How the Victorian Era Shaped the 1888 Murders

DATED: 15.05.24

The grisly 1888 Jack the Ripper murder did not happen in isolation. England as a whole had been undergoing a media revolution that meant that what happened in 1888 was consequently written about in newspapers across the country, creating a drama mystery that fed directly into the imaginations of the newly emerging ‘chattering classes.’  

In 1861, duty on paper was abolished, which led to a growing commercialisation of newspapers. The improving education system was also extending the number of people who could read and write and were hungry for the news and stories of the changing and evolving society.  

Why is the Changing Media Important to What Happened in Whitechapel 1888?

In London, newspapers were printed daily and were priced much more accessibly for a wider demographic. The Daily Telegraph, for example, dropped in price from 2d down to 1d, which resulted in an increase in circulation to 140,000 copies every day. 

In the same way that we have seen an explosion in the demand for content in the 21st century through social media, that same demand for content drove a hunger for more and more stories. When the 1888 London murders took place in Whitechapel, the gruesomeness, mystery, and intrigue of the killings were the perfect fodder for the growing number of ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ – cheaply produced magazines that sold entertainment rather than information and needed to entice through shock. 

There was even talk of nefarious journalists and reporters who would fabricate ‘facts,’ creating a potential trail of false evidence to spice up the stories they were writing. As well as spreading fear and panic, this practice also seriously hampered the official police investigation that had to sort out what was real and was made up.  

The Role and Rights of Victorian Women

It is also important to take into account the conditions under which many women struggled during Victorian England, and how these conditions placed them into circumstances that made them vulnerable to such malicious intentions as played out by the Ripper. 

In short, women had no rights. They were unable to vote or own property. They could work, but that work was limited to either supporting their husbands in a small business, working in service, menial tasks in factories, or taking to the streets. While there were mumblings of a feminist political movement beginning to gain traction, as illustrated by the London matchgirls strike in London in the June of 1888, Queen Victoria was not known to support any move towards a more equitable society, believing it to be ‘wicked folly’. 

It is for this reason that the Whitechapel of England in1888 could become the potential hunting ground for a savage individual driven by a misogynistic blood lust. The area was full of women who had slipped through the cracks of ‘acceptable’ societal norms and had to seek their own means of putting food in their mouths and a roof over their heads. As a result, their poverty placed them directly in the path of danger. 

A Whitechapel 1888 Mystery that Continues to Shock in the 21st Century

Although it’s now nearly 150 years ago, the year 1888 still resonates with the people of London – a sentiment that is woven into the content of our Whitechapel tour. 

On our Jack the Ripper tour, you will find out all about the terrifying Ripper murders of 1888, a year that was shaped by the blood and terror that reigned over those London streets for many years to come. 

A Timeline of the 1888 London Murder in the Year of the Ripper

On 3 April, Emma Elizabeth Smith was brutally attacked and killed in London. This was the first of the 1888 Whitechapel murders, but it isn’t widely thought that she was a victim of Jack the Ripper. 

The body of Martha Tabram was found on 7 August; she is thought by many to have been the first victim of Jack the Ripper. 

The first official victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary Ann Nichols, was found on 31 August. 

8 September saw the discovery of Jack the Ripper’s second victim, Annie Chapman. 

Also in September, London’s Central News Agency received the ‘Dear Boss’ letter signed by Jack the Ripper. 

The bodies of Catherine Eddowes and Elizabeth Stride were found in September. Both Ripper victims, they were found within hours of each other in a horrific night, which later came to be known as the double event. 

Female body parts were found in three different areas of London on 2 October. Although this was around the same time as Jack the Ripper’s crimes, it was said to be the work of someone else and is now known as the Whitehall Mystery. 

The body of Mary Jane Kelly, the fifth and final victim of Jack the Ripper was found on 9 November. 

Each of these brutal murders has shaped the world in one way or another, leaving a long-lasting impact on the world today. Though other horrendous events have taken place throughout the years, this is the one that stands out for many Londoners. The year of 1888 changed many things, not least due to the crimes of Jack the Ripper. 

If you are interested in learning more, why not take a Jack the Ripper tour for more information on the notorious killer’s crimes and victims?


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AT 5:00PM & 7:30PM

Tour Duration

1 hr 45 mins


The Jack the Ripper Casebook