Tag Archives: Jack the Ripper

Phantoms and Faders in Old London Town

2 Sep

With the Olympics not long past and the Paralympics still upon us, I thought that this might be an opportune moment to consider the haunted history of the UK’s capital city. There is certainly no shortage of material to draw upon when investigating the strange past of London, for just as it has been central to many of the major event’s in the nation’s history, it has also been equally famous as a city of vice, sin, crime and bloodletting. The grim legends of Jack the Ripper, Springheeled Jack and Sweeney Todd continue to cast a menacing shadow over the grimy streets of the East End. Bram Stoker may have made London Dracula’s main preying ground in his iconic horror novel, but the dark Count is seemingly very far from the only vampire – real or fictional – who has flitted through the city’s shadows. Similarly, the plot of Jonathan Landis’s American Werewolf in London also has its terrifying basis in reality. Many of the phantoms that are said to roam the capital are an essential part of British history, folklore and legend. The Tower of London, for example, is reputedly England’s most haunted building precisely because of the many who perished within its walls. There is an old saying that ghosts only ever appear in places that have known either great happiness or great misery, and the buildings and the haunted streets of London have certainly known both in abundance. The countless numbers of people who have lived and died in London in the course of its almost two thousand years of history had known every human emotion – among them hope, joy, love and, of course, terror. In consequence, there is not one square inch of old London town that is not imbued with the memories and experiences of its former citizens.

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Whitechapel

11 Mar

One of my favourite shows on TV at the moment is Whitechapel, which explores the many dark and disturbing urban legends of one of London’s famous suburbs. The first series of the show focused on a suspected copycat killer who copied the modus operandi of the most infamous and terrifying serial murderer ever to plague old London town – Jack the Ripper. In the words of Jack himself:

“Below the skin of history are London’s veins. These symbols, the mitre, the pentacle star, even the ignorant and degenerate can sense that they course with energy… and meaning. I am that meaning. I am that energy. One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the 20th Century.”

In one sense this is true yet, in spite of the epidemic of 2oth century serial killers with sobriquets like the Boston Strangler, the Buffalo Slasher, the Sunset Slayer and the Yorkshire Ripper, it is Jack who still remains by far and away the most infamous. This is not due simply to the grisly picturesqueness of the nickname but to the fact that the murders took place in the gaslit, fog-shrouded London of Sherlock Holmes and that – unlike the other criminals mentioned above – the identity of Jack the Ripper is still a total mystery.

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Spring-heeled Jack: The Other Ripper

25 Sep

Almost everyone knows of Jack the Ripper and his fearsome reputation as one of the most notorious (and un-caught) serial killers of all time. Fewer people have heard of a character who was equally infamous, and feared, about fifty years before the time of Jack the Ripper: Spring heeled-Jack. This was the name given to the entity which terrorized London and later the whole country in a string of bizarre incidents which occurred with most frequency between 1837 and 1843 but were reported again every few years until the last sighting in 1904. Despite this large span of years, each incident was strikingly similar: on every occasion a young woman was the victim and Spring-heeled Jack was described as having the same characteristics – the ability to jump inhumanly long distances, the capacity to disappear without trace, and a frightening countenance variously described as bestial, demonic and even extra-terrestrial.

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