The skyline of Whitechapel has changed out of all recognition over the last 117 years. This photo was taken from an upstairs room of the City Hotel in Osborn Street, looking out towards Commercial Street. Gunthorpe Street (previously George Yard) runs between the two.
On the right of the photo can just be seen the rooftop of a red brick building which today belongs to Toynbee Hall. In 1888, this spot was occupied by a model dwelling house called George Yard Buildings. A model dwelling house was a kind of Victorian housing project. One step up from a lodging house, it consisted of individual rooms gathered around a central stairwell. The rooms were small, but at least afforded some privacy. Many of the model dwelling houses are used as bedsits today. Back then, one of the rooms would often be occupied by a whole family.
One of the rooms was occupied by a young couple named Joseph and Elizabeth Mahoney. They occupied room number 47, on the second floor. Joseph was a carman, meaning he transported goods on a barrow. Elizabeth worked in a match factory from nine each morning until seven at night. Monday August 6th having been a Bank Holiday, they had not been working that day and had been out enjoying themselves until the early hours. They returned home at around 1.50 am but, feeling peckish, Elizabeth went out to buy some fish and potatoes at a nearby chandler's shop and returned again at around two. Neither one noticed anything unusual as they passed up and down the stairs of the building. They would be the last ones who did not.