The Serial Spankings of Whipping Tom

Warning: the following post contains descriptions of attacks on women and may be disturbing for some.

In late 17th century London, from dark alleyways and corners of Fleetstreet, Holborn, and Strand an attacker emerged. He was not a barber and he never killed. No, instead he preyed on women. Grabbing them and lifting their skirts before slapping their rears. The frightened people of London gave him the name “Whipping Tom”.

The streets of 19th century Strand
The streets of 19th century Strand

“Spanko!” was often his cry, just before his attacks on unsuspecting women. The unfortunate women were sometimes left with injuries, because (although he seemed to prefer his bare hand) Whipping Tom occasionally used a rod. Victims grew in number and his attacks were so fast that some attributed supernatural powers to the man.

Whipping_Tom
One of the only depictions of Whipping Tom (with his fictional partner Skiping Joan [Ione]) is found in a panorama in the Yale Center collection.
The slow response of police led to vigilanteism. Men began to wear dresses and wander the streets at night, hoping to catch the Whipping Tom in the act. Women carried weapons in their dresses such as penknives and scissors. Although no record of the case remains, a man and his accomplice were arrested and tried in 1681. This was not the only case of a Whipping Tom, however…

In 1712, leading up to Christmas, 70 women were attacked in a similar manner. This time near Hackney with a birch rod, and the few accounts available tell that these attacks shockingly drew blood. Thomas Wallis was caught and he readily admitted to the deed. An account by John Ashton (from Social Life in the reign of Queen Anne, 1883) tells of Wallis’ reason for the attacks:

His only excuse was his ‘being resolved to be Revenged on all the Women he could come at after that manner, for the sake of one Perjur’d Female who had been Barbarously False to him.’

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