Guest writer JON REES, a Ripperologist, explains how Jack The Ripper still fascinates us almost 125 years since the Whitechapel murders terrorised London’s East End
London, 1888. The heart of the British Empire and one of the most prosperous cities in the world.
The rich, affluent and powerful lived in the West End, whereas the City was the financial centre of the Empire.
Yet on the doorstep of this wealthy metropolis lay the East End.
Described by author Jack London in 1902 as being “the abyss”, the East End was a mass of poverty and squalor and Whitechapel was one of its most deprived areas being a nest of immigrants, the homeless and criminals with the Metropolitan Police estimating that there were 1200 prostitutes in the Whitechapel area, forced into the work by a need to survive.
In the Autumn of that year a series of murders took place that, in the minds of many including playwright George Bernard Shaw, did more to raise awareness of the conditions of the East End than generations of social reformers.
These murders, later attributed to the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, would inspire movies, books, music and even action figures.
Today, the shadow of the Whitechapel murders still looms over the East End.
- The White Hart pub on Whitechapel High Street has painted murals inside and out displaying its Ripper links.
- The Sheraz Bangla Lounge on Brick Lane proudly writes about its part in the Ripper tale in its menu.
- The very tasteful barbers shop on Toynbee Street is called Jack the Clippers and displays a mural of the shadowy top hatted figure in it’s window.
- And one only has to walk around Whitechapel on any night of the week (but it is far more noticeable on weekends) to be passed by numerous walking tours showing the murder sites, sometimes with historical and educational decorum, but others with lurid and tasteless detail.
A huge area of interest has spread over the study of these murders.
Books, Movies aplenty on Ripper murders
Each year numerous books are published.
Some giving well researched historical fact on the case, others speculation and sensationalism.
Ripperology (as the subject is known) is a vibrant community of experts and interested researching areas such as the victims and their family histories, suspects, the witnesses and police investigating the case, the history and geography of the area, and of course the ultimate question: Who was Jack the Ripper?
The Ripperologists debates are centered on message boards such as jtrforums.com, casebook.org and increasingly, Facebook.
Conferences are held biannually where delegates are addressed on authorities on the case, presenting new research or a new angle to facts.
The Whitechapel Society meets every other month in the East End and presents talks on the case and related subjects.
Other more informal gatherings such as the yearly London Job where Ripperologists do walks of the East End and photograph Victorian buildings, as well as one off events.
Jack the Ripper is still a popular subject in fiction.
Ripper to return in Hammer Horror
A future film from the revived British horror studios Hammer will feature the Ripper.
TV shows such as Whitechapel have put a copycat Ripper in modern times. Jack is the subject of numerous comic books, battling the CSI team and even Batman.
Many TV shows have had a one off “Jack the Ripper” episode – from crime shows such as Criminal Minds and Law and Order to Star Trek and Goodnight Sweetheart, and it only seems to be a couple of years between each time a film, novel or computer game pits Sherlock Holmes against the Whitechapel murderer.
READ: ANDREW GARVEY reviews Jack the Ripper-themed graphic novel Terminus at Fenton’s Green
While it is still far from clear just who Jack the Ripper was or why he killed, what is clear is that his influence on the East End and society in general is as great as ever.
JON REES has a blog where he discusses all sorts of things, including crime and Jack the Ripper. Read the blog here.