Wowcher Does Celebrity Planet’s Jack The Ripper Tour

East London hasn’t always been flooded with fixie bikes, craft ale-dipped ironic beards and vegan cafes, you know. It was once a much more sinister place…

Once upon a time the East End was in fact full of what historians now officially term ‘dodgy geezers’. Now we’re not just referring to loveable rogues in the mould of Del Boy, the Kray Twins or even Harry Redknapp. No, east London in fact has a rich and particularly fiendish history of full blown naughty goings on. None more infamous than Jack the Ripper. Undeterred by the thought of being caught by the ghoulies, we decided to check out the Celebrity Planet’s Ripper Walk to get closer to the capital’s most gory mystery…

Our jaunt started inauspiciously enough by Aldgate tube station, with nothing scarier lurking in the shadows than a few TFL staffers and St Botolph’s church looming over the gloriously grey, late-summer sky. But as soon as a few other slightly lost looking couples wielding print outs arrived, we were ready to be led into the night. And led we were by perky Bowler-hatted American Sarah. Less “cor blimey Charlie-ooh-er-what’s all this” and a bit more History Channel meets CSI, perhaps.

St Botolph’s Church: a place of sanctuary for women of the night at the height of the killings, lovingly referred to as Prostitutes’ Island.

St Botolph’s Church: a place of sanctuary for women of the night at the height of the killings, lovingly referred to as Prostitutes’ Island.

Nonetheless, armed with a big plastic file filled with gory snaps and lurid newspaper headlines from back in the day, plus a positively encyclopaedic knowledge of this country’s most infamous and violent serial killer, Sarah led us on an increasingly gruesome trail via the likes of Petticoat Lane, Spitalfields and back around to a dingy tavern in Whitechapel, documenting the murders of five women in the Whitechapel area.

The tour took us to some surprising destinations. For example, did you know Jack the Ripper’s most despicable crime, the pretty-much total dismemberment of the unfortunate Mary Jane Kelly (best not to Google image search her name) took place just a few minutes from the now perma-trendy Spitalfields market? Or that another of his gory murders was committed at the top of Brick Lane?

At first it’s hard to imagine such a pantomime and mythologized series of events having ever really taken place. But as soon as night begins to fall, and you’re led away from the glossy skyscrapers and gastro pubs, and down darker alleys closer to the days of crime-ridden and poverty-stricken slums, the gruesome human reality of what really happened actually becomes quite striking.

Jack the Clipper Hairdressers, near Petticoat Lane Market: Jack the Ripper muscling in on Sweeney Todd’s barber/serial killer racket.

Jack the Clipper Hairdressers, near Petticoat Lane Market: Jack the Ripper muscling in on Sweeney Todd’s barber/serial killer racket.

Naturally, the tour delves into what may have motivated these killings. Were they political, sexual or familial? Or perhaps they were part of a much bigger and more secretive picture than any of us could imagine (think Royal Family). Of course, no one knows for sure – but that’s the real joy in Ripperology (yes, that’s a thing).

It’s a cliff hanger, an episode of Scooby Doo without the underwhelming reveal, CSI without the lame by-numbers explanation of what happened and why, Jonathan Creek without the annoying twaddle. It’s the real thing – a dark secret so fascinating, so deliciously grim we can’t get enough. It’s our greatest myth, our finest Whodunit and we want it to stay that way, but we also shouldn’t forget how fun it is to be reminded of how the truth was stranger than any fiction.

Fancy your chances as a modern-day Poirot? Or simply have a (morbid) fascination of London’s history? Make sure you keep checking Wowcher and take the most thrilling walk of your life…