An encounter with Jack the Ripper’s East London

Published on: Sunday, April 7, 2013

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2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the crimes committed by notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. Julianna Flamio steps back in time on a tour of the East End to find out more about the streets terrorised by the unidentified Victorian murderer.

It’s nearing 8pm in East London and the night has just begun. Londoners flock to the countless curry houses in the heart of the Bangladeshi zone of Brick Lane. Head north to find even more ethnic eats and a shift to a younger, trendier Brick Lane lined with street art and bars.

We’re not here to join the night time swing, but to delve beyond the fluorescent signs and graffiti into the morbid memories of Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror in 1888. We huddle at the intersection of Brick Lane and Thrawl Street steps away from an important site in the murders. It is a corner building once home to the Ye Frying Pan pub where victim Mary “Polly” Nichols was seen exiting on the night of her brutal murder. Now the Sheraz Bangla Lounge restaurant, the only remnant of its past is the image of two frying pans etched in brick at the top of the building.

I’m on Discovery Tours London’s “Jack the Ripper Walk” (£9) with guide and published Ripper expert Richard Jones. Clocking in at one hour and 15 minutes, accounts of the murders roll off Richard’s tongue at rapid speed as he leads the group through the victims’ stomping ground of Whitechapel. Hanging from his back is a wide-brim hat fit for an Outback adventure rather than a murder mystery walk – but hey, this is East London after all.

This is the year to book Discovery Tours London’s popular Ripper tour, as it marks the 125th anniversary of what became known as the Whitechapel murders. The first of 11 victims was Emma Elizabeth Smith, who was attacked on 3 April and became the catalyst for investigations. However, only five of the subsequent murders – prostitutes killed during a 12 week period from 31 August to 9 November – were attributed to the Ripper, but the grisly nature of the crimes heightened by the ensuing media frenzy struck terror into the heart of the East End.

The tour is abundant in sites that are reminiscent of the Ripper era. Embark from Aldgate East Underground Station and move on to The White Hart Pub where the culprit’s associated suspect George Chapman worked as a barber in the basement. Next to the pub is Gunthorpe Street where suspected Ripper victim Martha Tabram was found on 8 August. Richard said he believes Gunthorpe Street is the most effective site in giving visitors a glimpse of Victorian East London because of its cobble-stoned arched alleyway.

Stroll pass the 19th century brick houses of old Spitalfields where clusters of 20-somethings puff on cigarettes outside a lone art gallery. Richard brings our group to the foot of the towering white steeple of Christ Church, a landmark that the victims would have passed on a regular basis. Parallel to this structural behemoth is the staple watering hole, The Ten Bells Pub. Two of the Ripper’s victims were regular patrons here and the pub still features its original tiles, as well as press cuttings from the time. Today it is bustling with drinkers.

Other highlights of the tour include a stop on Hanbury Street where the Ripper’s second victim Annie Chapman was killed. The exact location of the crime scene has since been replaced by a brewery, but there are still buildings along the street that look as they did 125 years ago. Outside the Wentworth Street Model Dwelling on Goulston Street is a wall where the Ripper is said to have scrawled a message written in chalk. The tour ends in Mitre Square where Catherine Eddowes’ body was found on 30 September.

There are a plethora of Jack the Ripper tours in London but Richard ignores the oft-touted myths and reveals the Ripper’s victims not as characters in some macabre fictional tale, but as real people who suffered a truly horrific fate.  

 

RIPPER EVENTS AND OTHER HORRID HISTORIES

* If you’re looking for a more in depth exploration into the murders, check out Richard’s documentary that will premiere this month on http://www.jack-the-ripper-tour.com/jack-the-ripper-tv focusing on how the Metropolitan police handled the case.

* Fancy another perspective on Jack the Ripper?  Former British Murder Squad Detective turned Ripper aficionado, Trevor Marriott, is currently touring the UK with “Jack the Ripper – A 21st Century Investigation” in which he shares his theories and debunks the myths. http://www.trevormarriott.co.uk/

* The Ripper story is brought to life in the new London Dungeon (http://www.thedungeons.com/london/en) featuring the murky “Whitechapel Labyrinth” and a recreation of The Ten Bells Pub. Resist the urge to shut your eyes when the lights begin to flicker – you won’t want to miss sight of the infamous killer.

* Want more English spooks? Set off on a ghost hunt with Haunted Happenings (http://www.hauntedhappenings.co.uk/) at Oxford Castle.Tours run from 8pm to 3am and include vigils, séances, ouija boards and other activities hosted by a medium and a guide. An encounter with spirits in the 900-year-old crypt is possible, but expect more giggles than frights.

* The best way to experience Oxford Castle is to spend a night in its former jail cells at Malmaison Oxford (http://www.malmaison.com/locations/oxford/ tel: 0844 693 0659) boasting original features such as cell doors, small galley windows and iron staircases. Room start from £99 per night (two sharing).