If you’re anything like me, you’re a sucker for a good horror movie or thriller novel. The type of story you can really get your teeth stuck in to. One that leaves clues for the audience to piece together and see if we can work it out for ourselves. What makes these even better are when they are based on true events from London’s history.
In 1888, a series of horrific and violent murders took place in London’s East End. The identity of the criminal was, to this day, never proven with their being around 10 different, known suspects – the Metropolitan Police never had enough substantial evidence to make an arrest. Therefore we know these events to be known as the murders of “Jack the Ripper”. There are thought to be 11 separate murders took place in different areas around East London, stretching from the 3rd April 1888 until the 13th February 1891. Five of these murders were known as the “Canonical Five”, these all happened on different roads around Whitechapel – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly were all victims. There were two common themes with these murders, the first is that they’re all women and the second is that nearly all of them had their throats slit as well as some internal organs cut out.
If you take a 7 minute walk from Tower Hill station and wander down Cable Street you’ll find yourself opposite the recently opened Jack the Ripper museum. My boyfriend and I decided to pay it a visit as he is fascinated by London’s history and we both became curious about the story – it’s not on the list of topics you’ll find in your history lesson in school. Keep your eyes peeled, it’s not obvious to notice at first.
Once you get inside, you’ll be surprised to find out that the building actually comprises of 6 floors for you explore and wander around at your own pace. The lovely ladies who greet you on entry will advise you of the best way to take full advantage of what the museum can offer. You will be given a leaflet which gives a brief description of each floor and what scene it is describing.
The first floor is set on Mitre Square on the 30th September 1888, where it shows you the crime scene of Catherine Eddowes’ body and how she was discovered by Police Constable Watkins shortly after her murder took place.
As you make your way up the staircase, all over the walls are added details regarding the murders – the victims’ names, ages, the murder location, who discovered the body and how they died along with newspaper reports and illustrations of the crimes.
On the second floor you enter a replica of Jack the Ripper’s living room where we see how The Ripper might have lived and how he planned his killing spree. Here you can read newspaper clippings written in 1888 which chart the media documentation of the murders. It’s pretty cool that the museum has managed to acquire some genuine artefacts from the people involved aswell. For example, on this floor you can see an original drawing by one of the Ripper suspects, Walter Sickert. You’ll also see medical instruments, poison/drug bottles, medical books about surgery and dissection, and a doctor’s bag which contains knives similar to those to kill and mutilate the victims. All of these could be seen as clues to the Ripper’s true identity.
My favourite part of this floor was viewing a letter that was supposedly written from Jack the Ripper himself to George Lusk, the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. The letter is titled “From Hell”…
Along with the letter, Jack sends half the kidney taken from one of his victims, thought to be Catherine Eddowes, although it was not proven. The Ripper seems keen on taunting the recipient, ending his letter with “catch me if you can”.
Make your way up to the third floor and find more details on the walls…
The third floor is set in the police station, inside you’ll find all the evidence and profiles of the suspects. Below is a waxwork of Chief Inspector Abberline, the detective in charge of leading the hunt for the Ripper.
Incredibly, in the display case there is the actual whistle that Police Constable Watkins blew to call for help when he found the body of Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square. There’s also his notebook, handcuffs and the truncheon he was carrying that day. A very rare collection indeed.
Interestingly, on the walls are a top 10 suspects list. I was quite shocked to see Prince Albert Victor who was the Prince of Clarence on the suspect list. Before we made our trip to the museum my boyfriend was quite sure that the Ripper’s identity belonged to a Polish man called Aaron Kosminski. So many theories and not enough evidence…
The fourth floor was a replica of what the women’s bedrooms might have looked like. The women lived in one of London’s most poverty-stricken areas in these times. Metal beds made of a straw mattress were as good as it got for these poor ladies.
The final place for us to explore was The Mortuary. They do advise that under 16s do not take part in this section as it contains original autopsy photos of the horrific murders. Walking into this particular room was somewhat eerie. Everyone that entered treated the room with the utmost respect and discretion. The walls are lined with the photos of each victim along with a description of how their bodies were found and a rose.
The story of Jack The Ripper and his murderous crimes are still shocking the world today. Many people have their own theories about who the culprit was and why the evidence would point to him, but the sad truth of it is, it is unlikely that anyone will ever know.
I would highly recommend a visit to this museum. The staff are incredibly friendly and love to have a chat with you afterwards to answer any questions you have as well as to ask how you liked it. It’s quite unfortunate actually that on the day of our visit there were a number of people across the opposite side of the road protesting against the museum, claiming that it “glorifies the murders”. Ridiculous. Whether people like it or not, this is a part of London’s history among many other events that took place. We may not like the past but we can’t change it. If others want to learn more about London’s history and the events that happened then they are more than entitled to do so. The museum treated the story with complete respect and discretion – if the protesters stopped to have a look for themselves they would see there is no “glorifying” going on whatsoever.
You can find the address for the museum here. It is also advised that you take advantage of the free walk they offer on your visit. This walk takes you around the key sites that are created in the museum. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to go but upon high recommendation from a friend of mine who said it was fascinating, we will definitely be back to do it and round off our experience.
All this footwork made for rumbling bellies. Feeling as though we could eat eachother, we made our way to Bodean’s to refuel! We’ve both been to Bodean’s before and thoroughly enjoyed it. Therefore we were quite upset to find ourselves disappointed after this visit. All started off well, we devoured our chicken quesadillas and were eagerly anticipating our mains. I chose a hot dog while my boyfriend chose a burger with grilled mushrooms and monterey jack cheese added into it – a sure thing, right? No. First time around, the burger was served without the grilled mushrooms, we informed the waiter and he brought us a pot of grilled mushrooms instead of offering to take the burger back to the kitchen where they could be added. Shortly after, we realised there was no monterey jack cheese in the burger. Again, we told the waiter and he offered to bring the cheese out for us… He then returned to ask if we would actually prefer the cheese melted into the burger, obviously we said yes please. After being brought out the burger again, we saw that they had included the grilled mushrooms and cheese BUT forgotten to take out the tomato and pickles that we originally asked for when ordering. Initially, we weren’t too bothered about the first mistake, however, after 3 followed mistakes it had become a joke. Above all the food just seemed flavorless. The burger patty was dry, not juicy or succulent at all which is quite disappointing for somewhere like Bodean’s. I have been before and really enjoyed my meal, however this time around food and service just weren’t cutting it for us.