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The Whitechapel Murders Have Begun

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By this time in April 1888 the first of what we now know as the Whitechapel Murders had occurred.

Emma Smith had been attacked in the early hours of  the Easter Tuesday of that year and, although she had survived the initial attack, the injuries she sustained were so horrific that she died shortly after.

A hastily convened inquest was held at which Chief Inspector West, a member of the Metropolitan Police’s H Division, in whose jurisdiction the attack had occurred, confessed that the police had almost no knowledge of the attack other than ‘through the daily papers’ and, under instruction from the Coroner, the jury brought in a verdict of wilful murder by person, or persons, unknown.

It transpired that Emma Smith had told several people, including the medic who treated her at the local hospital, that she had been attacked by a gang.

As a result, the local community, who don’t appear to have paid a great deal of attention to her death, attributed  the crime to one of local gangs who were known to be running extortion rackets amongst the prostitutes of the East End and the matter was laid to rest.

Had that been the only murder of a prostitute in the East End of London that year the chances are the name of Emma Smith would have been long forgotten today.

The police filed the crime under the title the Whitechapel Murder and went back to policing the area in much the same way as they had been doing for the previous 20 or so years.

What they could not have known in April 1888, however, was that, within 6 months, the Whitechapel Murder file, was destined to become the Whitechapel Murders file, and that somewhere in the festering slums of the East End of London, a lone assassin was preparing to launch a murderous reign of terror that would leave the police totally humiliated.

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Who Was Jack The Ripper?

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The question we get asked time and time again on our Jack the Ripper walking tour around the streets of the East End of London is “who do you think that Jack the Ripper was?”

We have to adopt a concerned, and confused, look at this point and reply, sagely, that nobody really knows and, sadly, nobody will, in all honesty, ever know who Jack the Ripper was.

The problem is that very little original evidence survives, and that which does survive is, to say the least, somewhat confusing.

All sorts have names have been put forward as suspects ever since the murder spree occurred in the autumn of 1888.

These range from a prominent member of the Royal family, to some very unlikely suspects such as Lewis Carol, the author of Alice’s Adventures  in Wonderland.

Whereas those authors who settle on a particular suspect often put forward convincing cases, they tend to, on the whole, twist the facts to fit their theories as opposed to come up with a convincing and water tight case.

You might think that the solution might well lie in the police files?

The answer to that is that it may have done. But very little of the actual evidence that the police obtained about particular people who may, or may not, have been responsible for the murders has long since vanished from the official records.

So we know that the police at the time favoured particular suspects but, without the evidence that they had to support their suspicions, we can’t, and never will, know why they suspected them, thus making it almost impossible to say with 100% certainty who Jack the Ripper was.

Thus, when people on our Jack the Ripper tour ask us who Jack the Ripper was the only honest, answer that can be given is “I don’t know.”

What we can do, however, is discuss all the theories with you as, when it comes to the mystery of the Whitechapel Murders, our guides are the out and out experts on the case and are up to speed, so to speak, with every twist and turn of the World’s most famous murder mystery.

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Before The Jack TheRipper Tour Starts

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Today John Bennett puts pen to paper, well fingers to keyboard, and tells you what to look out for as you arrive at the start of the walk. 

As you wait for the Jack the Ripper Tour to set off from exit 4 of Aldgate East Underground Station, look over the road and you will see the Whitechapel Art Gallery, founded by Canon Samuel Barnett in 1897 and opened in 1899.

At that time, this was a place that intended to bring an appreciation of the fine arts to the impoverished of the East End.

It quickly became the London art gallery in which to experience the new and avant-garde, a role which it still enjoys to this day. Designed by Charles Harrison Townshend (who was also responsible for the Bishopsgate Institute), its first exhibition featured paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites which attracted over 206,000 local visitors and since then, many internationally acclaimed artists have had their some of their earliest exposure here – Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Howard Hodgkin, the pop artists of the 1960’s to name but a few.

David Hockney, one of the world’s most enduring, prolific and popular artists had his first major retrospective here in 1970.

The old library next door (sadly closed in 2005 and now part of the gallery) was known to some as the ‘university of the ghetto’ and was where many East End Jews found their own education beyond the locally accepted culture of hardship and toil.

The scientist Jacob Bronowski learned English there after emigrating with his family from in 1920. He went on to work on the development of smokeless fuels (‘Bronowski’s Bricks’) and later studied the effects of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki as well as writing and narrating the TV series ‘The Ascent of Man’ in 1973. There is also a blue plaque on the wall dedicated to Isaac Rosenberg, the war poet who studied here and whose body was never retrieved from the Somme during the First World War.

But there is more along this stretch of Whitechapel High Street than just the gallery.

The Burger King nearby was once Bloom’s, the world-famous kosher restaurant, started by Stanley Bloom on Brick Lane in 1920 and which moved to the high street in 1952. Bloom developed a method of pickling salt beef that drew customers from all over the world, attracting numerous celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Cliff Richard and, on one of his trips to London, Frank Sinatra.

Some would come specifically to experience the rudeness of the waiting staff, which was legendary.

Between the White Hart pub and the gallery is a very narrow white building with the date 1900 emblazoned at the top. This was once ‘Ye Olde Angel’ pub, one of many original inns built when Whitechapel High Street was still the main artery out of London to Essex. The 1900 version was closed as a pub during the inter-war years, but the small alleyway beside it, Angel Alley, still bears its name.

Once the haunt of Irish immigrants and peppered with disreputable doss-houses, Angel Alley is home to the anarchist Freedom Bookshop, founded in 1886 and the source of Freedom, the UK’s oldest anarchist newspaper; the shop has operated continuously, despite firebombing by neo-fascist group Combat 18 in 1993 and a more recent arson attack in February 2013.

All that and the tour hasn’t even started yet!

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An East End Ghost Story

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As you finish our Jack the Ripper tour in Mitre Square, chances are you will walk back towards Aldgate Underground Station, passing the church of St Botolph on the way. According to Daniel Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Year (1722), the land next to the church, where Aldgate Station now sits, was the site of a vast plague pit, one of many that were dug beyond the City walls to accommodate the bodies of thousands who died during the great plague of 1665-66. Traces of this pit were found during building work on the station which was opened in 1876.

Perhaps as a result of this, people using the station, especially staff, have reported ghostly footsteps and other unexplained phenomena and such is the regularity of these eerie goings-on that the station has its own journal to record any unusual occurrences. Perhaps the most well-known of these happened in the latter part of the 20th century when a London Underground maintenance man was working on the rails. Unfortunately, he was not aware that the power had not yet been switched off and he received a massive electric shock, believed to be in the region of 20,000 volts! He should have died instantly, but apart from knocking himself unconscious as he fell to the ground, the man survived to tell the tale.

It wasn’t until his colleagues were being questioned about the incident that a most unusual occurrence came to light. According to the witnesses, moments before the accident, they swore blind they had seen the almost transparent figure of an old woman stroking the man’s hair. The identity of the phantom remains a mystery, but did she have any part in saving the engineer?

So, if you are standing on the quiet platforms of Aldgate Underground Station on these cold nights, maybe – just maybe – the echoing footsteps of other passengers walking the platforms may not be all they seem…

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Surely Some Mistake

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Think of a Beatles location in London and you’d probably think of the Abbey Road Pedestrian Crossing. After all, it is, arguably, the World’s most famous pedestrian crossing ever since the fab four, chose it to appear on the cover of the Abbey Road album, showing them, well err, crossing it.

However, there has been a little confusion of late because there is, in fact, and Abbey Road Station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in the East End of London.

A photo of the Abbey Road DLR Station.

The two couldn’t be further removed from each other. Abbey Road DLR exits onto an East End council estate, and those wishing to see the crossing over which John, Paul, George and Ringo, strolled are likely to be a tad disappointed.

That Beatles fans are turning up at the wrong Abbey Road is attested to by the fact that the powers that be at TFL have decided it is now necessary to put fans who have made the journey our East in the hope of seeing the famed crossing, or even having themselves photographed on it right.

The sign that greets Beatles fans who turn up at Abbey Road DLR Station looking for the Beatles famous crossing.

Indeed, the correcting sign itself has now become something of a tourist attraction in its own right and it’s worth popping out to Abbey Road DLR station just to take a look at it.

For those who want to go to the actual crossing incidentally, you need to head to St John’s Wood Station and you’ll find it about five minutes walk away.

