Walking the streets of the East End of London today is an intriguing experience, despite the fact that the area has changed and awful lot in the last 126 years.
It is intriguing because there are little pockets of the area that have survived the march of time and progress and which are still much as they were in 1888 when Jack the Ripper was on the prowl.
Indeed, as someone who has been exploring the East End since the late 1970’s, and who has, therefore, witnessed the huge amount of change that has taken place in the district during the period I have known it, I can honestly say that I still get a thrill when I venture away from the busy main roads, as we do on our nightly tour of the Whitechapel Murder sites, and stray into these little segments from which the past has yet to depart.
I still find the journey through the dark arch that leads from Whitechapel High Street into Gunthorpe Street a truly chilling experience. In just a few short steps you find yourself going from the rush of the traffic clogged 21st century streets and entering a World that is so reminiscent of the 19th century that it wouldn’t come as a great surprise were Jack the Ripper to leap from the shadows and scare the life out of you!
Then there is that wonderful knot of streets that consists of Princelet Street, Fournier Street and Wilkes Street. Everyone who joins our Jack the Ripper guided walks experience comments on how they consider those streets to be just like the streets of Victorian London would have been. On winter nights many of the houses still have blazing fires going in their fireplaces, and the resultant smell of the smoke that permeates the air outside, on the streets along which we walk, really does add to the feeling that these streets exist in a time warp.
Further, down Whitechapel Road, you have a whole segment of streets that nestle behind the Royal London Hospital that are lined by little terraced houses most of which survive from 1888. Wandering along them at any time of the day, or night is like slipping back through 126 years.
Just behind Whitechapel Underground Station is a street that is currently being carved up by the building of the Crossrail Whitechapel Station. This is Durward Street and, in 1888, it was Buck’s Row, the location of the first Jack the Ripper Murder, that of Mary Nichols on August 31st 1888. This murder, and its location, has recently re-entered the annals of ripper history with the name of yet another suspect, Charles Allen Lechmere.
Whether or not the case against him as a suspect is a strong one, the location where the murder occurred still has a striking remnant from that long ago night in that the old Board School Building still stands, albeit it is now flats. Yet it was in the shadow of this building that Mary “Polly” Nichols was slain by the ripper, whoever he may have been.
Elsehwere, you can still walk along Pinchin Street where the Torso of a woman was found in September 1889. Although the surrounding streets aren’t exactly as they were at the time of the discovery, the railway arch under which the torso was found is still there and it still has a sinister ambience to it, especially on a dark winter’s night.
Our guide, Philip Hutchinson, has made a short video that shows Pinchin Street as it is today.
The great thing about each of these locations is that it is possible to walk around them in less than an hour. So, if you are going to join us for a Jack the Ripper walk, why not arrive in the area a little earlier and immerse yourself in these old locations where you still get the feel that the ripper could easily be lurking in the dark and sinister shadows!