Victorian London





There is a reason why many of the homeless in Britain share the pavements with their dogs. The need for the presence of canines has been understood since the 19th Century. The dogs keep the rats away. In 1888 those in regular employed work could afford to rent an overcrowded room. At the end of the 19th Century the choice for the rest, the distressed, consisted of the streets, lodging houses or the workhouse. George Lansbury described the Poplar Workhouse in the pamphlet Smash Up The Workhouse. ‘The floors were polished but of kindliness and goodness there was none.’  Suffering was not confined to those without work.   Employment in Victorian London was dominated by crowded sweatshops and factories paying starvation wages. Each day at the London Docks there were queues of men pleading for a few hours of work.

Annie Besant was born Annie Wood in London in 1847. She married Frank Besant, a clergyman. They had two children but a husband who was a Tory, the kids, political activism and a radical attitude to religion were too much for their marriage.   Her activism was rooted in radical secularism and support for the Irish cause of independence. ‘Three quarters of my blood and all my heart are Irish.’ Besant subscribed to and supported the radicalism of the 1880s. It began with talk amongst the disenchanted. The radical talk moved to open spaces.   There were pitches at Dod Street at Limehouse, Victoria Park in Bethnal Green, and Mile End Waste where the Stretford Dialectical and Radical Club held its meetings. Later the Radical Club became the Labour Emancipation League. In Dod Street thousands of workers assembled and listened to speakers advocate social and economic revolution. Annie Besant gave legal assistance to arrested socialists.   She was influenced or mentored by William Prowting Roberts. He was a former Chartist. Prowting Roberts understood that social justice consisted of more than economic progress. He said the poor were ‘worker bees, the wealth producers with a right to self-rule (and) justice, not to charity’. The National Union of The Working Classes (NUWC) had been established in 1830. The use of the plural is important. The NUWC became The International Workingmens Association (IWMA).   The third canonical Ripper victim, Liz Stride, was murdered in Dutfield’s Yard on a night when the IWMA was having a meeting in the adjacent Berner Street.   Louis Diemshutz who discovered the dead body of Stride was the steward at the club premises of the IWMA.


When the NUWC was established it had three objectives. These were to secure for every workingman the value of his labour, to protect workingmen against the tyranny of masters and manufacturers and to bring about parliamentary reform. Those who struggle to understand why conflict exists within the modern Labour Party could do worse than think about those three objectives. Those on the right wing of the Labour Party are not so enthused about objectives two and three.

In the mid-1880s, Annie Besant enjoyed affluence and a comfortable home in the West End of London. Unlike most of her neighbours she was willing to visit the East End and talk to the poor. She also spent time in the Reading Room of the British Museum.   She discussed politics with Eleanor Marx and George Bernard Shaw. Edith Nesbitt who wrote The Railway Children would sometimes attend.   There were others but Besant missed the chap whose library card was issued in the name of Jacob Richter. Worried about being discovered by the authorities Richter concealed his real name, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin.


Independent of Lenin the radicals of London protested about economic unfairness and how the British were behaving in Ireland. William O’Brien an Irish MP organised a rent strike on the estate of Lady Kingston near Michelstown in County Cork. This was followed by a demonstration of 8000 locals. The demonstration was led by MP John Dillon. At the Courthouse in Michelstown three demonstrators were shot dead by the police and others were wounded. O’Brien was imprisoned under the Coercian Act.   In 1887 the Metropolitan Radical Federation, the Irish National League, the Social Democratic Federation, the Socialist League and the Irish National League combined to organise a mass protest in Trafalgar Square.   The chants of the crowd challenged the imprisonment of O’Brien and demanded Irish Home Rule, free speech and economic reform.   Soon to be a failed Ripper catcher, Sir Charles Warren was the Commissioner Metropolitan Police. His appointment was welcomed by the Press but he was criticised for the provocative way the police treated demonstrators in Trafalgar Square. Some of the 30,000 protestors suffered beatings, and there were hundreds of arrests. A young clerk Alfred Linnel was trampled to death by a police horse. Annie Besant was annoyed because she was not arrested. From a prison cell or inside a court her legal and journalistic skills would have enabled her to add more notoriety to what had happened in Trafalgar Square.


At a Fabian Society lecture in June 1888 Annie Besant heard Clementina Black discuss ‘Female Labour In London’. The next day Besant took three colleagues from her left wing paper The Link and interviewed women as they finished their shift and left the Bryant and May match factory. The owners of Bryant and May were Quakers and Liberals. They believed they were good employers. Besant published a report of the conditions. The women worked for low wages, suffered heavy fines for minor misdemeanours and had to eat in the factory where their food was contaminated with white phosphorous.

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Besant sent a copy of her report to the company directors. The report was dismissed as a ‘tissue of lies’. Factory foremen tried to bully the female employees into signing a statement that said the conditions were satisfactory.   The workers refused, several women were sacked and the workforce walked out. Lewis Lyons arrived at the factory the next day. Lyons wanted the women and girls to form a union. He was arrested for obstruction but the female pickets demonstrated at the police station until Lyons was released. Lewis Lyons was the leader of the Jewish tailors. Annie Besant had provided bail for Lyons in 1885.


