The Dark History of the East End

Image: Fabio Venni.
Image: Fabio Venni.

Choosing Queen Mary and moving to East London you’d have to be fairly oblivious not to know at least some of the history of the area. Probably the most famous event being the Jack the Ripper murders, which have remained one of the most infamous unsolved crimes in world history and were carried out in the late 19th century.

However, recent developments seem to suggest that this may no longer be the case. As a former dectective with Bedfordshire Police, Trevor Marriott, claims that the Whitechapel murders were the work of a German Merchant Navy Sailor named Carl Feigenbaum. Now before we fully write the case off as closed we have to remember that Mr. Marriott is working with evidence that is 125 years old, and that many people before him have put other suspects into the spotlight, including Van Gough, Lewis Carroll and Sir William Gull- physician to Queen Victoria.

Through his use of document analysis (after being granted special access to the files in Scotland Yard) as well as modern day forensic techniques, Marriott has determined the sailor to be the culprit for at least some of around 17 Ripper-esque murders which happened here in the UK as well as in Germany and the United States, including the five which occurred down the road in Whitechapel. Feigenbaum was executed in New York in 1894 (six years after the Whitechapel murders), when he was caught leaving the scene of another similar murder.

But does all of this mean that East London can now shed it’s dark and mysterious past? Probably not. The local area has quite a troubled past when it comes to keeping on the right side of the law. Beginning in the 1600’s when it was known for the vast number of prostitutes which frequented the areas by the docks, as well as the theft and smuggling which occurred through the docks themselves.

Then in the beginning of the 1800’s there was a spate of bodysnatching, inspired by the activities of Burke and Hare- who did the same in Edinburgh- supplying cadavers to medical schools for a fee. In the timeline of horrors, this was obviously followed by the Ripper murders in 1888, but the (grim) fun didn’t stop there.

In 1911 the ‘Siege of Sidney Street’, which spilled over from a previous gang fight, led to a shoot-out between gang members, the Metropolitan Police and the Scots Guard, even the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill came to the East End to try and control the situation. Fast-forward 50 years and the gangs are still at large in Whitechapel, however much of East London is under the control of the Kray Twins- Ronnie and Reggie- who were involved in trouble all over the area.

One of the biggest incidents took place in The Blind Beggar on Whitechapel Road- which is still a pub and you can freely go and drink in- when Ronnie shot the leader of an opposing gang in front of witnesses. The docklands were then targeted in the ‘90’s by the Provisional Irish Republican Army who bombed them, killing two people and injuring 39 others.

Although the levels of organised and hugely violent crime in the East End have dropped significantly since the 1990’s, the area is still one of the poorest in Britain and as such is still struggling to stay truly on the right side of the law. Although many of the crimes now revolve around theft and other smaller misdemeanours (for the most part), they still contribute to Mile End and Whitechapel’s less than sparkling reputation. So whilst we may be losing the mystery of Jack the Ripper, our local area will still continue to look on the dark side of life.

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