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Sir William Gull (1816 – 1890)

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Today sees the first blog by star guide and leading Jack the Ripper researcher Lindsay Siviter.  Lindsay will be reporting weekly about many aspects of the case and also about her work at the Crime Museum at New Scotland Yard. That’s right, we actually have a guide who’s on the inside so to speak, and who really is internationally recognised as one of the World’s leading experts on the Jack the Ripper case.

Lindsay is also the official biographer of leading Jack the Ripper suspect Sir William Gull, so much so that she has even spent time with his descendants, has had access to his papers and, not to put to fine a point on it, is the leading authority on the man who, in many peoples eyes, was responsible for at least some of the Whitechapel Murders.

So, without further ado, I’ll hand you over to the one and only Lindsay Siviter or, as she is for the purposes of her weekly blog “Siv of the Yard.”


By tour guide Lindsay Siviter, Official Biographer of Sir William Gull

Lindsay Siviter and Nicola, who is a descendent of Sir William Gull.

Lindsay Sviter and Nicola, a descendent of Sir William Gull.

On 29th January 1890, the eminent royal physician and famous Jack the Ripper suspect Sir William Withey Gull died at his London residence at 74 Brook Street. He was 73 years old and died from an attack of paralysis caused by a cerebral haemorrhage.

His death certificate informs us this was not his first attack as he had had a stroke in October 1887 while at his house in Scotland in Killiecrankie.

 Though he seemed to get better he soon retired from practice and by April 1888 he was poorly again, being so ill he could not even attend his daughters wedding.

The attack with proved fatal came on the previous Monday morning while Sir William was eating breakfast. He went into an adjoining room and returned pointing to his mouth. His valet helped him to a sitting room where Sir William wrote on a piece of paper “I have no speech” (this piece of paper still exists today in a London medical archive).

The family were at once summoned and the patient received every medical attention but he soon lost consciousness and lingered thus until the following Wednesday (today in 1890) when he quietly passed away in the presence of his friends and family at lunchtime at12.30pm.

There were hundreds of obituaries written for him but a quote from the famous medical journal The Lancet says it all: “A strong man is removed from among us. He rests from his labours”.

Sir William was subsequently buried a week later in his home parish of Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex.

He became famous as ripper suspect in 1976 when author Stephen Knight claimed his involvement in his book The Final Solution. Subsequent films including “From Hell” have also accused this eminent doctor.

If you would like to hear the latest on Sir William Gull then you can join Lindsay for her walking tour around Jack the Ripper’s London


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Introducing Siv of the Yard

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Tomorrow sees the first blog by leading tour guide Lindsay Sviter who has written a great article on major Jack the Ripper suspect Sir William Gull.

Lindsay has been studying the case since she was ten years old and has contributed a huge amount to the field of ripper studies, so we are really pleased, and lucky, to have her on board as one of our star guides.

But Lindsay’s “other” life sees her making her way to the depths of Scotland Yard where she works at the Crime Museum. This means she is as up to date as it is possible to be on, not just the Jack the Ripper case, but also on the history of crime in London.

Lindsay Siviter and Nicola, who is a descendent of Sir William Gull.

Lindsay Sviter and Nicola, a descendent of Sir William Gull.

That is the key to our standing as the expert led Jack the Ripper tours. Our guides are internationally recognised as leading authorities on the case, and they get more mentions in that Bible of Ripper studies The A – Z.

The thing is that our guides are passionate about the subject and what you will hear on our walks is the culmination of years of original research that hasn’t involved, as is the case with most London walks guides, them just reading a couple of books on the subject.

These guides actually wrote the books that other guides read to prepare their walks. 

And, whereas that to us is incredibly flattering, to you, the client, it gives you a choice. You can either join a Jack the Ripper Tour guide who had read a boo, or you can join the Jack the Ripper guides that wrote the books.

Which brings me back to Lindsay. Her knew blog is going to be entitled “Siv of the Yard” and it will be a look at, not just the ripper case, but will also be a look at other cases, plus snippets of interesting information she comes across in her “other” life at the Metropolitan Police Crime Museum.

It’s going to be a real eye opener and we’re really excited about it.

So tune in tomorrow morning to read the first post by the one and only “Siv of the yard.”

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Celebrity Spotting On The Jack the Ripper Tour

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Today’s blog is by internationally renowned Jack the Ripper expert Philip Hutchinson who will tell you about some of the celebrities he has encountered whilst in the process of conducting his Jack the Ripper Walk.  Take it away Philip!

As a Ripper guide, it is always with mixed feelings that I see famous people passing the group when taking folk around the Ripper District.

I see the artists Gilbert and George all the time. As most people don’t know who they are, they don’t attract much attention.

To the majority of the group, they are two middle-aged executives wearing similar suits.

Tracey Emin used to live on our walking route, but I never saw her.

Pete Docherty and Boy George are both known to frequent nearby Spitalfields Market, but I’ve never seen them either (and a little-known fact is that Boy George, in recent years, ran his own store from The Clerk’s House in Shoreditch High Street – a building which has direct links with the funeral of Ripper victim Mary Jane Kelly).

Why does it have to be school groups, themselves difficult enough to retain focus, when the famous people pass by?

Several times a month we will be passing Puma Court or Princelet Street and there will be a film crew making a period drama or documentary on the spot (I’ve done several documentaries in both streets myself).

Never a famous face, though.

However, a few years ago the staff of one school and myself almost lost the group when they all went running down Fashion Street (off Brick Lane) following one of the cast of The In-Betweeners.

Only a couple of weeks ago, a school group burst into squealing hysteria as Russell Brand cycled past us in Mitre Square (in his own way, recreating the time ten years ago when I was with a group outside The Ten Bells, a bicycle bell rang, and a man cycled through the group, smiling and waving and naked as the day he was born).

I’ve also had groups distracted by Green Day passing us in Hanbury Street (I later found out they were taking a tour with Richard Jones) and one tour totally disrupted as we had to take a different route because Pink was shooting a music video down one of the streets connected to the Ripper story.

George Galloway once passed by the group on an open-top bus, canvassing for the upcoming elections. The curious thing was, at that moment, Jonty (one of the more famous members of the public to enter the Big Brother House) was in my group.

I felt they should have exchanged opinions on their time inside.

The biggest celebrities, though? That has to be members of the families directly connected to the case.

I’ve taken descendants of both Polly Nichols and Catherine Eddowes on the tours, as well as relatives of PC Edward Watkins, who discovered Catherine’s body in Mitre Square. They told me they had family photographs of him in their attic. I gave them my card, asking them to contact me, but – sadly – never heard from them again.

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Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein

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Today we welcome back the author and broadcaster John Bennett who has discovered a fascinating link between the Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein. Do tell John!

For many people, the figure of Jack the Ripper is one of the great bogeymen of horror, such as Sweeney Todd and Count Dracula, but did you know he has a close connection with one particular horror classic? Annie Chapman was brutally murdered in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, on the morning of 8 September 1888 and was the Whitechapel murder which truly started the mass panic and sensational reporting that surrounded the crimes. And it is in Hanbury Street that our connection with a most famous figure of horror fiction and film presents itself.

Hanbury Street was originally known as Browne’s Lane after a local landowner and many of the original 18th century houses still stand on the south side, opposite the bland wall of the former brewery of Truman Hanbury and Buxton. The houses on the north side, including No.29, were demolished to make way for this unimaginative building in 1970. Back in 1756, the owner of 27 Browne’s Lane, Granville Wheler, granted a lease to one Edward Wollstonecraft of Primrose Street, Bishopsgate, who went about rebuilding the house for himself. Three years later, his daughter Mary was born there. Browne’s Lane was renamed Hanbury Street, after the brewer, in 1876.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a remarkable woman for her time; a writer and philosopher, her best-known work being ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), which later led her to be considered as an important early figure in the establishment of equality for women. Mary’s life was interesting to say the least – she lived in France during the time of the revolution and whilst there gave birth to her first child, Fanny, from her relationship with American diplomat and adventurer Gilbert Imlay. France soon proved too dangerous for them and they returned to London in 1795, by which time Mary and Imlay had broken up. Mary was distraught and attempted suicide on two occasions.

