19    May 20114 comments

User Story: Victorian East Enders

Whitechapel in the Victoria era

This short story comes from a UK-based MyHeritage User, Suzanne Jenkins. Although Suzanne hasn’t had an easy job tracing her husband’s ancestors (he has very common surnames in the tree!), she has found some interesting background about her family. Here she shares a short story about her ancestors' lives in the East End of London, during the Victorian era. It gives a brief glimpse into how life must have been back then.


The images included here are contemporary.

By the Victorian era, the silk industry, which had supplied many 'East End' Londoners with employment, entered a steep decline. The once grand merchant houses had degenerated into multi-occupied slums known as ‘rookeries’, which gives us a picture of just how crowded they must have been. Many of these rookeries functioned as 'common lodging houses'.

Well, 'our' Victorian Smiths were about as poor as poor could get and they were living in lodging houses in one of the most deprived slums of Whitechapel at about the same time as 'Jack the Ripper' was menacing the courtyards and streets.

Flower and Dean Street

The lodging houses they lived in were in Flower and Dean Street, the poorest of poor streets in Whitechapel (and the home of at least two of Jack the Ripper's victims). When they were living there, a bed for the night cost 4d (which is about 1p now)

If someone was so poor that even 4d was beyond reach, they could sleep standing up, behind a rope fixed at chest height along the wall, for 2d - the origin of the saying 'he / she could sleep on a clothes line'. It’s a stark reminder of how harshly poverty afflicted people at that time.

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Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Thanks for this interesting post. I hadn't ever heard of the option to sleep standing up behind the rope! I've recently read "people of the Abyss" by Jack London which is about this area of London -very interesting and also rather depressing. Pauleen
  2. Thank you for that,

    Very interesting, I have heard the saying 'he / she could sleep on a clothes line' only that it was used in the context of poking someone about their misfortunes.
  3. I am looking for Jane, she was my friend in Goulburn Hostel 1953-4. Jane worked for the National University in Canberra, but was stationed in Goulburn. I wasa cook there. She had a transfer. A few years later she caught up with me in Melbourne. The last I sawher, when I told her that I am leaving my husband John Regos. When I got married 2nd time I moved to Canberra, I was searching to find her, but no awail. 14yrs. ago I moved home to Hungary, could someone try to help me to find her?Jane
  4. I loved that piece! It is hard to visualise just how difficult it was in those days. More stories please!

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