I am not going to bore you with a lot of words for the next couple of posts. As I go through my findings from my recent trip to the UK, I am realizing how much work it is to collate all the archival material one collects on even a very brief trip. To that end, then, I want to, as a way of balancing all the wordy things with the tactile and visual, do a couple of pictorial blog posts detailing my walkabouts in London as they relate (more or less) to my research. This first post doesn’t relate to my research on Victorian pornography, but it does inform my knowledge of the city and the period that developed so much wonderful smut. This first post is a brief look at that time I went on one of those ubiquitous Jack the Ripper walking tours. I booked with a company who promised an engaging and expert tour guide in period costume, but instead got a character from East Enders (not an actual character from the show, mind you). I think you’ll be able to register my disappointment from the beginning, though it picks up a bit at the end. My next post will be much more engaging in terms of the locations as they relate to my research. I did a self-guided and planned Sins of London tour where I chose a number of notorious locations around the city that are linked, directly or indirectly, with the Victorian pornography business. For now, enjoy this first short burst of the visual part of my research.
So I did the tourist thing for exactly one day while I was away and I booked myself on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. I don’t have a huge knowledge or interest in the case, though I’m familiar enough with it to be interested in seeing some of the sights associated with it, however different they may be now than at the late Victorian period.
I detest people who take photos like this one and try and force me to be interested in looking at nothing. This is the only one like this, I promise. I include it as a way of introducing my disappointment with this tour. It’s one thing to take people around to places where things happened where they don’t happen any longer, but it is quite another to be able to make those empty places exciting for your audience and, I’m afraid to say that the person leading this tour lacked a certain talent for making the events, horrific as they were, real in any sort of engaging way. No amount of laminated photos of what it used to look like is a substitute for a good story, which is how I view Jack the Ripper. At this point I don’t care who he actually was because I think the mystery is what’s kept a whole industry afloat these past 125 or so years.
At this point in the walk, I was really beginning to lose interest and found myself wandering around more or less with the group but largely doing my own thing. The East End of London is such a cool-looking place. However, my ears perked up when we were being told about the historic Ten Bells pub, which was around at the time of the Ripper murders and would have been a likely watering hole for his victims. My ire was sufficiently drawn, however, when our guide lambasted former owners of the pub who changed the name to the Jack the Ripper Pub. She was rightfully disturbed by the tackiness of turning a pub into a tourist trap complete with Jack mugs, hats, and pins, but her claim that the owners who made the change were alone in attempting to cash in on the Ripper story was downright hypocritical and rather insulting. What the hell did she think paid her wages and why were there 20+ people following her around on a cold evening and watching as she told us grossly misinformed ‘facts’ about Victorian London? I, of course, said nothing because of two reasons: 1) my cowardice and 2) I really don’t think it’s fair to ruin things like this for other group members by being ‘that guy’ on a tour. I treated this thing like what it was: a way to see a part of the city that I likely wouldn’t have gone to on my own and be shown certain historically significant locations.
This was the last stop of the night where Jack met his last victim. The shadowy figure in the photo is me playing with the exposure settings on my camera to what, I believe, is a wonderful result. As much as I am complaining about the drawbacks to this tour, I thoroughly enjoyed walking through London and, now that I’ve done this particular tourist experience, I’m happy to never do it again. Or, I’ll do my own self-guided tour next time, which is exactly what I will detail in the second part of this post.
Apologies if you came to this post thinking you might learn something about Jack the Ripper. Well, here’s something I remembered from the tour guide: he probably didn’t wear a cape or a tophat.