The London pub has a story to tell. Those pubs that have survived the blitz, economic crises, being closed during covid, and redevelopment now stand few and far between – they are increasingly considered protected species by those that love them and frequent them.
A visit to one of London’s historic pubs will give you an insight into what life was like in centuries gone by. One of the oldest is The Prospect of Whitby, located in Wapping, East London. Since 1520 this pub has operated under the same name, in the same location, and never closed its doors. One of its most famous, and infamous, patrons was Hanging Judge Jefferies, who was said to indulge in his lunch on the balcony while surveying public hangings on the execution dock.
These days London pub walks are a popular way for tourists and visitors to get a deeper insight into corners of London that are beyond the boundaries of the city’s usual attractions. They give you an opportunity to step back into history and, depending on the fertility of your imagination, experience a greater sense of what life was like.
It is for this reason that a pub tour is one of the best ways of truly understanding what it must have been like to live through the Jack the Ripper era. True, you also enjoy the conviviality of a drink with the locals; but to know that you are occupying the very same space that his victims had occupied literally minutes before stepping outside towards their brutal murder adds gravitas and another dimension to the overall experience.
In the winter of 1888, five women were brutally murdered and had their organs removed at the hands of Jack the Ripper in the Aldgate and Whitechapel areas of London – joining a pub tour, with its engaging anecdotes, vivid descriptions, and real-life location, all help to plunge you back into the menacing atmosphere of 1888, evoking the terror that those women must have felt when they were attacked.
There are six pubs that are included in the Jack the Ripper pub tour. These are The White Hart, The Ten Bells, The Kings Stores, The Bell, The Duke of Wellington, and The Princess Alice.
The Ten Bells is located on the corner of Commercial Street and Fournier Street in Spitalfields in the East End of London. Rumour has it that both Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly were regulars at the pub and were known to ply their trend on the pavement outside. Both were said to have met their grisly end at the hands of Jack the Ripper having (unaware) had a last drink at the bar before heading out to their death.
The White Hart in Whitechapel is probably the pub that has retained the strongest links with Jack the Ripper. It is considered to be where Martha Tabram drank before her own brutal murder. Her body was found three nights later at the back of the pub, with 39 stab wounds. The White Hart is also famous as the hang-out for Ripper aficionados, who like to collect and swap anecdotes in the famous ‘Ripper Corner.’
The Duke of Wellington in the heart of Spitalfields is the closest location to the Ripper’s most gruesome murder. Mary Ann Nichols was a lost soul whose life was blighted by poverty and alcoholism. Unable to pay for a bed for the night, Mary’s body was found with its throat so savagely cut that the head was almost severed from her body. She had also been disembowelled.
The best time for these London pub tours to take place is in the evening. Particularly dark autumnal evenings when the weather is closing in, and there’s the smell of damp and smoke in the air. As you walk the streets from pub to pub, reliving the build-up to each savage attack, your tour guide will feed into your imagination using stories grounded in fear.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll book on an evening that is cold and foggy, evoking images steeped in poverty and disease. As the terror starts to build, you’ll become aware of the silent footsteps and shadows that lurk in every corner. Thank goodness you can escape into the next pub!
The Jack the Ripper Pub Tour runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7 pm. If you’re absolutely sure you have the bottle to join us, give us a call on 07803 067544, or you can book online.