WHITECHAPEL BELL FOUNDRY

IN THE TIME OF THE RIPPER

The foundry in 1884, 
as drawn that year 
by W.H.Russell.

To many people around the world, the name Whitechapel evokes not visions of the bells WBF has been producing in the area for many centuries, but rather Jack the Ripper and the terrible events of 1888. At that time the foundry, trading as Mears & Stainbank, was owned by Alfred Lawson. It was Lawson who sold the business to the Hughes family, who have run it ever since.

Save for the large workshop added at the rear in 1980, the foundry buldings look much as they did in those days, but the area around us has changed greatly. As commercial and residential development continues to spread out from the City, so the fortunes of Whitechapel have risen and it is becoming a desirable area in which to live. This wasn't always the case, however.

In the 1880s, Whitechapel was synonymous with crime and poverty, the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions also ensuring disease and infections were endemic. The residents of Whitechapel did whatever was necessary to make ends meet, and many of the women of the area worked as prostitutes in order to find the funds to pay for a bed for the night rather than, as many people did, living in the sewers and fighting the rats for whatever sustenance was available. Whitechapel had over 1400 known prostitutes, 80 brothels, and countless pubs. Little wonder that alcoholism was rampant. Into this wretched stew in August 1888 came Jack the Ripper when he butchered his first victim, Mary Anne Nichols, at Buck's Row (since renamed Durward Street) which, like the sites of all of the murders, is no more than ten minutes walk from the Foundry.

While we can claim no close connection to, or knowledge of, the Ripper murders, Alfred Lawson and his employees would all have been questioned by the police during their door-to-door enquiries, as were all residents of the area. Also the Ripper, whoever he may have been, clearly knew the area well and would almost certainly have walked past the foundry on his way to or from several of his murders.

Neil R. Storey's fascinating book on the period, A Grim Almanac of Jack the Ripper's London' is available from our shop priced £14.99.

Louis' London Walks have produced several fine guides to aid visitors to London in touring the scenes of many events. Their booklet, 'The Jack the Ripper Walk' is also available in the foundry shop priced £1.99, and the foundry is as good a place as any to start when retracing the Ripper's steps. Also available from the foundry shop is the Pitkin Guide to Jack the Ripper priced £4.99.

Ripper Walk Booklet Ripper Book Ripper Booklet


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