Friday, November 21, 2008
Just over the back wall of the Birkbeck's pleasant beer garden is St Patrick's cemetery. Here you can find the sad little grave of Mary Kelly. She was the last known victim of Jack The Ripper - killed at around 4am on the 9th of November 1888, at 13 Miller's Court, Spitalfields. Her body had been horribly mutilated. This headstone is one of several to have been placed here. The others have been vandalised or stolen - one was destroyed within hours of being erected on the centenary of her death. Jack The Ripper tourism is big business in Spitalfields, with nightly walking tours of varying quality. When we lived in Brick Lane I was once late meeting friends at Liverpool Street station because the narrow streets on the way were choked with Ripper tours.
Most of what the tourists see are post-Ripper, all the murder sites having been demolished. One of the last to go was 29 Hanbury Street, pulled down in the early 1970s. Here's a sequence from the brilliant 1967 adaption of Geoffrey Fletcher's book The London Nobody Knows. The presenter/guide (James Mason, dressed for a grouse shoot) barges his way into number 29 to show us the squalid site of Annie Chapman's death. In 1967, it was still a slum.
A few years back I went to a Ripper lecture given by a Scotland Yard detective. Prize exhibit was one of Jack The Ripper's knives, recovered from one of the crime scenes. This knife had recently been returned to Scotland Yard by the grand-daughter of one of the original Ripper investigation team, who'd taken it home as a souvenir when he retired. The family had used it as a kitchen knife.