Women hold vigil outside Jack the Ripper museum for victims of the Whitechapel Murders
PUBLISHED: 21:05 27 November 2015 | UPDATED: 18:59 28 November 2015
Women held a candle vigil last night outside the controversial Jack the Ripper museum in London's East End to remember the victims of the Whitechapel Murders—not the killer.
It was followed by a memorial service at St George's-in-the-East for three church congregations to honour the five women and all victims of gender-based violence.
The vigil was the start of a campaign for a permanent heritage centre for women’s achievements down the centuries, such as the suffragettes, the match factory workers of Bow who went on unprecedented strike for better conditions in 1888—same year as the Ripper killings—and other social reformers.
The campaigners lit candles outside the museum at 12 Cable Street, near Tower Hill, which had a misleading planning application to Tower Hamlets Council as a “heritage centre” listing the closure of the Women’s Library in Whitechapel in 2013 as a reason.
But it opened, instead, as a sensational tourist attraction with sound effects of women being murdered and actors dressed as the Ripper for tourists to have their ‘selfie’ photos taken.
It led to anger by the Bishop of Stepney and the Mayor of Tower Hamlets who both picketed the premises last month.
But last night’s peaceful vigil was marred by a scuffle involving a museum worker with a local journalist in which police intervened.
The service that followed at St George’s parish church in The Highway marked the anniversary earlier this month of the last-known Ripper victim, Mary Kelly, who’s badly-mutilated body was discovered in a ground-floor tenement at Dorset Street in Spitalfields on November 9, 1888.
The other known victims that year, remembered at the service, were Polly Nichols in Bucks Row behind Whitechapel station on August 31, Annie Chapman in Hanbury Street in Spitalfields on September 8, and Elizabeth Stride in Shadwell’s Burners Street and Catharine Eddowes in Mitre Square in Aldgate, both September 30.
Two descendants of Cathy Eddowes turned up for the vigil, great-great-great granddaughter Jean Smith and her daughter Tracy from Islington.
St George’s is to stage a women’s heritage exhibition in time for International Women’s Day in March.
But campaigners want a more permanent centre, to replace the Women’s Library in Old Castle Street closed down two years ago which the Ripper museum used in its now-discredited planning application.
“A lot of people have been angered at the Ripper museum opening falsely,” congregation member Abbie Gillgan told the East London Advertiser. “So we’ve been involved in protesting to get it closed down.
“But we also want to do something more positive that tells the story of the women of the East End and their involvement in its history, like the Suffragettes, the match workers and those involved in the Battle of Cable Street.”
One idea being worked on is a mobile museum that can visit schools and different public places.
The community was promised a museum of real women’s history, campaigners point out—but the scaffolding came down off the converted shop-and-dwellings at 12 Cable Street in July to reveal graphic letters in red with a skull-and-crossbones depicting a tourist “attraction” about the Ripper murders.
St George’s Priest-in-Charge Canon Angus Ritchie said: “What the community was promised and what has actually opened are completely different.
“There’s a lot of anger about this. How we remember the past affects our attitudes to women today—that’s why we’ve held this memorial for those murdered by Jack the Ripper and why we need to tell the real story of the women of the East End.”
Author Sarah Jackson, who has researched the Suffragettes’ origins in Bow, is joint coordinator of the project to create a permanent museum.
She said: “The community suffered a double blow when the Ripper venue opened—the arrival of a sensationalist, misogynist tourist ‘attraction’ and losing the promise of a real heritage centre.
“A permanent museum is still a long way off, but women’s stories will be where they belong when the exhibition opens in March—in the heart of the East End community.”
Two other churches are involved in the project. Last night’s memorial at St George’s was led by the Rev Alexandra Lilley, Curate at St Paul’s in The Highway, Shadwell, while the planning group is chaired by Bethan Lant, warden at St Mary’s in Cable Street.