I know it sounds naff, touristy, and outright geeky, but the Jack the Ripper tour by London Walks deserves a place as one of the 100 Great Things About London. Please keep reading. I’ll explain; if you love London, which you do, and you don't mind a bit of history then it will interest you. Parts of London which you walk past every day suddenly come alive with meaning and significance; if that pushes your buttons then it’s a must. If you're not that into history, then please it you may even enjoy it more.
The Maguiver-esk tour guide thunders through his pre-rehearsed lines, gory detail after gory detail with as much empathy as the shipping forecast. As a hardened veteran of Victorian London he is no stranger to the blood stained cobbles of the East End and spares no expense in recounting each of the ripper’s murders to a mob of blood thirsty tourists. This is hilarious.
We start our adventure at Tower Hill station. If you take the tour in the winter months then you’ll see the towers in all their medieval mastery; the glowing lights of the prison grounds chase the colossal turrets into the cold London smoke, and it is here where we lay our scene.
Up jumps Donald. He is short, craggy and wears a patched flatcap. Basically you know he's an academic before he says so...which, funnily enough, is the first thing he tells you. Donald is an authority on 'Jack', he has written books, given lectures and evidently gutted every nook and cranny that the ripper story to has to offer. He is either a sound authority or a bloody good liar.
The herd moves from murder site to murder site, leaving the City of London for the East End; Donald yammers away describing everything from the gin swilling, puffy-faced prostitutes of the 1880's to the different types of 'local colour' that may, at various points during the tour, interrupt his ripping yarn.
We proceed through what can only be described as an open gallery of London's unique architecture. Even to a complete architectural philistine like me, it is simply spectacular. The tour takes us back in time as we travel from The City’s gargantuan glass structures of the ‘Gordon Gekko 21st century,’ to the 200 year old imperial masterpieces whose chiseled engravings and steadfast stonemasonry welcomes us home to Victorian London. Even the aptly named 'prostitutes pub' the Ten Bells still survives on the corner of Commercial Street in Spitalfields.
The tour lasts around an hour and a half, and ends just around the corner from the market in Aldgate. Donald steps down off his soapbox to a rapture of applause and starts to peddle his book. I am sure it is quite interesting and had I wanted to learn more then I may have bought it, but after an hour and a half of macabre wonderings it might just be too much. By this time anyway you need to be heading up to Brick Lane for a salt beef sandwich to finish the night off. Those two shops could have whole reviews dedicated to themselves alone but I’ll leave that to someone else. Suffice to say just go.
So tour with your mates, take your other halves, go on your own; there's so much to see. If you don't want the history, go for Donald and his creepy uncle 'charm' or just see a new side to the East End. It’s something you’ll never forget.
Author: Patrick Murray