diamond geezer

 Monday, September 30, 2013

Victim 3: Elizabeth Stride

Dutfield's Yard, Berner Street, Whitechapel
Sunday, September 30, 1888

In the early hours of the morning, 125 years ago today, London's autumn of terror continued. The man we know as Jack The Ripper claimed the third of his victims... and then, because that didn't go too well, an immediate fourth. These twin murders stirred panic in the capital - the 'double event' they called it - reigniting fear after a three week hiatus. Jack had his nickname by now too, thanks to a signed letter sent to the press a few days before, backed up almost immediately by butchery on the streets. So I'm continuing my quest to visit the five confirmed murder sites as the anniversaries pass, comparing what happened then to what's there now. Number three today, and I'll hold over number four until tomorrow.

The third of the Ripper's murders took place on Berner Street, a narrow thoroughfare on the south side of Commercial Road. Jack's previous murders had been some distance away, indeed he spaced out his five attacks with aplomb. This was a densely packed residential area, with two storey terraces crowded together in fairly grim conditions. At number 40 was the International Working Men's Educational Club, a radical venue where Social Democrats and anarchists met to debate and entertain. Beside them was a gated yard, nine feet wide, then two cottages occupied by cigarette makers and tailors, then a corner shop. A fairly anonymous spot, but not for long.

Elizabeth Stride was originally from Sweden, a 45 year old who'd been in London since her 20s. She and her husband had run a coffee shop in Poplar, but the marriage didn't hold together and Elizabeth ended up in the workhouse. She became a court regular, charged with being drunk and disorderly, and ended up in lodgings in the poorest part of Spitalfields. By chance Dr Barnardo popped in four days before the murder to chat about his latest philanthropic plans - he'd be one of the witnesses to identify the body later.

Elizabeth spent her final evening drinking, and being seen with an assortment of men. These included "a short man with a dark moustache", "a stout clean-shaven man in a round cap" and "a young man wearing a deerstalker". The very last sighting was by a Hungarian immigrant who spoke no English. He saw a short man about 30 years old wrestling with Elizabeth by the roadside, but assumed he was witnessing a domestic argument and fled. Discovery of Stride's body came at 1am when the steward of the International Working Men's Educational Club returned by cart to Dutfield's Yard. His pony reared up at something unusual in the darkness, which a lit match showed to be the prone body of a woman. Only when the other club members came looking did the gash across her throat become clear, and a doctor summoned to the scene a few minutes later confirmed that she'd bled to death. But that was it for injuries... no removal of bodily organs or gruesome disembowelling. Elizabeth got off relatively lightly, at least compared to the Ripper's other four victims, indeed most experts believe the steward's unexpected return cut short his dastardly plan.
"There was a clear-cut incision on the neck. It was six inches in length and commenced two and a half inches in a straight line below the angle of the jaw, one half inch in over an undivided muscle, and then becoming deeper, dividing the sheath. The cut was very clean and deviated a little downwards. The arteries and other vessels contained in the sheath were all cut through. The cut through the tissues on the right side was more superficial, and tailed off to about two inches below the right angle of the jaw. The deep vessels on that side were uninjured. From this is was evident that the haemorrhage was caused through the partial severance of the left carotid artery."
The International Working Men's Educational Club became a shop a few years later, then in 1909 it and several neighbouring buildings were demolished to make way for a school. That building survives as Harry Gosling Primary, a very typical three-storey LCC school, which means (somewhat inappropriately) that the precise murder site lies somewhere in the playground. In another Edwardian building nextdoor is the Tommy Flowers Centre, now a Tower Hamlets Pupil Referral Unit but previously an ICT centre named after a Bletchley Park pioneer. And across the street is Bernhard Baron House, built by Basil Henriques (in the 1920s) as a community centre to give local Jewish children welfare work and recreation. All sorts of games, skills and arts and crafts were available in its 125 rooms, that is until the local Jewish community moved on, and the place is now, that's right, flats. Berner Street has since been renamed Henriques Street in Basil's honour.

Education aside, Henriques Street is a fairly sorry-looking road today. A hotchpotch of unloved old and unlovely new buildings lines the eastern side, while a private car park drags down the other. The short parade of shops has a Bangladeshi flavour, including a travel agents and a tailor - the latter an apt nod back to 1888. Beyond the crossroads stand stacks of flats from various council eras, as yet some distance from gentrification. At the top end, near Commercial Road, graffiti on one wall gives the street an alternate name - that's Elisabeth Stride Street (1843-1888). And in one empty plot close by, where litter-strewn earth is pecked over by crows and pigeons, you can still get a vague sense of the hemmed-in space where the Ripper's third victim breathed her last. Such was Jack's bloodlust that within the hour a fourth would join her.

All about the Elizabeth Stride murder
Historical maps of Berner Street
Historical photos of Berner Street

Jack The Ripper Casebook (an extremely detailed website, recommended)
@WhitechapelRealTime - a bunch of historians tweeting the events of 1888 (and well worth following)
125 years on, the East London Advertiser remembers

• Victim 1: Mary Ann Nichols (31 August 1888)
• Victim 2: Annie Chapman (8 September 1888)

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