Helped by Besant and SDF member Herbert Burrows the women formed a Union of Women Matchmakers. On 8 July 1888 they held a rally at Mile End Waste before marching through the City into the West End. On the way they collected donations.   They stopped and rested at 40 Berner Street.   Louis Diemshutz, the man who discovered Ripper victim Liz Stride, may have still been around to serve them tea and biscuits. On 13 July 1888 Bryant and May stated they would not concede to the demands of the workers. The strikers wanted the women who had been sacked to be reinstated, the system of fines to cease and the provision of a separate area where the match girls could eat their food. The directors talked of relocating to Scandinavia and using scab labour but within two weeks they accepted the demands of the strikers.

Annie Besant supported the strike. Both her celebrity and presence at the factory gates were important to the cause but Besant denied ever being the leader. The women who led the strike were Alice France, Kate Slater, Mary Driscoll, Jane Wakeling and Eliza Martin. The women belonged to close knit and politically aware Irish communities. Some of the women knew Besant from her campaigns on behalf of Irish independence.


Annie Besant continued to be a campaigner for political and economic reform until 1890. The Match Girls Strike inspired other workers to form a trade union. The Great Dock Strike in London began in the summer of 1889.   On the 25th of August a parade of 50,000 people headed towards the City. Brass bands, banners, horse-drawn boats and street theatre players made it feel like a carnival. Two days later the Evening News estimated that 130,000 workers in London were on strike. In Hyde Park around the end of August, 100,000 people gathered to listen to speakers on 20 platforms. Despite pressure from ship owners the dock owners refused to improve the conditions of the workers. Strikers were suffering, and rent arrears were increasing. A £1500 cheque, though, was paid to the strikers by the Brisbane Wharf Labourers’ Union. More cash followed, thousands of pounds were raised by Australian unions and amateur football clubs.   The dock companies were obliged to negotiate and concede sixpence an hour wages.   The system of daily hire continued but workers had to be hired for a minimum of four hours.


Before the end of the year Annie Besant had met Helena Blavatsky and been converted to theosophy. The notion of establishing a universal wisdom that would unite all creeds and resist oppressors appealed to Besant. Theosophy promised that human beings through teaching could be improved. After her attempts at reforming Victorian society cleansing the human spirit was the next step. Besant did not lose her radical edge. The cause of theosophy took her to India.   She sympathised with the Indian people as much as she had her Irish ancestors. Besant championed home rule for India and in her quieter moments read about what was described in Britain as ‘the new unionism’, the legacy of the Match Girls Strike that she had supported.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.






George Hutchinson was born in 1859 but because of the complicated way human beings respond to each other he has acquired millennial status. In the Ripper world George Hutchinson is fashionable. In 1999 author Bob Hinton published From Hell. Hinton produced points that added to the existing and widespread doubt that existed about the witness statement that Hutchinson had given to Inspector Abberline. Hinton also claimed that George Hutchinson was Jack the Ripper. Hutchinson is not the favourite suspect but he is millennial and fashionable.

Hutchinson saw the last of the canonical victims Mary Jane Kelly talking to a well-dressed man. Kelly took the man to her home in Miller’s Court. So far three men have been identified as the person who might be the George Hutchinson that on the 9th of November 1888 stood in Commercial Street near Miller’s Court.  Bob Hinton traced a George Hutchinson that in 1859 was born in Shadwell. This George worked as a barman and had three wives. In his book The Ripper And The Royals the author Melvyn Fairclough revealed that someone called Reginald Hutchinson believed that his father was the witness in the Ripper crime. According to Reginald, his father had claimed that he knew one of the Ripper victims.   Reginald also challenged the traditional view that George Hutchinson was an unskilled man who endured long periods of unemployment. Reginald stated that his father became a plumber and was also an accomplished violinist and ice-skater. Well, someone in all this is skating on thin ice.


Like Hinton, Australian author and journalist Stephen Senise believes that George Hutchinson is Jack the Ripper.   Senise has examined boat arrivals, looked at photographs and various documents and signatures. He reckons that in 1888 George Hutchinson travelled to Australia on the Ormuz. In 1896 two young boys were assaulted by George Hutchinson. The crime resulted in him being sentenced to two years in prison. Senise argues that Hutchinson number three killed the women of Whitechapel to provoke anti-Semitism within England. This argument is undermined by the descriptions of the murderer included in the witness statements Hutchinson signed before Inspector Abberline.  Hutchinson first described the man he saw as pale.  Later he made a statement to the newspapers and described a man ‘with dark complexion and dark moustache’. Anti-Semitism strong enough to inspire a murderous crime wave should inspire consistent accusations.

