Whitechapel – Introduction

Hello and welcome, today we will be studying content for Paper 1 Section A: Whitechapel, c1870–c1900: crime, policing and the inner city. Today you will gain an understanding of the context of Whitechapel in the late 19th century. This is an introduction and many of the features will be covered in more detail in other blogs.

What was Whitechapel like in the late 19th century?

Where is Whitechapel?

Whitechapel is in London.

Whitechapel is a district in East London.

District: an area of a city.

It is near London Docklands and the east of the City of London.

two white and beige pens on white paper


  1. As you read and watch the following information on Whitechapel record sights, sounds and smells a time traveller would have experienced in the late 19th century.




Who lived in Whitechapel?

Census data from 1881 recorded over one million people living in the East End of London, this area covers more than Whitechapel. A report in the early 1870’s stated that Whitechapel was densely populated with people living in overcrowded conditions that were worse than most areas of London. The population of Whitechapel included Jewish refugees from eastern European who were escaping hardship, Irish dockers, families from the East End. Many people who lived in Whitechapel lived in poverty. Alongside areas of extreme poverty there were also streets where people lived well. In these streets middle class people lived very close to areas of extreme poverty.

Census data: official count of a population. It includes names, address and occupation (job) of people.

Docker: a person who work in a port to load and unload ships.

Poverty: being very poor

What was housing like in Whitechapel?

The streets of Whitechapel

During the late 19th century London suffered from heavy fog. It was a result of coal fires and and its location, close to the River Thames. Streets were poorly lit which made it hard to see on an evening. Most houses were in poor condition and badly extended over yards. Some houses were built around small courtyards and streets were linked by narrow alleyways. People used outside shared toilets.

How did people earn a living?

The poorest people in Whitechapel found it hard to secure permanent employment. Many worked in ‘sweated’ labour‘ this included tailoring and boot making. Working conditions in sweated labour were poor. People worked in small dusty rooms with little ventilation. Some people worked from home making matchboxes or making brushes. Other forms of employment included working in markets, at the docks or in slaughterhouses. Prostitution was a legal form of employment during this era.

Employment: job

Sweated labour: working long hours in poor conditions

Prostitution:  engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment.

How did people spend their time Whitechapel?

There were lots of public houses (pubs) and music halls in the Whitechapel. They were very busy as people visited them to escape the streets and overcrowd slums. Alcohol was cheap and people used it as a away to escape poor conditions.

two white and beige pens on white paper


2. Using your notes to write a dairy entry recording what Whitechapel was like in the late 19th century. You must include: housing, streets, employment, overcrowding.

Well done you have completed your learning today.

What to know more?
Grades 9- 7

Explore the differences in wealth of the population of Whitechapel using the interactive map. The map was created by Charles Booth. He led a social survey of London during this period.

More details about living conditions.