All posts for the month June, 2014

The men and women of the East End were well used to bad smells. The noisome vapours of the tanneries (who frequently used dog turds in their preparation of the tanned hides) hung around Spitalfields like an invisible fog, but as summer turned into the autumn of 1875, people passing Henry Wainwright’s warehouse and packing depot at 215 Whitechapel Road wrinkled their noses at the appalling stench that emanated from his premises. What was that god-awful smell? Appalled Londoners were soon to find out…

37 year old Henry Wainwright appeared to be a highly respectable, hard-working businessman who had inherited his family’s brush-making business at 84 Whitechapel Road, in the East End of London.

Henry Wainwright

Henry Wainwright

As well as being a successful manufacturer and warehouse owner, Henry was a temperance lecturer, living with his wife and four children in a comfortable house in Tredegar Square. But Henry Wainwright was not all he appeared to be on the surface. Despite his apparent comfortable home life, Henry had a more complicated side.

Henry Wainwright had met a young, attractive 20-year-old milliner’s apprentice called Harriet Lane in 1871. Totally infatuated, he set up a home for her as his mistress in a property at 70 St Peter Street, Mile End, where Harriet took to calling herself ‘Mrs Percy King’. Over the course of the next two years, the love-struck pair had a couple of children. However, the financial cost of trying to run the two homes was playing havoc with Henry’s financial situation.

He tried moving Harriet and the two children to cheaper accommodation in Sidney Square, but this did little to alleviate the problem, and Henry Wainwright found himself moving ever closer to bankruptcy. By 1874 his business was starting to founder, and his debts were mounting.

To compound the problem, Harriet liked to drink, becoming loud and demanding when she had had a few too many. She was continually demanding additional money from Henry to help support his two illegitimate children, and eventually she began to threaten to expose their affair to his wife if he did not increase payments.

Harriet Lane

Harriet Lane

In desperation, Henry began to hatch a plan and turned to his brother, Thomas, for assistance. Without divulging his eventual intentions he asked Thomas to pretend to woo Harriet through a series of written letters, which Thomas duly did, using the pseudonym Edward Frieake.

At 4pm on Friday 11th September 1874, an excited Harriet arranged for a couple of friends to look after her children and she left the property in Sidney Square. Wearing a grey dress (with new shiny black buttons she had sewn on that morning), a black bonnet, and a black cape trimmed with lace and velvet, she carried a new umbrella and had her night clothes wrapped in a neat parcel. From then on, all communication with her friends ceased, and she appeared to vanish into thin air.

Later that day, a small group of men working outside Henry Wainwright’s warehouse at 215 Whitechapel Road heard what they thought to be three gunshots. A cursory examination of the immediate area failed to discover the cause, and they continued with their work…

When the friends expressed concern over Harriet’s disappearance, Henry Wainwright stated that he had given Harriet 15 Shillings and informed them that to the best of his knowledge, she had travelled to Brighton. Shortly afterwards, the friends received a letter from ‘Edward Frieake’ explaining that he had asked the young Harriet to marry him and they were going to Paris to live together…

Twelve months passed, but despite Harriet’s disappearance, Henry Wainwright’s financial situation continued to cause him problems. Finally, he made the fateful decision to sell the warehouse at 215 Whitechapel Road, where passers-by had started to notice the obnoxious odours.

On September 11th 1875, Wainwright went to the warehouse and used a spade to loosen the earth on a shallow grave that had been dug just below the floorboards. He had used lime chloride in an attempt to cover the foul stench of the rotting human remains he had buried there almost exactly one year ago. Using a small hatchet, he proceeded to dismember the decomposing body and wrapped the pieces into two heavy parcels, covered in black American cloth and tied with rope.

Henry Wainwright Newspaper Clipping

A Newspaper Clipping detailing the Henry Wainwright Murder

Wainwright then enlisted the help of an unsuspecting employee, Alfred Stokes, who he asked to help him move the two parcels. Stokes agreed, but was unable to contain his disgust at the two heavy, foul smelling packages Wainwright produced. Stokes was told to wait with the parcels while Wainwright went for a cab. While he was away Stokes stole a peek inside the largest parcel. As he opened it, the first thing he saw was a human head, and then a hand which had been cut off at the wrist. Appalled, he quickly repacked the parcel and waited until Wainwright returned.

