Our son and daughter-in-law bought us a Jack the Ripper tour for Christmas 2019, but due to Covid it was only yesterday that we were able to use it.
First of all we checked into our hotel, the Docklands’ Premier Inn. Looking out of the window, I could see the Thames behind the Excel Centre, a concert venue which had turned into one of those Nightingale Hospitals in the thick of the pandemic. Trains rattled by so frequently that you didn’t even notice after a while. The whole area was totally unrecognisable to what I remembered as a child, when our class used to travel to the Isle of Dogs to where our school playing field was. Now there’s no fields, just concrete, steel and as many ugly buildings as possible crammed into one small space.
We booked a Uber taxi to take us to the meeting point at Aldgate Underground Station. The driver was quite chatty. He had come over from Spain 8 years before, but was now thinking about going back (perhaps he didn’t like the ugly buildings either). Other people soon started hanging about the station, and before long our tour guide, Jenny, and also’ Jack’ appeared. We ladies had to be on our guard as Jenny spoke, because ‘Jack’ had a tendency to creep up behind us and scare the bejeesus out of us.
Jenny was extremely informative; she had been doing this particular tour for 28 years and knew every alleyway, square, street and road in Whitechapel where Jack’s victims had met their unfortunate end. Jenny had many photos to show us of how the area had looked back in the 19th Century. Of course Whitechapel had changed somewhat since 1888, but fortunately there were a few buildings/vestiges of the past that could still be seen; cobblestoned alleys, and a frieze underneath a blocked up door which matched Jenny’s photo of 1888 and where Jack had thrown a bloodied knife and rags. There was also a facade that was still there above what used to be the ‘Frying Pan’ pub in Brick Lane (by the way, there was no social distancing or mask-wearing that I could see along Brick Lane. The place was heaving with people, and it was quite easy to see how the virus could spread). We saw some old Huguenot houses from the 1700s (one now worth £3.2m) and even two slow-growing plane trees opposite the Ten Bells Pub near the old Spitalfields Market that were the same shape and indeed looked exactly the same in 2021 as they had done back in Jack’s time.
The tour took two and a half hours and was very interesting. Some people were flagging at the end of it, but we found that all the walking had made us hungry. Sam and I found a cafe along the Whitechapel Road, and sat outside in the dark eating our pasta and watching the world go by before booking another Uber taxi. Altogether an enjoyable evening, but to be honest, it was nice to return to Suffolk this morning. I came to the conclusion that London isn’t my London anymore, but I still feel an affinity for it and want to visit the place of my birth sometimes. I’d rather remember it as it was back in the 1960s and 1970s. I don’t like what’s been done to it.