Today we continue our look at the locations in the East End of London that featured in the Jack the Ripper story with a look along Whitechapel High Street.
Not, only is Whitechapel High Street and important location, as far as ripper locations go, but it is also the street where are nightly Jack the Ripper tour begins everyday at 7pm.
Three of the Whitechapel murders took place in thoroughfares leading of the High Street, those of Emma Smith, Martha Tabram and Alice McKenzie, so, when it comes to this particular series of crimes it is, in many ways, and important destination for any student of the ripperology.
The above photograph looks across Whietchapel High Street from the starting point of our walking tour. Many of the buildings in the right of the photo have long since vanished, in many cases demolished to make way for the Whitechapel Gallery.
However, if you look closely at the building, more or less, across from the horse drawn bus and obelisk in the centre of the road you can just about make out a passageway that runs between the buildings. This passageway was the entrance into George Yard and it still survives today. Indeed, the building to the left of the passageway is the White Hart Pub, still going strong despite the passage of over a hundred and twenty six years.
Here is a photograph of that same entrance as it appears today.
The name, George Yard, on the other hand, no longer exists, as the thoroughfare into which the passageway leads is now called Gunthorpe Street.
Notwithstanding the name change, the modern Gunthorpe Street still possesses a somewhat sinister ambience, and the fact that it is still a cobble-stoned thoroughfare helps give it a decidedly Victorian feel.
The following photograph shows it in 1890, two years after the murder of Martha Tabram took place at its northern end in early August 1888.
As you step into Gunthorpe Street you pass,on the left, a building on the upper storey of which is emblazoned the year in which it was built – 1886.
Today this block has been converted in to flats, but in 1888 this was being run by George Holland as an educational and community centre for the girls of the area. Indeed, at the height of the ripper panic, George Holland petitioned the local council for permission to create a direct access from Whitechapel High Street into the building, as many of his girls were terrified to walk the short distance along George Yard for fear of falling victim to Jack the Ripper.
Much of Whitechapel has been modernised and, in some of the 21st century thoroughfares, it can prove extremely difficult to get an idea of what the streets and passageways were like at the time of the ripper crimes.
But, as the above photographs show, there are little pockets of the past that have survived and, when you chance upon them, you really do get a feel for the Victorian East End and, despite the passage of over 126 years, walking along them on a dark winter’s night can still elicit cold shivers!
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It is an intriguing past time to look at the old photographs of Jack the Ripper’s London and compare the streets as they were in 1888, at the time of the crimes, to how they appear today.
Some of the streets have changed beyond recognition whilst, with others, it is still possible to hold a photograph of a particular location, showing it as it was at the time of the Whitechapel Murders, and recognise local landmarks and features that are still there today.
A wonderful example of this is Commercial Street.
A well known old photograph of this busy East London thoroughfare shows it as a traffic clogged and very busy street. Today, it is still a busy and traffic clogged, albeit the type of traffic has changed from the horse drawn variety to the horse powered variety!
It is still possible to stand on the exact spot from which this photograph as taken and recognise many of the buildings that appear in the picture, despite the passage of over 110 years.
Look, for example, to the far right of the photograph. There in the distance is, nestling in that corner, is the Ten bells Pub. It is still going strong today and still slaking the thirsts of the locals.
Look to the right of the pub and there is Fournier Street, with the exact same houses that you can see in the photograph still standing today.
Now let your eyes drift across to the opposite side of the road from the pub.
The arch that you can see, almost directly opposite, is Spitalfields Market, which had opened in 1887, the year before the ripper murders, in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It is now no longer the produce market that it was in 1888 but it is still an active market trading in all manner of crafts and bric-à-brac.
Now move to the left side of the foreground of the photograph where you can see the sign on the wall with writing on it.
This is the corner of Dorset Street where Mary Kelly, who many believe was the last of Jack the Ripper’s victims, lived and was murdered.
The pub that you see on the corner is the Britannia, which, sadly, no longer exists, but which featured extensively in the story of the Jack the Ripper murders.
Yet, you can sense its lurking presence, hiding away in the far right corner just before the Ten Bells Pub.
It dominated the area back in 1888 and its soaring white bulk still dominates the district today, almost acting as a conduit that connects our age with the London of the late 19th century.
The photograph to the right shows it as it is today. It is safe to say that its appearance has changed little, if at all, since the autumn of 1888 when the ripper murders were going on around it.
What you can see in this photograph, which was taken by photographer Sean East, are several items of street furniture that have, most certainly, survived from 1888 and which provide a tantalising glimpse of the everyday comings and goings on the street on which they stand.
