Murder Most Fowl

Pardon the dreadful pun on today’s Jack the Ripper news update, but I just couldn’t resist it! The reason for this dreadful title is because today I wanted to look briefly at what the area where the murders took place, Spitalfields and Whitechapel, was like in 1888.

At the time there were numerous slaughterhouses and butchers in the area where chcikens and other animals were slaughtered in the early hours of the morning so that it could be in the shops later that day. There was no refrigeration then, at least not in the area, so animals were slaughtered  so that it could be sold as quickly as possible before it went off.

In October 1888, in a desperate bid to catch Jack the Ripper the Metropolitan Police began a series of searches in the area that involved detectives visiting 0ver 80 butchers and slaughterhouses in the area. The sights, smells and sounds that they encountered during these visits were truly gruesome and, as one officer later recalled, the smell that he encountered in these places would stay with him till his dying day.

Although these searches yieled little useful information they do give us an insight into why a bloodstained Jack the Ripper (we certainly know that he was covered in Catherine Eddowes blood when he fled from Mitre Square) could slip away from the scenes of his crimes without arousing any suspicion. Since there were so many butchers and slaughterhouses in the area it was quite common to see people in bloodstained clothing, as the slaughtermen would regularly walk the streets still wearing their work clothes.

One of the changes that has taken place in the area since I started doing my Jack the Ripper Tour in 1982 is that the last of the areas slaughterhouses has now gone. In the mid 1980’s as we made our way from Goulston Street, where the Jack the Ripper clue was discovered, to Dorset Street, where Mary kelly was murdered, we’d pass a corner building that looked like nothing more than a garage.

But as we rounded the corner, the smell would really hit the group and then we’d hear the sound of the chickens inside. The next night when we passed the scene all was quiet. I won’t go into the reason as you might be eating breakfast or lunch, but suffice it to say I was able to glean a genuine of the effect the searches of the butchers and slaughterhouses must have had on those police officers in 1888.

The slaughterhouse isn’t there anymore, its just one of the many things to have gone since I started conducting Jack the Ripper Walks and, I have to say, the area is probably better for it.