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.”