Jack the Ripper – 1880’s London

Step back in time, to 1888, with this self guided tour. Explore the crooked and cobbled alleyways of Spitalfields and Whitechapel and follow the footsteps of London’s most famous serial killer as he prowls along the streets of Victorian London.

As you walk around the streets you will discover not only the story of Jack the Ripper but also the rich history of the East End, and the vibrant, multi cultural area it has become.

Start: Liverpool Street Station

Finish: Liverpool Street Station

Distance: Approx 3 miles

Things to see and do:  A walk densely packed with markets, cafes, curries, art gallery, city farm, and much more – you could easily spend the day immersed in this part of London

Introduction – 1880’s East End

According to the 1881 census, over one million people lived in London’s East End, with up to one-third living in poverty. Housing was very overcrowded with whole families crowded into one room. Water came from shared pipes in the street and sanitation was almost non-existent. Two out of every ten children died, and disease was very common. Work was often “sweated labour” like making matchboxes, skinning rabbits and boot making – usually in cramped rooms. Some found work at street markets or slaughterhouses. To escape the misery many turned to drink.

Jack the Ripper

It was here, in the dismal East End, that Jack the Ripper murdered at least five women in 1888, vanishing into the alleys of; baffling police.

The first victim was Mary Ann Nichols, which took place on 31st August 1888. Eight days later Annie Chapman was killed. Then, at the end of the month, both Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered on the 30th September. Finally Mary Jane Kelly was murdered on the 9th November 1888.

The murderer was given the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ by the media after he signed a letter with that name which was sent to the Central News Agency. The letter is widely believed to be a hoax but the name stuck.

Jack the Ripper’s victims were all prostitutes. For the many unskilled women in the area, prostitution was a way to earn enough money to survive. They owned only what they wore or carried in their pockets, and sold their bodies to pay for drink and a bed for the night.

The Walk

Liverpool Street Station
Liverpool Street Station

Start at Liverpool Street Station. Take the crossing  over  Bishopgate Road and turn left. Pass the alleyways with their intriguing names of Catherine Wheel Alley, Swedeland Court and Artillery Lane. Once you reach Brushfield Street turn right into it. You can see the impressive Christ Church at the end of the road.

Walk down Brushfield Street and on your left you will See Spitalfields Market – walk through one of the entrances and browse at your leisure.

the goat sculpture
The Goat sculpture by Kenny Hunter at the western entrance of Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields and Old Spitalfields Market (www.oldspitalfieldsmarket.com)

Spitalfields takes its name from the hospital and priory, St. Mary’s Spittel, that was founded in 1197.

In 1666 the Great Fire of London devastated the city and promoted the first housing development in Spitalfields.

In 1682 King Charles II granted a Royal Charter giving the right to hold a market in Spital Square.

Spitalfields Market became a major centre for the sale of fresh produce, trading six days a week.

The success of the market encouraged people to settle in the area. Following persecution in France, the Huguenots arrived in the late 16th century and brought their silk weaving skills to Spitalfields. The Huguenots were soon followed by Irish labourers in the mid-1700s escaping the potato famine. Next came the East European Jews who were escaping the Polish pogroms and harsh conditions in Russia, and by the 1880s Spitalfields was overwhelmingly Jewish. Since the 1970s a thriving Bangladeshi community has flourished in the area. Evidence of the people and communities that have given this area it’s unique character which you will experience today.

At the time of Jack the Ripper, the market, had become overcrowded, dirty and in serious decline, just like the rest of the area.

Today, now refurbished, the market has interesting stalls, shops and restaurants.

verde shop
Just one of the many interesting shop fronts in Spitalfields

When you are ready to leave the market take the Crispin Place exit back onto Brushfield Street – turn right into Crispin Street.

You are now entering a myriad of streets, which still follow the original street plan devised after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Spitalfields can claim to be one of the first planned suburbs of London.

On the left hand side is Providence Row Night Refuge. Opened in 1868 it took in the destitute, including prostitutes who pretended to of seen the error of their ways to get a bed for a night or two. It is quite possible that one of Jack the Ripper’s victims stayed here.

Walk along Crispin Street and look right into Duval Road( At time of writing there were building works covering Duval Road).

