I will, for convenience sake, date the beginning of Whitechapel the hunting ground of the so-called Jack the Ripper to March of 1643, when developers Thomas and Lewis Fossan foreclosed on a section of land outside the Old Gate (Aldgate, above) of London. Not being farmers – Lewis was a goldsmith - they “plotted” a crazy quilt pattern of streets around what their maps labeled as Fossan Square and street – later to be “corrupted” to Fashion Street. In August of 1655, one of their 99 year leases was taken by a pair of ambitious bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean. As only the living space produced revenue on their new Flower and Dean Street, the pair agreed their roadway between grand homes would be 16 feet wide at the eastern end, narrowing to just 10 feet wide at the west.
The Fossans now developed “George Yard” to connect Flower and Dean to Wentworth Street, and in 1658 (Henry) Thrall Street to connect George Yard to Brick Lane. By 1663 John and Gowen had subdivided their subdivisions and the street was largely occupied by French Protestant Huguenots escaping religious persecution under Catholic Louis XIII.
The newcomers brought silk weaving technology with them, and sought new fortunes and mansions faster rather than better. The London bricklayer's guild noted that Nicholas Higgins and Jacob Sewell had used “bad mortar” in their building on Flower and Dean Street, and worse, Samuel Twinn had hired “foriegners”. As early as 1704 the Twinn built mansion was said to be “decayed, ruinous and uninhabited”. And by 1750 most of the silk weavers had moved on and the mansions along the narrow street were being subdivided yet again into apartments, as English laborers, left unemployed by the switch from flax and wheat to sheep and wool, sought work and new homes in London.
As the 99 year leases ran out, the patchwork quilt of properties were bought up by corporations, which shielded their owners from financial risks and bad publicity.
By the 1750's much of Spitafield's and large parts of Whitechapel – including Flower and Dean Street - was owned by poet and artist George Keate (above), of Bloomsbury, West End, London. Under Keate's disinterested tenure the run-down subdivided mansions were subdivided again and again, with courts and alleys cut into the center of blocks to increase square footage without increasing space, and rebuilt only when they collapsed into the street. When George Keate died in 1797, the rents from the 250 buildings he owned in Spitafield and Whitechapel produced £700 a year in rents– a fortune in the day.
The trustees of the Keate estate noted in 1805 that many of the rental properties were “very old, and in a bad state of repair”. And yet the incomes kept coming. The estate was inherited by George's daughter, Georgina Keate, now Mrs Henry Henderson, of Number 1 Gutter Lane, London. Henry Hendreson's profession in “Who's Who” was listed as Silk Manufacturer, because Slum Lord sounded too common.
It was under the Henderson family that the slums of Whitechapel were sublet yet again, to further shield the owners from the stench produced by the source of their income. As French writer Honre de Balzac wrote just about this time, “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account, is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.”
This crime was magnified in 1844 with the clearing of slums for the construction of the 100 foot wide Commercial Street (above), as a north/south direct route to and from the London Docks – the investment that fueled a century of British empire.
In the first stage, only as far as Christ Church Spitaflield, more than 1,300 people - now mostly Irish peasants escaping the potato famine - were thrown out of their homes, with only the twin traps of doss houses and public house to catch them. The overcrowding in the side streets created “The Wicked Quarter Mile”, where there existed “the riot, the struggle, and the scramble for a living".
Augustus Mayhew - in his 1861 book “London Labor and the London Poor” - explained how men like Henry Henderson grew richer selling coffin sized beds at 4 pennies a night. Mayhew's example lived in “a country house in Hampstead”, but was supported by the 6 doss houses he owned on Thrall street. Each house was run by a “deputy” responsible for paying operating expenses and collecting the nightly fees. The less spent on maintenance, the greater the deputies' income.
Each week a company man arrived to check the register of filled “beds” against money's taken in. And from this the company took their “dues” - the lions share. Mayhew also reported the company employed “poor fellow … to go and lodge in … his houses, and report the number present” to keep the deputies honest.
By 1880, a commentator wrote, the Wicked Quarter Mile was ’one of the most crime-infected districts in the whole metropolis. There are Flower and Dean and Keate-street, and innumerable other neighboring narrow ways, and courts, and alleys that afford standing room for a terribly wicked lot of common lodging-houses.’
Wrote another, “...if I examined the courts which ran out of Flower and Dean Street (above) and the houses in its alleys and lanes...I had seen the very worst that London is capable of producing". By 1881 there were 20 “doss” houses on Flower and Dean Street alone, in each of which over 200 people slept every night. And such crowding allowed Henry Henderson to move his family to a new mansion at 5 Stanhope Street, Hyde Parkgardens, and to make substantial donations to the Conservative Party.
The political connections came in handy when the widening of Commercial Street south of Christ Church was begun. Once again the government bought out the slums. But the slumlords had learned, and the new programs allowed them to keep collecting rents until the day the crews arrived to tear the buildings down. As that scandal was brewing, the piecemeal construction was found to be driving up property values ahead of the work, especially south of Whitechapel High Street, where the road jogged south and east a mile, toward the Limehouse basin, and the larger newer India Docks By 1860 the entire project had become so expensive and politically unpopular, that further widening was stopped.. But the decision to not allow low cost housing along the new Commercial Street and Road, also drove up the cost of available housing for the working poor, worsening their plight.
Thus there was a connection between one of the wealthiest families in England and a Swedish immigrant named Elizabeth Gustafsdotter , a.k.a. Elizabeth Stride.
Long Liz (above) spent most of her last day on earth, Saturday, 29 September, 1888, cleaning two rooms in the doss house at 32 Flower and Dean Street, for the grand salary of 2 ½ pence, handed to her by Elizabeth Tanner, who worked - through several intermediaries – for the Henderson family estate.
And before 12 hours had gone by, Liz Stride would be dead on the pavement between Numbers 40 and 42 Berner Street, Whitechapel – south of the Commercial Road extension, and well outside the killer's previous hunting ground.
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