Wainwright put the two parcels into the cab, instructed Stokes that he would see him later that evening, and departed. Stokes pursued the cab on foot until he saw two police constables by Leadenhall Street—He drew their attention to the cab, begging them to stop it, but they laughed at him and said, “Man, you must be mad”.

Stokes continued to run after the cab as it turned over London Bridge, eventually stopping outside the Hen & Chickens. He alerted two other police constables; PCs Turner and Cox, No. 48 and No. 290 and said “For God’s sake run after the man with the high hat with the parcels in his hand, there is something wrong.” This time, the two constables took Stokes’ protestations at face value, and as he left the cab, they accosted Wainwright.

As PC Turner reached for one of the packages Henry Wainwright said “Don’t open it, policeman, pray don’t look at it, whatever you do don’t touch it”. The policeman pulled the cloth package open and discovered that it contained part of the remains of a human body. As Cox went to get the cab, Wainwright attempted to bribe the police constable saying, “I will give you 100 shillings, I will give you 200 shillings and produce the money in twenty minutes if you will let me go“.

Henry Wainwright was subsequently charged with murder, and the police also tracked down and arrested his brother, Thomas. A search of the warehouse at 214 Whitechapel Road revealed the site of the shallow grave and patches of what appeared to be old blood.

In his testimony to the police, Alfred Stokes suggested that the body in the parcels was that of the missing Harriet Lane. Harriet’s family identified the body, although the features were largely unrecognizable. Shiny black buttons on the clothing matched those sewn on by Harriet the day she had left Sidney Square and some jewellery found in the warehouse grave was thought to have belonged to her. The victim had been shot in the head with a small calibre pistol, and the throat cut afterwards. Henry Wainwright was known to possess a gun of a type consistent with the murder weapon.

At his trial at the Old Bailey in November 1875, Henry Wainwright claimed that he had no idea what the parcels contained. His flimsy defence was that he had been asked by a mystery man to take the parcels from the warehouse for a sum of money. The jury deliberated, found Wainwright guilty and he was duly hanged on 21st December, 1875, at Newgate Gaol. His brother, Thomas Wainwright, was sentenced to seven years penal servitude as an accessory after the fact.

The discovery of Harriet Lane's Body

The discovery of Harriet Lane’s dismembered Body

Almost everyone has heard of the name ‘Doctor Barnardo’, yet very few people actually know a great deal about the man and his work. Most people are aware of his involvement with the ‘Ragged Schools’ starting with his first in Hope Place, Limehouse in the East End of London.

Thomas Barnardo was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1845, the son of John Barnardo, and his wife, Abigail. He was one of 5 children (sadly one sibling died during childbirth). A devoutly religious man, and a member of the Plymouth Brethren, it was the young Thomas Barnardo’s initial wish to devote himself to evangelical Christian work in China.

Doctor Barnardo

Thomas Barnardo

With the help of his friends in Dublin he registered as a medical student in the prestigious London Hospital, and moved to the East End of London in 1866, settling into lodgings at 30 Coburn Street, Stepney – although he does not appear to have begun his studies until 1867.

Whilst he may have studied at the London Hospital, he never actually completed the course to earn his doctorate there. (Although he was widely and universally known as ‘Doctor’ Barnardo throughout his life, he never actually qualified as a doctor until he completed his studies and became a Licentiate and Fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh on 31st March 1876).

A few short months after he arrived in Stepney, an outbreak of cholera swept through the East End, which killed over three thousand people, and which left most families destitute and fragmented. At that time, London was a capital city that was struggling to cope with the effects of the Industrial Revolution. The population had increased by a huge amount and much of this increase was concentrated in the East End, where overcrowding, bad housing, unemployment, poverty and disease were already well established. Thousands of children ended up having to sleep on the streets and many others were forced to beg after being maimed in factories. (see The Match Girls)


Barnardo’s first Boys Home

Appalled by the situation Barnardo set up a Mission in Hope Place, Stepney, where poor children could get a basic education. On one particular occasion a young boy at the Mission, named Jim Jarvis, recounted a tale that Barnardo subsequently recorded in his book ‘Night and Day’…

One evening, the attendants at the Ragged School had met as usual, and at about half past nine o’clock, were separating to their homes. A little lad, whom we had noticed listening very attentively during the evening, was amongst the last to leave, and his steps were slow and unwilling.

