31 December 2008

Jack the Ripper and my best night in London

So on Monday night we got to do my most anticipated activity of this whole trip to London – the Jack the Ripper Tour! I remember back when Lenny was studying abroad in London and Spencer went for a visit. One of the most exciting things I heard about that they did (besides purchasing their lady-killing Storm watches) was this incredible tour that went all over the seedy side of London to where Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes. On top of that, the tour included a stop at many pubs where they were able to get their drink going. In my head, this tour was kind of the coolest thing in the world and consisted of 6 to 8 strangers who all got on great and spent the night learning all the gruesome details about Jack the Ripper and got drunk to boot! However, as I began to research such tours I realized that my experience might be a bit different.

After searching through a dozen or so websites, we came across one company called London Walks that had a lot of positive reviews. We learned that there was no need to book and that we just needed to show up outside the Tower Hill tube stop at 7:30pm. This made me a little wary because other sites had touted how prior booking was needed on their tours to insure that tours were capped at 30 people. However, I convinced myself that since it was Christmas Week and freezing cold outside, that there surely could not be 30 people who were interested in going on this particular tour, so we set out.

During the subway ride I worked myself up like only I can because the website had warned of fraudulent tour operators who would be lurking near the exit and would take our money and run. I reminded Kathleen a few hundred times that we needed to “suspect everyone and trust no one.” I also took a quick video to distract myself and keep Kathleen happy:

Finally we arrived at the tube stop and walked outside. What we were confronted with was kind of awful in a way. It reminded me a bit of the cattle pens that Michael Pollen describes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Here is another quick video. Notice how happy and excited everyone looks!

At this point we forked over our £7 and proceeded to lay out our plan for the tour. By the appointed start time there were probably about 100 people or so. They decided to split the group into two groups since there were two guides (neither of whom were the Jack the Ripper specialist who had written multiple books and is touted all over the website). After a quick analysis of speaking styles we decided to risk going with the larger group being led by the male. He had a nice loud voice (and tended to roll his R’s very theatrically) so we thought we would learn the most. Unfortunately, he decided to stay an extra five minutes to wait for any latecomers. I swear by the middle of the tour we had about a hundred people.

Our tactic was to stick to the tour guide as closely as possible throughout the two hours. We would do our best to get as close to him as possible when he spoke and would try to anticipate which direction the tour would go next. We would then at times run as quickly as we could to make sure we had a good spot at the next location. There were a few light elbows thrown in the process as well as I was not letting anyone prevent me from getting my full £7 worth. I think the guide thought we were a bit off since at every stop there were Kathleen and I front and centre with our Flip Video ready to go.

The tour itself was actually really good. Due to our offensive approach we had absolutely no problems hearing the tour guide or understanding where we were and what its significance was. The tour wrapped all through the border between East London and London proper. We saw a lot of old buildings and sections of the old Roman wall. We learned in pretty impressively gory detail all about the murders that took place and the botched investigation that followed. (Kathleen was actually surprised at some of the details provided considering there were children on the tour) We saw three of the murder sites, an old soup kitchen, and a lot of the buildings that still exist from the 1880’s. Although we did not go into the pub, we saw the Ten Bells which is where the last victim was last seen on the night of her murder. Here is one of the quick stops that we took.

After the tour finished, Kathleen and I went down one of the Jack the Ripper alleys and found a great Thai restaurant called Sri Thong: http://www.srithong.co.uk/
Kathleen had been missing Thai food since we got to the UK so we were stoked to find the place. It is certainly no Tiny Thai, but the food was excellent. All in all, we had a really fun time on this. Although it was drastically different from what I had imagined Lenny and Spencer doing 12 years ago, the guide and the structure of the tour were excellent. You definitely need to look past the blatant commercialization of the whole thing as well as the scores of other tour participants, but I highly recommend it.

Oh and I had terrible nightmares that night. I awoke from one and sat there for about an hour before I could fall back asleep. So that was pretty cool too, I guess… Do a quick google image search of ‘jack the ripper victims’ if you want to have nightmares without having to fly to London and spend the £7.


  1. I think the posts tagged "murder" are going to be my favorite.

  2. Cool! Although you spelled favourite wrong...