Whipping Tom: The Weird, Serial Spanker Of London

Whipping Tom was a mysterious man who wandered the streets of London in 1680. He shocked 17th-century society by lunging at women, lifting their dresses, and spanking their bums while shouting “Spanko!” before escaping capture. At one point, things got so bad that armed men would patrol the streets dressed as women in the hopes of drawing him out.Almost 200 years before Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of London, there was a much more hilarious monster terrifying society. He was given the name of Whipping Tom because this monster’s modus operandi was the spanking of young women’s bums. He would allegedly attack without warning, spanking ladies on the bottom while shouting “Spanko!” and then elude all attempts to capture him. He was so quick and slippery that some people even claimed he used supernatural powers in his escape. It was this sort of behavior that earned him the title “The enemy of milk wenches’ bums everywhere.”

Mostly Tom would use his hands to carry out a spanking but sometimes he would use a birch rod, attacking quickly, tipping them over his knee so that they couldn’t get away as he gleefully laid a smackdown on their derrieres and then be gone in an instant while his victim sat there confused as to what had just happened.

“Whipping Tom” was the nickname given to two sexual attackers in London and the nearby village of Hackney. Both would attack women walking alone and beat them on the buttocks. While there is some evidence that an earlier attacker in around 1672 was also nicknamed “Whipping Tom” and carried out similar attacks on women, the earliest recorded attacker of this nature was active in central London in 1681. He would approach unaccompanied women in alleys and courtyards and spank them on the buttocks, before fleeing. The inability of the authorities to apprehend the offender caused complaints about the ineffectiveness of London’s constabulary, and prompted vigilante patrols in the affected areas. A local haberdasher and his accomplice were captured and tried for the attacks.

A second attacker nicknamed “Whipping Tom” was active in late 1712 in Hackney, then a rural village outside London. This attacker would approach lone women in the countryside, and beat them on the buttocks with a birch rod. Around 70 attacks were carried out before a local man named Thomas Wallis was captured and confessed to the attacks.

Even though he sounds like a third-rate Batman villain, the police were entirely helpless to stop him for some reason. Women began to carry all sorts of concealed weapons so that if they were attacked, the joke would be on Whipping Tom. Vigilantes also had a go, but not being women they had the problem of how to lure him out. The solution to this is that they started dressing like women. Of course, Whipping Tom seems to have ignored these tall manly women and was never captured, becoming just a weird historical side note.

One version of the story is found in a broadside/news-sheet published in London in 1681, titled ‘Whipping tom brought to light and exposed to view, in an account of several late adventures of the pretended whipping spirit. Giving a full relation of several maids, widows and wives etc that have been by him used in a most barbarous and shameful manner in and about the City of London, within six weeks last past, as also an account of the various reports that are spread abroad concerning him.‘

There having of late been much Discourse in this City, in relation to Whipping Tom, (a Name so much dreaded by the Female Sex) his being abroad again, of whose late Exploits (for the better satisfaction of such as are Inquisitive, and desirous to be informed) and for the benefit of such Husbands as are troubled with gadding Wives, we shall give this following Account of the places that he usually frequents and haunts: Know then, that according to common Fame, he is of the Generation of that Whipping Tom, that about Nine years since proved such an enemy to the Milk-wenches Bums, and often times occasioned the Country Dames to hire a Guard for the security of their Posteriors; whose name so overawed Joan and Ciss that they durst not stir out after Candlelight to meet their Sweet-hearts, for fear of having an Alarum beaten upon their Tobies, and that he being tired with Country Exercise, and not well brooking to take up his Lodgings in Woods and Barnes, nor to turn up any longer,

Tales draged at least a quarter of a yard deep, he has thought it expedient to Exercise his Tyranny over the Backsides of the cleanly, tite City Ladies, and for some weeks past, has lurked about in Alleys and Courts in Fleet-street, Chancery-lane, Shooe-lane, Fetter-lane, the Strand, Holbourn, and other places, and at unawares seazes upon such as he can conveniently light on, and turning them up as nimble as an Eeel, makes their Butt ends cry Spanko; and then (according to the Report of those who have felt the weight of his Paws) vanished; for you must know, that having left the Country, he has not the advantage of getting Rods, and therefore is obliged to use his hands instead thereof;

His first Adventure, as near as we can learn, was on a Servant Maid in New Street, who being sent out to look her Master, as she was turning a Corner, perceived a Tall black Man standing up against the wall, as if he had been making water, but she had not passed far, but with great speed and violence seized her, and in a trice, laying her cross his knee, took up her Linnen, and lay’d so hard upon her Backside, as made her cry out most piteously for help, the which he no sooner perceiving to approach (as she declares) but he vanished; and although diligent search was made, no person could be found. Another likewise tasted of the same sawce a little after in VVine-Office Court in Fleet-street.

Another time the Woman that cries hot Gray Pease about the Streets, coming up Ram Alley in Fleet-street, whilst she was bawling out her Trade, perceived a long black thing standing bolt upright a little distance from her, but not Dreaming of what after happened, came on, but was no sooner within reach, but a cold hand was lay’d upon her, and up flew her heels, and down fell the Pease Tub, when (as she has farther related) her fences was so charmed, that she lost all power of Resistance, and left him to Tyranize over her Posteriors at Pleasure, the which when he had done, he left her to scrape up her Ware as well as she could, for the use of such longing Ladies as are affected with such Diet.

