What was life like in UK industrial cities, including London, at about the time of Jack the Ripper? Gustave Doré—a famous  French illustrator and printmaker—shows how poor, laboring-class Londoners lived amidst squalid conditions. This image depicts his illustration entitled “Over London–by Rail” (which he created circa 1870).  

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840 –1922), a British poet, used words to describe the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the working poor (and the towns and cities in which they lived): “The smoke of their foul dens Broodeth on Thy fair Earth as a black pestilence, Hiding the kind day’s eye. No flower, no grass there groweth, Only their engines’ dung which the fierce furnace throweth.” Click on the image for a full-page view of Dore’s illustration included in London: A Pilgrimage. With illustrations by Gustave Dore (published in London during 1872).


Murders were common in 19th century Whitechapel. Pubs and prostitutes existed side-by-side with churches and commercial establishments. It was a place of poverty and despair.

An April 24, 1889 article, by Arthur G. Morrison in The Palace Journal, describes Whitechapel and its environs (like Spitalfields and Bethnal Green) as places of darkness where "human vermin" lived:

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. Horrible London? Yes.

This part of town was not just "Horrible London" for adults. Children had to endure its hardships. It was a place for human outcasts, like Joseph (John) Merrick, more famously known as the tumor-faced "Elephant Man." Merrick was hospitalized in Whitechapel during the fall of 1888.
Morrison writes of Whitechapel, and its residents, with a patronizing sense of hopelessness:

Some years ago, it was fashionable to “slum” - to walk gingerly about in dirty streets, with great heroism, and go back West [to London’s West End]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.

Whitechapel.  It was a terrible place to live. It was a terrible place to die.
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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5189stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 01, 2001

Updated Last Revision: Jul 20, 2019

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"WHITECHAPEL: SCENE OF DESPAIR" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 01, 2001. Dec 08, 2019.
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