Jack the Ripper guided walks are a hugely successful tourist attraction in the East End of London but as I discovered when I was researching The Night in Question, 117 years on very little remains of the murder sites. Bucks Row, where Polly Nichols’ body was discovered, has been renamed Durward Street and is hardly recognisable. Only the old Board School, now converted to apartments, still looms over the place.
The north side of Hanbury Street where Annie Chapman was killed, in a yard behind a cat’s meat shop, has also been redeveloped. The site of Dutfield’s Yard where Lizzie Stride perished is now a primary school playground. Mitre Square is all corporate steel and glass, and the Dorset Street rookery where Mary Kelly lived and died is long gone. Visitors interested in the Whitechapel Murders have to be satisfied with a few familiar street names and a lot of atmospheric spin. But they can then retire, for liquid consolation, to the Ten Bells, a pub which has undisputed connections to the murders of 1888.
It’s perhaps worth pointing out that in Victorian London not all purveyors of alcohol were pubs. Anyone with a couple of pounds for a licence could set up a beer shop and sell ale, beer and cider. But only public houses licensed by a magistrate could sell spirits. Gin consumption had declined by the 1880s. Rum or brandy would have been a more likely choice for those who could afford stronger drink.
Pubs and beer shops were very important to the indigent population of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, people who often lacked all domestic comforts, living hand to mouth, sleeping in doss houses when they had money and in doorways when they didn’t. Little wonder Jack’s victims were all known to frequent drinking holes. They were places they could stay warm and dry for an hour and rest from their endless trudging, places where they could take a drop of something to deaden their hunger and fatigue, and perhaps catch the eye of a man willing to exchange the price of a drink for a threepenny upright.
|The Ten Bells|
The Ten Bells pub on the corner of Commercial Street and Fournier Street displays a list of Jack’s victims which, to the disapproval of many Ripperologists includes the name of Martha Turner, also known as Martha Tabram. Everything about the Whitechapel Murders is open to debate, including the number of women Jack murdered. The so-called ‘canonical five’ excludes Martha but I’m with the Ten Bells on this. I consider her to have been one of his victims, possibly his first. But my purpose today isn’t to conduct a body count. Let’s get back to the pub.
The most definite connection between the Ten Bells and the Ripper murders is Mary Jane (aka Marie Jeanette) Kelly, reckoned by many to have been his last victim and by some, myself included, possibly not to have been his victim at all. Mary Kelly was a regular at the Ten Bells. Two other victims, Lizzie Stride and Annie Chapman were also known to drink there, indeed tradition has it that Annie was seen in the Ten Bells just a few hours before she was murdered. On the night Lizzie Stride met her fate she’d been seen drinking elsewhere, in The Bricklayer’s Arms, a beer shop on the corner of Settles Street and Fordham Street. That building still stands. It’s now a convenience store.
|formerly the Bricklayer's Arms|
Mary Kelly was also a regular at the Britannia pub, known more familiarly as Ma Ringer’s. It stood on the corner of Commercial Street and Dorset Street. When Mary was killed the regulars at the Britannia and the Ten Bells had a whip-round to buy flowers for her funeral. Annie Chapman was known at the Britannia too, and was remembered for getting into a fight there perhaps over a man, perhaps over money, perhaps over disputed ownership of a piece of soap. Such were those women’s lives. The Britannia was demolished years ago when the Dorset Street slums were cleared and Spitalfields Market was redeveloped.
|The Frying Pan pre-gentrification|
Finally, there was the Frying Pan pub, on the corner of Brick Lane and Thrawl Street. Polly Nichols spent her last evening there, drinking away her bed money, which is no doubt why she was on Bucks Row at 3 am that fateful morning looking for trade. The Frying Pan has had several incarnations since Polly’s time, and is now the Brick Lane hotel (en-suite rooms, WiFi and air-conditioning) and the Sheraz Bangla Lounge restaurant. I wonder what poor Polly would make of that.
So if you’re ever in Whitechapel and want to tread some genuine Ripper-related ground I’d say you could do worse than a drink in the Ten Bells followed by a balti on Brick Lane.