‘Come, my lad, had you better get home? It’s very late. Mother will be coming for you.’
‘Please sir, let me stop! Please let me stay. I won’t do no harm’.
‘Your mother will wonder what kept you so late.’
‘I ain’t got no mother.’
‘Haven’t got a mother, boy? Where do you live?’
‘Don’t live nowhere.’
‘Well, but where did you sleep last night?’
‘Down in Whitechapel, sir, along the Haymarket in one of them carts as is filled with hay; and I met a chap and he telled me to come here to school, as perhaps you’d let me lie near the fire all night.’

Jim Jarvis took Thomas Barnardo around the Petticoat Lane area of the East End showing him children sleeping on roofs and in gutters. The experience affected Barnardo so deeply, that he decided to devote himself to helping destitute children.

He regularly went on forays into the slum district to find destitute boys, and was attacked and beaten on a number of occasions, suffering two broken ribs on one visit. Finally, in 1870, Barnardo opened his first ‘Ragged School for Boys’ at 18 Stepney Causeway, in the East End. Spaces in the school were limited, and on one evening, an 11-year old boy, named John Somers (who was nicknamed ‘Carrots’) was turned away because the shelter was full. He was found dead two days later from malnutrition and exposure. Barnardo was appalled and from then on the boys’ home bore a sign reading – ‘No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission’.

Barnardo's Sign

Barnardo’s Sign

Eventually, Doctor Barnardo bought up a dozen properties in and around the East End, together with his Girls’ Village Home in Barkingside, which comprised a collection of cottages around a green housing 1,500 girls.

By the time a child left Barnardo’s they were able to make their own way in the world – the girls had been equipped with domestic skills and the boys had been taught a craft or trade.

As he approached his fiftieth birthday, Thomas Barnardo’s health was ailing as his workload began to take its toll. It became apparent that he had some sort of heart complaint – and he was instructed to take a period of absolute rest. However, he felt that he still had so much to do, and began working again at the same pace as before. By 1903, Barnardo was in significant difficulties and despite a number of periods of convalescence he died on 19th September, 1905

From the foundation of the first Barnardo’s home in 1870 to the date of Barnardo’s death, nearly 100,000 children had been rescued, trained and given a better life.

Much of Barnardo’s work and an example of just what a Ragged (or Free) school was like can be experienced by visiting the Ragged School Museum – housed in three canalside properties in Copperfield Road, E3.

Match Girls
Social deprivation was nothing new in the East End of London in the mid 1800’s, but it would be hard to imagine nowadays the plight of the Match Girls at Bryant and May’s factory in Worship Street, Bow.

William Bryant and Francis May (who were both Quakers) had originally imported red-phosphorus based safety matches from John Edvard Lundström, in Sweden, in 1850. However, as demand increased Bryant and May bought Lundström’s UK patent, building their new safety match factory in Bow.

They continued to use red phosphorus throughout 1855, but the product was much more expensive than the alternative – white phosphorus-based matches. Bryant and May found a ready solution in the East End – and began the use of child labour. At its height, the factory was to employ around 3000 East End children, predominantly girls.

The match girls, some as young as 13, worked from 6.30am until 7pm, with just two breaks, standing all the time, often eating any lunch at their workbenches, breathing fumes as they dined. In the factory, those girls known as “mixers,” “dippers,” and “boxers” were most exposed to the heated fumes containing this compound.

Phossy Jaw

Phosphorus Necrosis or ‘Phossy Jaw’

However, the long hours were often just the start of the match girls’ misery. Many were struck down with a terrible disease – phosphorus necrosis – known by the colloquial term of ‘Phossy Jaw’. Those girls who suffered with phossy jaw would begin experiencing agonising toothaches and a swelling of the gums. Over a period of time, the jaw bone would begin to abscess.

The bones of the jaw would start to glow a greenish-white colour in the dark, and the decaying bone tissue would eventually rot away. The accompanying open wounds would run, giving off a foul-smelling discharge. Finally, in its advanced stages, the disease would lead to serious brain damage and death.