Look, for example, down at the right corner of the photograph where you can see a Victorian horse trough from which the horses that you can see in the black and white photograph would have drunk.
Behind that you can see an obelisk on which you can make out the basin of the drinking fountain that would have slaked the thirsts of human wanderers on Commercial Street.
Although you can’t see it in our photograph, the bracket of an old Victorian gas lamp is still visible on this obelisk, just another item that has survived for the 126 years that have elapsed between our age and the days when the Jack the Ripper murders were bringing terror and panic to the streets that surrounded this spot.
This is one of the rewards of exploring the East End of London today. So many items and buildings, that can be easily missed, come into view when you really start to look at the area as opposed to just hurry through it.
So, if you live in London, or you are planning to visit London, why not head to Commercial Street (it’s closest Underground is Aldgate East) locate the spot from which the black and white photograph was taken, and allow your imagination to transport you back to the busy, noisy and horse-clogged thoroughfare of the past when it found itself at the epicentre of history’s most infamous series of unsolved crimes?Posted in General News Comments Off
Walking the streets of the East End of London today is an intriguing experience, despite the fact that the area has changed and awful lot in the last 126 years.
It is intriguing because there are little pockets of the area that have survived the march of time and progress and which are still much as they were in 1888 when Jack the Ripper was on the prowl.
Indeed, as someone who has been exploring the East End since the late 1970′s, and who has, therefore, witnessed the huge amount of change that has taken place in the district during the period I have known it, I can honestly say that I still get a thrill when I venture away from the busy main roads, as we do on our nightly tour of the Whitechapel Murder sites, and stray into these little segments from which the past has yet to depart.
I still find the journey through the dark arch that leads from Whitechapel High Street into Gunthorpe Street a truly chilling experience. In just a few short steps you find yourself going from the rush of the traffic clogged 21st century streets and entering a World that is so reminiscent of the 19th century that it wouldn’t come as a great surprise were Jack the Ripper to leap from the shadows and scare the life out of you!
Then there is that wonderful knot of streets that consists of Princelet Street, Fournier Street and Wilkes Street. Everyone who joins our Jack the Ripper guided walks experience comments on how they consider those streets to be just like the streets of Victorian London would have been. On winter nights many of the houses still have blazing fires going in their fireplaces, and the resultant smell of the smoke that permeates the air outside, on the streets along which we walk, really does add to the feeling that these streets exist in a time warp.
Further down Whitechapel Road, you have a whole segment of streets that nestle behind the Royal London Hospital that are lined by little terraced houses most of which survive from 1888. Wandering along them at any time of the day, or night, is like slipping back through 126 years.
Just behind Whitechapel Underground Station is a street that is currently being carved up by the building of the Crossrail Whitechapel Station. This is Durward Street and, in 1888, it was Buck’s Row, the location of the first Jack the Ripper Murder, that of Mary Nichols on August 31st 1888. This murder, and it’s location, has recently re-entered the annals of ripper history with the name of yet another suspect, Charles Allen Lechmere.
Whether or not the case against him as a suspect is a strong one, the location where the murder occurred still has a striking remnant from that long ago night in that the old Board School Building still stands, albeit it is now flats. Yet it was in the shadow of this building that Mary “Polly” Nichols was slain by the ripper, whoever he may have been.
Elsehwere, you can still walk along Pinchin Street where the Torso of a woman was found in September 1889. Although the surrounding streets aren’t exactly as they were at the time of the discovery, the railway arch under which the torso was found is still there and it still has a sinister ambience to it, especially on a dark winter’s night.
Our guide, Philip Hutchinson, has made a short video that shows Pinchin Street as it is today.
The great thing about each of these locations is that it is possible to walk around them in less than an hour. So, if you are going to join us for a Jack the Ripper walk, why not arrive in the area a little earlier and immerse yourself in these old locations where you still get the feel that the ripper could easily be lurking in the dark and sinister shadows!Posted in General News Comments Off
One of the intriguing things about our Jack the Ripper Tour is that many of those who join us for a walk around the various sites and locations connected with the Whitechapel Murders have a terrific amount of personal knowledge about the crimes. In fact, we like to describe ourselves as the tour led by experts for experts!
Our tour tends to attract, and is conducted for, the type of person who is not seeking the gimmicky type of tourist trap that so many organisations now offer.
Our clients tend to be knowledgeable about the subject and they, therefore, want to discuss aspects of it with an expert guide who can, not only field and answer their questions, but who is also able to hold an intelligent conversation about a case that has been fascinating and baffling people for over 126 years.
