The Whipping Tom of 1681

Mar 22, 2022 0 comments

The streets of London have witnessed some of the strangest men come and go over the years. From commoners like Theodore Hook, who halted the functioning of the city over a bet in 1810, to the London Monster of 1790 roaming around with blades strapped to his knees, every nook of the English capital was pervaded by episodes of the uncanny. But way earlier than these wanton destructors, Londoners were haunted by a colossal sight of terror that bordered the supernatural: Whipping Tom of 1681.

In the line of sexual predators that roamed the city, Whipping Tom was probably one of the scariest. Because what can be more fearsome than a faceless entity jumping out of a shady lane to spank you? That’s right.

Fleet Street, London. Photo: Wright Archive/Flickr

In 1681 it became common knowledge that a man roamed around the dark bylanes of Fetter Lane, Chancery Lane, Strand, Fleet Street and Holborn after dusk. His prey were lonely women, and every time one passed by he would jump out of his hideout, lift her skirt up and furiously spank her behind. It could be his bare hands, or it could be a rod; there was no knowing what weapon he would use when. But before the victim could react, or turn around to see her perpetrator, he would vanish into thin air after shouting “Spanko!”

No one could identify the man, not even London Police, who’s effectiveness was soon called into question as media and newspapers flashed light on the criminal and nicknamed him ‘Whipping Tom’. Soon thereafter, the name and his signatory shout became the only identifying characters of the buttock spanker. Terror had taken over the streets, and women began carrying pocket knives and other weapons to keep themselves safe. Ordinary men tried to catch him as well, dressing up as women and lurking in areas he was known to operate in. But for the longest time the criminal’s stealth remained unmatched. Many began wondering if the thrasher was in fact a man or a supernatural power vanishing before being caught by mortal humans.

Art by Gwendal Uguen/Flickr

Eventually, two men were caught—a man with an accomplice—but the record of their trial was lost to the ravages of time. This meant that the public still remained, and has remained, in a shadow of doubt about the existence and indictment of the real Whipping Tom. The episodes left a deep scar on the minds of the people, and in 1681 a booklet called ‘Whipping Tom Brought to Light and Exposed to View’ was authored by Edward Brooks giving a detailed account of the shenanigans of Whipping Tom and the experience of the women who fell victim to him. This booklet was one of the first printed mentions of the strange sexual assaulter. Interestingly though, it referred to the perpetrator as similar to another Whipping Tom, who was known to have tormented the ladies some nine years prior in 1672.

# The Yale Center ‘Panorama’


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