The Burches and Jack the Ripper
The Burch family has a connection with Jack the Ripper, the name given to the person who killed and mutilated at least 5 young women in the Whitechapel area in a 5-week period in late 1888. There may well have been 6 or more further victims. One can read all sorts of details – some of them pretty gruesome – on the internet about each of the cases, and so I will just summarise here what is relevant to the Burch family.
The Whitechapel area was very grim at that time: There were large lodging houses (known as “doss-houses” with shared rooms, sometimes shared beds, and zero privacy), filthy streets, warrens of dark alleyways, accompanied by plenty of drinking, fighting and prostitution. Most of the inhabitants had arrived in London from elsewhere, looking for work, and at this time there were large Russian and Jewish populations in Whitechapel.
In 1881, William Burch was managing (and living at) The Frying Pan, a pub on the corner of Brick Lane and Thrawl St (coloured green on the map below). During his time in London, he seems to have been working closely with his brother-in-law (ie his wife’s brother), William Farrow. Between them they managed a number of pubs. The Frying Pan was near the geographical centre of all 5 of the Ripper’s acknowledged murders, and very close indeed to one of them and 2 similar incidents.
What was the immediate area like? The 1881 census shows that, 3 doors up (north) from the Frying Pan, was a large doss-house, containing over 200 people (all male). They were typically aged 18 to 50, were labourers or tradesmen, and came from all over England (together with a few from other countries, eg Ireland). We’ve included 1 page from the census below, to give an idea of the occupants.
Next door to the pub was a “Hat and cap maker” from Russia. And just around the corner in Wentworth St were several smaller doss-houses. Prostitutes worked the area in the evenings, either picking up custom in pubs or on the street. So, all in all, not a particularly nice location to spend an evening.
The Frying Pan was a Trumans pub, unsurprising as the Trumans Black Eagle brewery (which at the time was one of the largest in the world) was only 400 metres further north on Brick Lane (and the site of one of the Ripper’s later murders).
Now, to the 3 incidents. The first incident concerns Emma Smith, 45 years old, mother of 2 and a prostitute. She was attacked by a gang, and may not have been one of the Ripper’s victims, but we mention it here because of the geographical significance.
The attack happened after midnight on 3 April 1888, 4 months before the Ripper’s first accredited victim. Emma had been walking home after midnight, after plying her trade during the evening. She had also been drinking. At the corner of Wentworth St and Brick Lane (coloured yellow on the map below), she was viciously assaulted by a gang of 3 or 4 youths, raped, robbed, and left to die on the street. This occurred about 50 metres south of The Frying Pan. Astonishingly in the light of her injuries, she managed to reach her home 300 metres away, and she was immediately whisked off to The London Hospital, which was only a mile or 2 away. Her injuries were too great however, and she died 4 days later.
The second incident concerned Martha Tabram (nee White), aged 39, married with 2 children. The marriage had ended in 1875, because of Martha’s heavy drinking, and her husband later stopped supporting her because he had learned she was living with another man, one Henry Turner.
In mid-1888 Martha and Henry suddenly left their lodgings, leaving 4 weeks’ rent unpaid, and the couple split up in July 1888. On 6 August, Martha and a (lady) friend picked up 2 soldiers (a corporal and a private) in a Whitechapel pub, and the 4 of them spent the evening drinking. At 11.45pm, the couples went into separate alleyways, with Martha and the private going into the alley called George Yard (now Gunthorpe St), just 100 metres from The Frying Pan as the crow flies, and coloured red on the map. She was found early the next morning on the first floor landing of a large lodging house in George Yard, having been brutally murdered. A picture of George Yard in Victorian times is shown below - in daylight. At night it would have been a grim place indeed.
This murder is not definitively attributed the Ripper, but is a “probable”.
The third incident was the Ripper’s first acknowledged victim, Mary Ann (“Polly”) Nichols (nee Walker). Aged about 44, she was married with 5 children. She had separated from her husband in 1881, and none of her children were living with her. She had become a prostitute and an alcoholic. At her inquest, her father described her as "a dissolute character and drunkard whom he knew would come to a bad end." Having said that, she was apparently well-liked. Her father added the comment "I don't think she had any enemies, she was too good for that."
On 31 August 1888, Polly was seen leaving The Frying Pan at 12.30am. She walked the few yards to her doss house, but did not have enough money to stay there that night and was told to leave. She vowed to return with the money required (which would have been around 4 pence. At the time, the services of a destitute prostitute like Polly Nichols could be had for 2 or 3 pence or a stale loaf of bread. 3 pence was the going rate as that was the price of a large glass of gin). She spoke to another girl at 2.30am, but was found dead an hour later, 800 metres away. Her wounds were characteristic of the Ripper’s future murders. Her last drink had been just 3 hours earlier at The Frying Pan.
What must William have been thinking through all this? Well, he was indeed the publican of The Frying Pan in 1881, but it looks as though he moved a few miles further north when he was married in 1885. He was certainly not living in Brick Lane by 1891. So he may or may not have been working at The Frying Pan in 1888 – we will probably never know. But he must have been aware of the murders, and must have known about their locations. He obviously didn’t feel too strongly about them, as by 1901 he was back living at a different pub in Brick Lane. In 1888, The Frying Pan was being managed by William Farrow (William’s brother-in-law), who would therefore have been a lot closer to the Ripper’s actions than William Burch.
There are websites where you can cast a vote as to who you think was Jack the Ripper. As far as I can see, William is not on any of these lists!
The Frying Pan building is still there, although in 1991 it was turned into an Indian restaurant (before and after pictures below)