Indeed we like to think of ourselves as, very much, the thinking persons Jack the Ripper Walk. So, when you join us for the tour, you will be in the company of a guide who knows the subject inside out and who is, therefore, not only able to give you a great insight into the case, but is also able to conduct the walk in a way that involves every participant and, effectively, unites every member of the group in a concerted effort to hunt down Jack the Ripper.
Many of our clients have a great deal of knowledge about the ripper case and are looking for a tour that can enhance that knowledge.
They don’t want to just be shown the various locations, but rather they want to be able to discuss their opinions on the case with a guide who actually knows what they are talking about. And, with our guides, they get just that.
After all our guides are internationally recognised as amongst the World’s leading experts on the case and have, between them, written 10 best selling and acclaimed books on the mystery.
In addition, you will have seen them on almost every Jack the Ripper television documentary that has screened over the last 20 years.
But, they are also guides who are so conversant with their subject that they are able to turn each walk into a genuine experience whereby the participants on the tour are as involved as the guide. We’re not one of those tours that talks at you, we’re a tour that talks with you.
Why do we do this?
Well, when it comes to Jack the Ripper, everybody is an expert.
The great thing about the case is that, since it was never – officially – solved everyone’s opinion counts. Indeed, it is our belief that open discussion about the ripper murders is probably the only way that the case is going to be solved, if, of course, there is any chance of solving it at all!
So, when you join us for the walking tour through the mean streets of the ripper’s London, you will become part of the experience and can contribute as much, or as little, as you like.
You can get an idea for the way we operate by joining our Facebook Community where we encourage people to discuss and debate various aspects of the case.
If you are there to learn about the case, then you will, most certainly, learn all about the ins and outs of the history of the crimes. If, on the other hand, you want to proffer an opinion, share and discuss what you know about the mystery, you are most welcome to do so, and your guide will be able to discuss it with you in depth.
That’s why it is important to ensure that, when it come to choosing who you wish to go with, from the veritable plethora of Jack the Ripper tours on offer, you choose a company that is able to provide the real deal and that is able to front their tour with published authors and experts on the case.
And, that is exactly what we offer.
Our walks takes place seven chilling nights a week. You can book your places here.
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One of the big questions that all ripper enthusiasts, investigators and researchers, will, sooner or later, need to answer is – what became of Jack the Ripper?
The fact that the perpetrator of the Whitechapel Murders was never brought to book and charged with the crimes, leaves a huge mystery that has baffled professional and amateur detectives in equal measure over the course of the last 126 years.
Of course, before you can even attempt to answer the question of what became of him, you must first tackle the question of when exactly his killing spree ended.
Although most researchers would tell you that Mary Kelly was the last of Jack the Ripper’s victims it is not quite that simple. The Whitechapel Murders continued for several years after the murder of Mary Kelly on the 9th November 1888 and, whereas several of the later crimes almost certainly weren’t the work of Jack the Ripper, others – such as Alice Mackenzie and Frances Coles to bear similarities to the canonical five murders and so may well have been the work of the ripper.
Why should that be important in establishing what happened to Jack the Ripper?
Well, if you draw a line after the murder of Mary Kelly then you can look at certain suspects and say exactly what did happen to him. However, if you accept, as several police officers at the time did, that some of the later murders were the work of the same hand that slew the canonical five victims, then it rules out some of those suspects and still leaves us with a mystery as to what exactly happened to him.
The major suspect who would be incriminated if Mary Kelly was the last of his victims, and about whom we could say exactly what happened to him, is Montague John Druitt, who was the favoured suspect of Melville Macnaghten.
Druitt committed suicide at the end of November 1888 (his body was fished out of the Thames at Chiswick on the last day of the year) and, according to Macnaghten, his own family suspected him of being the perpetrator of the heinous crimes in the East End of London.
So, if Macnaghten is to be believed, the murders came to an end because the man responsible ended his life because his mind gave way after the awful glut in Miller’s Court when Mary Kelly was murdered.
But, if any of the later murders were the work of Jack the Ripper, then Druitt is ruled out as a suspect and we find ourselves back at square one.
As any one who has dedicated time to researching these murders will attest, the case is riddled with problems such as this. You take a step forward in identifying him when some inconvenient fact or truth turns up that results in you having to take two steps back!
However, whether Druitt was the ripper or not, his case at least illustrates one possible fate for the killer that we now know as Jack the Ripper and that is that, the murders came to an end because the perpetrator died, either by his own hand, or from natural causes.
