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Murderous Brick Lane Curry in London's East End

Updated on February 23, 2015

Brick Lane London World Famous Curries

This East End street is populated by Bangladesh Curry houses. Some owners have been cooking in their restaurants for over thirty years.
This East End street is populated by Bangladesh Curry houses. Some owners have been cooking in their restaurants for over thirty years. | Source
Whitechapel in the 1880s; Wentworth Road. Overcrowded with poor Irish and Jewish immigrants.
Whitechapel in the 1880s; Wentworth Road. Overcrowded with poor Irish and Jewish immigrants. | Source

Sherlock Holmes Versus Jack The Ripper XBox360

Michelin Star Curry

When we told friends that for Valentine's Day this year, we were going to Whitechapel's Brick Lane, a few eyebrows raised. Whitechapel is the locale of the Jack The Ripper Murders and has the international reputation of being somewhat creepy because of this.

Brick Lane has always been on my list of places to investigate in the big town; there is much more to London than Covent Garden, Soho and Harrods, and so much history in the East End. Brick Lane is very close to the location of the Olympic Village, and we figured hoards of tourists would book up all the curries in summer this year, so we had better get ourselves along.

Home To Sherlock Holmes and Jack The Ripper Victims

Local Londoners are a bit scared of venturing to the East End. Anyone who has watched Eastenders would think it was full of gangsters, criminals and sordid crimes. There is even a video game called Sherlock Holmes versus Jack The Ripper, embodying Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character's obsession with all criminal goings on in Whitechapel.

This reputation for being the "other half" began in the 16th century, when Whitechapel became a popular area for industrial factories. The image of smoking streets and polluting mists appear in photographs of the area at the time.

1880s Whitechapel inpired "Dickensian" descriptions of London, with the author, Charles Dickens, famous for using the locations, landmarks and streets of Whitechapel as examples of poverty, filth and despair that trapped many Londoners of the time.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (the consort) opened the V&A building in 1852; celebrating the glory of the British Empire, forever to house treasures of art and culture from across the Commonwealth.

Life in London's West End, where the museum marked an invisible border to the area we know as Mayfair, must have seemed a million miles away to those who grovelled through the dank grime of Whitechapel life. The East End E1 postcode divided London by class and geography.

St Mary's Matfelon Burned to The Ground In 1880

For 600 years this church stood in Whitechapel. In 1880 it burned to the ground in mysterious circumstances. It was rebuilt by 1882.
For 600 years this church stood in Whitechapel. In 1880 it burned to the ground in mysterious circumstances. It was rebuilt by 1882. | Source
1864 to 1891. His death from syphillis - of all things - coincided with the end of the Ripper's killing spree. The disease was said to have driven him insane. He frequently hunted deer and enjoyed slicing them up with his sharp knife collection.
1864 to 1891. His death from syphillis - of all things - coincided with the end of the Ripper's killing spree. The disease was said to have driven him insane. He frequently hunted deer and enjoyed slicing them up with his sharp knife collection. | Source
A Jack the Ripper victim was seen just before her death one block from this pub on Osborn Street. Mary Ann Nicholls. This is where we had a drink before our curry. Yikes!
A Jack the Ripper victim was seen just before her death one block from this pub on Osborn Street. Mary Ann Nicholls. This is where we had a drink before our curry. Yikes! | Source

Walking And Dining Next To Jack The Ripper Sites

I'm not superstitious, but I did feel a sense of evil in Whitechapel. Jack the Ripper was never arrested, and killed a lot of women with knives, disembowelling them, and doing disgusting, ritualistic things to cause maximum pain. It is as if 1880s London still remembers, and the spirits of tormented women request justice upon the very air you are breathing.

Seeing horror films does not prepare you for being in the presence of a murderer's playground. Ripperologists detail how he chose to murder his victims in areas of low socioeconomic wealth, leading to the supposition that he was well-to-do.

The 1880s was a time of extreme poverty in Whitechapel, as the streets swelled with overcrowding; the result of mass immigration of Irish and Jewish settlers. Jack The Ripper might have chosen Whitechapel as his killing ground, as it was crowded and contained many female prostitutes who made up the majority of his victims.

Published at Casebook: Jack the Ripper; is an interesting quote from Whitechapel's newspaper entitled Whitechapel Road on a Saturday Night (1862) where the writer comments that "Unfortunately for them [sic local residents], they cannot afford to devote sixpence each week out of their scanty earnings towards the support of an organisation to protect their interests."

Whitechapel was part of the London Metropolitan Police, who had formed the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) ten years before, in response to a series of corruption allegations against police detectives. A Special Irish Branch formed in 1883 to investigate terrorist attacks by irate Fenians; who had taken to dynamiting public buildings. I wonder about the destruction of St Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel in 1880? (pictured right). Could it have been a political protest that a public building of such wonder existed alongside the crushing poverty of Whitechapel's Irish immigrant residents? Could the Ripper be a churchgoer? A respectable citizen gone vigilante serial killer?

Whitechapel derives its name from the white stone chapel of St. Mary Matfelon first built in 1329. After the 1882 rebuild it was bombed in 1940, like so much of the East End, and finally demolished in 1952. Today, there is no trace of the church that gave rise to the name.

Jack The Ripper began a killing spree of women in 1888. Many were Irish and in poverty. You can see why out of the 100 or so suspects of the time, the public latched onto the idea that the murderer might be from society; the police force itself; even royalty were suspected!