This small unassuming service road was once one of the worst streets in London called Dorset Street. Originally laid out in 1674 for the Huguenots and known as Datchet Street. But by 1888 the silk weavers had long gone and the street was made up of lodging houses. It was given the name Dorset Street but was known as Dosset Street because of the large number of doss houses it contained. To keep prices down people would often bed share and some establishment operated a two relay system where a bed was occupied by one person during the day and another by night. In some cases a three relay system shared a bed in three eight-hour shifts. The sheets were not changed though!

Dorset Street, 1902
Dorset Street, photographed in 1902. Miller’s Court was reached through an alleyway on the right.

Social researcher Henry Mayhew noted It is by no means unusual to find eighteen or twenty in one small room, the eat and horrid smell from which are insufferable.If they have linen, they take it off to escape vermin… The amiable and popular minister of a district church, built among the lodging houses, has stated that he has found twenty-nine human beings in one apartment; and that,having difficulty knelt between beds to pray for a dying woman, his legs became so jammed that he could hardly get up again.”

Just half way up this street, squashed between the lodging houses, was Millers Court where Jack’s fifth and final victim was found.

Mary Kelly

Mary Kelly was born in Wales in 1863. She married at a young age to a coal miner but tragedy struck when he got killed by a mine explosion. As this was before social benefits, Mary moved to London and turned to prostitution to survive.

In early 1888 she moved into 13 Millers Court with her new partner called Mr Barnett. It was a single twelve foot square room, with a bed, three tables and a chair. There was no key so she bolted and unbolted the door from outside by putting her hand through a broken window beside the door. Barnett worked as a fish porter at Billingsgate Fish market but as employment was irregular Kelly kept working the streets.

Miller's Court No 13
Miller’s Court No 13 – demolished in 1920

On the 8th November 1888 the evening started well. Kelly and Barnett had a friend visit called Maria Harvey. But at about 8.00pm Barnett and Harvey both left. Soon after Mary left the room. A neighbour reported seeing Kelly returning home drunk in the company of a stout ginger haired man wearing a bowler hat and carrying a can of beer, at about 11.45pm. They were both singing. Mary Kelly loved to sing Irish songs. By 1.30am the singing had stopped.

But by 2.00am Kelly was out again. She was spotted by a neighbour, and Kelly could be heard complaining that she had lost her handkerchief and a man gave her a red one of his own before they both headed for Kelly’s room.The neighbour claimed that he was suspicious as the man was of opulent appearance – a rarity in that district.

Neighbours reported hearing a faint cry of murder at about 4.00am but did not react because it was common to hear such cries.

On 10.45am on the 9th November the landlord came to collect his rent from Mary, who was six weeks behind on payment. As he had no answer to his knocking,the landlord reached through the broken window and pushed aside a coat that had been used as a curtain and peered inside – discovering Kelly’s corpse on the bed.

Go back onto Crispin Street and turn left – cross over onto Bell Lane and turn left into Brune Street

(Nearby is a small street called Tenter Ground – the name goes back to the Seventeeth Century when the area was surrounded by weavers houses and they would wash and stretch their fabrics on “tenters” to dry. It is where the phrase “on tenterhooks” comes from).

Tenter ground Weaving Works
Tenter ground Weaving Works (now owned by the artist Tracey Emin)

On the left hand side of Brune Street(opposite a block of flats) you will see what was once the soup kitchen for the Jewish poor. Notice the tureen of soup above the doorway – this was for the immigrants that could not speak English.

Soup kitchen
Soup Kitchen

At the end of the road enter Toynbee Street and turn left, pass White Row and onto Commercial Street. Use the crossing at the exit of Toynbee Street and cross over to the other side of Commercial Street. Turn right passing Fashion Street and Lolesworth Close. Turn down Thrawl Street until you see Flower and Dean Walk.

 

Flower and dean Walk
Flower and Dean Walk

This walkway was once the heart of the Spitalfields rookery (slum) – it was described in 1883 as “perhaps the foulest and most dangerous street in the whole metropolis.” It had the greatest concentration of common lodging houses in London and two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived here. A 2008 Scotland Yard geographical profile of Jack the Ripper concluded that he most probably lived in this street.

Today there is often a tempting waft of spices drifting from the houses of the local Bangladesh population.

Carry on down Thrawl Street and take the last turning on the right into Wentworth Street. Turn right on Wentworth Street and walk till you reach Commercial Street. Cross over into Petticoat Lane Market.

