What Was London Like in 1888?

Posted by Jenny Phillips, Jack the Ripper Tour Guide on Wednesday, December 15, 2021 Under: Jack the Ripper

What Was London Like in 1888?

In 1888 the population of London was almost five million out of which I would say that over 2 million lived below the poverty line and that of those about 900,000 lived in the East End about 76,000 in Whitechapel.

Why was there so much overcrowding in areas like Whitechapel? From the 1840s farming was becoming mechanised and so farm-hands lost their jobs and came to London looking for work. From 1845 the Irish Potato Famine began from a disease that blighted the potatoes causing them to rot in the ground. As this was the staple diet in Ireland at the time, famine spread across the land and a million Irish people left Ireland and came here or went to America. In Eastern Europe there were pogroms of the Jews. Both the Irish and the Jews came here with no, or relatively little money and so settled in Whitechapel as this was the nearest place to the River Thames where the ships bringing them docked. Most had no money to travel further on!

Consequently, Whitechapel became vastly overcrowded. It was described in the Morning Chronicle in a series ‘London Labour and the London Poor’: ‘roads were unmade, often mere alleys, houses small and without foundations, subdivided with often unpaved courts. An almost total lack of drainage and sewerage made worse by the excavation of brickearth. Pigs and cows in backyards, noxious trades such as boiling tripe, melting tallow for candles, preparing cats’ meat, slaughterhouses, dustheaps and lakes of putrefying night soil from toilets added to the filth.’

Most of the poor lived hand-to-mouth as jobs were dolled out on a daily basis such as dock work, ship building, cart driving, sweat shops, and market porters. Children were employed sometimes for a few pence as chimney sweeps. Other jobs were mostly self-employed. There were pie sellers, flower sellers, match sellers, and match-box fillers/constructors. These were usually women who worked at home aided by their children building matchboxes and filling them with matches. They were paid 2 1/4d to 2 1/2d per gross, (144 boxes). These matches were dipped in white sulphur as it was cheaper than red sulphur, which later became the norm. White sulphur was a poison causing Phossy Jaw (osteonecrosis) in which the jawbone died and rotted.

The main match factory was at Bow. It was owned by Quakers William Bryant and Francis May. The conditions for their workers in the factory were grim. They employed over 5,000 people, mostly girls of Irish descent. They were paid piece rates, and fined if they were late or took too long to go to the toilet. The conditions were so bad that the same year Jack the Ripper struck, encouraged by local political activists Annie Besant and Herbert Burrows they went on strike. By 6 July the factory was at a standstill. On 11 July certain changes to the rules were agreed. Fines were abolished, and grievances taken directly to management not supervisors. Soon after, the Salvation Army opened a match factory in Bow using red sulphur. The strike gave great encouragement to the trades union movement.

This gives you some idea of the terrible background conditions against which Jack the Ripper managed to murder his victims and escape silently into the night, aided by the fact that many people were homeless on the street and women sold themselves for less than the price of a bed for the night. I shall discuss their condition and problems in my next article. Find out more about what was London like in 1888. Book tickets for Jenny's Jack the Ripper Walk. Private tour also available here.

In : Jack the Ripper 

Tags: 1888  london  poverty  whitechapel  match girls strike 
comments powered by Disqus


"online bookings' cpd #earthrise 17th 1830s 18thcentury 1930s 20th 50th a abbey adele afternoon afternoon tea age ages alastair ancient and animals annie anniversary apps architecture arsenal art arts attack autumn awards baker bank bankside barbican barrier bathhouses battersea bazalgette bear beasts becket bells bexley bishopsgate black blackfriars blackout blitz bloomsbury bombers book books borough bowie breakfast brewery brick bridge britain british bronze bronze age brunch buckingham burger burlesque buses cab cabaret cake canal canary captain care carl carol caroline carols cathedral cemetery cenotaph century chapman charles charlton cheap cheapside cheese childhood chips chiswick chocolate christmas church city city of london clapham clerkenwell cocktails coffee coffeehouses common company concert corporate covent covent garden covid-19 cream crime cross crown cruise crystal danson david davy day december dental deptford dick dickens dinner dinosaurs do dock dockland museum dragons dreamtime druitt earth east eat eating eats ecommerce edward edwardians edwin egypt elizabethan end engineering era ernst event events exhibition exhibitions facebook fair fairytale fall family fantastic farringdon fashion february festival film finance fire first fiscus florence folklore food for francis free friars frost gallery galliard garden george georgian georgians german germany gibb gift girls globe grade great greenhithe greenwich group guided guides gun half hall halsk handel harle harry potter hats havering havering hoard hawksmoor hazel heroes hidden highbury hill hilton history holloway homes hooke hot hotel house housing how humphry i ian ianmcd ice ice cream icelandic ii iii in india inigo isaac islington italian iv jack jack the ripper jack's james jenny jewels john johns jones joseph katharines kelly kenneth kew gardens kids kidstours killer kim king kings kingston lambeth lane lewis lights limestone literature liverpool locations londinium london london bridge london's londoners londonhistory lunch lutyens macaulay magnus management maritime market markets martyr mary match matilda maufe mayfair mcdiarmid measure medical medieval memorial middle military millennium mock-tudor modern modernist montague month monument moorgate mosaic murder murderers museum museum of london docklands music musicals mystery n7 national gallery national history museum ned new newcomen news newton nhs nichols night nightingale nurse of old street oliver open opera paddington palace palaces pancakes pandemic panoramic park parties path pauls people philip photo photograhy photography photos pizza places plague plantation plays plumstead podcast poetry pokemon polly poor pop poplar port poverty prince priory private tours pub public pubs purbeck qe2 queen queenhithe quirky railways recording regency reid religion rembrandt renaissance restoration ripper river road rob robert roman romans roundhouse royal saga saints salute saxon school. science sculpture scupture seacole second serial servants sewers shakespeare shoreditch siemens sir slave slavery small smartphone smith smithfield smithfields soap soho somme south southbank southwark spitalfields spy squirrels ss st statue stories stow street strike stuart stuarts studios subscription suffragettes sugar summer susan sydenham tate taxi tea ten term terror thames thamesmeade the theatre thiepval things things to do thrifty thriftytheatre to toothbrush tour tours tower trade travel truman tudor tudors tumblety twelfth twentieth twist und underground update v&a ve victims victoria victorian victorian london victorians viking virtual vouchers wales walk walking walks wall war water werner west westend westminster wharf wheeler whitechapel wilde wildlife willelm william windrush wine winter women wood woodland woolwich world wyatt york zachary 1666 1888 2019 2020





Site by Hazel  |  Photographs by Hazel or Ian