The exploitation of the girls came to the attention of a journalist and social activist called Annie Besant, together with her friend Herbert Burrows, who, following the disclosure that Bryant and May’s shareholders were receiving dividends of 20%, whist the girls were paid around 4 – 8 shillings a week (20 – 40p), published an article in her weekly paper ‘The Link’ on 23rd June 1888.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant

After questioning several of the young girls at the factory, her shocking article likened the Bow factory to a “prison-house” and described the match girls as “white wage slaves” – “undersized”, “helpless” and “oppressed”.

She wrote – “Do you know that girls are used to carrying boxes on their heads until the hair is rubbed off and the young heads are bald at fifteen years of age? Country clergymen with shares in Bryant and May’s, draw down on your knee your fifteen year old daughter; pass your hand tenderly over the silky beauty of the black, shining tresses”.

Bryant and May reacted angrily to the accusations and tried to insist that each member of their workforce sign a prepared declaration contradicting the article. The girls refused and as a result, one of their number was dismissed on what was seen to be a spurious and made up charge.

By the end of that day – around half of the workforce, some 1500 women and girls – refused to work. Whilst the management attempted to backpedal and reinstate the sacked worker, the girls demanded other changes to their working conditions, particularly in relation to the unfair fines which were deducted from their wages.

By the 6th July 1888, the entire factory stopped work and a group of around 200 girls descended on the Fleet Street offices of Annie Besant and her newspaper. Annie Besant’s initial reaction was one of shock and dismay that so many of the women and girls were now effectively out of work with little or no means of support.


A newspaper cutting highlighting the issues

She helped the girls to coordinate a strike fund, and a number of other newspapers collected donations from readers. Prominent members of the Fabian Society including George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb and Graham Wallas became involved in the distribution of the cash collected.

The Member of Parliament, Charles Bradlaugh, spoke in the house on behalf of the girls’ plight, and a number of the match-girls travelled to the House of Commons to meet a group of MPs and increase the publicity and pressure on Bryant and May.

Finally, the factory owner William Bryant, concerned about the poor publicity, formulated a meeting on the 16th July 1888 where it was agreed that a number of the girls’ grievances, such as fines, unfair deductions and penalties and the creation of a separate dining area where meals could be taken without the danger of contamination from the phosphorus, would be met.

Besant and others continued to campaign against the use of white phosphorus in matches, and in an effort to try and combat the situation, the Salvation Army opened up its own match factory in the Bow district, using less toxic red phosphorus and paying better wages. However, the continued high cost of red phosphorus compared to white phosphorus caused its downfall and The Salvation Army match factory finally closed, ironically being taken over by Bryant and May, on 26 November 1901.


The Bryant and May factory in Bow

Opium Den in Limehouse
The area around Limehouse has long been associated with the original London ‘Chinatown’- and with it, the first and much exaggerated home of the East End opium dens. Limehouse was an established slum in the middle of the nineteenth century, and with its narrow buildings and foggy streets, it had a reputation for its sordid pubs, brothels, and opium dens. To an East Londoner or a visiting sailor, it was foreign enough for them to be able throw off the rigid manners of Victorian Britain.

In the East End, opium dens were usually associated with the Chinese, because it was invariably the Chinese who supplied the opium in the first place, as well as preparing it for visiting non-Chinese smokers. Chinese seamen who found themselves stranded in London were allowed to work in the East London docks with a large number involved in unloading China tea.

Originally, many of these Chinese sailors found lodgings at the ‘Oriental Quarters’ alongside the River Thames at Shadwell (very close to the present day location of Wapping Underground Station). These ‘Oriental Quarters’ were frequently run by English women who were able to speak Oriental languages, and who often went by names such as ‘Canton Kitty’ or ‘Chinese Emma’. Of these, ‘Chinese Emma’ was well known for running a Chinese gambling house, where card games would be played in the rooms downstairs whilst the first floor served as an opium den.

An East End Opium Den

An East End Opium Den

Most opium dens kept a supply of opium equipment, such as specialized pipes and lamps that were necessary to smoke the drug. The opium den customers would recline on beds and makeshift benches in order to hold the long opium pipes over oil lamps. In that way, the pipes would warm and that in turn would heat the drug until it vaporized, allowing the smoker to inhale the vapours.