The entrance/exit of Wentworth Street from Thrawl Street
The entrance/exit of Wentworth Street from Thrawl Street

Petticoat Lane Market (Open everyday except Saturdays. Closes at 2pm on Sunday)

This market has a history dating back to the mid-Eighteenth century. The Victorians didn’t like references to undergarments so they changed the name to Middlesex Street, but it’s still known locally as Petticoat Lane.

Continue down Wentworth Street until you reach Merchant House ( 108-119 Wentworth Dwellings) which are just past Goulston Street.

merchant House
Merchant House taken from Petticoat Lane

In the doorway to these flats a fragment of a wet blood stained apron belonging to the fourth victim,Catherine Eddowes, was found here. An antisemitic message had been written on the wall above it written in chalk:”The juwes are the men that will be blamed for nothing.” Rather than preserve this evidence the police commissioner removed the message as he was concerned it might inflame racial tensions.

Turn down Goulston Street and then right into new Goulston Street, cross onto Middlesex Street.

Follow Gravel Lane (directly opposite Middlesex Street) and follow it a it turns into Stoney Lane and at the end of the lane turn left along Houndsditch.

Houndsditch takes its name from a ditch which used to run adjacent to the ancient wall, and into which people were reputed to have dumped dead dogs.

Cross Houndsditch, go into Creechurch Lane.

Nearby is Bevis Marks Synagogue oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom (www.bevismarks.org.uk)

Check these directions: Continue along Creechurch Lane, pass Sugar Bucks Court. Turn left down Mitre Street into Mitre Square.

A sketch from the Illustrated police news from 1888
A sketch from the Illustrated Police News from 1888

The fourth victim was found on the pavement just inside Mitre Square. Catherine Eddowes was the second of the Ripper’s victims murdered on 30th September 1888.

Catherine Eddowes

Catherine was born in Wolverhampton in 1842. She originally worked as a tin plate stamper. After marrying an ex soldier she moved with him to London with their three children. She left the family and moved into a lodging house at Flower and Dean Street. Friends described Catherine as five feet tall with dark auburn hair and hazel eyes. She was intelligent and a jolly woman who liked to sing.

On the evening of the 30th September Eddowes had been arrested for being extremely drunk and impersonating a fire engine on Aldgate High Street. By 1.00am she had sobered up and released. She headed back to Aldgate High Street. At about 1.30am a group of men leaving a nearby club saw Eddowes with a man standing in the shadows of St James Passage with her hand on his chest. The men thought nothing unaward and continued.

A sketch from the Illustrated police News 1888
A sketch from the Illustrated police News 1888

Less than quarter of an hour later a PC found Catherine’s body.

Carry on along Mitre Square then turn left along Aldgate High Street. Cross over so that St Botolph’s Church is on your left.

There has been a church on the site for over 1000 years. In Jack the Ripper’s time it was known as the Church of Prostitutes as women would walk continually around the island looking for trade.

At the moment there is a new public space being built around the church.

Walk along Aldgate High Street, you should pass Aldgate Station.

Continue to the Hoop and Grapes Pub, just before the junction with Mansell Street.

Hoops and Grapes Pub
Hoops and Grapes Pub

 

This is the oldest pub in the City of London. It is one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire just stopped short of the building, which was a private house at the time. it is the only surviving 17th century timber-framed building in the City – the door, which is original, leans to the left.

There is rumoured to be a secret passage leading from the cellar to Traitors Gate which smugglers used.

The next part of the walk is fairly long along Aldgate and Whitechapel(? Miles) so you do have the option of turning back here and follow your footsteps back to Wentworth Street and rejoining the walk at Brick Lane)

Use the pedestrian crossing and continue along Aldgate High Street.

Elizabeth Strides body was found near here in a yard that is no longer. She was murdered shortly before Eddowes on the 30th September.

Elizabeth Stride

Elizabeth was the daughter of a Swedish farmer. In 1869 she married a ships carpenter and for a while the couple kept a coffee house in Poplar,East London, but the couple split and Stride moved into a lodging house in Flower and Dean Street. Dr Barnardo, a leading social reformer, claimed that he met Stride at a lodging house the night before she died.

On the night of Elizabeth murder she was seen by a PC with a man wearing a hard felt hat outside a social club. The man was carrying a package about 18 inches in length. One can only wonder what was in that bag.

Stride’s body was discovered at 1.00am by an employee of the club, in a yard adjacent to the club. The worker drove into the yard with a pony and cart when his horse shied. He lit a match to see the body and was convinced that the attacker was hiding in the yard. Another witness claimed he had seen Stride thrown to the ground and her attacker called out to a second man.

