The notorious Jack the Ripper terrorised the streets of London for two months in 1888. Today, 127 years have passed since he came and left without a shred of usable evidence, and still he is as infamous as he ever was. The Ripper’s reign of terror in the East End of London surely made for one of the most tense and fearful Halloweens in London’s history.
In the 19th century, Victorians were relatively safe compared to previous centuries. With no threat of famine and no epidemic to wipe them out, they turned their attention to preventing crime – making Britain a safer place to live. The introduction of the Met Police in 1829 cemented this fact.
Statistics are sketchy in places as poorer communities were unlikely to report crimes and often, they were logged incorrectly when they were logged at all. Largely though, crime rates for street robbery and petty theft were down by the middle of the period. Violent crime was dealt with brutally by the courts, and prison time was no easy feat.
Criminal hearings and trials were usually short and sharp, held over the course of a few days. When convicted, prisoners could expect lengthy sentences in isolation, wearing masks to prevent them from communicating, with little to no human contact. There were higher numbers of suicides reported while this system was in place too – prison was not an enviable place to be.
Although it was abolished in murder cases in 1965, in prior decades, capital punishment was seen as something of a spectacle – for public entertainment. In fact, some companies ran day trips to executions. So had Jack the Ripper ever been caught, he would not only have received the ultimate punishment for his heinous crimes, but there would have been a crowd to watch.
The 19th century also saw overpopulation. Women outnumbered men, and many were reduced to prostitution to survive. While the act itself was not illegal, these women were looked down upon like criminals – albeit with victimless crimes. As such, the Ripper may well have considered that he was “cleaning the streets” of these criminals.
However, his crimes were so atrocious that his punishment, from one of history’s most severe prison systems, wouldn’t bear thinking about. Just imagine the sentence if Jack the Ripper had been caught – could a Halloween hanging have been his fate? Perhaps, while awaiting this fate, he would have spent a spell in the Hulks – re-purposed warships from which no prisoner ever escaped. Browse our site today and book yourself onto one of our seasonal tours!
As it stands, one of the most infamous serial killers in UK history got away with murder, numerous times, and was free to prowl the streets of London at will during the Halloween of 1888.
Men, women and children walked around modestly, scared of their own shadows. You could smell the heightened fear in the air, and the terror was palpable. Would he strike again while the public held their play parties, dressed as the dead already? Perhaps he would launch an assault as the women herded their children home for harvest celebrations. It almost seems fitting that he was at large for what is considered the scariest day of the year – when the dead walk among the living.
These feelings of insecurity and dread slowly dissipated as days passed into November, and just when they thought it was safe, the Ripper struck one last time. Just like that, a chilling end to his monstrous hold over London.
If you felt the hairs on the back of your neck rise up, felt a chill in the air knowing that true fear existed at this time of year, and you are eager to learn more then get in touch and book your place on our Halloween special Jack the Ripper tour.