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London

Jack the Ripper Museum

9 November 1888.

The mutilated body of 25-year-old Mary Jane Kelly was found in her bed in 13 Miller’s Court. She was the youngest, and possibly the last (at least during Autumn 1888), victim of Jack the Ripper.

A few months earlier, Mary Nichols (42-43) was found murdered on 31 August. This was followed eight days later with Annie Chapman’s violent death (46). On the last day of September, two women, Elizabeth Stride (44) and Catherine Eddowes (46) were murdered within an hour of each other.

Could all of them have avoided such a violent fate?

~*~

The Jack the Ripper Museum opened in London in August 2015. There had been much contradiction when it first opened for fear that it would glorify the Ripper. It eventually changed its focus to the women of the East End. After my visit in September 2017, I would say that it is not an ‘attraction’ but a memorial to the women who were not seen as humans until their gruesome deaths were exposed to the public. There are many original artefacts, as well as copies of newspaper prints (as wallpaper) throughout the museum.

In this self-guided tour, visitors have the option to don a Victorian costume as they navigate their way around the six-storey building. Though I had considered it, I felt perturbed, as if wearing a Victorian dress would transfer me to a time and place I did never wish to go.

First Floor – Mitre Square

On your way to the first floor, you may hear a scream and then a cry, “Murder!” This is the recreated scene of the discovery of Catherine Eddowes’ mutilated body.

2016: The location of Catherine’s body

Second Floor – Ripper’s Sitting Room

This is the one floor that focuses on whom the Ripper might be. Based on the elegant interior, it suggests that the Ripper may have been fairly well-off, perhaps a surgeon or an artist. Either way, this was possibly the second most disturbing room to be in. (In fact, my blog won’t even let me upload the photo.)

Third Floor – The Police Station

In this blue room, you’ll find Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline sitting at the desk with a map of the victims’ locations.

Fourth Floor – The Bedroom

From the landing on the third floor, you can already hear a young woman singing a pretty tune. Having watched BBC’s Ripper Street‘s series finale a year before, I recognised the tune as ‘A Violet Plucked from Mother’s Grave’. This was the song that many heard Mary Kelly sing the night she was murdered. Whilst you hear [Carys Macdonald] sing the song on repeat, you step into a recreated bedroom that could very well have resembled hers or the other women who lived in poverty.

Lower Level – Mortuary

This was the last floor I visited and the hardest one to walk into. Granted, I had initially misread that this was the mortuary where Elizabeth Stride’s body had been and shivered as I walked in. It turns out that the now derelict mortuary is in the churchyard of St George’s in the East, just off Cable Street. On one side of the wall are the original stained glass window and drawers from the mortuary. By the door are original autopsy photos of the victims’ bodies.

~*~

It is infuriating that we may never confirm the identity of Jack the Ripper. Yet I wonder if learning his (or even her) identity is really the most important thing.

130 years later we must ask ourselves if enough is being done for impoverished women, not only in Britain but around the world. Are not many still resorting to prostitution if they have not been forced to become modern slaves? Are not many addicted to alcohol (and drugs)? Are not many of them mothers, forced to be separated from their children?

What are we willing to do to make sure that another Jack the Ripper will not terrorise the poorest of the poor?


Address: 12 Cable St, London, E1 8JG

Hours: Mon-Sun 9:30-18:30

Tickets: £10 online or £12 at the door

Tips:

  1. I would suggest going with at least one other person but not as a large group. Going alone can be quite frightening, going with another is good for company, but going with a large group can desensitise you from the experience. I think you want to feel slightly afraid to know how the women would have felt.
  2. Go on a Jack the Ripper Walk to see where the five main victims lived and were murdered. There are so many tours to choose from, some free, some around £10+. My first tour took place during the day and was led by an enthusiastic Ripperologist who believed he knew whom the Ripper was. Although you can see a lot more during the day, it can be quite distracting with so many people around you. My most recent tour took place during the evening and was led by a local guide from Limehouse whose grandmother grew up in the same area during the Whitechapel murders. The main difference was that the focus was less on the mysterious and infamous Ripper but more on the women who had names, families, and identities. It was this tour where the names of each victim was seared on my memory.