What does a Jack the Ripper School Tour Consist of?
Our tours begin outside Exit Three of Aldgate East Tube Station (The Whitechapel Art Gallery) and takes pupils straight into Gunthorpe Street, which in 1888 was known as George Yard. Here we take your students back to 1888 by explaining the provenance of the shelter for homeless girls, and how they feared for their lives as they went about their general day to day lives.
Gunthorpe Street is a long narrow alleyway with cobbled stones, and helps us to give your students the understanding of how crowded, dark and unsavoury the streets of London’s East End were in 1888. This is the best street in the East End that gives students an understanding of how close-knit the area once was, helping them to understand the impact that social conditions had on the area, and how one of the most notorious murderers in history went undetected.
It is, at this point, that we ask students to discuss what it would have been like in the East End in 1888, and think about what it would have been like to live here. We compare other areas of London and ask them to consider what professions they might have had in order to live in the East End and relate wages, in real terms, to how much they would have been paid today.
We then move on and into the East End of London and begin with the first canonical victim.
Mary Ann Nichols was the first official Jack the Ripper victim, and we start by linking her life to the other East End victims. All of Jack’s victims were living in the East End, and made their living by becoming ladies of the night. They all used common lodging houses (‘doss houses’) and had no real fixed abode, this in itself is one of the many reasons the killer was able to avoid detection.
Moving on, we talk about another victim; Martha Tabram. Martha is not included in the canonical five murders but she is included in the Whitechapel Murder File as a potential Jack the Ripper victim - and this is why we include her in our tour. The Whitechapel files consist of 10 murders in total that were also linked to Jack the Ripper; we explain the theory, escalation and why they may or may not be linked.
Throughout the tour your students are encouraged to ask questions, offer their own theories and are able to discuss details of the case with their guide.
From here we then go to Thrawl Street, where Mary Nicholls was lodging at the time of her murder. Here we discuss with your students how the network of narrow streets and alleyways provided the perfect cover for a killer to get away and the potential Ripper sightings. We discuss how reliable the sightings really were and ask the students to imagine how dark the streets will have been at night with the gas lamps on, and how this will have influenced the investigation.
Setting the Stage for a Serial Killer
As walk through the network of streets we point out Wilkes Street and Fournier Street, both still as they were in 1888; lined with houses with rooms that will have housed entire families. It’s at this point we also discuss the importance of the press and the invention of the first name for Jack the Ripper – Leather Apron – which is based on the witness statements for local prostitutes that this man was running local extortion rackets. We discuss how further eye-witness statements created race riots and how this influenced further decisions by the police in their investigations. We again question students and encourage them to discuss the investigation and how it could have been carried out differently, such as photographing the scenes, evidence contamination and DNA profiling.
Going further on our tour we visit the site of Annie Chapman's murder, we then pass by the Ten Bells Pub – where it is reported the victims all drank before they were killed, and is still the same as it was in 1888. We also pass the Christchurch, and explain that this would have been the way most people knew what time it was, and how this will have affected the investigation.
We then pass the Queens Head Pub, where victim Elizabeth Stride was seen drinking on the evening she was murdered. Following this, we walk to the site of Catherine Eddowes murder at Mitre Square. Here, we ask the students to question what they have been told and think about the investigation as a whole.
Moving on we head on towards Ghoulston Street where the infamous message:
“The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing"
was discovered and ask your students to think back to how the earlier threat of race riots could have influenced the inspector’s decision to have the writing washed away before it could be seen by other members of the public.
Another clue was also discovered in this infamous doorway, a blood-soaked section of cloth from Catherine Eddowes' apron. We again ask your students to think about the significance of this find, and why its location is important.
Finally, we end our tour by going near to Millers Court where the last victim, Mary Kelly, was killed in her lodging room - the only victim to have been killed indoors.
We end our tour by asking your students questions and encouraging them to engage with the guide, offering a range of potential suspects and debunking modern myths.