Viewing Jack’s London

Today we continue our look at the locations in the East End of London that featured in the Jack the Ripper story with a look along Whitechapel High Street.

Not, only is Whitechapel High Street and important location, as far as ripper locations go, but it is also the street where our nightly Jack the Ripper tour begins everyday at 7pm.

Three of the Whitechapel murders took place in thoroughfares leading of the High Street, those of Emma Smith, Martha Tabram and Alice McKenzie, so, when it comes to this particular series of crimes it is, in many ways, and important destination for any student of the Ripperology.

A photo showing Whitechapel High Street at the time of the Jack the Ripper Murders.
Whitechapel High Street.

The above photograph looks across Whitechapel High Street from the starting point of our walking tour. Many of the buildings in the right of the photo have long since vanished, in many cases demolished to make way for the Whitechapel Gallery.

However, if you look closely at the building, more or less, across from the horse drawn bus and obelisk in the centre of the road you can just about make out a passageway that runs between the buildings. This passageway was the entrance into George Yard and it still survives today. Indeed, the building to the left of the passageway is the White Hart Pub, still going strong despite the passage of over a hundred and twenty six years.

Here is a photograph of that same entrance as it appears today.

A photograph of the White Hart as it appears today.
The White Hart 2012

The name, George Yard, on the other hand, no longer exists, as the thoroughfare into which the passageway leads is now called Gunthorpe Street.

Notwithstanding the name change, the modern Gunthorpe Street still possesses a somewhat sinister ambience, and the fact that it is still a cobble-stoned thoroughfare helps give it a decidedly Victorian feel.

The following photograph shows it in 1890, two years after the murder of Martha Tabram took place at its northern end in early August 1888.

A view of George Yard, now Gunthorpe Street, in 1888
George Yard

As you step into Gunthorpe Street you pass,on the left, a building on the upper storey of which is emblazoned the year in which it was built – 1886.

One of the first buildings we pass on our Jack the Ripper Tour is this old building in Gunthorpe Street.
Gunthorpe Street – Old 1886 Building

Today this block has been converted into flats, but in 1888 this was being run by George Holland as an educational and community centre for the girls of the area. Indeed, at the height of the ripper panic, George Holland petitioned the local council for permission to create direct access from Whitechapel High Street into the building, as many of his girls were terrified to walk the short distance along George Yard for fear of falling victim to Jack the Ripper.

Much of Whitechapel has been modernised and, in some of the 21st century thoroughfares, it can prove extremely difficult to get an idea of what the streets and passageways were like at the time of the Ripper crimes.

But, as the above photographs show, there are little pockets of the past that have survived and, when you chance upon them, you really do get a feel for the Victorian East End and, despite the passage of over 126 years, walking along them on a dark winter’s night can still elicit cold shivers!