Jack the Ripper, a name synonymous with brutality, menace and mystery, is undisputedly the world’s most infamous serial killer. The perpetrator of five murders of prostitutes in 1888 in East London over a span of twelve weeks, the story behind his sinister acts is one that has puzzled law enforcement, historians and Londoners themselves for almost 130 years.
As a bit of a history buff myself (fun fact: I have an Honors degree in History and am a trained secondary school History teacher), I am always keen to uncover the history of any place I visit. It appears as though I’m not the only one who is interested in the sinister events that occurred in 1888, however. A few years ago, only a handful of Jack the Ripper tours were on the scene in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, the East London neighbourhoods that were the backdrop to the murders. Today Jack the Ripper tours are one of the district’s prime attractions, with multiple tour companies running tours every night. For those interested in these events, trying to decide which tour to pick from the many companies on offer can be tricky. I decided to book a tour with the original company that has been running tours the longest: the Jack the Ripper Tour through Discovery Tours.
The Jack the Ripper Tour Experience
Bringing history alive
As a history lover and (former) history teacher, I loved the fact that all the guides on the Jack the Ripper tour were genuine experts in their field. My guide was Lindsay Siviter, who has spent the past 25 years sifting through the historical evidence surrounding these murder mysteries. She is the leading expert on Sir William Gull, a suspect that many Hollywood films and TV dramas have depicted as Jack the Ripper, but whom she has proved as innocent through her extensive research. She is also a curator at the Scotland Yard Crime Museum. She not only knew her stuff, but was a guide that really had the gift for bringing history alive to her group. As I am a teacher (that is, until I quit my job), this was something I really valued! Her delivery was engaging as she recreated the sense of mystery that baffled police and horrified wider London. Stopping at various points around Whitechapel that were significant to the events that unfolded over those 12 weeks in 1888, Lindsay presented original photographs, newspaper stories, original crime scene photographs and other historical sources that transported us back to the horrifying times when the Ripper was terrorising London.
Group sizes are restricted
One of the initial things that attracted me to choose this Jack the Ripper tour over others was the fact that numbers are restricted on each tour. You must book ahead through the website and can’t just turn up on a whim. Some other tour companies in London offering Jack the Ripper tours don’t have a booking process and will take anyone who simply turns up on the night. This sometimes means that groups pushing upwards of 100 people are being herded around Whitechapel and Spitalfields, much to the chagrin of locals and visitors alike, who can barely hear their guide. Discovery Tours limits booking numbers to a maximum of 34 people per tour, which means that guests can interact with the guide more easily, ask questions and feel the genuinely spooky atmosphere drifting in as the sun goes down!
Setting the scene in East London
The tour began at the Aldgate East underground station at 7pm, which is right in the heart of Jack the Ripper’s old haunts. After checking off everyone’s names who had already booked, we headed off promptly to find the location of the first murder sites. One of the things I liked most about the structure of this tour was that it followed a chronological route. It really helped to put the events as they unfolded into context. Within a minute of the tour beginning we had turned under a small archway and found ourselves in a cobblestoned alleyway, stopping at our first murder scene, albeit one that cannot be attributed to Jack the Ripper for sure. As photographs of the same street in the late 1800s were passed around, I was struck by how little it had changed today.
We continued on, briefly down Brick Lane and then down the atmospheric warren of backstreets that is Spitalfields.
These quiet streets were the backdrop against which all of the horrific events of 1888 unfolded. Whilst these houses might be worth a fortune now, back in Jack the Ripper’s day, this area was rough and was filled with prostitutes, drugs and all kinds of unsavoury types.
All of Jack the Ripper’s victims were prostitutes and it is probable that they all knew one another. We stopped at the Ten Belles pub, which has changed little since the 19th century. At least two of the Jack the Ripper victims were known to have frequented this local watering hole. It was so eerie standing opposite this pub, imagining how these women may have been watched here by the Ripper himself!
Our very own CSI
As we followed in the footsteps of Jack the Ripper and tracked the chronology of the ‘Whitechapel murders’ over the autumn of 1888, we learnt that the murderer became increasingly brutal and brazen as time progressed. We visited the sites of all five murders attributed to Jack the Ripper and, with night enclosing around us and the orange glow of the street lamps lighting our way, it was easy to imagine we were the Victorian police on the hunt for the serial killer that forever eluded them. We passed through all key sites in the Jack the Ripper reign of terror, including the walkway where he scrawled his only cryptic clue: ‘The Jewes [sic] are the men that will not be blamed for nothing’, the two locations of the night of the double murder, as well as the former convent where his last victim desperately sought shelter before she was brutally murdered in the opposite street.
All the gristly details revealed
Part of the reason that this tour felt so authentic was because of the way that all the gristly details of the murderers were revealed. Nope, nothing is sugar coated on this tour! The brutalised manner in which each of the women was found was recounted in detail at each of the sites. If you’re someone with a weak stomach, a word of warning: perhaps stop reading now! Each of the Ripper victims had their throats, some so deeply that it reached their spinal columns. In most cases, the bodies of the women were also mutilated afterwards, with the mutilations becoming more and more savage as time progressed. At least three of the women had internal organs removed, such as the uterus, a kidney or, in the case of Mary Jane Kelly’s body, every internal organs had been removed. This fact led a lot of investigators to believe that the killer had some kind of anatomical knowledge, fueling theories that he may have been a medial student, have worked as a butcher or in an abattoir.
If a recount of the manner in which each of the victims was found didn’t paint enough of a vivid picture, the original police photographs of the women were also passed around. You weren’t forced to look at them, as some of them, particularly the one of Mary Jane Kelly, were disturbing, but as historical sources, they did give an additional sense of realism to the events behind the infamous Jack the Ripper legend. Have you got the eebie-jeebies yet? Imagine all of this being recounted at the actual murder sites in the eerie back streets of London after dark!
As the guides leading these Jack the Ripper tours are some of the most prominent ‘ripperologists’ today, they are the source of the most up-to-date developments in the ongoing investigation into this case. Despite sensational recent announcements revealing the identity of Jack the Ripper, experts in the field, including our guide, have raised questions over the reliability of the evidence, which include inaccurate reporting of DNA sampling.
Book this tour if…
♥ You want to follow the chronology of the events and how they unfolded
♥ You want to see as many key sites relevant to the Jack the Ripper mystery as possible
♥ You want to be able to interact with your guide easily and ask questions
♥ You don’t like being herded around in large groups
♥ You like suspense and enjoy history being told like it was a story
♥ You want to be guided by the leading researchers in Ripper history
Book this Jack the Ripper tour online here. Tours run every day of the week and depart at 7pm sharp.
Disclosure: I attended this Jack the Ripper tour as a guest in exchange for this review. As always, my opinions are my own.