A COBBLESTONED SLICE OF HISTORY
Running parallel with Osborn Street, where the attack on Emma Smith took place, and reached via the arch alongside the White Hart pub, there is a cobblestoned alleyway that is now called Gunthorpe Street.
It is a rare survivor from the Victorian East End and is typical of the warren of similar dark, sinister alleys that then snaked their way through Spitalfields and Whitechapel.
As you turn in to it from the busy, noisy and often traffic clogged Whitechapel High Street it takes little imagination to picture yourself pitched back in time.
Indeed, as you walk along Gunthorpe Street, the traffic of the 21st Century is reduced to a distant murmur and it would come as little surprise if its low hum were to be suddenly replaced by the sound of horses hooves clattering over the cobbles.
Admittedly its latter half has seen considerable modernisation, but its first section is very atmospheric, not to say, at times, incredibly sinister!
In 1888 Gunthorpe Street was known as George Yard and had a reputation as one of the area's most undesirable thoroughfares.
The East London Advertiser opined that George Yard was “…one of the most dangerous streets in the locality…”
A little way along today's Gunthorpe Street on the left there stands a block of flats, on the upper storey of which there is a white stone on which the date 1886 is still emblazoned in bold, black numerals. In 1888 this building was a shelter and educational centre for girls, run by local philanthropist Mr George Holland.
On the 27th September 1888 the Daily News published a report that made specific reference to this building. The article gives a vivid insight into how how the panic generated by the Jack the Ripper murders impacted on the everyday lives of the people who lived in the area at the time of the killings.
Mr. George Holland, whose remarkable work has been going on for so many years in premises occupying an obscure position in George Yard, Whitechapel...says that the sensation that affected his institution very greatly. He has some hundreds of young women connected with his place, and many of them have been afraid to stir out after dark. He is under some anxiety, too, lest ladies who have been wont to come down there on winter evenings to teach and entertain his young people, should be deterred by this latest addition to the evil reputation of Whitechapel, and he is earnestly pushing on alterations in his premises which will give him a frontage out in the main road.
Nothing came of his plans and thus this building remains, still occupying its "obscure position in George Yard," just as it did in 1888.
The The East London Advertiser, having informed its readers of the undesirability of George Yard as a location, went on to give them a decidedly unflattering impression of the type of person that dwelt there.
According to the article George Yard was:-
"...a narrow turning out of the High-street, [that] leads into a number of courts and alleys in which some of the poorest of the poor, together with thieves and roughs and prostitutes, find protection and shelter in the miserable hovels bearing the name of houses..”
The article also made an intriguing reference to some of the other types of ne'er do well that you might expect to encounter in this sordid little backwater.
George Yard had, so the article informed its readers," for years been a regular rendezvous and hiding place for [army] deserters."
This fact would take on an added significance in early August 1888 when the body of another Whitechapel Murder victim was discovered on the landing of a building towards the top of George Yard.