Another possibility, that has oft been considered, is that he was living with family members who, realising that he was the man responsible, had him incarcerated in an asylum where the secret of his true identity was hidden from all but a few close relatives.
By the same token, he may have been identified by the authorities, found to be hopelessly insane, and confined to an asylum for the remainder of his days. Two of the suspects Aaron Kosminski and Thomas Cutbush fall in to this latter category.
The third possibility is that the killer left London, or even England, shortly after the last murder and continued his killing spree without the connection being made. This one is highly unlikely as the murders were reported all over the World and many foreign police forces were on the look out for the arrival of the ripper in their midst. So, if he did continue murdering elsewhere and in the same fashion, the connection would most certainly have been made.However, of the major suspects in the case, the one that did leave the country shortly after the murder of Mary Kelly was Dr. Francis Tumblety.
There is a further possibility that the killer simply got tired of murdering and, therefore, retired, having sated his appetite for bloodshed and mayhem in the tiny room in Miller’s Court on 9th November 1888 , with the murder of Mary Kelly. This is, again, a highly unlikely scenario since serial killers such as this may remain dormant for several years, but they rarely give up unless circumstances intervene that force them to end their killing sprees.
Which brings us to our final possibility. That the murders were ended because the police, contrary to popular opinion, did indeed get their man and Jack the Ripper was caught.
Now, if this was the case, there’s a chance that they might not have realised that they had caught their prey. Suppose, for example, that he was arrested for a different crime, unrelated to the Whitechapel Murders and sent to prison for the remainder of his days where his secret died with him?
Suppose also, that he was sent to prison, released after a period of time, say 20 years, and he carried out further murders that were not seen as being connected to the killing spree of 1888?
Finally, there is every possibility that the police caught Jack the Ripper himself, knew they had their man, but were unable prosecute him for lack of evidence. This is what, according to Robert Anderson and Donald Swanson – the two highest ranking police officials on the ripper case – happened with Aaron Kosminski.
No matter which scenario you favour, however, one fact is certain, something happened to Jack the Ripper that ended the murders. Whether that something happened in the wake of the murder of Mary Kelly on the 9th of November 1888, or in the wake of the murder of Frances Coles on the 13th February 1891 is the mystery that needs to be pondered in order to decide what may have happened to Jack the Ripper.
And today, 126 years after the onslaught of the Whitechapel Murders, we’re probably no nearer to knowing what happened to the killer, than the police , press and public were back in 1888.
Or are we?
Perhaps, we’ve known what it was that happened to him all along but, overwhelmed, by the veritable tsunami of information that continues to pour forth on the case, we simply can’t see the solution for looking!
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Well, it is the 31st October and Halloween is upon us again.
The night when the Celts believed that the veil between this World and the next was at its thinnest, so the night when it is possible for the dead to cross the boundary and walk the earth once more as spirits.
Of course, in London we have a long history of brutality and dark deeds that have resulted in many restless revenants returning from beyond the grave, brought back by all types of slights, tragedies and, of course murders.
Indeed, on the eastern fringe of the City of London you will find the Tower of London, which must be one of most haunted buildings in Britain, if not the whole World.
Since its erection by William of Normandy in the wake of his invasion of 1066, the Tower of London has witnessed so many acts of cruelty, infamy and brutality that its history, it might be said, is, quite literally, written in blood.
Two of Henry V111′s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were beheaded inside it. The little Prince, Richard and Edward disappeared, and were probably murdered, whilst residing within its imposing walls at some time around 1483. Guy Fawkes was tortured here in the wake of the Gunpowder plot (still remembered every 5th November with the burning of his effigy on bonfires around the country). The Countess of Salisbury, a spirited old lady who refused to place her head on the executioners block when told to do so by her executioner, was, literally hacked to death here in one of the most shameful episodes in the Towers’s bloody history. The list goes on and on, and the majority of these aforementioned names from history are still said to roam the Tower as ghosts.
The there is 50 Berkeley Square, a location that for many years laboured under the enviable sobriquet of “The Most Haunted House in London.” One of its upstairs rooms was, so people were once assured, the domain of something so hideous and so terrifying that few who saw it ever survived their encounter, and those that did were rendered insane by coming face to face with whatever it was.
Nowadays the building is home to Maggs Bros, Antiquarian booksellers and the haunted room is now their accounts department! But, from time to time, a grey funnel of mist is known to hover over the desk in the rooms, and a little girl in a plaid dress is said to come skipping down the stairs to greet some of those who cross the threshold of this old, and very haunted, house.