Despite this, she soon took up with William Godwin and their relationship was a passionate one and resulted in the birth of another daughter, Mary, on 30 August 1797. Unfortunately Mary Wollstonecraft took ill following complications with the birth and died eleven days later. Godwin took it upon himself to bring up both children, infusing them with a love of culture and literature and young Mary became a writer herself, generating a considerable output and through her literary connections met and fell in love with Percy Shelley; they married in 1816. That year, they went on a trip to Geneva with Shelley’s friend Lord Byron, and owing to inclement weather, spent many a night inventing ghost stories to while away the time. Mary was frequently asked if she had thought of any, and thinking that science was already disproving the existence of ghosts, came up with the idea of a reanimated corpse:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world…”

What was intended to be a short story became a full-blown novel, published in 1818 as Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus.


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The Jack The Ripper Experts

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There are several things that our clients love about our Jack the Ripper Walking Tour of London’s East End.

Firstly, we are not like the Tower Hill Cattle drive tours that cram as many people as possible onto one walk and then herd them around the streets in an unsightly scrum that is so large the guides often have to resort to using amplifiers just to be heard.

This, in turn, is causing no end of disruption to local residents to the extent that Tower Hamlets Council have recently got involved and are in the process of looking at ways of reigning in these disruptive cattle drive walks.

We’ve never had any problems in this respect since we limit the size of our tours to a sensible and manageable number, which is the reason we ask you to book for the tour. We’v never agreed, nor have we wanted to be a part of the pile ‘em high, only take cash, herd ‘em round school of Jack the Ripper walks.

That’s why we have always operated a booking system on our tours. That way we can keep our group numbers manageable and everyone’s a winner. Those who live in the area get an undisturbed evening. Tower Hamlets Council don’t get bombarded with complaints about the noise and disruption. The guide doesn’t have to shout to be heard, or have to use an amplifier. And, most important of all, you, the client, get a more intimate tour where you can interact with your guide and fellow walkers and are not left struggling to hear and keep up. 

But we also are different when it comes to the credentials of our guides. We are the only Jack the Ripper Tour to be consistently led by the acknowledged experts on the subject, published authors who have been publishing their findings on the case for the best part of thirty years. In fact, we don’t offer just one internationally renowned  expert on the case. We offer four of them.

Philip Hutchinson, John Bennett, Lindsay Siviter and Richard Jones have, between them, written eight books on the Jack the Ripper mystery and on East End history in general.

Alan Drake, is a BAFTA nominated actor who starred alongside Simon Pegg in A Fantastic Fear of Everything, he even took Simon Pegg around on his own private Jack the Ripper guided walk!

Speaking of celebrities, Richard Jones has also taken Joan Rivers, Green Day, Vic Reeves and Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson round on tours as well. John Bennett even took around the descendants of Charles Dickens on a private walk. So you might say we’re internationally and historically recognised as the go to experts!

Our guides have been guest speakers at almost every Jack the Ripper conference worldwide in the course of the last 20 years. We still remain the only one of the London walks to have produced our own acclaimed drama/documentary on the case “Unmasking Jack the Ripper”, which journals such as Ripper Notes and Ripperologist have hailed as one of the best - “if not the best” – ripper documentary of recent years.

John Bennett co-wrote the Channel Five documentary Jack the Ripper The Definitive Story, which featured expert interviews with Philip, Lindsay and Richard. And lest we be accused of showing favouritism in this regard, it is worth mentioning that almost every Jack the Ripper documentary of the last twenty years has featured interviews with Lindsay, Philip and Richard, for one reason and one reason only – they have long been considered the go to experts when it comes to the history of Jack the Ripper.

Richard even appears on the DVD The Making of From Hell, featuring alongside Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

And, finally, there is the little matter of  our mentions in the A to Z of Jack the Ripper, the book that has been hailed as “the bible of Ripper studies.”

To be singled out for a mention in its pages you have to be the real deal, a true and acknowledged expert on the case. Well, we receive not one, not two but four separate mentions in its pages. That’s right, both Richard Jones and Philip Hutchinson are singled out by the authors as being only a tiny number of Jack the Ripper guides worth taking a tour with.

So, when we say ours is an expert led Jack the Ripper walk, we are not making an idle boast, or a false claim, we are telling the un-garnished truth, which we can prove, and which you can check out for yourself and verify independently.

We are the experts on the case and, when you join our tour, you get detailed analysis, the most up to date information, some of it even based on our own ground breaking research, and a great tour conducted at an unhurried pace that really will take you into the old alleyways and streets that provided the backcloth against which the mystery unfolded.

As we say, when it comes to London walks, we really do offer you a welcome difference.


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