As mentioned in a previous article, in 1888 it was quite the fashion for‘respectable’ upper and middle class Londoners to go ’slumming’ in the East End and this poverty tourism saw thousands of well-to-do men and women being taken on omnibus excursions through East London’s poorest neighbourhoods where, without any danger of soiling their shoes or clothing in the fetid streets and gutters, they could see for themselves the squalid slumscape that lurked just a few streets away from the wealthiest square mile on earth, the City of London.
For many of these ‘slummers’ their journey was, no doubt, nothing more than an afternoon’s or evening’s entertainment, that made for an interesting conversation piece with which to regale guests at the dinner table once you had returned from gazing upon scenes of extreme hunger and dire poverty.
For some though it was a life changing experience, and they came back determined to do something about the dreadful conditions that they had witnessed.
Many of them felt compelled to record their impressions in writing and, as a consequence, they have bequeathed to us a unique insight into the sordid reality of everyday life in ‘Outcast London.’
In addition to these “slummers,” at the height of the Jack the Ripper scare, journalists from all over the world headed east to experience first hand the streets and alleyways where the murders were occurring in order that they might report back to their readers on what they found.
Again, they have left us with a series of fascinating tableaux of frozen in time moments that enable us tbe able to take a Jack the Ripper Tour through the East End streets of 1888 and for us to experience something of the panic and hopelessness that engulfed the district during the so-called ‘autumn of terror.’
Of course much has changed since 1888, buildings and even whole streets have been demolished. But, thanks to the records left by the slummers and the journalists, it is possible to take a walk through the district as it was then and build a mental picture of the streets, alleyways and courtyards where the Jack the Ripper story was played out.
In this way a much better insight can be gained into the problems that beset the police as they attempted to hunt the killer through the labyrinth of narrow thoroughfares and dimly lit passageways that snaked their way through the district.
It also makes it possible to see how it was that Jack the Ripper proved so elusive as he committed his crimes, with apparent impunity, and then managed to simply melt away into the darker recesses of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.