Skip to content

Sir George’s Residence for Respectable Girls

April 21, 2015
by the gentle author

All the years I have been walking through Gunthorpe St, taking a shortcut through the back streets to Spitalfields, I have never had any reason to notice the tall unassuming brick building set back from the street with the date 1886 set in a stucco panel on the top, until current resident Daron Pike wrote to share the intriguing history he has discovered – for this was once ‘Sir George’s Residence for Respectable Girls.’

‘Respectable’ tells it all, distinguishing the residents from those ‘unrespectable’ girls whose presence made Whitechapel a notorious destination for predatory males in the final decades of the nineteenth century. When the Residence was built, Gunthorpe St was known as George Yard, described by the East London Advertiser in 1888 as “one of the most dangerous streets in the locality – a narrow turning out of the High St leads into a number of courts and alleys in which some of the poorest of the poor, together with thieves and roughs and prostitutes, find protection and shelter in the miserable hovels bearing the name of houses.”

Provision merchant turned evangelist, George Holland, founded the George Yard Mission and Ragged School in the eighteen-fifties, winning recognition for his philanthropic work which permitted him to raise the finance for the Residence. “When Mr Holland began his work, George Yard was inhabited by such a desperate class that he often had to be accompanied by two policemen, bricks, flower pots and other missiles being, even then, flung at his head,” wrote the ‘Record of Christian Work’ in October 1885, thirty-five years after George Holland established his Mission, “Now, however anyone may walk through that locality with impunity … the success of this work has mainly been owing to Mr Holland’s untiring soul, three days being the longest holiday he has allowed himself since he first put his hand to the work.”

Yet it was the knife attack upon Emma Smith in George Yard in April 1888 followed by the murder of Martha Tabram close by in August of that year, initiating a spree of violence against women known retrospectively as ‘the Whitechapel Murders,’ which shone a light upon the work of George Holland in the national press. In November 1886, The Times reported on a conference of the Ragged School Union at which “Mr Holland next gave a graphic description of his work in the eastern part of London, remarking that in times past some 50,000 children had passed through his hands and that he now had under his care some 3,000 men, women and children.”

The violent murders of 1888 inspired terror among those at the ‘Residence for Respectable Girls’, while also throwing into relief the necessity of the Mission and the Residence, as the Daily News reported in November that year - “Mr. George Holland, whose remarkable work has been going on for so very many years in premises occupying an obscure position in George Yard, Whitechapel – where it will be remembered one of these unfortunate women was found with thirty or forty stabs – says that the sensation has affected his institution very greatly. He has some hundreds of young women connected with his place, and many of them have been afraid to stir out after dark. He is under some anxiety, too, lest ladies who have been wont to come down there on winter evenings to teach and entertain his young people, should be deterred by this latest addition to the evil reputation of Whitechapel.”

George Holland died in 1900 and, by the First World War, the building had ceased to be a home for girls and was in general residential use by a predominantly Jewish population, until the sixties when it was emptied of inhabitants at the time of the slum clearances in the East End. Today it is well kept and back in use as flats. The Mission itself and the Ragged School are long gone, and just the implacable ‘Sir George’s Residence for Respectable Girls’ remains in Gunthorpe St to remind us of his compassionate purpose.

Sir George’s Residence for Respectable Girls

Gunthorpe St

You might also like to take a look at

Whitechapel Lads

At the Whitechapel Mission

At the Strangers’ Rest Mission

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    April 21, 2015

    This building looks like a prime site for redevelopment! Large land area, central location, not many people to turf out of their homes. Hopefully someone has the foresight to have it listed. Otherwise we can expect demolition in the next few years, to be replaced by a tower of glass, concrete and steel. Surely this is the way of the world these days….

  2. April 21, 2015

    Thank you for sharing the story behind another building in Spitlefields. I wonder how Darren Pike discovered its past and what became of the girls who were taught there?Further illustration that there is just so much history left waiting to be rediscovered. Would love to know more.

  3. Jude permalink
    April 21, 2015

    Hi Gentle Author, I love reading your blog & read it every day – it has become as essential to my start to the day as a strong cup of tea. I may be wrong but I believe that Emma Smith who you mention in this blog was attacked on the April Bank Holiday 1888 on the corner of Wentworth & Osborne Street, around the corner from George Yard where Martha Tabram was later murdered.
    It was extremely interesting to read about the Residences – i had wondered what they were !!

  4. Suzanne Keyte permalink
    April 21, 2015

    Yet another fascinating story and thank goodness for people like George Holland.

  5. April 21, 2015

    I LOVE the name of that Residence! Thanks for sharing the history and the amazing photos, Valerie

  6. PaulofVerulam permalink
    April 21, 2015

    Fascinating stuff. I’m a big fan of this blog. (Should it be “St” George’s Residence etc?)

  7. John Wilson permalink
    April 21, 2015

    I lived in the building for two years up until September last year.
    Loved it.
    So many colourful characters still roam the area.

  8. annie s permalink
    April 21, 2015

    Thank you for the interesting information on the house, I have walked through the alleyway from Whitecapel High Street quite a few times and wondered about the history.

  9. April 21, 2015

    Thank you Gentle Author for the piece on Sir George’s Residence, and indeed your posts every day for all those days gone by.

    The residents are indebted to Stephen Wright of the London Research Service for his findings on the history of the house and George Holland. One of the tasks handed to Stephen was to disambiguate the name of the building, early references were ‘Sir George’s’ and others were ‘St George’s’. He confirmed the original name to be Sir George’s Residence for Girls. This is important as we discuss with Tower Hamlets Council to have the building signed and recognised as its original name. Something that will further preserve the spirit of the house and the East End.

    We’re very interested to hear from anyone else who may have lived in the house or have a story about the house. John, we miss you!

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS