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The Berner Stree Area

An 1888 Tour Guide's View

We are standing in the northeastern parts of the St. George’s-in-the-East parish, and this section of the now busy thoroughfare directly behind us was originally known as White Horse Lane. By 1827, Commercial Road appeared and White Horse Street, as it was also called, ran only as far as New Road. Within three years, White Horse Lane was incorporated into Commercial Road.

From this same junction, Berner Street humbly began as a mere side road more than eighty years ago, ending roughly where it now intersects with Fairclough Street, and was surrounded by fields. At times, it had been referred to as Berners Street. Even though it has been described as a narrow road, Berner Street is roughly thirty feet across, as you can see, and it is wider than some of its neighboring streets. Today, this quiet residential area is no longer a solitary cul-de-sac or a simple bye-street, as it runs south for approximately 250 yards, where it meets with Ellen Street. Further south beyond Ellen Street, lay Pinchin Street, and the London and Blackwall Railway. As you may have read, one newspaper described this rail-line as the "London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway." Beyond that lays Cable Street, Vestry Hall, where the inquest was held, St. George’s mortuary, and the Swedish Protestant Church, which is more simply known as the Swedish Church.

Even though there are "no public-house lights in Berner-street," the area is a well-lit road, especially compared to many other side streets. Not only is there a street lamp by the George IV pub, which is several blocks away, there is a total of "six lamps within 700 feet" of Dutfield’s Yard. Four of which are "within 350 feet, from Commercial-road to Fairclough-street." And while not every side street is as decently lit up as Berner Street, its residences are like many others in the East End.

Berner Street, like its crossroad Fairclough Street, which is about halfway down the road, has its share of poor people and those who make a comfortable living, unlike some of their side street neighbors. To the east, the inhabitants of Batty Street are mostly poor, and the areas making up Batty’s Gardens, Boyd Street and Everard Street are considered very poor. While to the west, Back Church Lane supports a variety of households: the comfortably well off, those who earn a comfortable living, the poor, and the very poor. As you can imagine, those who live along the hustle and bustle of Commercial Road are typically middle class or well to do. And yet this blend of economic variety also supports a nice cultural mixture. For the neighborhood is composed of many small brick dwellings, and is "thickly populated by artisans," such as "tailors, shoe-makers, cigarette makers, and others - mostly Poles and Germans - who do their work at home."

There are a total of 82 house numbers in Berner Street. As you will see on our tour, the even numbers will be on your right, or western side of the street, while the odd numbers are across the road on your left. As we walk south from the western corner of Berner and Commercial Road, we eventually come to the first even numbered house, Edward Summer’s greengrocer shop at No.2 Berner Street. Continuing south on the western pavement, or sidewalk, we pass only four doors before reaching Sander Street.

Sander Street became part of the area between 1815 and 1818 and was originally named Charles Street until 1873. Looking down Sander to your right, you notice that it runs westerly and meets with Back Church Lane, which was simply called Church Lane, until sometime between 1830 and 1846.

Crossing Sander, we come to No.14 at the corner. This is where the sisters, Mrs. Rosenfield and Miss Eva Harstein live. They claimed to have seen a bloody grape stalk and little white natural flowers near the murder scene. Continuing south, a little more than halfway between Commercial Road and Berner’s intersection with Fairclough Street, we come to dwellings numbered 28 and 30. The homes of Abraham Heabury and Charles Letchford respectively. While Letchford paid little attention to the alarm, Heahbury quickly joined other by-standers in the yard. On the other side of Letchford’s house, you can see the archway for a covered footpath, which leads into Batty’s Gardens and ultimately breaks-out into Back Church Lane. If we look across the street, we can see the western entrance for Hampshire Court, which extends easterly to the neighboring road, Batty Street. If you keep looking across the street, you will see to that to the right of the alleyway, and after several buildings to the south, is the Board School where PC Smith saw Elizabeth and a young man. You can easily see that the Board School grounds cover that part of the street all the way to Fairclough Street. As we continue a further three doors down, we come to No.36. Home to Fanny and William Mortimer. Mrs. Mortimer, mother of five, was outside her door at this spot. From here, she saw the young couple in Fairclough Street by the Board School and she saw Leon Goldstein walk by. She returned indoors several minutes before Louis Diemschütz drove by, but she eventually came back outside when she heard the noise coming from the club. Moving along, the next residence is 38 Berner Street, Barnett Kentorrich’s home. Despite the commotion, he never heard anything until hours later. One of the more impressive structures in Berner Street is coming up next, as we keep moving south.

Next to Kentorrich, immediately on your right is a three-story brick building. No.40 Berner Street is home to the International Workingmen’s Educational Club, where the alarm was raised. While the building can occupy over 200 people for performances, discussions, and poetry, it is primarily a political club for the advancement of Socialism. Presently, there are seventy-five to eighty members. "Some Englishmen are enrolled as members," but the membership "consists largely of foreign Jews." A working man of any nationality can join, though, as long as he is nominated by an existing member and seconded by another. Unfortunately, we cannot go in because it is occupied and some of the club members do live here. But as you can see, the main entrance is the door in front of you and leads to a hallway that runs the length of the building. One door in the hallway leads to the front room, which is also the dining room. You can see its window just to the right of the front door. In the middle of the hallway is a staircase, leading to the second-story. Just past the stairs, a door leads to the kitchen, which is at the rear on the ground floor. Beyond that door, another door leads to a passage, which runs along side the house. The passage is about eighteen feet from the gateway to the kitchen door, as you will see. The second-story consists of a large room, which is used for meetings and entertainment. The front of this room holds a small stage. The rooms’ three windows look out at the rear of the house. The room is decorated with plain benches with several portraits hanging on the walls. The third-story is most likely residence for the members who live here. I said earlier that this was a quiet neighborhood, but there are at times arguments amongst the various club members which apparently spills out into the street.

