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|EUROPE - BRITAIN - LONDON : IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JACK THE RIPPER - AND OTHER LONDON WALKS
by Ursula & Eldrid Retief
There’s not even a wisp of fog.
But these are the same Whitechapel streets stalked by Jack the Ripper more than a 100 years ago.
Children here still skip to the rhyme
Jack the Ripper’s dead
And lying in his bed
He cut his throat
With Sunlight soap
Jack the Ripper’s dead.
He may be. But the memory of his grisly deeds still lives and it’s unmistakably in the air when you walk in his footsteps.
The Jack the Ripper walk is one of the many organized walking tours in London all year round. Their routes will take you to the pubs along the Thames, to the city’s celebrated landmarks, its bustling markets and high streets, its art galleries, even to the ghostly sights of Old London. One of the newest walks in London, The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, follows a seven-mile route through the capital’s Royal Parks with Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and other places known to Diana.
You can walk through Churchill’s secret underground headquarters where some of the most important decisions of World War 2 were made; or go back further in time to discover the world of Dickens and Shakespeare.
Or you can hear the cry "Come, Watson, come! The game’s afoot!" and sally forth from 221B Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes and Watson to pit themselves against the Victorian Underworld. How they would have loved the challenge posed by Jack the Ripper.
The streets are no longer as dark and dingy as they were when this part of London’s East End was one of the worst slums of Victorian times. The German bombers flattened much of it during the Blitz and rebuilding has transformed it. But it is still a far cry from the London known to most tourists.
For that reason alone, the East End is worth a visit.
Your Jack the Ripper walk starts at the Whitechapel Underground Station. There the pigeons are walking on the platform looking for tidbits before you emerge into a busy street market, a bazaar of many tongues, the aromas of curries and spices assailing you.
The East End may have become more prosperous, but it is still home to a polyglot community of emigrants and cockneys. In Victorian times it was jam-packed with Irish migrants and Polish and Jewish refugees. Today you add to that mix turbaned Sikhs, veiled Arabs, West Indians and Africans.
The building to the left of the station as you emerge was the Whitechapel Working Lads Institute, used for several of the inquests on Jack the Ripper’s victims.
Right along Whitechapel Road a passageway leads you to Winthrop Street and then to Durward Street, known in Victorian times as Bucks’ Row. This is where Mary Nichols, a prostitute in her 40s, known to her friends as "Polly", was discovered on August 31, 1888, her throat cut and the head all but severed. She had been disembowelled, ripped from belly to throat a Ripper trademark.
Nearby is a brewery. It was then a courtyard where Annie Chapman, nicknamed "Dark Annie", was murdered on the morning of September 8, 1888. She had been turned out of her lodgings and needed money for a bed. Her fee for services rendered was fourpence (about 2 cents). Her throat was cut and she, too, had been disembowelled.
Along Hanbury Street, into Commercial Street and you’re at the Ten Bells which has been there since 1753. It’s the pub where Dark Annie had her last drink. Stop here yourself for a pint and a pub snack.
Here deserted buildings live cheek by jowl with pretty little courtyards. On the next corner is Christ Church, Spitalfields, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and still just as it was when the Ripper claimed his five victims some say 11. Cross the road where in those days was Miller’s Court at 26 Dorset Street where the fifth murder took place. It was the only one of Jack the Ripper’s crimes to be committed indoors and he clearly had time to wreak his hell on Mary Kelly.
She had been so carved up on her own bed that it was scarcely recognizable as a human body. It was simply a carcass. By this time the murderer had provided his own sobriquet.
Two days before the third murder (that of Catherine Eddowes) the police had received this letter:
"Dear Boss, I keep on hearing the police have caught me, but they won’t fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track .... I am down on whores and shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now" I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games .... the next job I do I shall clip the layds (sic) ears off and send to the police just for jolly wouldn’t you" ....... Jack the Ripper".
The mutilations had persuaded many that the killer had surgical skills, hence a doctor, maybe a butcher, even a midwife. The search for the killer’s identity continues, even today, although suggestions that the Royal Family and other society toffs were involved have been shown to be the wildest fiction.
Even this letter, it has been suggested, was inspired by a sensation-seeking journalist. There had been thousands of Ripper-related letters, but this was written two days before the murder of Catherine Eddowes correctly predicting that her ears would be slashed.
From Crispin Street we turn left to the Convent where Annie Chapman sometimes stayed, past a street market and into Middlesex Street, better-known for its Sunday market as Petticoat Lane.
At Mitre Square, in the early hours of September 30, 1888, Catherine Eddowes met Jack the Ripper ... so, unfortunately, on the same night did Elizabeth Stride. "Long Liz" had her throat cut to the spine. Her body was still warm when they found her.
On the same day, the man who had given himself the name Jack the Ripper sent this postcard: "I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip. You’ll hear about saucy Jackie’s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldn’t finish straight off. Had no time to get ears for police ... Jack the Ripper".
He made sure of the ears when he slew Mary Kelly.
While you are on the Jack the Ripper walk, you might add to the incongruous nature of the walk by peeping into another world.
Nearby, at Spitalfields Market, just behind Liverpool Street Station, you can have lunch from one of the many stalls selling everything from exotic health foods to traditional English grub and high teas, and can escape into "A Quiet Afternoon in Cloud Cuckoo Valley". This is the last and largest mechanical sculpture designed by Rowland Emmett, sculpture cartoonist. You may remember him as the creator of the fantastic inventions of Professor Potts in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.
Emmett died in 1990, but the international appeal of the wit and imagination of his work lives on.
A bit like Jack the Ripper really.
Photo: courtesy VisitBritain
Information on accommodation, events and attractions throughout Britain is available at VisitBritain
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The Athenaeum, with its luxurious guest rooms, suites and apartments, enjoys an unsurpassed London location, overlooking Green Park and close to many of the main cultural attractions of the city including Buckingham Palace, the Royal Academy of Arts, Trafalgar Square and Churchill’s Cabinet Rooms. London’s best shops, restaurants, theaters and parks are within easy walking distance.
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