The Local Context

  • Whitechapel – East End of London  30,000 inhabitants 1000 homeless
  • Sanitation was poor, little fresh drinking water and sewers running into the street


  • Theft of personal property, domestic abuse,
  • Stealing, prostitution,
  • Intimidation and gang activity,
  • Petty crimes, begging,
  • Tension between racial groups,
  • Disorder on the streets ( public houses)
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  • Slum areas- rookeries- dirt disease – crime
  • Shared rooms/beds
  • 1 reported as having 123 rooms with 757 people
  • Lodging Houses- bed often squalid conditionsover 200 lodging houses- where 8000 people lived
  • Peabody Estate- slum clearance programme – rookiers knocked down blocks of flats in there place- opened in 1881- 286 flats – 15p for one room- 30p for 3 rooms. Average weekly wage was £ 1.12
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Workhouse and orphanages

  • Workhouse offered food and shelter for those too poor to survive. Inmates – old- sick- disabled-orphans
  • Conditions very harsh to put people off entering them- last resort.
  • Tough manual labour, uniforms, families split up
  • Thomas Barnardo- ‘no destitute child ever refused admission’. First project a school for street children.
  • First boys home in 1870- then girls by 1905 100 Barnardo orphanages- caring for 85 children in each.
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  • Foundries- metal
  • Sweated labours- tailoring- shoe making matches- tanneries
  • Sweat shops small cramped conditions – long hours – up to 20 a day
  • Railway construction
  • London Docks
  • Work often varied day to day – unemployment was high
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Immigration- Irish

  •  The Irish – expands from 1840’s – London a stop on the way to America but many stay working as navies- on the canals and docks.
  • Violence when drunk and not well liked by others
  • Fenians – wanted freedom from UK rule- seen as religious terrorist group
  • 1860’s surge of anti Irish / anti catholic sentiment
  • Special Branch of MET police following attacks
  • Fenians made the life for Irish Immigrants even more difficult
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Immigration -Eastern European and Jewish

  • 1880’s fleeing pogroms in Russia, Poland and Germany
  • Jews separated themselves from other communities 
  • Resented by locals- fear of cultural differences and attitudes to work and business
  • Jews were quick to find work and set up businessmany successful – resented
  • Would employ new Jewish arrivals over locals
  • Tailoring sweat shop could work Sundays
  • Stood out due to clothing and food practises and customs and language
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Anarchists/ Socialists

  • Revolutionary political movements in Europe often ended up in Britain as seen as more tolerant of beliefs
  • Whitechapel a refuge for other nations terrorists!
  • British Socialists party fought for labourers/ agricultural workers and women's rights.
  • Saw police as the face of the government who didn’t care about the poor
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  • By 1888 high unemployment- acute housing shortage and national attention on immigration issues led to high tensions
  • Whitechapel renowned as a very violent area
  • Easy to blame JTR murders on a Jew.
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Policing- General

  • Metropolitan Police set up in 1829- 20 areas
  • Whitechapel area known as H division 
  • H Division - 
    • A Superintendent, Chief Inspector, 27 Inspectors, 37 Sergeants, 500 ordinary officers or constables

On the ‘BEAT’

  • Constables march to their beat area.
  • Night stops and questioning people.
  • Meet up with beat sergeant to report the day.
  • If a beat constable missed a crime on his beatcould get into serious trouble.
  • Work often boring sometimes dangerous.
  • Pay not great- Quality of recruits variable in the early years.
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  • 1829 varying attitude to the police 
  • By mid 1800’s quite respectable- keepers of peace’ bobby’
  • Accepted that police were their to help.
  • But in areas like Whitechapel police seen more negatively.
  • Attacks by violent gangs were relatively common.
  • Economic depression of the 1870’s – discontent boiled over to upholders of law.
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Problems facing the police


  • Difficult for women to find work. Not illegal but social and moral issue
  • No contraception so illegal abortions often followed in dirty back streets.
  • Police turned a blind eye- Very little sympathy for these women
  • By 1888 62 brothels and 1200 prostitutes in Whitechapel alone.


  • Only affordable escape- public housesgin houses- opium houses
  • 1 mile of Whitechapel road- 45 buildings serving alcohol.
  • Drunkenness often resulted in more  crime- assault- thefts
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Problems facing the police

 Localised immigrant areas

  • High tension- rookiers poor lighting lodging houses-
  • Very difficult for the police to access and catch criminals in these areas

Protection rackets

  • Gangs Bessarabian Tigers- gangs from eastern Europe
  • Protection money- violent- fear
  • Impossible to gather evidence to take to trail
  • H Division over stretched and understaffed

Police seen as social worker

  • Vagrancy – pubs- orphans
  • Litter- sewage- accidents
  • Runaway horses- soup kitchens
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Investigative Policing ‘JTR’

  • Follow up direct leads
  • Post mortems
  • Following up on journalists theories
  • Following up on coroners reports
  • Following up witness statements
  • Soup kitchens to talk to local residents
  • Sketches
  • Blood hounds House to house
  • Bertillion System Photos measurements
  • No fingerprinting until 1901
  • No telephone until 1901
  • Clues on the victim
  • Photographs of crime scene
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Why did H division fail to catch JTR?

  • 1888 5 women murdered
  • Many challenges faced by the police for these high profile murders
  • Abberline and CID worked with H division- over 300 wrote to them claiming to be the murderer
  • Many saw it as an opportunity to blame Jews and immigrants groups as much resentment in the area 
  • Conflict between City of London police and H division both wanted to be the first to catch the murderer – little co operation. 
  • Public critism huge despite best efforts by the police
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Why did H division fail to catch JTR?

  • The media publicised many stories – looked as though the journalist were better at investigating than the police
  • They sensationalised – actually made it very difficult for the police to run a proper investigation- often blaming ‘foreign’ – guess work and unreliable interviews with locals
  • H Division and MET police had no forensic techniques – would be another 12 years
  • Couldn’t detect between animal and human blood

Vigilance Committee 

  • Local business men and traders went on patrols looking for the ripper
  • Offered a reward which the police had refused to do
  • VC determined to embarrass the police.
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