Jack’s Back: The Ripper Returns to London


Are you partial to some salacious speculation and whodunit sleuthing? Fancy a bit of blood, guts and gore? Have a taste for crime and the occult? If so then this somewhat serious exhibition about the slayer of all slayers, Jack the Ripper, is probably not for you.

FOCUSING on the notorious murders that began in 1888, Jack the Ripper and the East End at the Museum in Docklands lets the East End take centre stage. It paints a poignant and vivid portrait of Victorian London, examining the wretched labyrinthine world where the killings took place a decade or so before the turn of the 20th century.

With over 200 Ripper-related artefacts, including original police reports and the infamous ‘Dear Boss’ letter-to-the-editor penned in blood-red (allegedly by the Ripper himself) this is the first exhibition to carefully examine the mystery yet unsolved, exploring the atrocities and their enduring legacy.

Putting a spotlight on the destitute, vulnerable inhabitants of London’s East End, the tormented faces of men, women and children look out from grim black and white portraits on walls, and an 1889 poverty map created by social scientist Charles Booth shows colour-coded London streets according to wealth.

The final subdivision of the exhibition bares a warning sign, where images of ‘a distressing nature’ are partitioned off within a white-walled, oval gallery. It’s here that visitors can observe a series of postcard-sized photographs of the dead victims as taken at the crime scenes. It’s a haunting but honest homage to the women who died – victims who are too often remembered as characters caught up in a gothic fairy tale; a complex legacy of myths and legends.

Although the exact number murdered by the Ripper remains, like so much of this story, a matter of speculation, 11 women were knifed to death between 1888 and 1891 in the Whitechapel area, and theories about possible suspects continue to shock, fascinate and resonate even today, over 120 years after the events.

The six-month show has been curatored by Julia Hoffbrand who said the exhibition aims to “examine the contemporary evidence firsthand, and enter the world in which the crimes took place.”

First published on The London Word, June 2008.
© Abbey Stirling