Thursday, March 30, 2006

George Yard Buildings

This small section of blue wall is all that remains of George Yard Buildings today. This is the corner where George Yard, or Gunthorpe Street as it is today, meets Wentworth Street. On or near this corner, at around 2am, PC Thomas Barrett (226H) encountered a soldier loitering in the street. Barrett asked him what his business was there, and he replied that he was "waiting for a chum who had gone off with a girl." It seems unlikely that this was either of the two soldiers who had spent the last part of the evening with Martha Tabram and Pearly Poll, but it was considered suspicious enough to be thoroughly investigated by detectives looking into Martha's murder.

At around 3.30, a cab driver named Alfred Crow, who lived in room number 35 in the buildings, was returning home from work, tired and ready for his bed. As he passed up the stairs he was aware that somebody was lying on the first floor landing. He paid it no attention, as it was dark and drunks and homeless people often crept in to sleep on the stairs at night.

John Reeves lived in room 37. He was a casual dock labourer, which meant in those days that he would have to be up early and join the crowds around the docks hoping to be one of the lucky ones picked for a day's work. He left his room at a quarter to five that morning. When he reached the first floor landing, he saw Martha lying there, surrounded by a pool of blood.

She was lying on her back, with her arms by her side and her legs wide open. Her clothes were in disarray, pulled up so as to expose the whole lower half of her body. Reeves could see at a glance that she was dead, and so, without stopping to examine the body, he quickly ran out into the street where he located PC Barrett, still on patrol, and alerted him to what he had found.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Whitechapel Skyline

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.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

George Yard

Today, George Yard goes by the name of Gunthorpe Street. A long narrow lane, it runs all the way from Whitechapel High Street up to Wentworth Street, and stands between Commercial Street and Osborn Street, which leads to Brick Lane. So today it is in the heart of one of the most bustling areas of the East End, especially at night. And yet, itself, it is still an isolated and slightly desolate looking location.

Along the left hand side on this picture, which is looking North towards the Wentworth Street end, is Toynbee Hall, the headquarters of a charity formed in 1884, four years before the Ripper murders, by the Reverend Samuel Barnett. Barnett was a campaigner for social justice and a close associate of Thomas Barnardo. He was the canon of St Jude's church in Commercial Street. Barnett would involve himself in the Ripper murders in a series of letters to the newspapers, writing that the crimes were merely symptomatic of the neglect with which the slum areas of the East End had been treated.

The intent of the charity was to aid the inhabitants of impoverished communities, and it was named after Arnold Toynbee, a fellow campaigner in the area who had worked towards greater access to adult learning opportunities for the poorest members of society, and who had died at the tragically early age of 30.

Until his own death last week, former Secretary of State for War John Profumo was the President of the charity.

Writing in 1998, reknowned Ripper expert Stewart Evans described his first visit to George Yard in 1967. "I located the arched entrance to Gunthorpe Street (George Yard) with the White Hart public house on the west corner at the junction with Whitechapel High Street. Entering the narrow street with its cobbled road surface and gloomy Victorian buildings on both sides stretching northwards in front of me, there was an immediate feeling of atmosphere and a gloomy oppressiveness. At this point the true idea of the Victorian London of 1888 could be obtained. Even today this bottom end of Gunthorpe Street is remarkably little changed."

Toynbee Hall was not the only charitable institution here in 1888. On the top left hand corner stood a Salvation Army mission. On the right hand side of the alley stood the George Yard Mission School. It was up this gloomy little alleyway that Martha Tabram was last seen, arm in arm with her soldier client, as Bank Holiday Monday of August 6th slipped into the early hours of the 7th. Their business would not have taken long to transact.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Angel Alley

This photograph shows the entrance to Angel Alley off Whitechapel High Street. Angel Alley was only a short distance from George Yard, running parallel to it, although it was narrower. The image from an 1894 Ordinance Survey map below shows how close. The red arrow points to the White Hart public house, the green one to the entrance to Angel Alley.

Pearly Poll was said to be a very tall woman in her mid forties, with rather masculine looks and a reddened drink-sodden face. Many of the estimated 1,200 prostitutes who operated within the Whitechapel district were said to work on a more or less occasional basis, selling their bodies as and when they were unable to scrape together money for bed and food any other way. For Poll, however, prostitution seems to have been her main source of income.

The cost of a quick jump would have been very small, probably no more than a couple of pennies. The actual sex act would have been brief. Poll would have taken her soldier to a dark part of the alley, leaned against the wall and lifted the back of her skirts. The deed would have been done standing up with his entering her from behind and humping away until he was done. There was very little that was romantic or erotic about the occasion. It was a means to an end, nothing more, for both of those involved.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The White Hart Public House

This is the White Hart public house at 89 Whitechapel High Street. At approximately 11.45pm on August 6th 1888, a 39 year old prostitute by the name of Martha Tabram, together with a collegue, Mary Ann "Pearly Poll" Connelly, parted company with each other in front of this public house. They had spent the last hour and three quarters in the company of two soldiers who had treated them to drinks in several pubs in the area. Now Martha went with one of the soldiers up George Yard, through the archway that can be seen in the photo, while Pearly Poll took the other one to nearby Angel Alley for what she called "immoral purposes". It was the last time Martha was seen alive.