Time Travel Explorer Blog

Mapping Jack the Ripper: 1. Mary Ann Nichols and Durward Street

by Matt Brown 19. December 2010 18:36

Shortly before dawn on the morning of Friday 31 August 1888 the body of Mary Ann Nichols was discovered north of Whitechapel Road, in Buck's Row (now Durward Street). Her throat was torn and her abdomen haphazardly sliced. The unfortunate Mary was to go down in history as the first ‘canonical' victim of Jack the Ripper.

Thousands of books and newspaper articles have been written about the Whitechapel murders of 1888, so I refer you to the Wikipedia article, which contains a decent reference list. In this series, I will instead focus on the streets of East London in which the murders were committed, and explore the local history using Time Travel Explorer.

The murder of Mary Ann Nichols took place just behind Whitechapel station, in the interstices between rail routes that now carry the District and London Overground lines. A map from around the time of the murders (not on TTX) shows the spot.

If we now travel back in time to 1746 (see above), we find a very different picture. The area is largely undeveloped. Even the plots fronting what is now Whitechapel Road are chiefly taken by orchards and gardens. The murder scene is a broad track known as Ducking Pond Row. Fans of psychogeography might point to an historical resonance here - that the scene of this first Ripper murder has a long history of maltreatment of women. If you scroll east on the 1746 map, you'll see the ducking pond, where nagging wives and suspected witches were once punished. Today, according to Time Travel Explorer, the pond is a Sainsburys car park.

The Mount, Whitechapel.

Still in 1746, and just south of the main road, we see an unusual patch of land known as Whitechapel Mount. Contemporary illustrations show this to have been a substantial mound, and its origins - whether manmade or natural - are uncertain. The area adjacent was known as Mount fields, and stands empty in the 1746 map.

Moving forward to 1799 (above, right, compared with the 1746 map, left), and both the Mount and the ducking pond have seemingly vanished (although this is more to do with the mapmakers' choices of what to include rather than actual absence; the Mount was disassembled in the early 19th Century). The area north of Whitechapel Road remains largely undeveloped and the murder site retains the name Ducking Pond Row. This is also the earliest map in which we see the London Hospital, just south of Whitechapel Road. This was constructed on the Mount fields in 1757, with clear views across open fields to the south.

As we leap forward to 1830 (above, left), big changes are afoot. The name Ducking Pond Row is still present, but we now see Bucks Row along its northern stretch for the first time. The area is becoming industrialised, with the presence of a distillery and warehousing. To the north-west a quaker burial ground has been established. South of the main road, the area of the Mount has been replaced with Mount Street, Terrace and Row (Mount Terrace remains to this day - a final reminder of the long-vanished landmark).

Finally, we head to 1862 (above, right), 26 years before the murders. The road is now firmly established as Bucks Row, and their is no mention of the ducking pond. Smith & Co.'s distillery and other industrial buildings remain, along with large residential developments. The area was to change once again before the murder of Mary Ann Nichol. A contemporary map (not in TTX) shows the changes reaped by construction of the two railway lines through the area.

Soon after the murder, the street was changed to Durward Street, as it remains today. A walk along Durward Street still reveals a mish-mash of residential and warehouse buildings. The area is set for further big changes, however, with the construction of a new Crossrail station over the coming decade.