What is for certain is that the killer was disturbed and he fled into the darkness to search for another victim.

Pass Aldgate East Tube Station, crossover Leman Street and carry n straight – you are now on Whitechapel High Street.

Whitechapel is wide as it was once used as a drovers path for cattle on route to Smithfield Market.

You will notice on the other side of the road Whitechapel Art Gallery – www.whitechapelgallery.org which features international contemporary art.

Whitechapel Art Gallery
Whitechapel Art gallery

Walk past Altab Ali Park – formerly known as St. Mary’s Park it was the site of the old 14th Century white chapel, St. Mary Matfelon from which the area of Whitechapel gets its name, but was destroyed in The Blitz in 1940. The park was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998.  

It was renamed in memory of Altab Ali, a 25 year old Bangladeshi who was murdered on the 4th May 1978 by three teenage boys as he walked home from work. At the entrance of the park is a memorial to all victims of racist attacks.

Stop at the corner of Fieldgate Street.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry Company

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry
The Whitechapel bell Foundry

This is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, having been established in 1420 and been in this site since 1570 but is closing in May 2017.

Some of the most famous bells in the world have been cast here including Big Ben’s Great Bell of Westminster.

Continue along Whitechapel High Street and when you reach East London Mosque use te crossing to cross over the busy Whitchapel Road. Continue along here until Vallance Road.Turn possible cross-over and continue until you reach Vallance Road which is opposite the large Whitechapel Hospital. Turn down here.

The body of Ripper’s first victim. Mary Ann Nichols, was discovered at 3am on 31st August 1888, in a gateway a short distance down nearby Durward Street. The body was likely to have been there for only 15 minutes.

Mary Ann Nichols

Mary Ann was born in London to a locksmith. She married William Nichols, a printer machinist, in 1864. The couple had five children but their marriage broke up in 1881 after William had an affair with their midwife.

Mary Ann tried to cope with the five children but eventually was placed in a workhouse in Lambeth. She was unhappy though and left. For a while she lived in Flower & Dean Street.

Just past midnight on 31th August 1888 Nichols was seen leaving the Frying Pan Pub on Brick Lane after spending all her money. But she claimed to a friend that she would soon earn more money with the help of a new bonnet she had acquired. She was last seen on Whitechapel Road.

At about 3.40am she was found lying on the ground in front of a gated stable entrance in Buck’sRow (since renamed Durward Street) by a cart drive.

The police questioned locals but no one had heard or seen anything.

Continue along Vallance Street for a few minutes and then turn left along Buxton Street.

Look out for Spitalfields City Farm (www.spitalfieldscityfarm.org) – worth a visit. Just past the farm is Allen Gardens with a child’s play area.

Spitalfields city farm
Donkey at Spitalfields City Farm

When you reach the junction with Brick Lane, turn left into it and then right at Hanbury Street. Stop outside No. 29

29 Hanbury Street today
29 Hanbury Street today

This is where the second victim, Annie Chapman, was found.

Annie Chapman

In 1869, Annie married a coachman and they had three children and lived respectable lives in Windsor. But when their much loved twelve year old daughter died of meningitis.Annie and her husband took to heavy drinking and they seperated in 1884.

Annie moved to Whitechapel and lived with her new partner who made wire sieves; because of this Annie became known as Sievey. But the relationship did not last and Chapman became very depressed.

Penniless, she turned to the street to make money. At about 5.30am on the morning of her death Annie was seen near the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street. She was talking to a man of about forty,”shabby-genteel” appearance, wearing a stalker hat and dark overcoat.

Chapman’s body was discovered half an hour later, slumped near a doorway. Local residents had heard voices in the yard followed by the sound something falling against the fence.

Return to Brick Lane and turn right.

Look out for No 13 – look up and you will see the wording “Frying Pan Pub” -this is where Ann Nichols drank her money away on the night of her murder.

Brick Lane is so named because it was used by carts bringing bricks to rebuild the city after the great Fire of London.

The 18th Century Truman’s Brewery chimney can be seen from here – it brewed beer from 1666 to 1989. Today it is an arts centre.

Truman chimney in the distance
Truman chimney in the distance

If you fancy doing some shopping head for Taj Stores. Established in 1936, Taj Stores is the longest-established Asian greengrocers in London.

Stop at the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street.