Each Halloween, our Jack the Ripper guided walking tour sets out onto the streets of the East End to follow in the footsteps of an unknown man whose reign of terror added greatly to London’s reputation for bloodshed and mayhem.
Several of the sites where the murders occurred are said to be haunted.
In Buck’s Row, where the body of Mary Nichols was discovered, on 31st August 1888, the outline of the body of this particular victim is said to appear on the ground close to where her took place.
Albeit, at the moment, the construction of Crossrail’s Whitechapel Station has made it something of a restricted site, and getting anywhere near it is something of a squeeze, if not nigh on impossible!
In Mitre Square, where the murder of Catherine Eddowes took place, on August 31st 1888, – and whose shawl is at the centre of the recent DNA evidence that supposedly “proves” the guilt of major suspect Aaron Kosminski – the cobblestones are reputed to glow red at midnight on the anniversary of her murder.
Over in Hanbury Street, scene of the murder of Annie Chapman, Jack the Ripper’s second victim, who was murdered on the 8th September 1888, several of the offices of the former Truman Brewery, that now occupies the site of 29 Hanbury Street where her murder occurred, are said to become icy cold on the anniversary of her slaying.
And finally, close by, the Ten bells Pub, at the junction of Fournier Street and Commercial Street is haunted by all sorts of strange and inexplicable happenings which have placed it up there in the short list of the most haunted pubs in London.
Speaking of which, if you ant to pay a visit to a haunted pub today, then head over to the Viaduct tavern on Newgate Street. Its cellars are the haunt of something decidedly sinister and, in the 1990′s, a number of landlords found the ghost to be so irritating with its habit of moving things around, that they quit there job rather than endure the attentions of Fred any further! You can, if the pub is not too busy, you buy a drink, and you ask very nicely, descend to the pub’s cellars, which is where much of the ghostly activity appears to emanate from.
Across the road from the pub is the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court) where you can, if you wish attend criminal trial and witness the spectacle of English Justice at its best, or worst, depending on how you view these things.
The Old Bailey stands on the site of Newgate Prison and, it was in the Square, that still exists in front of the courthouse, that the executions were carried out in public between 1763 and 1868. These were always hugely popular and as many as 20,000 spectators would cram into the square to watch the felons plunge to their deaths with the hangman’s noose tied firmly around their necks.
A short walk from the Old bailey will bring you to London’s oldest parish church, the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, which dates from 1123, and which is haunted by the ghostly form of the monk who founded it, Rahere. You’ll know he’s around when the air suddenly begins to get cold.
It was in the square outside the church, now West Smithfield, that many of those who were executed in the reign of Mary Tudor, were put to death by fire. It was also in this square that the Scottish Patriot, Sir William Wallace, was hanged, drawn and quartered on the 23rd August 1305.
Needles to say, this square is also haunted, and some who work in the surrounding area at night say that, from time to time they hear agonised screams carried upon the night breezes, and they smell a smell “not unlike” the smell of burning flesh.
As you can see, London has more than its fair share of ghosts, many of them the result of the bloodthirsty and, decidedly, horrible history that the City has witnesses.
So, if you are looking for a ghostly place or two to head for over the Halloween weekend, you have more than enough locations to choose from. And, they are as varied a bunch of spooky locations as you could ever wish to find.
And, who knows, if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, or, as some might say, if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might well encounter a former resident of the City who might well come gliding towards you, arms extended in greeting, to welcome you to the streets of haunted London. Cheers and Chills for this Halloween.
Till next year.Posted in General News Comments Off
It always seems strange to me when I read on line that none of Jack the Ripper’s London has survived. I couldn’t disagree more. But, when all is said and done, I suppose that it all boils down to what exactly you consider that elusive little something called Jack the Ripper’s London actually is.
If you think of it as just being the murder sites where hi crimes occurred then yes nothing has survived, albeit some of the locations on which the killings occurred still do have a sinister feel to them.
But, there is more to the mystery of the Whitechapel murders than just the sites.
For example, there are the houses where the people dwelt who were forced to live through the horror of the crimes. Many of these have survived and are still as atmospheric today as they were in 1888.
Take the little knot of East End thoroughfares comprised Wilkes Street, Fournier Street and Princelet Street. These are still much as they were in 1888 and, especially in the winter months when the fires are lit inside the houses, to walk along them is to get the distinct impression that you’ve somehow been transported back to late Victorian London. Indeed, the moment our tour turns into one of these wonderful old streets, there is often a collective, and sharp, intake of breath from the participants when they are confronted by the rows of sturdy 18th century properties that belong to a bygone age.
Then there’s the Old Frying Pan Pub at the junction of Thrawl Street and Brick Lane.
The building is now the Sheraz Indian Restaurant and, at first glance, you might not even realise that it has any connection with the ripper mystery.
Yet, if you crane your neck and look up, a true surprise awaits you. For, high upon its gable are a pair of crossed frying pans and over them the legend Ye Frying Pan. This was the pub in which Mary Nichols, the first of Jack the Ripper’s victims, drank away her doss money prior to her viscous murder on August 31st 1888.
Speaking of pubs, at the junction of Fournier Street and Commercial Streets the Ten bells Pub is still going strong.
It is a truly atmospheric ambience and is still much as it was when the local community congregated here to discuss, argue over and try to forget the waking nightmare of the Whitechapel atrocities.
Further along Commercial Street, at its junction with Wentworth Street,is the former Princess Alice Pub, in the vicinity of which an early ripper suspect known as “Leather Apron” was said to lurk, waiting to accost the local street walkers and demand money from them.
A short distance away, on Goulston Street, you will find the Happy Days Fish and Chip shop, which occupies a ground floor premises of the former Wentworth Model Dwellings. It was in the doorway, that is now their take away counter, that Jack the Ripper deposited the bloodstained piece of Catherine Eddowes apron in the early hours of the 30th September 1888 and where the message “The Juwes are the men who will not be blamed for nothing” was found scrawled in chalk on the wall.
When we set out on our nightly tour of Jack the Ripper’s haunts we immediately pass beneath an old, and decidedly sinister arch that leads onto the wonderfully atmospheric, and slightly sinister Gunthorpe Street.
In 1888 this was George Yard and it was along this, still cobbled, thoroughfare that Martha Tabram walked on the 8th August 1888.
Her body was found at the top of George Yard on the first floor landing of an apartment block. Some hold that she was the very first of Jack the Ripper’s victims.
As you walk along modern day Gunthorpe Street you pass another block on the left that has the date of its construction, 1886, emblazoned on its upper storey, which means that Martha Tabram would, most certainly have walked passed this very building, possibly in the company of Jack the Ripper himself.
Speaking of looking up. If you make your way to Whitechapel Station, exit it, cross to the traffic lights directly outside turn and look up at the building to the right of the station entrance, you’ll make out the faded name Working Lads Institute. This is another survivor from 1888, as it was here that the inquests into the deaths of several of the Whitechapel Murders victims were held.
Behind the station you will find Durward Street, which in 1888 was called Buck’s Row. It was here that Mary Nichols was murdered on 31st August 1888. There is a massive amount of construction going on here at the moment as they’re building the new Whitechapel Crossrail station here.
But still clearly visible is the old Board School, now converted into flats, in the shadow of which the body of Mary Nichols was discovered by Charles Cross and Robert Paul as they made their way to work along here that fateful day 126 years ago.
Across the road from Whitechapel Stati
on is the Royal London Hospital.
It was here that Emma Smith, who is the first name to appear on the collective Whitechapel Murders file, died in April 1888.
She had been attacked by a gang at the nearby junction of Wentworth Street, Brick Lane and Osborne Street and had been brought to the hospital by her fellow lodgers.
In St Philip’s Church, on Newark Street, just behind the hospital, you will find the Museum which tells the story of the Royal London Hospital. There is also a display featuring artefacts on the Jack the Ripper murders, including a facsimile of the infamous From Hell letter, which was sent to Mr George Lusk in October 1888. The Museum, incidentally, is open to the public free of charge from Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 4.30pm.
All these are part of Jack the Ripper’s London and it is possible to walk around them all in a few hours.
So, next time somebody tells you that there’s nothing left of Jack the Ripper’s London, just give them a sage nod and say “oh, it’s most certainly there, if you know where to look.”
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Looking at the press coverage into the Whitechapel Murders over the period from late September to early October, it is interesting to read the letters pages of the various papers as they reveal the public preoccupation with the killings and the many ways being suggested that might result in the perpetrators apprehension.
A Mr. Archibald Forbes, for example, suggested that the murderer was evidently suffering from a “specific contagion” and was avenging himself on the prostitutes responsible for infecting him. Mr Forbes also suggested that, since the recent murders had, evidently, demonstrated a knowledge of anatomy, then it was highly possible that the murderer was a medical student.
Other correspondents were writing in to suggest that the aid of Spiritualists should be utilised in the hunt for the Whitechapel Murderer.
Another wrote in to advance his theory of what he called the “cryptogrammatic dagger.” According to this particular correspondent, he had examined the layout of the locations of the recent Whitechapel murders and had noticed that “lines drawn through the spots where the recent murders were committed assume the exact form of a dagger, the hilt and blade of which pass through the scenes of the sixth (Catherine Eddowes), second (Martha Tabram), first (Emma Smith) and third (Mary Nichols) murders, the extremities of the guard making the fourth (Annie Chapman) and fifth (Elizabeth Stride).” The writer of this particular missive then went on to wonder if, perchance, this could “possibly afford a clue to the position of the next atrocity.”
One of the more intriguing pieces of press correspondence was headlined “The Lunatic of Leavesden” and the writer went on to inform readers that “”twelve months ago an inmate of the lunatic asylum at Leavesden escaped. The local paper warned females against being out at night in the neighbourhood, as this man was dangerous only to women.” The correspondent then went on to pose the question “Where is he?”
The escaped lunatic theory was certainly one that the police were looking in to and it’s also interesting to note that Aaron Kosminski, who was recently named as the latest contender for the title of Jack the Ripper by author Russell Edwards, was later (1891) sent to Leavesden asylum, albeit he is not the person to whom the correspondent is referring.
Then there was the writer who suggested the use of local men in the hunt for the killer. As this particular correspondent observed “Policemen have beards, bass voices, and big feet,” which would make them totally unsuitable for the method of entrapment that the writer was advocating. As he explained, ” Give the pugilists a chance; there are numbers of we;;-trained pugilists in Shoreditch and Whitechapel, who are, many of them young, and, as is the custom in their profession, clean-shaved. Twenty game men of this class in women’s clothes loitering about Whitechapel would have more chance than any number of heavy-footed policemen.”
The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde theory had certainly caught the public imagination by the end of September 1888. Indeed, on the 3rd October 1888, The Daily Telegraph reported on a letter from a “G.C.” who “had a fancy,” so the paper told its readers, that “the perpetrator is a being whose diseased brain has been inflamed by witnessing the performance of the drama of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ – which I understand is now wisely withdrawn from the stage. If there is anything in this, let the detectives consider how Mr. Hyde would have acted – for there may be a system in the demonic actions of a madman in following the pattern set before him.”
However, to my mind at least, the most intriguing letter to adorn the pages of a newspaper, at the time when the Jack the Ripper scare was at its height, was the author who wrote to propound another “Jekyll and Hyde” theory.
According to the author of this particular letter, “Possibly the culprit is an army doctor suffering from sunstroke. He has seen the horrible play, lives in Bayswater or North London, in perhaps a decent square or terrace, dresses well. Goes out about 10 P.M. straight to Whitechapel. Commits deed. Home again to breakfast. Wash, brush-up sleep. Himself again – Dr. Hyde (sic.). Meantime, everybody [is] scouring the scene of the tragedy for the usual type of a murderer.”
So, according to this particular writer, it would appear that the ailment that had sparked the murderous reign of terror that had brought fear and panic to the streets of the East End of London, was brought on by nothing more sinister than the perpetrator, who was otherwise an outwardly respectable, and respected individual, being afflicted by sunstroke!
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By mid-September 1888, the East End of London was on edge, ever fearful that the killer who had committed the recent murders of Martha Tabram, Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman was bound to return and perpetrate another Whitechapel atrocity.
The police were pulling in suspect after suspect, desperate for the elusive find that would give them the breakthrough they so strongly needed. Unfortunately, time after time, promising suspect after promising suspect was able to provide a cast iron alibi and had to be eliminated from the investigation.
With the killer still at large, many newspapers began questioning whether the police were really up to the job of catching the perpetrator of the crimes, whilst some began subjecting the police to an intense barrage of ridicule and criticism.
And then, in the early hours 18th September 1888, it seemed that the breakthrough had finally come.
As PC John Johnson, of the City of London Police, was walking his beat along Minories in the early hours of that morning, a loud scream of “Murder!” suddenly shattered the silence.
The cry had emanated from a notorious trouble spot named Three King’s Court, which was located close to the railway bridge that still spans the road at the Tower of London end of Minories today.
Hurrying in the direction of the scream, Johnson found a man and woman standing close to one of the railway arches. Johnson demanded to know what the man was doing. “Nothing,” came the surly reply.
The woman, who was evidently distressed, begged him “oh policeman do take me out of this,” whereupon Johnson escorted them out of the alley onto Minories and ordered the man to be on his way.
Once the stranger had gone, Johnson turned to the woman to see what other assistance he could render. “Dear me,” she said, “he frightened me very much when he pulled that big knife out.”
