In the late 19th century, London was a city divided. The West End was flourishing, prosperous and a place for the affluent to live and enjoy life. The East End was destitute, poverty-stricken and full of disease. The distance between Mayfair and Kensington from Whitechapel wasn’t as far as the bird could fly, but the distance between the classes was growing wider by the day. Despite both sides of the city knowing the situation on the other, nothing was done to reconnect the city as one – until Jack the Ripper came along.
A Look at the East End
In 1888, The East End of London was a hive of criminals, prostitutes, layabouts and gangs; everywhere you looked was tinged with disease, despair and alcoholism.
The area was overpopulated; with up to 8 people per room at times, many of these immigrants. Squalid living conditions made these cramped quarters even worse. With so many people around and so few job opportunities, it is easy to see why so many turned to gang-related crime and prostitution.
On top of this, sanitation was appalling. Inadequate and limited drainage combined with malnutrition and extreme poverty led to a vast amount of people suffering from typhoid, cholera and venereal disease.
The streets were poorly lit, barely policed and drunks littered the streets, hounding prostitutes and the general public on their way. The West End thrived, and the East End was drowning.
When it All Changed
Jack the Ripper might seem like an unlikely hero, but the killings from the Autumn of Terror served a purpose for the situation in the East End. In just ten weeks in 1888, he murdered and mutilated five prostitutes, all of whom were heavy drinkers. There were, at least, six more murders in the East End around this time, but these were believed to have been committed by others.
The Autumn of Terror thrust the East End into the spotlight. The Jack the Ripper killings horrified and fascinated in equal measure – which still stands today, but this highlighted the depravity that existed in the Whitechapel area and across the Eastern side of London.
The city and the nation recoiled in horror at the prospect of the very first serial killer, and the general public came together demanding reform in the name of housing, wages, living conditions, sanitation and safety in the streets. However, despite this positive collective outcry that something needed to be done, it further separated the lower and upper class. The upper class believed that such terrible things could only happen to the poor, and the lower classes grew wary of the upper class, the police and immigrants.
The Consequences Today
The Jack the Ripper killings changed the way the police handled these cases going forward. The Ripper was the first recorded a serial killer and set a precedent for how not to handle such cases with regards to recording, investigation and evidence. It also started the love/hate relationship that can be seen today between the police and the press, thanks to the sensationalised stories that tabloids at the time printed. Many believe that the press were responsible for the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ and that they fabricated the infamous letters; others are not so sure.
It is only when you put Jack the Ripper and London at the time into context that you can see how this is considered the greatest murder mystery of all time, and how the story will live on forever. Discover all the need to know facts and discuss the theories with us on our Jack the Ripper tour – don’t miss out; book your tickets today!