A Gentlewoman some few Nights past, coming through Flowerdeluce Court, near Fetter-lane, was set upon in the like manner by a person in Black, which (as she affirmed) had Armour on to prevent any private stab with Sizers or Penknife, as is supposed; but e’re he could accomplish his designe, the Watch hearing her Shriek out, came to her assistance, and one of the Watchmen (as it is credibly reported) laid hold of him, but could not secure him, he either being too strong (or a Spirit as some will have him) might flip through his fingers. At another time its reported, a Gentlewoman coming through Fetter-Lane, (at the end which comes into Holbourn) she was set upon, and abused as the Gray Pease Woman was, and there left for some time in a Sound.

And farther its said, that he like Death, spares neither old nor young; for some Nights since, scouting about Whetstones Park, met with an old piece of Mortality, or Hegler in Haman Flesh, who taking him to be a Well timber’d Gentleman, would needs be inviting him to her House, but she had scarce made him a Curtesie e’re he turn’d up the unweildy Mass of Kitchen-stuff, and by his hard claps made her Sing to the TUne of Lacrime; Another time as we are informed, he meeting with a demure rack or Miss of the Town, (who came to accost him) he so swinged her Tail, that tis thought, she will not be capable of her Trade for some considerable time. These and many other Pranks (as we are credibly Informed) has been his late Exercise, to the great Terror of the Female Sex, insomuch that a great number dare not stir abroad after the Shops are shut up. And father it is reported of him, that altho great wait has been laid to apprehend him by Men attired in Womens habit, yet he is so Cunning, that he will not venture upon them, but passes them by, which is one main reason that induces the Lasses to believe he is a Spirit; and because they will be sure to know whether he is so or not, a great many when their Masters and Mistresses sends them on Errands late, go Armed with Penknives, sharp Bodkins, Sizzars, and the like, resolving if they meet with him to turn the Comedy into a Tragedy (if he should prove MOrtal) for a fence against which, it is reported, as we have before recited, he goes in Armour, resolving to continue at utter Enmity with the Female Sex.

Besides these Outrages, we hear that about three weeks since, he met with a Gentlewoman great with Child, who lived in Fleet-street, and so affrighted her with the suddain surprise, that notwithstanding he was prevented his usual designe, yet through the fright (as most believe) she Miscarried, and about a week after Died in Child-Bed.

This story suggests there was an earlier ‘Whipping Tom’ in around 1672. Forty years later another ‘Whipping Tom’ emerged, real name Thomas Wallis, after a campaign of buttock-punishment across east London. At his trial, Wallis is said to have declared that ‘unless woman be whipped out of their wicked pride and baseness, mankind will become women’s slaves.’ According to one report his punishment was to be whipped weekly by two women in Bridewell prison for 12 months before being forced to ‘run the gauntlet’ between 200 maids, wives and widows in Cheapside.

Tom’s speed and skill led him to be described ‘as nimble as an Eel’ in the execution of his work, and made him impossible to resist, or to catch. He often assaulted prostitutes, or ‘Cracks’, but any lady walking alone at night could be his target. His attacks went no further than a harsh spanking, but a contemporary account recorded that one one occasion ‘he so swinged her tail, that tis thought, she will not be capable of her Trade for some time.’ It is clear from the records involving Tom that he was seen as something of a joke. He was clearly a pervert who gained sexual gratification from his activities, but there is no record of him doing anything other than spanking, which the pamphlet pictured above describes in great detail. Especially detailed is the tale of the poor, stunned pease-pudding seller:

Another time the Woman that cries hot Gray Pease about the Streets, coming up Ram Alley in Fleet Street … a cold hand was lay’d upon her, and up flew her heels, and down fell the Pease Tub, when (as she has farther related) her sences were so charmed, that she lost all power of Resistance, and left him to Tyranize over her Posteriors at pleasure, the which when he had done, he left her to scrape up her ware as well as she could, for the use of such longing Ladies as are affected with such Diet.
Such anecdotes are amusing, but the relish with which it was reported places some culpability upon the victim, who must have enjoyed the attention in some way to be so acquiescent. Whipping Tom achieved no small fame, and Aphra Behn hit the nail on the head in her 1682 play The City Heiress when one of her characters chastises the other for his drunken moaning on women:

The belief was that Tom’s victims were out and about alone at night (although the pease-pudding seller had every reason to be), and therefore deserved a spanking: Tom was an agent of social and sexual justice. He disappeared as quickly as he had come, perhaps leaving London, perhaps dying, but his legend lived on. Whipping Tom had passed so far into the London sub-conscious that in 1751, a Thomas Wallis was named Whipping Tom in the press after a sex-crime spree in, wait for it…yes, it’s Hackney! Even better, our faithful Hackney Nightwatch came to the rescue. Thomas Wallis was a dangerous deviant whose attacks began with a spanking, but soon evolved into serious sexual assault. In 1751, Mr Hawkins had the trial and details printed up as a pamphlet to satisfy the popular curiosity. As always in the popular press at this time, coy wording and especial attention to the rude bits go hand in hand:

The Whipping Tom of 1681 was active in the warren of small courtyards between Fleet Street, Strand and Holborn. He would wait in the narrow and dimly lit alleys and courtyards. On seeing an unaccompanied woman, he would grab her, lift her dress, and slap her buttocks repeatedly before fleeing. He would sometimes accompany his attacks by shouting “Spanko!”. He attacked a large number of women, and while he would often use his bare hand, he would occasionally use a rod. Some of his victims were left badly injured by the attacks. He would appear, carry out his attacks and vanish with such speed that some people attributed him with supernatural powers. There was a great public outcry in response to the attacks, which prompted complaints about the ineffectiveness of London’s policing arrangements at the time. Women would carry “penknives, sharp bodkins, sizzars and the like”, and male vigilantes would dress in women’s clothing and patrol the areas he was known to operate.

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