The Jack The Ripper Museum opened in August 2015 with a desire to provide “a serious examination of the crimes of Jack the Ripper within the social context of the period” - sounds fair. I’d even go as far to say that sounds quite interesting. What's more, it claims to have “one of the rarest Ripperologists collections of recent times”. I didn’t know Ripperologism was a thing, but I’m sold. What’s not to like?
Apparently, quite a lot…
Since opening, the museum has been plagued with protests, vandalism, physical assaults on the staff, calls for the place to be closed down and most recently, the museum has been ordered to remove nearly all it’s signage.
Most (if not all) media outlets argue it’s a “badly done attraction, with little regard for the lives of the women it supposedly portrays” and states the museum is profiting “solely from the victimisation of women, and contains no new or up-to-date research”. Tower Hamlets’ Mayor John Biggs even threw his hat in the ring - he said it’s a museum that ONLY “glorifies a serial killer.”
I live down the road from the place, and my mum was visiting from Yorkshire for her birthday... so I took her! Granted, it’s not your standard family outing, but she loves this kind of stuff.
Mum’s read plenty of ‘Ripper’ books over the years; her favourite - Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed. She’s also attended talks with Trevor Marriott, a retired murder squad detective who in 2002 conducted a ‘21st century cold case re-investigation into the mystery’. Controversy aside, it seemed like the perfect gift!
Now I’m not claiming my mum’s an expert, but she knows more than most. Let’s be honest, I imagine many of the people who have a grievance with the place, haven’t even been through the museum doors. I have. my mum has.
We. Were. Fascinated.
Not just because of the original artifacts that it exhibits, but because it offered a deeper exploration into the history behind the investigation and those people involved. Interestingly, my mum said she left with an insight into the living conditions of the victims, their lack of protection, why and how a number of them ended up living the lives they led and their background - children, birthplace, occupation, etc. Overall, it gave a different perspective. An understanding which goes beyond the books she's read and talks she's attended.
On the other side of the coin, Laura Warson, spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) has said: “We object to the Jack the Ripper tours because they present the gruesome murder of five women as an exciting, tantalising event, glorifying the man whilst invisibilising the women”. But at this museum, these women are not invisible. The realities of their lives are brought to life to evoke empathy and compassion for these poor women who lost their lives to a murderer.
With this in mind, the day out with my mum triggered me to write this article. I felt the need to highlight the blatant disconnect between the hatred and protests caused by the museum, and the praise and awards for other platforms which share the same story.
For example, London Dungeon capitalises on the story of Jack the Ripper and creates an actor-led interactive experience of Jack in an entertaining, comical light. Of the 12 attractions at London Dungeon, 3 of them focus on Jack the Ripper including a recreation of the Ten Bells Pub. This particular pub is associated with two victims of Jack the Ripper; Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly. It could be noted at this point that the actual Ten Bells pub was hounded in controversy when it starting pulling on its own connection with the Ripper, and subsequently forced to stop.
There are no protests here. No one is campaigning for its closure.
As you stand in the mocked-up pub, an actor (playing the landlord) talks of ‘Ripper sightings’ only for the lights to then go dark, strobe lights kick in and another actor (dressed as Jack the Ripper) starts to ‘murder’ everyone in the pub. This is done in jest and you learn nothing. Reviews have shared moments of people being “absolutely awestruck at [the] special effects”. And the attraction gets 4 stars on TripAdvisor from 6,000 reviewers.
To make matters worse, in 2010, a call out was made for 'Jack the Stripper' who would feature in a strictly over-18s After Dark Ladies Night out at the Dungeon. The General Manager at the time said "Jack the Stripper will essentially be a cheeky subversion of our current Jack the Ripper character who makes an appearance as part of our Victorian Ripper experience".
I am left wondering how presenting Jack’s story in a ridiculed, entertaining way for over 700,000 visitors a year is to be awarded. There are no protests here. No one is campaigning for its closure. The rest of the dungeon isn’t exactly fluffy bunnies and kittens - the Ripper is one of many atrocious acts of humanity that are explored, monetised and merchandised in this attraction. Few press sources focus on it. Then again, the place is owned by Merlin Entertainments PLC, a company listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index (they operate 124 attractions, 16 hotels and 3 holiday villages in 25 countries). So… who cares about them, surely they can’t have as much influence on the general public as a small museum in East London.
I have to acknowledge that the owner of the Jack the Ripper museum and former Google diversity chief, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe did lie to people from the beginning about the purpose of the museum. Andrew Waugh - founder and director of Waugh Thistleton Architects, who were behind building the attraction even said he was ‘duped’ over the purpose of the project, and said he wouldn't have touched the attraction “with a bargepole” if he had known the designs were going to be used to recreate the horrors of 1888. It turns out that in 2014 planning for the museum was awarded after the concept had been sold to the Tower Hamlets community as a museum which would ‘cover the history of East London women’. However, when the museum opened exhibiting Jack’s story, it didn’t go down too well.
Maybe this is the real reason people are so focused on closing the place down, not because it's 'worse' than places like London Dungeon. Even so, owing to how much we really did learn about the victims proves something, (at least to me anyway) that the place isn't so ‘terrible’ and ‘shocking’ as the press states. If you get past the name, the bad press and the owners deception and go for yourself, I hope you'll agree.
So… If you want to see strobe lights, special effects and 'Jack the Stripper', head over to London Dungeon. If you want an insightful account into the man, the investigation and the lives of his victims, get yourself down to Cable Street.