diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 08, 2013

Victim 2: Annie Chapman

29 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel
Saturday, September 8, 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 second of his victims, in the heart of Spitalfields, and the East End was gripped by panic. The first murder might have been a one-off, but a second gruesome throat-slitting suggested a serial killer was on the loose, and his notoriety grew with each act of butchery. 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. And even I was surprised by the precise location of number two.

The second of the Ripper's murders took place on Hanbury Street, an impoverished Spitalfields thoroughfare which crossed Brick Lane. The street was then known as Old Brown's Lane, and in 1888 was lined by shops with two storeys of accommodation above. Number 29 was very typical, with eight rooms altogether and seventeen people sleeping within. Mrs Hardiman sold cat's meat from a shop on the ground floor, while a side alley led to a small backyard behind. Prostitutes would have used that cobbled space on a regular basis, away from prying eyes just long enough for their gentlemen to perform and pay up. Annie Chapman probably thought her early morning trick was nothing special. How wrong she was.

Annie Chapman was a stout 47-year-old with a taste for rum. She'd been married to a coachman but turned to prostitution after they split up and his allowance stopped coming in. She moved to lodgings in Dorset Street, a name we'll return to later in the saga, and was last seen here at 1.30am setting out to find money to pay for her bed. The final confirmed sighting was four hours later. Annie was recognised leaning against the shutters at 29 Hanbury Street talking to a mysterious man - he said "Will you?", she said "Yes." A next-door neighbour later claimed to have heard a cry of "No!" coming from over the wooden fence in the backyard, but it wasn't until 6am that Annie's body was discovered. She was lying face up near the back steps, her throat cut from left to right and her intestines thrown out of her abdomen over each of her shoulders. On closer inspection it turned out that part of her uterus had been removed.
"Obviously the work was that of an expert -- of one, at least, who had such knowledge of anatomical or pathological examinations as to be enabled to secure the pelvic organs with one sweep of the knife, which must therefore must have at least 5 or 6 inches in length, probably more. The appearance of the cuts confirmed that the instrument, like the one which divided the neck, had been of a very sharp character. The mode in which the knife had been used seemed to indicate great anatomical knowledge."
A leather apron was found in the yard, prompting speculation that it might have been left by the killer. Police investigations later ruled out the owner, who lived in the house and whose mother had washed the apron and left it outside to dry. That didn't stop 'Leather Apron' becoming a key piece of gossip in the press, and a Jewish cobbler with that nickname was promptly arrested... then released uncharged. Speculation grew as to who might have been responsible, with a ship's cook, a Swiss butcher and a German hairdresser also detained, but adoption of the nickname 'Jack The Ripper' was still a few weeks off.

By the late 1960s Hanbury Street, in line with much of Spitalfields, was filled with slums. Actor James Mason visited number 29 for the film The London Nobody Knows, in a short scene you can view here. The upstairs windows are cracked, and a sign on the front recalls Nathaniel Brill the barber who'd long moved out. The backyard is strewn with broken timber, and washing hangs across the end wall alongside what looks like an outdoor privy. Annie Chapman would have lain parallel to the fence, her blood spilling across the stones and earth, roughly on the spot where James prods his umbrella. Were the house still standing, and renovated, no doubt it would be worth a million. But in 1970 this entire side of the street was demolished and swallowed up by the Truman Brewery, hence you might well have visited.

There are lots of bits to the Old Truman Brewery, many used for exhibitions, markets, presentations, food, whatever. The site of Annie Chapman's death is now an indoor car park, six days of the week. It's hidden behind a long brick wall, topped by a hangar-stepped roof, which extends the length of an entire block. Part of the frontage is taken up by some modern boutiques, but the section where 29 stood is almost featureless, except for a locked fire exit beneath a row of square windows. The other side of the street, however, is a run of buildings much as would have stood in 1888 - indeed comic Bud Flanagan (of Crazy Gang fame) was born at number 12 a few years later. But these buildings now have very different occupants - a sunbed shop, the Kobi Nazrul Centre, and coffee gurus Nude Espresso.

That indoor car park I mentioned is used for something else on Sundays. It's the site of the Sunday Up Market, one of Brick Lane's weekend treats, home to more than 100 designer-y stalls. Here you can wander round to pick through fashion, art and lifestyle items, as well as gorge yourself on ethnic food from Japanese confectionery to empanadas. The Sunday Up Market is a big hit with tourists and trendier Londoners, as indeed you could discover were you to come along today. I can't tell you precisely whose stall lies on the site of the Ripper's dark deed, but some poor entrepreneur has that honour, and I doubt they'd thank me for pointing this out. On the 125th anniversary of Annie's murder the East End will once again flock to her backyard, but few will realise the significance of where they're standing.

All about the Annie Chapman murder
Historical maps of Hanbury Street
Census listings for Hanbury Street 1881, 1891
Historical photos of Hanbury 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

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