Jack the Ripper Tour review
I'm actually a bit scared sitting here, waiting for the Jack the Ripper Tour to start. I could die tonight. Apparently this guy knows all there is to know about the case, so I'm wondering if he was in on it. Think about it... they never caught Jack the Ripper did they. And here is some bloke who supposedly knows all about the murder places and the grisly ways they met their maker. It all sounds a bit suss to me.
The tour starts outside the Trader's Gate Souvenir Shop by Tower Hill station, but it's worth getting there an hour early to have a nose around the area. You can do a full lap around the Tower of London and see quite a lot, and have a little stroll along the river too, for a good view of Tower Bridge and City Hall. When it finally gets going he leads you up onto Tower Hill proper, to see the spot where they executed all the traitors. Our group is about fifteen people big, made up of all ages and nationalities. Disappointingly, the tour guide turns out to be quite a young bloke, about 35 to 40-ish. At first sight he doesn't seem to be very steeped in Ripper-lore. He's a bit of a "geezer", from the gun-tooting ghettos of East London. I've had plenty of tour guides who were friendly, and some who were funny, but never one who seems to be angry at authority. I reckon it's all part of his act though. He is building up modern-day Whitechapel like it's present-day Baghdad. He thinks he's living in Beirut. Maybe he is -- I don't live there, so what do I know. But I don't think the murder rate is quite as high as he's making out. I'm guessing that he's trying to up our heart rates until they're fit to burst, because these are the streets that we'll be walking in five minutes time -- he's trying to set the scene. Every time a police siren streams past his eyes shoot halfway up his forehead, like another murder has just taken place. Stay in a group, people — keep close! We don't want to get separated in case we get beaten up by the locals.
He begins with a little description of the area, and how it's been a magnet for immigrants and never-do-wells since the Middle Ages. Then he sets off towards St. Botolph's church and that's when he really starts to get into gear. I realise now that he is actually pretty darn good... which will teach me not to judge a book by its cover in the future. The problem was that I was expecting the usual touristy fare... an old guy with a big bushy beard dressed up in a Sherlock Holmes outfit, creeping down the streets on tippy-toes. But this guy's style is like we're talking down the pub. And he doesn't mince his words either. Our group has got a few 12-year old kids in it but he doesn't hold back. I hope they had the birds and bees speech at school, because they'll be going home with stories of whores, brothels, lynchings and god knows what else -- every nightmare under the sun. If they didn't know what a prostitute was before, then they definitely do now. They won't need their mums and dads to explain it to them on the way home. There are some things that he's saying that I'm not even going to tell you myself. Not because I'm a prude, but because I don't want to go to hell. He's describing each death in detail, right down to which bit of the body was thrown where (it's gruesome). If you can't stomach the thought of someone's stomach being draped across their shoulders, or their kidney being chopped up and posted to the police, then maybe this tour isn't for you.
He paints a good picture on the steps of St. Botolph's church, about how the ladies lined up on the door and got picked off by the punters. Pretty ladies, these -- women with their teeth missing and boils as big as noses on their noses. That's when he introduces us to Catherine Eddowes, and describes her typical day... showing us her 'patch', where she had her fumbles, and even the original police station where she spent a few hours on her fateful day. You get to see the brick wall in Mitre Square too, where she ended up a bloodied corpse with her entrails hanging out.
He could have done with a few photos of the victims at this point, but the only one he had was of Mary Kelly -- that famous final photo of her dying pose, laid out on the bed with her guts on show. And all he did for that one was pass around a little image on his mobile phone. It was only two inches square, but it was enough to make you look away. I think that your imagination needs all the help it can get on a tour like this -- because the route is much changed from its Victorian heyday. A lot of the murder sites got bombed out in the war, and all that's left are a few old houses on one side of the street. Mary Kelly's final spot is a multi-story car-park, for example. A lot of the other ones he didn't even bother going to, because there's no point -- the streets don't even exist anymore. But there's enough stuff still standing to give you an inkling of what it must have been like. It's not the prettiest part of town, but there are some nice atmospheric little alleys and squares. And you get to see inside Spitalfields Market too.
He offers up lots of interesting little tidbits about what the area was originally like. You see a lot of nice-looking pubs, for example, only to discover that they were once brothels. When he points up to the big windows and glowing lights on the first floor you realise what they were used for. You see the inn where all the whores drank their gin, before hot-footing it over to the buying line at St. Botolph's. You see the city limits too, where the City of London police had to give up the chase and hand over to the Met. Along the way he tells you all about the suspects, and the evidence for and against. He dispels plenty of myths too, about the fake letters and long-cloaked costume that he was supposed to have worn. He never actually gets around to saying who did it though -- nobody knows. He just leaves a few names dangling in the wind for you to think about on the way home.
Despite my silly initial impression, it turned out to be pretty good. It was a very wordy, educational tour. No one jumps out in fancy dress, or spray paints their face in blood. You learn about the case, and that's it. Then you go home and have a few nightmares. They only disappointing bit was a fat American woman who was yak yak yakking to her husband the whole way through, about what they were going to do for the rest of the week. I was hoping Jack the Ripper would leap out and make her his sixth victim.
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