Whitechapel: Poverty Breeds Crime

Posted by Jenny Phillips, Jack the Ripper Tour Guidev on Monday, October 11, 2021 Under: Jack the Ripper

Whitechapel: Poverty Breeds Crime

The Whitechapel murders by Jack the Ripper took place in 1888 in one of the most poverty-stricken places in London. Whitechapel was an area with massive overcrowding caused by multiple reasons:


From the 1840’s farming started to become mechanised people fled to London looking for work. The Irish Potato Famine from1845 meant one million Irish people left their homes in search of a new life abroad. Some came to London, some of those later went on to America. From the mid 1800’s Jews fled from the Pogroms in Eastern Europe arriving in large numbers by ship, just as the Irish did.


For these two groups, the river Thames lay just 200 yards from Whitechapel (Aldgate East & Spitalfields today). This was the first spot of dry land they encountered. Many arrived here with little or no money, so could not travel any further.


The overcrowding of Whitechapel packed 96,000 people into one square mile and put an enormous strain on the area. Many people were homeless on the street, as there was too little affordable accommodation. Many could not afford the rent of 4 shillings a week. 


Life in Whitechapel was hard, with little hope of improving. Many people turned to drink. It was cheap, easily available and filled a belly with warmth when there was no food to be had. 


A common lodging house would cost four pence, this was a cheap and nasty bed & breakfast, but without breakfast. The bed was probably ridden with lice with little bedding. 


People here in Whitechapel were desperate; for food, lodgings and hope. Many women who could not find employment. If you were homeless there was little to no option of employment. Women through situation sold themselves to survive on the streets of Whitechapel for as little as two pence for sex on the street, that's not even enough for a bed for the night!


It was cheaper to get drunk (which many did) Gin Houses has signs outside “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twopence.” It was easier to block out the pain of urban survival. People got drunk and slept on the streets until caught by the police, charged then sent to the workhouse by the magistrate. Here they would have to do menial labour for 14 days before being released back on to the street without any pay for that labour, bey they also got food and a bed.


The desperate poverty of Whitechapel provided the perfect backdrop for a serial killer such as Jack the Ripper to operate. Multiple available victims either, so desperate for money or befuddled with drink, they would welcome anyone who promised them two pence.


To learn more about one of the world’s most iconic serial killers, join Jenny Philips on a walking tour of Whitechapel.  Dressed in a fully authentic Victorian costume, Jenny will tell you the story of Jack the Ripper’s terrible crimes. https://londonguidedwalks.co.uk/jack-the-ripper-walk.php

In : Jack the Ripper 


Tags: whitechapel  jack the ripper 1888  murder  mystery  victorian 
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