Stepping to our left is the double-gated entrance, which opens into the murder scene, Dutfield’s Yard. The gateway measures only nine feet two inches across and it was in this area that Schwartz’s first man accosted Elizabeth. When the two wooden gates are closed, but they do sometimes remain open, one can gain access to the yard by way of this man-door, situated within the gate on the right, the one closest to the club. The yard is named after Arthur Dutfield, owner of a cart and van manufacturing company. Stepping just inside the courtyard, as some call it, and peering down to your right, you can see the spot where Louis Diemschütz, the club steward, discovered Elizabeth’s body. You can also see the pathway that leads to the rear or kitchen entrance of the next-door club. After nightfall, the club members have developed a custom of entering their clubhouse by this back entrance, so they do not disturb their fellow members by knocking on the front door, which would be locked. Looking toward the back of the yard, you can immediately see the sack manufacturers of Messrs. Walter Hindley and Co. Next to them is an unused stable, which sits to the rear of the club. Also toward the rear of the club is a two room stone building that contains the composing and editorial offices of the internationally recognized Yiddish publication, Der Arbiter Fraint, or The Worker’s Friend, which is owned by the club. The yard also provides access to Dutfield’s place of business, a dustbin, and two water closets or outhouses. Opposite the yard from the club, lay tenements, which are occupied by several families. As you can see, the yard has no gas lamp of its own, but the pathway is "illuminated by means of a fanlight over the door." Otherwise, the yard is basically dark after sunset, except for what light might be thrown from the various windows that overlook the yard. But such illumination tends to be further into the yard.

As we continue on, passing the tenement of No.42, we come to No.44, Matthew Packer’s shop and residence where man in his early to mid-thirties reportedly bought a half-pound of black grapes for Elizabeth. And right next door sitting on the northwest corner of Berner and Fairclough is 46 Berner Street. The Nelson, owned by Louis Hagens, is a beer house or beer retailer, which has at times been described as a pub. This is where Israel Schwartz’s second man stood lighting his pipe when Elizabeth was being accosted.

As we stand at the corner, looking down Fairclough Street, you will notice that it starts at Back Church Lane and runs easterly. Fairclough Street came into existence between 1818 and 1827 and was originally called North Street until 1873. Berner Street extended southward around that time. North of Fairclough, Berner was known as Berner or Upper Berner Street. South of the intersection, it was known as Lower Berner Street. This did not really change until 1873 when the entire stretch of road was collectively renamed Berner Street. After its intersection with Berner Street, Fairclough junctions with Providence Street on its south, then Batty Street on its northern side, and then Brunswick Street on its southern side. After Brusnwick, Fairclough intersects with Christian Street. On the northern side of Fairclough, just west of the intersection with Christian, James Brown lives at No.35 Fairclough. At the northwest corner of Fairclough and Christian sits The Beehive beer house where Edward Spooner learned of the murder. Beyond Christian Street, Fairclough ends at Grove Street. Spooner’s residence of 26 Fairclough Street might be located between Christian and grove Streets on the southern side of Fairclough.

Now that we are crossing Fairclough Street, for those who are interested, we have walked about 142 yards. Directly coming over to the southwest corner of the intersection, we arrive at 48 Berner Street, which is Henry Norris’ chandler shop. This is where James Brown got his late supper that early morning. We continue walking south on the western of the street. Only five doors past the cook shop, you can see No.58 on the right. This is the spot where Elizabeth and a young man stood when William Marshall first saw the couple. Only three doors further along the sidewalk, we arrive at William Marshall’s residence, No.64 Berner Street. Looking down the road, you can see the junction of Boyd Street and the gas lamp mentioned by Marshall at the inquest. Having only a dwelling to pass by, the twenty feet to the Boyd Street is a fairly quick walk. Sitting on the corner of Berner and Boyd, where we are, is Edmund Farrow’s public house, George IV at No.68. Looking to your right down Boyd Street, you will notice that it runs over to back Church Lane. Boyd Street was constructed between 1818 and 1827, but it was previously named Henry Street until 1873.

Looking to your left, across Berner Street, you can see the alleyway, which extends over to Providence Street. After we cross over to the other side of Boyd, we arrive at No.70, Louis Friedman’s baker shop. With only three house numbers on this side of the road after Boyd Street, we quickly reach Everard Street. Like Boyd, Everard was constructed at around the same time and also runs between Berner Street and Back Church Lane. Standing at the northern corner of the junction, we have on our right another greengrocer shop, at No.74. Jacob Lubin is the proprietor of this particular shop. After crossing Everard Street, we have only four dwellings to move past until we reach the last house number on Berner Street, John Simkin’s, a chemist, occupying No.82. From Fairclough Street we have walked about 108 yards.

The end of our tour brings us to the southern junction of Berner Street - Ellen Street. This road was constructed between 1818 and 1827. As you can see by looking down Ellen Street in both directions, it runs from Back Church Lane over to Christian Street with several additional roads stemming from it, each of which runs south.

This concludes our 1888 tour of Berner Street and its inhabitants.

Many THANKS for the sources used that have contributed to this page:
Adrian Phypers.
DN, 01 Oct 88.
DT, 01 Oct 88, p5.
DT, 02 Oct 88, p3.
DT, 03 Oct 88; p3.
DT, 06 Oct 88, p3.
EN, 01 Oct 88.
GBA, 1888.
GFP, 1888;
JFW, Berner Street.
JTRDH, p171-174.
JTRUF, p95, 96-97.
various Maps of London, 1806-1877.
OSM, 1894.
Ripperologist, No.22, p36.
T, 01 Oct 88.

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