Between April 1888 and February 1891, eleven women were brutally murdered in London’s East End. The blood-red signature on a letter to the press gave the killer a name that has become an indelible part of London’s identity: Jack the Ripper.
Bringing together surviving original documents for the first time, including police files, photographs, and letters from the public, Jack the Ripper and the East End maps the world which witnessed the murders and was transformed by them.
Artefacts, including Charles Booth’s meticulously drawn maps of poverty, and oral history recordings from those who grew up in the East End around the time of the murders, throw sharp light on the slums of Whitechapel and on the grim lives of their inhabitants. A wretched maze of alleyways, courts and dead-ends, filthy doss houses and dwellings, formed a landscape of poverty which shaped restless, shifting communities.
Previously unseen photographs from the Museum’s archive vividly illustrate the destitution of the turn-of-the-century East End. The exhibition explores how the murders were a huge catalyst for change, creating public revulsion at the desperate state of life in the shadows of the world’s richest city.
The hard and precarious lives of the murdered women, who sold their bodies to pay for a bed and drink is traced in detail. Case histories from Stepney Union Workhouse records the sad and all too familiar paths which brought women to the workhouse, while objects attest to the limited options available for making a meagre living, from sweatshop tailoring to the phosphorus fumes of the match factory.
As Eastender Arthur Harding recalls in a recording in the exhibition:
“…poor old Mary Kelly, she’d take them up to her room. She had a room in Dorset Street, she probably paid about two bob a week. I think she did pay, a shilling a night she paid. But see she hadn’t paid her rent, so poor cow she was, you know what I mean, she was right down to her bottom, nothing.”
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