The Area of Whitechapel

What was Whitechapel?
Whitechapel is an area in the East End of London. At the end of the 19th century, it had a reputation for violence and crime.
What was Whitechapel's history?
There are 2 main facts to note about the history of Whitechapel:
  • In the 15th and 16th centuries, Whitechapel was quite a wealthy area.
  • However, during the Industrial Revolution, industries sprang up there such as iron foundries, breweries and tanneries. These were quite noisy or smelly industries and made the area less pleasant to live in.
What were conditions like in Whitechapel?
Living conditions in Whitechapel were notoriously poor and squalid. This was influenced by 8 key factors:
  • Overcrowding.
  • Housing.
  • Industry.
  • Streets.
  • Lighting.
  • Health.
  • Sanitation.
  • Pollution.
Was it overcrowded in Whitechapel?
Whitechapel suffered serious overcrowding. Sometimes families of 10 or more would live in a one-bedroom house. In 1881, there were 188.6 people per acre in Whitechapel, compared to 45 people per acre in other areas of London.
What was housing like in Whitechapel?
There were 3 main problems with housing in Whitechapel:
  • The houses were often small and constructed from poor materials.
  • They were poorly ventilated.
  • There were a lot of 'rookeries' - areas of slum housing.
What sort of industries were there in Whitechapel?
There were 3 main types of industries in Whitechapel:
  • Iron foundries, breweries and tanneries were smelly and caused pollution.
  • There were a lot of 'sweated' industries, such as tailors, shoemakers and match factories, where people worked long hours in cramped, unhygienic conditions with poor ventilation for low pay.
  • Slaughterhouses, butchers, bakers, the docks and railway construction often provided short-term low-paid work. This meant people weren't sure whether they would have a job from day to day.
  • Many industries in the area were low paid. People might earn 6 to 12 shillings a week.
What were the streets like in Whitechapel?
Because of poor planning, Whitechapel had very narrow streets and alleyways, many of which ended in courtyards. It was described at the time as a 'labyrinth'.
What was lighting like in Whitechapel?
The thick smog and difficulty of lighting its narrow, maze-like streets meant lighting in Whitechapel was poor at night.
How was the health of the residents of Whitechapel?
Whitechapel residents suffered from poor health because of poverty and poor living conditions. In 1864 the death rate was twice as high as in other areas of London.
How was the sanitation in Whitechapel?
Sanitation in Whitechapel was poor in 3 key ways:
  • Sewers often overflowed onto the streets.
  • Clean water wasn't always readily available.
  • The houses were poorly ventilated, which might lead to lung diseases.
What did the government do about living conditions in Whitechapel?
From the 1870s Whitechapel saw 3 key attempts to improve housing in the area:
  • After the Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act in 1875, the area around Flower and Dean Street was demolished.
  • The residents of Flower and Dean Street merely moved to nearby Dorset Street and White's Row, where they still lived in poverty.
  • In 1881 George Peabody opened the Peabody Estate, which comprised 286 flats with brick walls, better ventilation and shared bathrooms and kitchens. This represented much better affordable housing.
How bad was the pollution in Whitechapel?
Pollution and smoke from the factories in Whitechapel often mixed with the fog to form a dense, greenish smog that locals called a 'pea-souper'.
Why were people in Whitechapel so poor?
Whitechapel was infamous as a poverty-stricken area, partly because of the poor employment opportunities.
How were Whitechapel people employed?
There were 5 main forms of employment in Whitechapel:.
  • Many tailors, shoe-makers and match factories ran sweated industries. Workers were crammed into small, badly-ventilated areas, sometimes working with harmful chemicals, for long hours.
  • Wages were often low. Whitechapel residents generally earned 6 to 12 shillings a week.
  • Many residents worked on the docks or built railways. This was short-term employment that often only offered a few days' work at a time.
  • Whitechapel residents also worked in nearby butchers' and bakers' shops and abattoirs.
  • Following an economic depression in the 1870s, many East Enders lost their jobs.
What were the workhouses like in Whitechapel?
There were 6 key features of workhouses in Whitechapel:
  • These, such as South Grove Workhouse, were set up in the early 19th century to provide help and shelter, or 'relief', to the poor.
  • They had deliberately unpleasant conditions to deter people from using them, so only the very poorest and most vulnerable went there.
  • Workhouse residents were often unmarried mothers or the old, ill, orphaned or disabled.
  • They were expected to do tough manual labour.
  • Residents had to wear a uniform.
  • Families were split up and could be punished for talking to each other.
What were the orphanages like in Whitechapel?
In 1870 Dr Barnardo opened an orphanage in the East End of London. By 1905, there were nearly 100 Barnardo homes, which offered kinder conditions than workhouses.
What did poverty studies of Whitechapel show?
There were 3 main findings of Charles Booth's poverty study:
  • In 1891 Charles Booth's study found 37.5% of East End Londoners lived in dire poverty and couldn't afford to feed or clothe themselves properly.
  • He produced a series of maps which showed Whitechapel had several 'vicious and semi-criminal' areas, such as Flower and Dean Street.
  • His maps showed Whitechapel had great inequality, with some people living in comparative comfort and others in terrible poverty in quite close quarters to each other.
Why did people move to Whitechapel?
A lot of immigrants settled in Whitechapel, because many were poor and there was an availability of unskilled work and cheap housing.
Why were there Irish people in Whitechapel?
In the 19th century Whitechapel saw waves of immigrants coming from Ireland due to 3 main reasons:
  • A lot of Irish people had moved to England in the 1840s because of the potato famine.
  • Many Irish immigrants in Whitechapel were young men who came to London hoping to go on to America, but they lacked the boat fare and became stuck there.
  • They got jobs as navvies, building the railways, road and canals. They also worked on the docks. These were very physically demanding, unhealthy and badly paid jobs.