However, it would appear that the reputation of Victorian London as a centre of opium smoking is rather unjustified and owes more to popular literary fiction of the time than actual historical fact.

The London press, along with popular British authors of the day, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens succumbed to using London’s Limehouse district as a focal point for the opium-drenched exploits of their heroes and heroines. The books The Man with the Twisted Lip’ and The Picture of Dorian Gray both make reference to the opium dens in the East End, but there is little evidence to support the illusion that so many dens existed.

London’s Chinatown soon developed a reputation for opium-induced sordidness and debauchery – yet it would appear that the sole intent of this reputation was to titillate and shock British readers.

Gin Craze
It can hardly be overstated just how serious the effects of cheap alcohol and in particular, Gin, had on the East End of London. London was hit by what social historians call ‘The Gin Craze’ during the Eighteenth Century, and it was to spawn so many of the social problems we associate with the over-crowded, slum-ridden East End.

Gin was originally created in Holland, and only became a popular drink in England when Dutch-born William of Orange took the English throne in 1688. Distillation had been widespread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, but it was fairly uncommon in England, compared to beer and ale production. However, in 1689, Parliament banned imports of French wines and spirits and at the same time it lifted the restrictions on spirit production in Britain. As a result, anyone who could pay the required duties could set up a distillery business. Distillers became not only producers, but also sellers and the cost of gin fell below the cost of beer and ale. Gin rapidly became the favourite alcoholic drink among the ‘inferior classes’.

For a few pennies, the poor of East London found a way of escaping from the cold, hunger and grinding poverty of their lives, by drinking their woes away. It was estimated that the average Londoner drank a staggering 112 pints of Gin a year – that is a pint of raw spirit every three days. It was estimated that by 1750, over 7 million gallons of Gin was being drunk a year compared to around 3 million gallons of ale…

Gin sellers would roam the streets pushing carts filled with cheap gin, and seedy gin shops would advertise: “Drunk for one penny, dead drunk for two, clean straw for nothing.” The straw was used to lie on while sleeping off a hangover.

Women, in particular, seemed to favour gin and often purchased it from Chemists as a medicinal drink. It was often mixed with warm water to ‘soothe the nerves’ and became known as Mother’s Ruin.

The effects were devastating. Gin was blamed for misery, rising crime, prostitution, madness, high death rates and falling birth rates. The Vice-Chamberlain of the time, Lord Hervey, commented that, “Drunkenness of the common people was universal, the whole town of London swarmed with drunken people from morning till night.”

In one notorious case, a woman named Judith Dufour collected her two-year-old child from the workhouse, strangled him, dumped the body in a ditch and sold the child’s new set of clothes for 1s and 4d to buy gin.

Gin Lane

‘Gin Lane’ by Hogarth


Finally, the government was forced to act. In 1729, they imposed an excise licence of £20 and levied a duty of two shillings per gallon. This almost suppressed the manufacture of good quality gin, but led to a greater increase in illegal distilling and the quantity of bad quality spirits being consumed continued to rise. In London, this led to a decline in the population, as people were literally drinking themselves to death.

As demands that something be done about the appalling situation grew in fervour, the Government introduced the 1736 Gin Act. This taxed retail sales at One Pound (20 shillings) a gallon and made selling gin without a £50 annual licence illegal. However, as a direct result, over the next seven years, only two licences were applied for and issued. Reputable sellers of Gin were put out of business, but bootleggers continued to thrive without control. The bootleggers’ gin, given such colourful names as ‘Ladies Delight’ and ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, was often flavoured with turpentine rather than juniper, and in some cases was poisonous. There were even instances of it containing appalling ingredients such as sulphuric acid.

In 1751, the artist William Hogarth published his satirical print ‘Gin Lane’, (see picture) which depicts such disturbing scenes as a gin-crazed mother, legs covered in syphilitic sores, unwittingly dropping her baby to its death down some cellar stairs while she takes a pinch of snuff.

Fuelled by such powerful propaganda, the 1751 Gin Act was passed. This was finally more successful, as it served to lower the distillation licence fee and forced distillers to sell only to licensed retailers trading from respectable premises. A series of poor harvests caused a rise in food prices and a decline in wages, so the poor were less able to afford the spirit and by 1757, the Gin Craze was all but over…