Jenny Burnley’s London

A different perspective

I love London. It is such a diverse place, full of life, amazing people, culture and oozing with history. There are so many places to visit, such a lot for everyone of all ages to enjoy. But what I like to do most, is to visit places that are off the beaten, tourist track, which offer endless fascination.



Spitalfields, in the East End, is a very interesting place to visit if you are ever in London. It is close to Liverpool Station and Brick Lane. Although the name Spitalfields may conjure up nasty images of old men gobbing up in the fields, it is actually derived from the ancient name, Spittellond.

The land belonged to St. Mary Spital, a priory erected in Bishopsgate in 1197. The area that is now Spitalfields was first laid out with streets for the Irish and Huguenot silk weavers in the 17th Century. Indeed Spitalfields has an historic association with the silk industry.


Jack the Ripper

By the late 19th Century, the silk industry was waning and the area degenerated into slums and notorious, common lodging-houses, particularly in the vicinity of Flower and Dean Streets, where robbers and prostitutes prevaled. It was in the nearby streets around Whitechapel where the notorious killer, Jack the Ripper, committed a series of brutal murders from 1888. All of the murdered women, except for one, were prostitutes. The perpetrator was never caught and there has been a great deal of speculation as to the identity of the Ripper. It is thought that he could have been a butcher or a doctor because the mutilations suggested the murderer had knowledge of human anatomy. However, the crimes remain a macabre mystery to this day.



Mary Ann (Polly) Nicholls

The first woman to be murdered by the Ripper on August 31st, 1888, was Mary Ann Nicholls, known as ‘Polly’. Polly

struggled with drink and relationships, ending up in Lambeth Workhouse.


In August, 1888, she was lodging in Thawl Street in Whitechapel. On the night of her death, after spending time at The Frying Pan pub, Polly went out on the street saying she was going to make enough money to pay for a night’s bed. She was proudly wearing a new bonnet, which she thought would attract a customer.

Polly’s mutilated corpse was discovered in a dark, cobbled stable entrance on Buck’s Row, now Durward Street. The inquest said that her throat had been slashed so deeply, her head was nearly severed. Her abdomen had been savagely ripped open to expose her intestines.

Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nicholls was the first victim of the brutal serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. Some say that Mary’s ghost haunts Durward Street. Why don’t you see for yourself when you are next in London? There are some excellent Jack the Ripper Tours. A word of warning; don’t go alone…


I wrote the following short story from Polly’s point of view:-

Polly’s Story August 31st 1888

I’m not complaining, but you wouldn’t believe what a terrible life I’ve had. In fact, it’s been ‘orrible from beginning to end if you ask me. Hang on a minute.

What you staring at? Yeah, you over there, posh gent with the poncy suit. Aint you got no manners? Can’t yer see there’s a lady ‘ere wiv an empty glass?

Gawd, what you ‘ave to do to get a drink round ‘ere? It’s murder and there’s no mistake. I’ve been coming to this pub, the Frying Pan (aint that a stupid name for a pub?) for as long as I can remember. The beer’s rancid, but the punters are a bit more classy round here than up the market.


Where was I? Oh, yeah my shit life. Well, I was born in Dawes Court, Shoe Lane, I fink it was August 26, 1845. I’ve just celebrated me birthday, in fact. I was one of the Walkers and me ma and pa, Edward and Caroline, called me Mary Ann, but I like being called Polly better. Gawd knows how old I am, I never hardly went to school and me arithmetic’s always been crap anyway. We were always dirt poor, ‘ungry, smelly, you know, just like everyone else in Whitechapel really, apart from the snotty vicars’ kids.

I fink I was about nineteen when I met my handsome Bill Nichols. Do you know, I really loved ‘im back then and I was that happy on me wedding day. I remember it was January, 1864 and it was a bleeding, miserable cold day. I should have taken that as a sign, I suppose, but I was that in love, or so I thought. Me nose near froze off in the freezing cold in that thin dress I borrowed from Annie Chapman. I didn’t look at no-one else for ever such a long time, I must say. We had five kids altogether, but after Percy, then Henry came into the world, well Bill started to get spiteful and vicious. He was forever moaning and groaning about me drinking too much, said I was a ‘soak’, cheeky bleeder. It really did my head in, especially as I didn’t drink that much, honest I didn’t.

Anyway, he dumped me and left me in a mess. I ended up in that foul, stinking workhouse in Lambeth. Not long after ‘im, though, Thomas Drew came along and he made me really ‘appy, well for a bit anyway. He was a respectable blacksmith, he was. Oh yes, I had regular meals when I was with ‘im, I did. Typical man, though, started nagging me about me drinking, too, in no time at all. What do they expect a girl wiv all my troubles to do? Sing in the bleeding church choir? Drinking dulls the pain, it’s always just dulled me pain and took me troubles right away. Well, til the next bleeding mornin’ anyhow. Oh, this cough.

Ah, finally; a drink. Better bleeding late than never, thank you. Just put in down there, will ya? Cheers, your good health, kind sir. I might be able to pay you later- if you’re willing and able at any rate! Excuse me laughing and coughing at the same time, won’t you? You’ve just touched me funny bone for some reason.

Do you know I’ve had a respectable job, only this year, I did. I was a domestic servant, you know. Oh yes, worked for those holier-than-thou Cowdreys, both teetotallers and religious to boot. I just couldn’t stick that holy stuff thrown down me throat every day, what wiv no drink to dull it and all. Well, I fink I lasted nearly a month there. Not my cup of tea at all, if you pardon the pun. I nicked some of milady’s clothes when I left and got done for that, an all. Damn this bleeding cough.

Anyway, so now I’m lodging up the road ‘ere at 18 Thawl Street. It’s a right stinking, rat-ridden dump, but where else can I go? I aint going back to that bleeding workhouse again and there’s no mistake. I ‘ave to get four pence for me bed there tonight somehow. Course, that’s not a problem for me being as I am such a comely wench and these punters admire class round here, like I said. Hell, I can’t stop coughing tonight.

Right, I’m knackered, better drink up and go for ‘walkies’ if I’m to earn me four bob for a night’s kip, if you get me drift, darlin’. Oh, that beer’s like bleeding paint stripper, but it hits the spot, you might say.

Bye, Annie, see yer back at the palace. Gawd, this cough, I mustn’t make meself laugh any more tonight. What do yer think of me new bonnet? Nicked if from that stuck-up Sarah Cowdrey, I did. You can bet the punters will notice me in this, they aint going to miss me wearing these bleeding big feathers are they?

Right which way, left or right? Well I went right last night, so I’ll make it right again then. I did good last night up Bucks Row…love how that rhymes with, anyway here comes that poncy gent from the Frying Pan, he looks a likely lad for a few bob.

Evening sir, want to give a girl a good time?

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  1. Great story, Jenny. You seem to have captured the atmosphere and character very well. So tragic though. I’m interested to hear of places to visit in London. I may have a visit coming up soon.

  2. Your writing captures the 1888 voice so well. Enjoyed it!

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