We can only imagine Johnson’s shock on hearing that he may well have had the Whitechapel Murderer in his clutches and had let him, quite literally, slip through his fingers!
“Why didn’t you tell me that at the time,” he demanded of the woman. “I was too much frightened,” she replied, coyly.
Johnson carried out a quick search of the area in the direction the man had gone, but to no avail. No doubt it was a very nervous Johnson who walked the remainder of his beat, trying to figure out how he was going to explain what had happened to his superior officers.
However, the crestfallen constable needn’t have worried. For the man had, in fact, made his way over to Whitechapel High Street, where he became involved in a heated altercation with a coffee stall holder and a youth by the name of Alexander Finlay.
Having threatened the stall holder, he pulled out the knife and proceeded to chase Finlay around the stall brandishing it.
A police constable duly arrived at the scene and the man was quickly overpowered and taken into police custody where he was soon identified as a German hairdresser by the name of Charles Ludwig.
It would appear that the police saw Ludwig as a very viable suspect in the recent Whitechapel Murders and, at his subsequent appearance before the local Court, the Magistrate described him as a dangerous character and duly remanded him in custody to give the police the opportunity of carrying out further enquiries.
The investigation into his possible guilt was still ongoing when he next appeared before the magistrate on 25th September 1888, and Inspector Abberline asked that he be remanded again, a wish that the magistrate willingly obliged.
However, five days later, the case against Ludwig would fall apart when, with the German hairdresser, safely under lock and key, the Whitechapel Murderer struck again and claimed two victims in the space of one hour.
For the people of the East End, their autumn of terror was about to get even more horrific.
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One of the stranger things about the Jack the Ripper murders is the amount of folklore that has grown up around the myth of Jack the Ripper over the 126 years since the murders occurred.
By folklore I mean things that have firmly embedded themselves in the public consciousness to the extent they are almost taken as fact by the public at large.
Take, for example, Jack the Ripper’s attire.
Now, if I were to ask you to close your eyes and build up a mental image of what the ripper looked like, the chances are the one that would come most instantly to mind would be that of a top – hatted figure, possibly wearing a swirling cloak, and probably carrying a black Gladstone bag.
However, this image is almost certainly not an accurate one since it is suggestive of a murderer who belonged to the middle to upper classes, whereas Jack himself probably belonged to the lower classes.
When I began doing my Jack the Ripper tour back in 1982, the area through which the walk went was very different than it appears today. Indeed, in the old pubs we used to go into, such as The Frying Pan On Brick lane, it wasn’t uncommon to meet older East End inhabitants who might not have been around at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings but were certainly old enough to remember the fear that the memory of the ripper was able to instil into those who grew up in the area even 30 or 40 years after his murderous reign of terror.
One of the things that still sticks in my mind is the number of these locals whose mother, or grandmother, actually met Jack the Ripper. Indeed, I can remember several of them telling me that their mother’s next door neighbour was almost certainly Jack the Ripper!
But, the most oft repeated urban myth concerning the Whitechapel Murderer is one that has surfaced time and again whenever similar atrocities occur.
The number for times that I would be sitting in an east End pub and an elderly lady would come over to me and tell me how her mother had been walking home one night when she had been stopped by Jack the Ripper.
However, on learning that she was a “good girl” and so not one of the prostitutes, as all his victims were, the ripper allowed her to live and, in several cases, even told her to be careful as she made her way home!
No doubt these stories were told in many an East End home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
But, if you think about it, there must have been people who actually did meet Jack the Ripper and who actually did live next door to him. And if, as is generally believed by experts on the case, the murderer was in fact just an ordinary nobody living in the area, then the parents of some of those people may well have lived next to him!
He may have just been that eccentric chap who everybody thought was a “little bit odd” but otherwise harmless. Until, that is, away from the glare of the neighbours, the voices in his head got to much, and he would pounce and claim another victim.
One thing though is certain, if he had gone out to commit his foul crimes wearing a top hat, trailing a swirling cloak, and clutching his black doctors bag, the neighbours would, most certainly have taken notice, because the image of the ripper so attired had begun fixing itself in the public consciousness as early as the inquest into the death of his second victim, Annie Chapman, who was slaughtered in the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street on 8th September 1888.
So, all those years ago, as I sat in the pub inwardly grinning at what I thought was a preposterous idea that the ripper had lived next door to the mother of the elderly lady I was talking to, I realise now I should have paid more attention and delved a little deeper into this rich mine of local folklore. Because, it was just possible that one of them might have been correct and Jack the Ripper had, indeed, lived next to her mother!Posted in General News Comments Off