Poor life choices force ‘Annie’ out on the streets of Whitechapel in September 1888

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When I worked in retail in the 1990s (long before I changed career to become a historian) there were a couple of occasions where I had to investigate cases of theft by employees. I was a shop manager and was sometimes deployed by one of the directors to troubleshoot underperforming shops or to help recruit for new stores. In one store there was  problem with money going missing; someone was pilfering,  either from the tills or the safe. In the end we discovered it was the manager.

Confronted with it he confessed and said he’d been borrowing money as he was struggling to pay some debts. He said he always intended to pay the money back, he saw it as a loan (albeit and unauthorized one) not stealing. Suffice to say that’s not how the director or the company’s owner saw and he was out on his ear. He was lucky no prosecutions followed.

There is a fine line of course between borrowing and theft, one that best avoided if you want to stay on the right side of the law. Annie Franks crossed that line in September 1888. The 18 year-old shop girl lodged with Julia Regan in her digs in New Court, Whitechapel. Regan had taken the girl in while her folks were away in Kent helping to bring in the hop harvest. She’d done so because Annie looked lost and Julia needed the company.

Annie had been there a few weeks when Julia missed a pawnbroker’s ticket she’d kept in a sugar basin in her room. She’d pawned some clothes in order to get some cash but now she was ready to redeem the ticket and collect them. She asked around to see if anyone had seen it and neighbour told her that Annie had shown it to her, and claimed Julia had sold it to her for 3d.

It was a lie and it soon transpired that Annie had taken the ticket and retrieved the clothes for herself. Julia was angry and provably quite hurt, so she went to the police. Annie broke down under questioning and admitted her crime to PC 77H. She only meant to borrow the clothes while she too went ‘hopping’ and she fully intended to give the items back on her return.

That was a lie as well because a little investigation showed that she’d already pawned them once more. In court at Worship Street Annie must have cut a forlorn figure in the dock. Her youth was in her favour but Mr Saunders was told that since she’d moved to Spitalfields she had ‘taken up with a lot of bad characters’. The police also reported that she had a previous conviction for theft as a servant. That decided things for her and the magistrate: he sent her to prison for seven days.

If you are familiar with the events of 1888 in the East End you might know that New Court was an alleyway that ran off Dorset Street to the north. There were two others: Paternoster Row and Miller’s Court. Miller’s Court was where Mary Kelly lived in the autumn of 1888 and where she died on the night of the 9 November. Lots of people lived and worked in this desperately crowed and poverty riven part of Whitechapel but there was a chance, a real one perhaps, that Annie knew Mary and certainly she would have been affected by the terror that was meted out on the inhabitants of the East End that summer and autumn.

All the women killed by the ‘Ripper’ were out late at night or in the early hours of the morning. They were living a hand-to-mouth existence, staying in cheap rooms or boarding houses where they could, and earning money by prostitution when they had to. They had all enjoyed more comfortable and settled lives previously but drink, bad luck, or tragedy had best each of them which was why they were on the streets and vulnerable.

Annie – by virtue of her own poor decision making and the sentence handed down by Mr Saunders was now on a critical downward pathway towards a similar fate. Let’s hope her employer took her back when she came out of gaol or that she did indeed escape to the country to pick hops. Let’s hope she didn’t end up like Martha, Polly, Annie, Liz, Kate and Mary Jane walking the streets in the hopes of finding enough money for her ‘doss’. After all just two days after Annie’s court appearance another ‘Annie’ (Annie Chapman) was found murdered in Hanbury Street, barely ten minutes walk from New Court.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, September 07, 1888]

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