Why didn't people like the Irish immigrants in Whitechapel?
There were 3 main reasons for the tension between the residents of Whitechapel and the Irish immigrants:
  • Many Irish immigrants were young unmarried men. There was sometimes drunkenness and fighting, which led to negative opinions of them.
  • Most Irish immigrants were Catholic. As such, they were seen as inferior by many Victorians and in some cases viewed as terrorists.
  • Towards the end of the 19th century there was significant racial tension between the Irish and Jewish communities in Whitechapel.
Why were there Jewish people in Whitechapel?
There were 2 main reasons why Whitechapel saw a massive increase in the number of immigrants from eastern Europe, particularly Jews:
  • In 1881, the assassination of the tsar in Russia led to 'pogroms' on Jewish communities in Russia.
  • In the 1880s, 30,000 Jewish eastern Europeans fled to Britain.
  • Many Jewish immigrants moved to Whitechapel, where they chose to be live en masse in certain areas. In some parts of Whitechapel, 95% of the population was Jewish.
Why didn't people like the Jewish immigrants in Whitechapel?
There were 6 main reasons why people did not like Jewish immigrants in Whitechapel:
  • The high density of Jewish families in certain areas meant that they didn't mix much with the other Whitechapel residents and seemed separate and unfamiliar.
  • Many Jewish immigrants were prepared to work for lower wages, and Whitechapel residents felt they were undercutting them.
  • Some Jewish immigrants were sweatshop owners who were able to undercut other traders with their prices while treating workers badly.
  • The Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday, so Jewish traders worked on Sundays. The Whitechapel traders felt this put unfair pressure on them to work on Sundays, too.
  • The Jewish immigrants spoke a different language, ate different food and wore different clothes, which made them a more obvious target for hate or violence.
  • Many eastern Europeans were associated with radical political ideas such as anarchism and socialism.
Why was there so much tension in Whitechapel?
Towards the end of the 19th century tensions in Whitechapel were escalating, with four groups or events proving significant.
  • Irish nationalists (Fenians) and other Irish workers protesting against unemployment and coercion in Ireland.
  • Socialists.
  • Anarchists.
  • Poor workers who occasionally demonstrated.
  • Bloody Sunday, where violence scarred a protest against the detrimental effects of English rule in Ireland.
Were there any demonstrations in Whitechapel?
There were an increasing number of strikes and demonstrations in London at this time and the police did not always know how to react. The Bloody Sunday protest in 1887 is a famous example.
Why was crime so bad in Whitechapel?
Whitechapel had a reputation as a particularly criminal area, which was not surprising as there was extreme poverty, critical overcrowding, very poor housing and ethnic tensions. These elements ensured a high level of crime.
Was there a problem with drinking and drugs in Whitechapel?
There were 5 key reasons why drinking, alcoholism and drugs caused crime in Whitechapel:
  • Many peoples' lives were hard and uncomfortable, and alcohol helped them forget that.
  • Alcohol was cheap and widely available in Whitechapel.
  • There were many pubs offering alcohol, but also warmth and food.
  • There were several 'gin palaces' in Whitechapel. Their bright lights and big windows made them enticing.
  • There were also a number of opium dens in Whitechapel.
Why did drinking cause crime in Whitechapel?
The popularity of alcohol and drinking in Whitechapel led to an increase in crime.
  • It made people more volatile, reckless and prone to violence, so they were more likely to commit crimes.
  • It made people less aware of their surroundings or able to protect themselves, so they were more likely to be victims of crime.
Why were prostitutes a problem in Whitechapel?
There were 7 main reasons why prostitutes caused problems:
  • There were an estimated 1,200 prostitutes in Whitechapel in 1888.
  • There were 62 brothels in Whitechapel when, in 1885, they were made illegal. This forced the prostitutes onto the streets.
  • It was harder for women to find employment in Whitechapel.
  • Alone on the streets at night, prostitutes were vulnerable to crimes such as theft, assault and rape.
  • Prostitutes were at risk of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore also at risk from illegal backstreet abortionists.
  • Despite the work of some campaigners at the time, the public tended to see prostitutes as immoral sinners.
  • Prostitution itself wasn't illegal, but the police often arrested prostitutes on other charges such as drunkenness.
What did the gangs do in Whitechapel?
There were a number of well-organised gangs in Whitechapel that had heavy involvement in crime in the area.
  • They ran protection rackets, a scam in which gangs provide protection for a business for a regular fee and smash up the business if they aren't paid.
  • They played a role in the illegal pubs and unlicensed boxing matches in the area.
How did people react to the Jews in Whitechapel?
There were 5 main reactions to Jewish people in Whitechapel:
  • The arrival of large numbers of Jewish immigrants led to discrimination and a rise in criminal incidents against or involving them.
  • Jewish immigrants were less likely to report crimes to the police because they had suffered under the authorities in their countries of origin. There was also a language barrier as many did not speak fluent English.
  • There were often attacks on, and crimes against, Jewish people, sometimes purely because they were Jewish.
  • Some Christians preached to the Jews and tried to convert them, and this could lead to tensions and aggravation between large crowds of people.
  • Protests against the long hours and low wages in Jewish-owned sweatshops could cause trouble for the police.
What was policing like in Whitechapel?
H Division, part of the London Metropolitan Police, was responsible for policing in Whitechapel.
How did Whitechapel improve after the Jack the Ripper case?
Two laws were introduced by Parliament shortly after the Jack the Ripper case that improved conditions in areas such as Whitechapel:
  • In 1890, the Houses of the Working Classes Act was brought in to replace slums with low cost housing.
  • In 1890, the Public Health Amendment Act increased the powers of local authorities to improve sewers, pavements and rubbish collection.
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