Jack the Ripper stalked London’s streets and terrorised the Whitechapel community in the Autumn of 1888. Not only did he brutally murder five unfortunate ladies of the night, but he got away with it. For all the frenzied media and manhunts that surrounded the heinous crimes and poor victims, nothing was ever found to be conclusive, and the most infamous killer in London’s history managed to remain in the shadows.
No one knows what became of the Ripper; where he went, why he stopped or how close he came to getting caught. But we do know he managed to carry out his torture and mutilations in relative peace, undisturbed and undetected by both the police and the good people of London. He was the worst kind of culprit; fearsome and fearless.
But there was another killer that held Victorian London in its grips; one that would have given even the Ripper a run for his money. It could cast a dark and choking blanket over the city, wind its ways through streets and alleys, and attack Londoners indiscriminately. Silent, deadly, menacing in the way it hung around and haunted people day and night.
The fog that gripped the Big Smoke in the 19th century was a killer far pervasive and far more fearsome than the Ripper it helped to hide.
Eight years before our favourite Jack the Ripper began terrifying the capital, the fog shaved down the population. January-February 1880 saw an alarmingly high death rate, with an even more worrying portion attributed to respiratory problems.
According to the contemporary account of R. Russell, the fog was the cause of many deaths at the time. In fact, while the cold was the usual culprit for winter deaths, he notes that in the space of just three weeks, the fog managed to kill far more people, with respiratory diseases like the whooping cough and bronchitis.
On January 24th, 1880, 1909 deaths were recorded in London and the surrounding area; 559 were respiratory-related. A week later, January 31st, the fog had worsened along with the cold, and the death toll was 2200, of which 757 had been caused by respiratory diseases and issues. And the week after? Well, February 7th saw a staggering 3376 deaths. The fog had become far denser, and the cold was particularly severe, and as such, 1557 of the week’s deaths were due to respiratory problems caused (most likely) by the fog.
What the fog lacks in horrific imagery, it makes up for in sheer volume, killing far more people than the Ripper ever could have. And we shouldn’t think for one minute that death by poisonous fog is “easier” than the mutilations inflicted on the canonical five, because Londoners of every age and class found themselves choked to death, the pain long and lingering, with the very air they breathed.
So which London killer would you prefer to face on a cold, dark and murky night in London’s East End? Well, we can’t guarantee the fog will make quite the same appearance (thank goodness), but we can bring you face to face with the morbidly intriguing world of Jack the Ripper and his unfortunate victims. Just book yourself on to one of our Jack the Ripper tours.