It was 100 years ago today that George Yard – the dark, cobbled and slightly sinister thoroughfare that our tour plunges into within moments of setting out – changed its name to Gunthorpe Street.
For those of you who have taken our walk around Jack the Ripper’s London (and those who are planning to take it) here is a photograph of Gunthorpe Street as it is today. In an instance you are transported back to the autumn of 1888 when George Yard became the scene of what some believe to have been the first murder of Jack the Ripper, that of Martha Tabram on 7th August 1888.
And, in the interest of historical balance, here is a photograph of it as it appeared in 1888.
A short distance away from the Whitechapel High Street end of Gunthorpe Street is the site of St Mary’s church. In the Middle ages this prominent local landmark was lime washed, giving it a striking appearance that led to its becoming known as “the white chapel”. In time this name would be applied to the surrounding district which became known as Whitechapel.
On 8th August 1471 John Gunthorpe was appointed rector of St Mary’s, a post he held for round about a year.
Gunthorpe was one of the most learned men of his age and, on returning to England from studying Italy in 1466, he was made one of the chaplains to the then monarch Edward 1V.
Following his brief tenure at St Mary’s, he became Dean of Wells in 1472 and, in 1483, upon the accession to the throne of Richard 111, Gunthorpe was made Keeper of the Privy Seal, the King’s own private seal.
In 1485 Henry Tudor defeated and killed Richard 111 at the Battle of Bosworth and ascended the throne of England as King Henry V11. Gunthorpe was granted a Royal pardon and continued in royal service in various ambassadorial posts until his death at Wells on 25 June 1498, where he was buried in the cathedral.
In 1912 it was decided that the name of George Yard should be changed and the new name, Gunthorpe Street, was chosen to remember the 15th century Dean of Wells who, despite a very fleeting connection with the area, certainly left a much larger footprint on the pages of medieval history.