Writing

Bishopgate Institute: a Writer’s Source

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On the 9th of February, Professor Rachel Lichtenstein brought us to Bishopgate Institute, where we had a pleasant and funny visit to the archive, led by the extremely entertaining archivist Stephen. He showed us the hidden places of the archive and explained the technicalities and difficulties of maintaining such valuable historical traces.

After the visit, Professor Lichtenstein wanted us to get our hands on the material and to do some research about any subject that could interest us about East London. Thinking about our visit to Spitalfields and to Sidney Row Synagogue, I decided to learn more about the King’s Stores Pub, which is very close to the synagogue.

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Photo Credit: http://www.metropolitanpubcompany.com/our-pubs/kings-stores/

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I found some pamphlets and tour guides about East End pubs, edited by associations such as The East End Tourism Trust, in order to develop tourism to the East End and bring benefit to Spitalfields and Whitechapel.The Kings Stores is

a nice pub, beautifully decorated and, as many pubs in London, it has an interesting history: it was known as “The Hog & Donkey” because these animals were kept in the building facing the pub.

The first thing that I have learnt from our creative practise session in the archive is how far a research can take you. In fact, I was just reading the description of the many pubs of the East End, consulting an interesting map which I found on a guide, when I found out about The Ten Bells.

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Photo Credits: http://www.traveldarkly.com/jack-ripper-tour-london/

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This is an important pub in the East End. It was founded in 1753. The description of the aspect of the pub was quite interesting: 19th century wall tiles are still displayed, and details of the history of the place are recorded on the walls. There is a Victorian portrayal of Georgian Spitalfields, with a Huguenot weaver showing off his silk cloth.

The popularity of The Ten Bells, though, is due to its proximity to two of Jack the Ripper’s murders in 1888. That led me, of course, to a deep and passionate reading of a book about the geography of Jack the Ripper’s murders and the relationship between his story and the East End.

Jack the Ripper’s story is a long and fascinating one. It is not about a list of his killings and the names of his victims. It defined an era. Jack the Ripper’s story is linked to the new press based on the “tabloid journalism”, and to the well-known and stereotypical East London associated to poverty and criminality. The term “East End” was created in this decade.

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Jack the Ripper’s story is closely bound to the geography of the place – one of the most interesting details of his murders is his knowledge of London. One night, he committed a murder in the East End but was probably interrupted by someone coming. He only slit his victim’s throat, but didn’t disfigure the corpse as he was used to do. Soon later, he killed again. This time, in the City.

How so? Jack the Ripper probably knew that two different police forces operated in the East End and in the City, and they didn’t communicate to each other. So, while the police was called in the East End, he was free to kill in the City. Since I am very passionate about the stories of contemporary serial killers, I found this detail interesting: in fact, this modus operandi was  common also among many American serial killers of the 70s and the 80s. Police forces of different towns, in fact, did not collaborate and therefore it was difficult to associate and keep track of the different murders committed by the same killer.

I think it is very meaningful to do research about a story – a true story – that has so much to do with the history of the East End and with the myth of Whitechapel. Every new incident happening in this place was called “another Whitechapel” by the police. The Old Nichol which Arthur Miller told about in Child of the Jago was part of this infamous place. The area of Spitalfields, which now is one of the most appreciated by tourists in London, was known as “murderland“, “plague spot“, “the evil quarter-mile“.

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Professor Lichtenstein told us to use the material we read in the archive to write a piece of creative writing. I did: it’s called Up to No Good. Here is the link to the first draft. You can find it in the “Fiction” section of the blog.

“It is endless night in the East End of the night.”

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