The civil parish of Whitechapel in London’s East End became increasingly overcrowded in the mid-19th century, and was a very unpleasant place in which to live. The poorest souls having no other place to go, and with most being of very little means, barely managing to exist in the squalid stinking surroundings.
From around 1882, Jewish refugees from pogroms in Tsarist Russia and other areas of Eastern Europe emigrated to the Whitechapel area.
Poverty was commonplace amongst the depravity, disease, crime and social disturbance. Racism, nativism and prejudice was widespread, stemming from a mistrust of the foreign immigrants, (‘foreigners’ meant to imply Jewish), who were settling in huge numbers into the general area. All of this was having a detrimental effect on living conditions, such as they were. These made up almost 90% of all of London’s Jewish immigrants.
Anti Semitism became commonplace, as did riotous behaviour as differences between the various groups of immigrants and the poorest of native Londoners. Trouble often broke out between the factions which caused problems for the already overstreched police force.
Part of Anti semitism (1881-1884)
The term pogrom became commonly used in the English language after a large scale wave of anti Jewish rioting swept through south western Imperial Russia (present day Ukraine and Poland. In this period over 200 anti Jewish events occurred in the Russian Empire, notably the Kiev, Warsaw and Odessa pogroms.
The trigger for these pogroms was the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, for which many blamed the Jews.
The situation was not helped by an estimated, 300,000 Irish who also immigrated to the area, desperate to avoid starvation because of the effects of the ‘potato famine’.
As if that wasn’t enough of a problem for the poorest people, the endemic poverty drove many women to prostitution. Whitechapel had over 60 brothels and over 230 Common Lodging Houses. Many of the woman who frequented these Lodging Houses, (or Doss Houses) were ‘down and out’, and needed a way to earn some money.
In an attempt to ease the pain of living under those deplorable conditions, many were also dependant on alcohol. With very little income, no TV or radio, the winter nights were long, harsh, and cold. Many went hungry.
Small amounts of money could be made from time to time from low value items, (such as a shirt or shoes etc.), as these could be pawned. Sometimes a few penny’s could be scrounged or otherwise ‘obtained’. This could be spent on a bed for the night (4d for a single), or, just as likely, would be spent on gin.
Alternative accommodation would be the Casual Ward, where a place of comparitive warmth for the night could be had in return for a few hours laborious work the next morning, early!
The ‘Doss House’ communities were dens of immorality and places thwart with danger from violence, robbery and street brawls. As soon as darkness descended, drunkenness and depravity would be a commonplace occurrence on every street corner. If anyone were to call out for assistance, it’s most unlikely their cries would even be heard.
In 1888, such perceptions were strengthened when a series of vicious and grotesque murders attributed to a serial killer “Jack the Ripper” received unprecedented coverage in the media.