The East End of London has seen an awful lot of change since Jack the Ripper’s day. Indeed, in some ways, Jack the Ripper might have been the catalyst that sparked off a lot of the initial change in the area. His crimes, after all, focussed attention on the awful living conditions of the people who dwelt in the area and, in so doing, led to society finally instigating the social change that philanthropists had been crying out for for years.
But the East End is a constantly evolving area. In the 31 years since I started doing the Jack the Ripper walks I have seen buildings come down and buildings go up with the result that the East End I lead the tours through today is, in some ways, vastly different to the East End I took people through in 1982.
I remember on Sunday nights (and this was in the days when I used to start the Jack the Ripper Tour from Tower Hill Underground Station) I always used to make a half way stop at the Frying Pan Pub.
The pub itself has long gone – albeit the two crossed Frying Pans are still visible up on its gable- and it’s now the Sheraz Indian Restaurant.
In those days it was run by an ex-boxer, and the regulars were mostly seniors who had grown up in the area and lived there all their lives. My groups were forever getting told by a “knowledgeable local” about how they grew up “hearing all about that Jack the Ripper.”
Indeed, I lost count of how many times I would be told by one of them that their mother had actually been stopped by Jack the Ripper on her way home one night but, because she was a good girl, he had let her go without murdering her.
Of course, this was the folklore that these people had grown up with, and in their parents youth the memory of Jack the Ripper still was there, and was an important part of local folk memory.
Nowadays much of the area has changed, so much so that it’s almost unrecognisable from what it was 31 years ago.
Yet, there are pockets – those places we walk through on our nightly tour for example, that have not changed since 1982 and, indeed, have not changed 1888. It’s in these places that you really do get the flavour of the Victorian East End.
But how long will they last? So much has gone in the 31 years since I started doing the tours, and I wonder how much will have disappeared in the next 31 years.
That is why we are now maintaining our Jack the Ripper photo gallery to put on line an archive that will show Jack the Riper’s London then and now and which will, hopefully, prove a useful resource for those who like to study the streets of the ever changing East End of London.