The two witness statements from Hutchinson are extensive and detailed. Most Ripper books produce them in full.  It is the detail in the statements that has persuaded most writers to assume Hutchinson was lying.   In his statement Hutchinson recalled talking to Mary Jane Kelly and hearing a conversation between Kelly and a well-dressed man. He also remembered a red handkerchief that the man gave the victim. The description of the man offered by Hutchinson includes references to eye lashes, a trimmed astrakhan collar and cuffs, a waistcoat, a thick gold chain, a horse shoe pin in a black tie and so on.   Hutchinson also mentioned how he had been alerted by the man being so well dressed. Because Hutchinson had known Mary Jane Kelly for some years and was in the habit of lending her ‘a few shillings’, he waited outside Miller’s Court for three quarters of an hour.  Or so he said.


Witnesses are vague regarding details.  They are most reliable in identifying gender and height. After that the results are inconsistent. Philip Sugden in The Complete Jack the Ripper allows Hutchinson more leeway than most. Sugden concedes that there are two discrepancies between the statements Hutchinson gave to the Police and the Press but he is impressed by how the second statement to the Press corroborates everything else that is in the first statement. Sugden claims that there are over forty points of corroboration between the two statements. The items that do not match, though, are important or should be to a master of detail. The well-dressed man is either dark or pale or has a slight or heavy moustache.   Sugden is impressed by the conviction of Inspector Abberline and what the Inspector writes in his police report. ‘An important statement has been made by a man named George Hutchinson which I forward herewith. I have interrogated him this evening, and I am of opinion his statement is true.’

There is nothing in either witness statement to explain why Hutchinson waited three days until the evening after the inquest was concluded to visit the police station. Bob Hinton and those who believe that Hutchinson was the Ripper argue that Hutchinson reacted to the appearance of Sarah Lewis at the inquest. Lewis told the Coroner that she had seen a man waiting outside. The accusers of Hutchinson believe he visited the police with the intention of creating the existence of an alternative man and to deflect attention from himself.   Perhaps but most of us would have responded by going into hiding and relying on the anonymity provided by a densely populated metropolis.  Inspector Abberline assigned two detectives to Hutchinson, and the three men wandered around Whitechapel and searched for the man Hutchinson claimed to have seen.   The search ended in failure. Those who believe Hutchinson was the Ripper assert that Hutchinson taking part in the investigation is consistent with the behaviour of other serial killers, a desire to become part of the investigation.


There is more. Until the millennial accusers arrived Ripperologists assumed that the detectives and Hutchinson were roaming the streets of Whitechapel in order to find the man who was seen talking to Kelly.   Despite the endorsement of Hutchinson added by Inspector Abberline to a confidential police report it is now argued by some that Abberline realised that the witness was Jack the Ripper. If that is the case, Inspector Abberline had an odd attitude towards public funds. Hutchinson was paid for the days he walked with the two detectives around Whitechapel. The payment amounted to what would have been a month’s wages for Hutchinson. Neither did Inspector Abberline prevent the Press making substantial payments to Hutchinson.

The witness statement by Hutchinson was detailed and dubious but the claim that witnesses are unreliable does not automatically strengthen the case against Hutchinson. All we can conclude is that Hutchinson belongs in the company of unreliable witnesses except in this instance he has more imagination than most. Bob Hinton makes decent points about what could have been seen on a murky Victorian Street. This scepticism was anticipated by the contemporary reaction in The Graphic newspaper. ‘Yet at two o’clock in the morning in a badly lighted thoroughfare, he observed more than most of us would observe in broad daylight.’ This makes sense but it leaves the problem of why and how a highly regarded policeman was seduced by what most would define as obvious nonsense.


Abberline uses the word ‘interrogate’ to describe what happened between Hutchinson and the Inspector. He does not say interview. The reference to an interrogation implies an encounter that lasted for some time. The details that were provided by Hutchinson were a response to persistent prodding by Abberline.  And it is a thin line between probing the memory of someone and delving into the imagination of the sub-conscious.   Acting with the best of intentions, Inspector Abberline may have been as culpable in whatever invention emerged from the interrogation.

The case against Hutchinson relies too heavily on two issues.   These are him delaying for three days before telling the police what he had seen in Commercial Street and Hutchinson waiting outside Miller’s court for three quarters of an hour after seeing Mary Jane Kelly. Whatever the reason for the delay by Hutchinson it did not alarm the police. Neither did the story about waiting outside for forty-five minutes. The waiting outside may have been sinister or nothing more than an example of a hopeless unemployed man with nothing left but curiosity.  The police arrested around 40 people on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper.  None of them were taken around Whitechapel by two detectives. The norm was to take Ripper suspects down to the cells, interrogate and add the odd thump. This did not happen to George Hutchinson.


I am as big a fan of Alfred Hitchcock as anyone but comparing what happened to the wives of a man who we are not even certain is George Hutchinson to the plot of Vertigo is conspiratorial fancy. The George Hutchinson that was born in Shadwell took his third wife to live in Carmarthenshire in Wales. Victim Mary Jane Kelly may or may not have lived in Carmarthenshire. The second wife of this particular Hutchinson changed her name to Mary Jane. That is a possible explanation as to why Hutchinson waited outside Miller’s Court. We should not, though, become excited. This George Hutchinson spent most of his life as a barman and, thanks to his close connections to his family, avoided unemployment. Hutchinson is an affectation rooted in too smart millennial revisionism. The actual Ripper remains unknown.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.