I’ve always been fascinated by Jack the Ripper.  It’s probably not possible to be captivated by British culture and not also be curious about the dark deeds of their most infamous citizen.  And so of course a walking tour through Jack’s stalking grounds was high on my list of things to do.

There are a number of these tours, but make no mistake, the London Walks tour is the best.  Our guide was Mr. Donald Rumbelow, considered to be the world expert on the Ripper.  A former London police sergeant, now a crime historian, Mr. Rumbelow’s written a number of books on the Ripper, and he owns what is believed to be Jack’s knife!

The tour begins outside the Tower Hill tube station, across from the Tower of London.  When I first arrive there are only a few people, but before long there’s a large crowd and I get worried that it will be hard to see.  Then Mr. Rumbelow appears, wearing khakis, a button-down, and a rumpled jacket, wheeling a little cart filled with copies of his latest book.  He’s very kindly, chats with everyone.

And then the tour begins and I soon forget my worries.  Because Mr. Rumbelow is a master storyteller.  As he leads us to each site, he weaves the tale of the Ripper murders in a straightforward fashion – gruesome details and all – but with respect for the victims.  No sensationalism.  Just the cold hard facts told in an engaging way, with a dash of humor.  Mr. Rumbelow is very diligent about making sure everyone can hear him and gets to see each site.  He shares details that I’ve never heard of or read before.  For instance, I didn’t know that the first victim, Polly Nichols, had been married, with five children, before taking to the streets.  I didn’t know that Catherine Eddowes met up with Jack outside a church – St. Botolph’s – and that this church was used by many prostitutes as a kind of pick-up spot because it was situated on a busy roundabout.  If a prostitute stood in one place for too long, she could be arrested for soliciting.  But if she kept moving the cops would leave her alone.  So the women would walk around and around St. Botolph’s till they found a customer.  A kind of crazy carousel, round and round till someone pulls you off.  Can you imagine?

But it’s when we cross over the boundary separating the City of London and the East End that I really become captivated.  It’s in the East End that I feel transported back in time, as if I could be a woman in 1888, walking the same cobble-stoned streets.  The same streets Jack must surely have stalked.  Many of the buildings in the East End have survived from the Ripper’s time, which is why it has such an aura about it.  But the feeling goes beyond that – a nameless sense of the many hundreds of people who lived there in such poverty, struggling every day to raise a few pence for a bed and a bite to eat.

Mr. Rumbelow guides the Ripper tour only a few times a month, but he’s well worth the wait.  Go online here to see which dates he’s walking.


08/05/2013 6:04am

The tour sounds topnotch! I've never know much about Jack the Ripper.

I know that every part of London you mention, I say "That's my favorite area!" but I'm going to say it again: The East End is (definitely, truly, really) my very favorite! You can "feel" history walking those streets! Brick Lane. The hipster mecca, Shoreditch.

08/05/2013 8:52am

Gosh, yes! This was the first place, other than Hampton Court, that I really felt the history. An amazing feeling. I'm going to go back one day and just walk around there. Ahhh! So much to see!

09/01/2013 3:51pm

Just wanted to let you know that today, after I ran your "Ripper" post, an interesting guy on Twitter "favored" the Tweet announcing your post. He calls himself a "Ripperologist," which, I suspect, you could call yourself as well! Here is the URL of his website: http://harbinger451.co.uk/theripperologist01

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