Whipping Tom was the nickname given to two sex offenders, one in London and the other in the then nearby village of Hackney. The first given this name was active in central London in 1681; his modus operandi was to approach unaccompanied women in alleys and courtyards and spank them on the buttocks before fleeing. The inability of the authorities to apprehend the offender resulted in 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 seventy attacks were carried out before a local man named Thomas Wallis was captured and confessed to the attacks.
Whipping Tom of 1681
His first Adventure, as near as we can learn, was on a Servant Maid in New-street, who being sent out to look for her Master, as she was turning a Corner, perceived a Tall black Man[b] 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 up-on her Backside, as made her cry out most piteously for help, the which he no sooner perceiving to approach (as she declares) then he vanished.
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 for an unaccompanied woman. Having selected his victim, he would grab her, lift her dress, and slap her buttocks repeatedly before fleeing, sometimes accompanying his attack with shouts of “Spanko!”
He attacked a large number of women, and although he would often use his bare hand, he would occasionally use a rod; leaving some of his victims badly injured. 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, scissors and the like”, and male vigilantes would dress in women’s clothing and patrol the areas he was known to operate.
A haberdasher from Holborn and an accomplice were captured in late 1681 and tried for the attacks, but there is no surviving record of the trial or of their identities. An anonymously written book about the attacks, Whipping Tom Brought to Light and Exposed to View, was published in 1681.
Whipping Tom of 1712
Between 10 October and 1 December 1712 a further series of similar attacks took place in fields near Hackney. This attacker, also nicknamed Whipping Tom, would approach lone women and beat them with “a Great Rodd of Birch”. About seventy women were assaulted before a local man, Thomas Wallis, was captured and confessed to the attacks. According to Wallis, he was “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”. He claimed that his plan was to attack a hundred women before Christmas, cease the attacks during the Twelve Days of Christmas, then resume his vendetta in the new year.
- It is not known who “Skiping Ione” represents, and as there are no other references to her, it seems likely that she was invented by the artist as a rhyming partner for Whipping Tom.
- “A tall black man” is likely to refer to his clothing or hair colour, not his ethnicity.