall giving rise to the slang reference to a prostitute as a ‘twopenny upright’ which reflects both the price and the attitude of the encounter.   
Each of the supposed Ripper victim’s was unmarried and lived on and off in common lodging houses with the exception of Kelly who had the luxury of her own room. Throughout the inquests there was constant reference to the victims’ unstable existence and there was much about their lives that was so negative as to necessitate a measure of invention in order to bring a little colour into an otherwise very grey world. For several of the victims, stories that they told about their lives proved to be untrue. The women were constantly on the move from one house to another at all hours of the day and night. They were in and out; one minute supping beer in the company of faces they recognised then consorting with faceless paramours the next. They had no alternative but to flirt with danger in the desperate pursuit of subsistence; for many women it ended in premature and violent death. 

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The Whitechapel murders

The Metropolitan police defined eleven murders that at some stage looked as though they may have been attributable to the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. To cite their information the full list of possible victims is as follows:




03 April 1888

Emma Elizabeth Smith

Assaulted and robbed in Osborn Street, Whitechapel. Died the following day

07 August 1888

Martha Tabram

Murdered George Yard Buildings, George Yard, Whitechapel

31 August 1888

Mary Ann Nichols

Murdered Buck’s Row, Whitechapel

08 September 1888

Annie Chapman

Murdered rear yard 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields

30 September 1888

Elizabeth Stride

Murdered yard side of 40 Berner Street St Georges-in-the-East

30 September 1888

Catharine Eddowes

Murdered Mitre Square, Aldgate, City of London

09 November 1888

Mary Jane Kelly

Murdered 13 Miller’s Court, 26 Dorset Street, Spitalfields

20 December 1888

Rose Mylett

Murdered Clarke’s Yard, High Street, Poplar

17 July 1889

Alice McKenzie

Murdered Castle Alley, Whitechapel

10 September 1889

Female torso

Found under railway arch Pinchin Street Whitechapel

13 February 1891

Frances Coles

Murdered under railway arch Swallow Gardens, Whitechapel

     All of the above murders remained unsolved but that alone is no reason to assume that they were all conducted by the same person, for probably they were not. Over the years and largely as a result of the Macnaghten Memorandum of 1894 in which the Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten made known his beliefs, the list has been reduced to five likely Ripper victims. Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, and Mary Kelly have become the generally accepted victims of Jack the Ripper.
     Because of the immediate similarities, these five cases were a good basis upon which to make an analysis of crime scene and post mortem findings and a comprehensive tabulation of this data has been undertaken and reported elsewhere. After considering the data in detail in the following pages I shall then compare the killer’s signature components with what details are available for the remaining Whitechapel murder victims. In addition, and largely following attempts by others to identify The Camden Town Murder as a Ripper victim I shall also consider in some detail at the murder of Emily Dimmock:




12 September 1907

Emily Dimmock

Murdered 29 St Paul’s Road, Camden Town

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The victims of Jack the Ripper  This sections gives brief details about the five victims commonly attributed to Jack the Ripper. These five murders shared several common features and will be examined in greater detail later. Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes, and Kelly are known as the canonical victims because they supposedly form series that is generally accepted and authoritative. However, this group was established largely on the basis of the Macnaghten report of 1894, which listed these five women as victims of the Ripper on somewhat arbitrary grounds. 

  Mary Ann Nichols - aged 43

At the time of her death Nichols wore a black straw bonnet trimmed with black velvet, a reddish brown ulster with large brass buttons, a brown linsey frock, white flannel chest cloth, black ribbed wool stockings, two petticoats (one grey wool, one flannel and both stencilled on bands 'Lambeth Workhouse', brown stays (short) flannel drawers, and men's elastic (spring) sided boots with the uppers cut and steel tips on the heels.

Nichols' possessions when her body was discovered were; a comb, a white pocket handkerchief, and a broken piece of mirror.


  Annie Chapman - aged 47

At the time of her death Chapman wore a long black figured coat that came down to her knees, a black skirt, a brown bodice, another bodice, 2 petticoats, a large pocket worn under the skirt and tied about the waist with strings (empty when found, lace-up boots, red and white striped woollen stockings, neckerchief (white with red border - folded tri-corner and knotted at the front of her neck), three brass rings (missing after the murder)

Her possessions were; a scrap of muslin, one small toothcomb, one comb in a paper case, a scrap of envelope containing two pills


Elizabeth Stride - aged 44

Stride wore a long black cloth jacket (fur-trimmed around the bottom with red rose and white maiden hair fern pinned to it), black skirt, black crepe bonnet, checked neck scarf knotted on the left side, dark brown velveteen bodice, 2 light serge petticoats, white chemise, white stockings, spring-sided boots.

Her possessions were; 2 handkerchiefs, a thimble, a piece of wool around a card. In the pocket of her underskirt were the following; a key (as of a padlock), a small piece of lead pencil, six large and one small button, a comb, a broken piece of comb, a metal spoon, a hook (as from a dress), a piece of muslin, one or two small pieces of paper. She was found clutching a packet of cachous in her hand. 


  Catharine Eddowes - aged 46

When found, Eddowes was wearing a black straw bonnet in green and black velvet with black beads and black strings worn tied to the head, a black cloth jacket trimmed around the collar and cuffs with imitation fur, a dark green chintz skirt with three flounces, a man's white vest, a brown linsey bodice, a grey stuffed petticoat, a very old alpaca skirt (worn as undergarment), very old ragged blue skirt with red flounces (worn as undergarment), a white calico chemise, no drawers or stays, a pair of men's lace-up boots (right boot repaired with red thread), a piece of red gauze silk worn as a neckerchief, a large white pocket handkerchief, a large white cotton handkerchief, 2 unbleached calico pockets with tape strings, a blue stripe bed ticking pocket, brown ribbed knee stockings (darned with white cotton).

He possessions were; 2 small blue bags, 2 short clay pipes, a tin box containing tea, a tin box containing sugar, an empty tin matchbox, 12 pieces of white rag, a piece of white coarse linen a piece of white shirting, a piece of red flannel with pins and needles, 6 pieces of soap, a small toothcomb, a white handled table knife, a metal spoon, a red leather cigarette case, a ball of hemp, a piece of old white apron with repair, several buttons and a thimble, two pawn tickets with false addresses, a printed handbill, portion of a pair of spectacles and one red mitten 


Mary Jane Kelly - aged 25

Mary Jane Kelly was murdered in her own home - a rented single room. Her face was so badly mutilated by her killer that an image of her features does not exist. The image shown is from a drawing that appeared in the Illustrated Police News 17 November 1888 - there is, however, no reason to assume that it is a good, or even approximate, likeness.

She wore only a chemise when she was killed. Her clothes were folded neatly on a chair and her boots were in front of the fireplace.

Post mortem images reproduced by kind permission of the Metropolitan Police

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