Just in time for this wonderful season, The British Library is featuring a Gothic and Wonder exhibit showcasing the literary history of spooky stories. I was excited to see this but also interested to finally visit the library itself! Positioned right next to King’s Cross St. Pancras, the building was exquisite. Your eye is immediately drawn to the huge installation of old books that is about four floors high. I instantly felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when he gifts her a library.
We later learned this was the King’s Library, more specifically, King George III’s library that was originally installed at The British Museum until the 1970s when the museum and the library decided to split up into two separate institutions. Now, it’s completely ensconced in a humidity controlled glass case on display for the world to stare and ogle at.
But we were there to see Terror and Wonder and headed in to the exhibit. Tickets are £10.00, but it is completely worth it for all the information that is on display. The first real Gothic novel is called The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (who has a park named after him just a few blocks from my flat). I am completely intrigued to read this book now knowing it spurned on the creation of Dracula, Frankenstein, and even the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
On display were dozens of old manuscripts through history and even little knick-knacks from the era including this fun clock. Part of me really wanted to have this perched in my flat, but I realized that would cause a stir and a possible arrest. Clips of films played on a loop including Bride of Frankenstein, The Wicker Man, and the original Nosferato.
What caught my eye was the collection of old Penny Dreadfuls they had on display. I have become a fan of the Showtime show with Eva Green and sadly, Josh Hartnett. But they seemed to have a wide array of subjects from “Vampy the Vampire” and other campy, scary stories that were released weekly and for a penny.
We continued through the exhibit with the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, and of course Bram Stoker open to their famous pages, even including the fake letter from the journalist posing as Jack the Ripper.
And on that lovely transition, Jeff and I finally went on the Jack the Ripper tour in East London to continue this spooky path. The tour meets every night at 7pm at the Aldgate East tube station, in the heart of the famous Whitechapel borough. Since the sun sets here at 430p, it was pitch black out adding to the spooky air. But a couple of fun facts for the area.
Whitechapel was named conveniently enough because of a white chapel that was built in the area. It is sadly no longer standing, but we were also to walk through the Spitalfields neighborhood which was named because of the large hospital in the area. While that specific hospital is no longer standing, the Royal London Hospital Whitechapel is the final resting place for the world famous Elephant Man put on display for medical students.
Our tour guide, Lindsey, was one of the most enthusiastic individuals I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, she wasn’t over the top or anything, but she certainly was animated and extremely knowledgeable about everything Jack the Ripper. Her credentials were impressive. She works at Scotland Yard’s Black Museum and has researched the murders since she was a child. She even is writing her own book dispelling some of the rumors that is coming soon to a store near you.
We began the tour in a hidden little alley where the first murder linked to Jack was found. I say the first linked because it is widely believed that two murders that occurred just before Jack had his first confirmed murder were also him. Our expert stood firmly that these first two murders of Emma Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram were not the work of Jack but just a coincidence of timeline. And that led us through the official Jack the Ripper murders of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.
I won’t go into all of the history so you can do your own research, but the night of the double event was certainly very interesting because of the way Jack played with the police. The first murder of Elizabeth Stride occurred in the Whitechapel borough, but within an hour, Jack had crossed the invisible line called Petticoat Lane that brought him into the City of London. So the battle began between the Metropolitan Police and the City Police. With all of their withholding and prejudices against the two branches, it is quite probable Jack got away even easier. A smart man was he.
The night ended with theories of who the man actually was. Lindsey is dead set that he has not been found despite the new report stating Jack the Ripper was actually Aaron Kosminski. But her book that is forthcoming will be all about dispelling the rumor that the Queen’s doctor Sir William Gull had sent out a recon mission to kill all of these prostitutes since they were friends of a woman who birthed an illegitimate royal baby. What a theory!
But all in all, the tour was awesome and completely worth the £9!
Happy Halloween everyone! Stay safe out there but have fun!