The social historian Hallie Rubenhold is planning to commemorate the lives of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper with a new mural in Whitechapel, which she hopes will be a counterpoint to the “atrocious” Ripper tours on offer in the area.
With the project already receiving tentative backing from authorities and local institutions, Rubenhold said: “It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of finding the right place.”
The author won the £50,000 Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction for The Five, which unpicks the lives of the five “canonical” victims of Jack the Ripper: Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. She came up with the idea for a permanent mural celebrating the women after her publisher put up a temporary one to promote her book in Ebor Street in Whitechapel.
This has gone up on Ebor Street in Whitechapel. It’s amazing to see the womens’ faces here. It feels right. This is a temporary mural and an advert for the book, but I’d like to start a campaign for a permanent mural commemorating the victims. How do I do this, Twitter? pic.twitter.com/jVs3kK3DYs
“People have been talking about having a memorial to these women for some time … Whitechapel isn’t really a place you put a statue. But a mural – that’s it. It’s exactly what’s needed. It’s so befitting – it’s perfect. There’s so much urban art in Spitalfields, Whitechapel and Shoreditch so it’s so germane,” she said.
“Jack the Ripper businesses own Whitechapel and it’s kind of sick. The Ripper tours, there are several a day and some are absolutely atrocious. They project images of mutilated women. It has become a place that tourists from all around the world come to have a Jack the Ripper experience. His name is all over Whitechapel. Shouldn’t these women also be remembered, in a vibrant, colourful way?”
Rubenhold, who has been attacked by Ripperologists for challenging the traditional narrative that the murderer’s victims were all sex workers, suggested that the mural should celebrate the women’s lives, rather than simply mark their deaths. “The Ripper story starts with the moment of their deaths, but four of them were alive for over 40 years, and one until she was 25. That’s a lot of years and experiences, so a mural should celebrate the life of these women, put them back in the centre of Whitechapel,” she said.
Tower Hamlets councillor Rachel Blake welcomed the idea. “Yes, this is something that we would consider, as long as such a tribute had support of the families of the victims,” she said. “The council has consistently objected to the commercialisation of the murder and violence against women and girls. We have no powers to stop the tours or the ‘museum’.”
After Rubenhold floated the idea on Twitter, she quickly went viral, with local churches also pledging their support. “St Leonard’s as a momentary witness of that history would stand with you in creating something more permanent,” said a spokesperson for the parish church of St Leonard’s in Shoreditch. “Perhaps the parishes involved could get together to help? We’re very keen for a permanent memorial,” added a spokesperson for St Botolph’s on Aldgate High Street.