The building on the right hand side of the road was built by the Huguenots in the early 18th Century as a Protestant Chapel. In 1898 it converted into a synagogue. It closed in 1970 and it is now a mosque used by the local Bangladeshi population that arrived in Spitalfields in the 1970s. It is a fantastic example of how the area has evolved over the years.

Turn right down Fournier Street.

fournier street
Fournier Street with Christ Church in the distance

This is one of the finest complete early 18th Century streets in London.

Many of the houses were built-in 1700 for the Protestant Huguenots, many who were weavers, who arrived here after fleeing persecution from Catholic France. The Huguenots had a huge impact on Spitalfields, particularly its economy. There had always been a silk industry of sorts in the area, but with the diligence and skills of the Huguenots this industry thrived, and Spitalfields became ‘weaver town’. These houses are tall and thin, each with a French shutter, and an attic with a large window where the weaver could do his work.

The silk for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress was woven at No 14.

By the 18th century the industry was in decline and many weavers found themselves in absolute poverty.

No 4 was built in 1726 by a local carpenter for his own residence. The door has ears of wheat and scallop shells which refer to the pilgrim badge of St James and is the 18th century equivalent of a welcome doormat.

No 2 is the Minister’s House. Built by Nicholas Hawksmoor who also built Christ Church nearby. It was a very modern house for it day as it was built in accordance with fire regulations and has its windows set back nine inches to prevent fire spread.

Christ Church

Christ Church
Christ Church

Christ Church was built between the years 1714 and 1729 backed by Queen Anne. At the time, there were fears that ‘godless thousands’ had no adequate church provision, and that non-conformists including large numbers of French Huguenot silk weavers were moving into Spitalfields and bringing their non-conformist worshipping ways with them. It has a tall spire so that it would tower above the smaller, non-conformist chapels!

On the far side of Christ Church is the graveyard which in Jack the Ripper’s time was known as Itchy Park as it was a popular meeting spot for the desperate covered in lice. The 1970s Small Faces pop hit Itchycoo Park was inspired by this park.

To your right of this church is the Ten Bells Pub.

Ten bells Pub
Ten Bells Pub with Spitalfields Market in the background

This pub has been here since 1851 and at least two of Ripper’s victims drank here. Annie Chapman drunk at this pub shortly before she was killed and was quite possibly was spotted here by Jack the Ripper. This was also the popular watering hole for Mary Kelly.

The name of the pub derived from the number of bells in the “peal” housed in the Christ Church.The interior of the pub is decorated with original Victorian tiling, and there is a mural of painted tiles on one side entitled Spitalfields In ye Olden Time.

Conclusion

In 1888 the Metropolitan Police were poorly paid, worked long hours and finding their way around the maze-like streets of the East End was difficult. The reputation of the East End was so bad that policemen would only enter the area in pairs. Much time during the Jack the Ripper investigation was spent following leads, logging hundreds of hoax letters, and experimenting unsuccessfully with bloodhounds to track the murderer. Forensic science did not exist so police could do little more than interview witnesses, note down the evidence given at coroner’s inquests and flood the area with officers in the hope of catching him in the act.

There has been much speculation as to the identity of the killer. Some of the suspects included surgeons, medical students, hairdressers and butchers and even one of Queen Victoria grandson’s but the police found no evidence to reveal the identity.

Jack the Ripper was never caught, but the murders he committed had far-reaching consequences. The murders have become urban myths and have shaped the way the East End is imagined. The writer George Bernard Shaw commented that Jack the Ripper had done more to spotlight the terrible conditions in the East End than any social reformer. Some improvements to the area followed the Ripper’s crimes. Flower and Dean Street was demolished and replaced by improved housing.The common lodging houses declined but poverty and overcrowding persisted, however, and in 1901 Dorset Street was still being described as ‘the worst street in London’.

This is the end of the walk. Continue ahead along Brushfield Street and turn left along Bishopsgate, back to Liverpool Street Station.

If you have the time, the energy and the money Dennis Severs House on 18 Folgate Street, near Spitalfields Market, is worth a visit. www.dennissevershouse.co.uk

It is a “still-life drama” created by the previous owner as a historical imagination” of what life would have been like inside for a family of Huguenot silk weavers. From 1979 to 1999 it was lived in by Dennis Severs, who gradually recreated the rooms as a time capsule in the style of former centuries. Visits have to be booked in advance.

 

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Historical self guided walks around London