Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On the Trail of the Ripper

The best laid plans of mice and men and towpath trekkers often go tits up. The main purpose of this trip to London was to walk the streets of Whitechapel looking for Jack the Ripper. We picked a guided Ripper walk and decided what to wear weeks ago. It was all planned to the minute, we knew where to go, when to be there and who to meet. During the day we heard the Circle Line was closed. Not a huge problem, we would go to another station on another line and walk to the meeting point. 
We got changed at the hotel, I was suitably dressed all in black, my companion dressed as a Victorian whore.  And so we headed off into the night. But wait, we didnt know how to get from the tube station to the meeting point and I didnt have a map. So with lightening speed, I grabbed the first map from the nearby shop and we headed off to the station. On the way to the station I glanced at my watch only to find that for some inexplicable reason it was 7:15pm, the tour started at 7:30pm a long way away. There was no chance the tube would get us there in time. So we needed a taxi.  After standing by Euston Road watching endless numbers of cabs drive passed with their lights off we were beginning to lose hope. We crossed the road. We looked at the station. We looked at the buses. We looked at each other. What we weren't doing was getting anywhere. In the end we saw a taxi with its light on and ran into traffic and jumped in. We tried not to notice that the taxi took us past the hotel we had started in and sat back to watch the clock and fare competing with each other. We drove down the back streets and alleys of London and got to Tower Hill at 7:41pm. Too late? A very large group of people walked past. Too many to be a Ripper Tour. We walked around the station and found the posters for the Ripper Tours, they started at 6:30pm, 6:40pm, 7:00pm and 7:30pm. It was 7:45pm. There was no sign of any Ripper Tours. We had no idea which way the tours would have gone. So a man in black and a short whore stood by the station wondering what Plan B was.  Plan B was to go to the 10 Bells pub and drink gin. The problem with that plan was we didnt know where the 10 Bells was. In fact we didnt know where any of the Ripper sites were, that was the whole point of the tour. A phone call to Southport got us the address of the 10 Bells (and the Blind Beggar) so after much staring blankly at a map (one that was the wrong scale for this sort of thing) we headed off into the dark streets of Whitehall. We walked for a few minutes, I was reluctant to say I had no idea where we were going. We stopped. I admitted we had no idea where we were. My companion looked close to tears. A street sign and a better look at the map got us on the way again. But what was that...? An Irish voice in the night. Talk of murder and prostitution. It could only be a Ripper Tour! We dashed as fast as a woman in a corset can down the side street. And there under a railway bridge they were. A very large group of people was stood looking up at a man talking to them about murder most foul. This was the very tour we wanted. These were the people we saw earlier. We joined the group and with great relief listened to the guide talk about women being killed. 
Whitechapel at night is closed. There are no bars or shops or restaurants. The whole place is deserted. Empty. Apart from the Ripper tour groups. There are a lot of them. This fact was most obvious in Mitre Square, the site at which Catherine Eddowes, prostitute and fire engine impersonator, was killed by the Ripper. Mitre Square is one of the more famous Ripper sites. As we entered the square there were 3 or 4 other groups there, each either being lead across the square or being spoken to by their guide. There was a real danger of losing our group as we passed through the other groups. Our guide had to keep his voice down so as not to compete with the other people talking about intestines and knives and Victorian policemen. Quite a surreal sight. As was the race to the next ripper site, rushing up the road with another group rushing up the other side. There were about a hundred in our group. We stood in front of the former workhouse, once home to all the Ripper victims. The building is now accommodation for students. Every now and again one would come out of their front door and find 100 people stood looking up at them. It was obviously a little disconcerting.  
The tour finished by the 10 Bells and we went in for a much needed gin. The pub relies on two things, the Ripper walks and students. The students out numbered the Ripper fans. It was packed with annoying people in fashionable glasses and silly hats. Hipsters I believe. Or maybe just plain old wankers.
The pub has some original tiles from the days when the Ripper victims and maybe the Ripper himself drank here. There is no real reason to go here other than its link with the gruesome murders 120 years ago. 

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