Curry Houses Disguise Old Murder Sites

The Sheraz at No 13 Brick Lane; the site of The Frying Pan Inn.
The Sheraz at No 13 Brick Lane; the site of The Frying Pan Inn. | Source
This is a historical photograph of the interior of The Frying Pan Inn at No 13 Brick Lane.
This is a historical photograph of the interior of The Frying Pan Inn at No 13 Brick Lane. | Source
The Bengal Cuisine at No 12. Unsuspecting tourists beware, you could be sitting in a dead girl's seat if you choose the No 13 curry house instead. Creepy!
The Bengal Cuisine at No 12. Unsuspecting tourists beware, you could be sitting in a dead girl's seat if you choose the No 13 curry house instead. Creepy! | Source

Plenty Of Curry But No Pubs In Brick Lane

The Frying Pan Inn was located at No 207 Brick Lane in the 1880s. This is where Mary Ann Nicholls (known by the name "Polly" to her customers) used to drink. She met her house mate Emily Hollands outside, and this was the last time she was seen alive. The pub was a famous haunt for prostitutes plying their trade, and drinking their profits.

The actual location of the Frying Pan Inn today is No 13 Brick Lane, which as you walk from The Archers along past the Brick Lane E1 sign, is only a few curry houses down to your left.

I wonder if the connection to prostitution, pubs and Ripper murders is why there are no drinking establishments on Brick Lane itself? At least not from where we could see. The Archers Pub sits facing the start of Brick Lane, as Osborn Street used to be just a "Dirty Lane" in the 1880s. Goodness knows what went on down the dark dirty lane back then.

Valentine's Curry In A Dead Girl's Seat

We left The Archers to locate our pre-booked restaurant Bengal Cuisine and the address reads 12 Brick Lane. Hang on a minute ...

Number 13 Brick Lane has been converted into a curry house known as Sheraz. The Sheraz owners decided to offer bed and breakfast accommodation above the curry house. I hope it is with complete ignorance of The Ripper mystery, and the rife rumours that The Frying Pan Inn was where he hung out and rented his victims. Hmm how charming. Wonder how the guests sleep at night?

We arrived at the Bengal Cuisine at No 12 Brick Lane, and to my relief it was diagonally opposite the Sheraz at No 13. It did occur to me though, that from my view out the window, I would be staring at the spot where poor Mary Ann Nicholls was last seen before her brutal death at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

I think many tourists dine in Brick Lane blissfully unaware of precisely how close they are to all those grisly murder spots. I can tell you for a fact though, and from my heart, that there is a palpable sense of evil doings in the air itself. Still though, the thrill of being near all those Ripper victims may see us rushing back for a murderous Brick Lane Curry in London's East End - keeping our wits about us of course!

Will You Visit Brick Lane?

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  • Judi Bee profile image

    Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

    Hi Eliza - I lived in Bethnal Green, and then Bow, for a couple of years while I was studying in London. Loved it! I am very familiar with Brick Lane (used to drop in to a bagel shop in the early hours of the morning after a night out) and Whitechapel. If you wander around some of the back streets of Whitechapel you can still get a sense of what Victorian London was like.

    Voted up and interesting.

  • ElizaDoole profile image
    Author

    Lisa McKnight 5 years ago from London

    Thanks Judi - the saying "a man who is tired of London is tired of life" is so true. There is so much to discover here.

  • michiganman567 profile image

    michiganman567 5 years ago from Michigan

    Very well written article, thanks for sharing. I would imagine that any city as old as London has some really creepy areas.

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    Never been to the East End due to lack of time more than anything else. I thought the area was being revitalized. Anyway, sounds like someplace to go to on my next London vacation. Voting this Up and Interesting.

  • ElizaDoole profile image
    Author

    Lisa McKnight 5 years ago from London

    There have been many changes there. As you come out of Whitechapel Tube Station you can see a lovely museum they have opened and some trendy diners. It is a bit patchwork though, yet a busy area where most businesses and high street shops are open. Worth seeing mainly for the contrast between Mayfair type areas and the east end.

  • ElizaDoole profile image
    Author

    Lisa McKnight 5 years ago from London

    Absolutely Michigan Man, you can find so much ghost history here, if there is such a thing!

  • RolyRetro profile image

    RolyRetro 5 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

    I drove down Brick Lane to get home from work every night for 2 years, but never knew the horrible history! Great hub.

    Cheers,

    RolyRetro

  • ElizaDoole profile image
    Author

    Lisa McKnight 5 years ago from London

    Thanks Roly, it is definitely a place to visit when in London. Especially if you get a cold night, a Bengal curry is brilliant and all the Jack The Ripper history so interesting.

  • Besarien profile image

    Besarien 2 years ago

    My grandmother on my mother's side would have been a little girl about the same time that Jack the Ripper was killing women. She was in her forties when my mother was born in 1925. My mother was in her forties when she had me. It seems like a long time ago in some ways, yet not so much when I consider that the people who were old when I was young had memories of that period in history.

    So much has changed yet stayed the same. Women are still forced into prostitution. Prostitutes still get hunted by serial killers. The poor still have inadequate protections and unequal treatment under the law. About the only thing that has changed in probably Whitechapel but, as you say, not enough to obliterate the feeling of the place or its gory history. Great hub! Thanks for the curry tour of the East End and the food for thought.

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