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Whitechapel - A Social Sewer

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Whitechapel - A Social Sewer

Post by Karen on Fri 17 Jun 2011 - 15:01


To most of the comfortably housed and well fed people of London the human hive known as the East End is but a name. With its types of character they are as totally unacquainted as though they belonged to some dead and gone civilization, though there live thousands and thousands of men and women who are in a worse condition than the inhabitants of Central Africa.
They are depraved and mentally distorted. The best instincts of human nature in them have become clogged and obstructed.
The purlieus of Whitechapel abound in dark alleys and obscure courts, where a well clad, respectable man would no more think of penetrating without a policeman than he would of entering a cage filled with wild animals.


Most of the houses are afflicted with all the infirmities of age. They are decrepit, shaky and leaky. Their atmosphere is fetid. Many of them seem actually to exude putrescence. The streets are kept fairly clean for such a neighbourhood - cleaner, in fact, than they are in many of the New York slums - for the London police, however poor a figure they may cut at detecting crime, are excellent "red tape" officials, and good at enforcing department rules and regulations. But a man's house is his castle, and no amount of sanitary rules and regulations will keep the house clean and sweet and wholesome when the net income of the family falls ten, twenty, thirty, forty or fifty per cent below actual living expenses.


Most of the people of Whitechapel seem to live on refuse - not on the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table, but on the garbage that leaves his back door. Meat rejected by decent butchers, vegetables that make known their presence to the nose as well as to the eye, pastry that has become mouldy, bread that age has made as hard as a brick - all find a market in Whitechapel. Cast off clothing passes through several hands before it literally falls to pieces on the persons of the unfortunate people who live - or rather exist - in Whitechapel. Boots and shoes - fearfully and wonderfully patched, are sold for a few coppers there.
Economy of space is carried to a fine point in Whitechapel. You may detect wolfish eyes glaring down at you from an attic, and eyes still more wolfish peering up at you from a cellar grating. Bare boards to lie down on and a roof, however leaky, over one's head, command a price.


The cost of lodgings varies from a penny to fourpence. Sometimes all grades find accommodation in the same house. As his fortunes decline the poor wretch ascends skyward to the attic or downward to the cellar. And when the last penny has gone he may, by being on hand early, secure a snug and protected corner under an archway. If he objects to being crowded he may make the flagging of the sidewalk his couch and let the star gemmed canopy of heaven be his covering until some "bobby" orders him to "move on."


And if he tires of that the Thames is not far off. Its current is swift, its waters are black; it tells no tales about those that seek refuge within its bosom.
When a man or woman from one of the slums commits suicide it is seldom that a Coroner's jury makes any suggestion of "temporary insanity" in its finding. The reason is obvious. It is a debatable question whether the man who, by his own act, escapes from the sewer of "slumdom" does not exhibit more sanity than the man who endures it until he rots to death. Curious are the shops in Whitechapel - small and dirty and crowded, generally presided over by a hag or a hook nosed incarnation of the demon of greed. Their wares are of the cheapest description.


Whitechapel is the chosen abode of the "sweater" - the Chinaman of England - the foreigner who can live cheaper, and consequently work cheaper, than even the native of the vilest slum in London. The native has complained loudly, and his wail, transmitted through the various mediums, has assailed the ears of Parliament.
It was recently said that some of the embroidery on one of the royal coaches of the Queen of England had been made by Whitechapel "sweaters." The West End barricades its shops when the East End parades through its streets, but the West End shop-keeper is quite willing to make money out of the necessities of the East End slaves. Some day the latter may swarm forth, like rats from their holes, and teach eminent respectability in the West End that human nature has its limits of endurance.


The thing that first strikes one in a tour through Whitechapel is the fact that many people there are imbued with a spirit of malignant hatred of those who are comparatively well to do in the world. They scowl and glare at you and hurl muttered curses at you. It is the spirit of the caged beast that longs to crush and devour those who come to gaze on it in captivity. So the human animal of Whitechapel sees in the well-bred spectator the embodiment of that which keeps him down - the man who has in abundance that of which he wants but a small share, and yet can never hope to get except through crime or in the redistribution that might follow some sort of general overthrow and turning of things upside down. It is a state of mind that one must contemplate with more pity than resentment.
Whitechapel contains the lowest type of women that civilization produces. Vice often respects virtue, but the abandoned women of Whitechapel hate the sight of virtue and jeer it whenever the opportunity offers.


Here perhaps might be appropriately inserted a theory about the Whitechapel fiend, which is given merely for what it is worth. It may be put thus: -

He has received a medical education, may have practised medicine or surgery. He has come to the conclusion that the social evil is the greatest curse of civilization. As a medical man he would be well acquainted with the horrors that attend it. Brooding over the matter has made him a fanatic. He imagines that his special mission is to suppress the evil. How can he best do it? By terrifying the women concerned in the traffic. He can more readily impress them by appealing to their fears than by addressing moral precepts to them. So he kills them in the most brutal fashion he conceives of. He believes that the end justifies the means. His moral conclusions admit of logical defence. Who would say that such murders perpetrated in the hot bed of vice could not do more to stop open immorality than could be accomplished by any amount of moral suasion.
There is at present in London the son of a distinguished physician who early in life gave promise of eclipsing his father's fame. He took to brooding over religious problems and became insane. He imagined that it was his special mission to redeem the world by preaching anywhere and everywhere whenever the spirit moved him. Consequently he is frequently arrested, but being harmless he is speedily released. Had his mania taken another form he might now be doing the work of the Whitechapel fiend. His brother is recognised as one of the brightest men in New York.

Source: Quebec Weekly Chronicle, Thursday October 18, 1888, Page 1

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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