Today (September 27) in London History – What’s in a name…

The infamous name Jack the Ripper debuted on September 27, 1888. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

“What’s in a name?” asks Juliet in Shakespeare’s tragedy of young love, Romeo and Juliet.

She goes on to say, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” What she’s saying of course is that names are irrelevant.

Maybe it has to be taken on a name-by-name basis but there’s no question that there are some names that loom as large as Mount Everest. Names that you would never adjudge as irrelevant. Names that are the crux of the matter, that hold the whole thing together. Names that get us by the throat and don’t let go. Names that are seared into our minds – that are as horrible, as nightmarish, as unforgettable as a Ku Klux Klan burning cross. Names that transfix us the way the writing on the wall did King Belshazzar and the guests at his banquet. 

The name I’ve got in mind today – September 27th – is Jack the Ripper.

Were it not for that name those crimes would now be forgotten. Hundreds of books and thousands of articles would not have been written. Scores of films and television treatments would not have been produced. Over the half-century – more than half-century – of its existence London Walks would have given something like 40,000 fewer walks. 

That’s what’s in a name, Juliet. In this instance, at any rate.

And I’m afraid this is the day – September 27th – the evil genie of that name came out of the bottle. Never to be put back in.

On this day, September 27th, 1888 the Central News Agency received a letter. The letter was signed Jack the Ripper. According to the date on the letter it had been written on September 25th, 1888.

Extraordinary to think that before September 25th, 1888 that name didn’t exist. And then it existed in just one mind. Somebody thought of that name. And then it went onto that piece of paper the letter was written on. There it was in writing, just a single instance. And then the letter was sent. The envelope was opened. The letter read. And like an escaped virus, that name was transmitted to – infected – a second mind. Whoever it was who opened that letter was the carrier. The vector. He will have shown it to colleagues in his office. In due course it made its way to Scotland Yard. And then it was out. It went everywhere. From one mind to a piece of paper to a second mind and then a few more minds and then literally millions of minds, generations of minds. Bears repeating. That’s what’s in a name.

Three other facts. The letter was posted on September 27th and delivered on September 27th. The envelope bore the address, “The Boss, Central News Office, London City.”

The postmark showed that it had been posted in “London EC.”

Was it genuine? Was it a hoax? If it was a hoax, who was the hoaxer? All of that’s been fine-tooth combed by Ripperologists. All by itself, the letter is a sideshow of the Jack the Ripper circus. I’ll leave it to discuss the matter further with your guide – with Simon or Molly or Richard or Oliver or Steven.

I’ll leave you here with the letter itself. It’s pretty disgusting. But in fairness there’s no end of history that’s deserving of that appellation.

Here’s the letter. I’m repeating myself here but I’m personally haunted by the thought that the instant the recipient read it was the breakout moment for the virus.

It begins…

“Dear Boss

I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track.

That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was, I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now, I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance, good luck. 

Yours truly

Jack the Ripper

Dont mind me giving the trade name.

Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it. No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now ha ha.” 

And a Today in London recommendation. Well, if you haven’t done it, the Jack the Ripper walk. Goes every night at 7.30 pm from Tower Hill Tube. Saturdays we do it twice: at 3 pm and at 7.30 pm. The sole exceptions are December 24th and December 25th. It does not take place on December 24th and December 25th. And on Friday nights Richard Walker is doing a different version – different starting point, different starting time. It’s more expensive but it’s exclusive. A guaranteed small group. Full details of course on

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *