A Jack the Ripper historian reviewed the Jack the Ripper Museum. It didn't exactly go well

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Wednesday 30 September 2015 15:40
news

A historian has reviewed East London's controversial new Jack the Ripper museum, and she wasn't exactly impressed with what she saw.

Photo: Fern Riddell

After noticing the museum's PR man had questioned Jack the Ripper's legacy as a misogynist killer, Fern Riddell, who specialises in the period and is a consultant on the BBC's Ripper Street, took to Twitter on Wednesday to set the record straight.

Staff at the museum have said that the museum doesn't "celebrate the crimes of Jack the Ripper" and that it is dedicated to "telling the story from the perspective of women".

But that's not what Fern found.

She posted a room-by-room account of her trip to the tourist attraction, which she told i100.co.uk was:

Absolutely opposite to what I think would be a factual or authentic retelling of the lives of the women and what was happening in the lives of women in the East End at the time.

Riddell was aware of the initial protests, but as a historian, she said, she decided to give the museum a chance before she wrote it off.

She said that the staff were very nice to her.

But wondered if they were on edge because of the piped soundtrack of “women screaming”.

Riddell went up to the first exhibition room, which recreates what the bedroom of one of Ripper victims would have looked like.

And it was surprisingly good, complete with biographies of the women who died.

However, things quickly went downhill after that.

Onto the next room: the 'Police Station'.

Riddell said there were only one or two objects in the room which claimed to be "authentic".

Then on to 'Jack's Room' which contained 19th century gynaecological instruments for no apparent reason.

Riddell was also puzzled by how sure the museum seemed of the Ripper's identity - when it's a question she and many other historians think will never be solved, and the myth glamourises the horrific violence the Ripper inflicted on innocent women.

At this point, she's pissed off.

So a room with a historically inaccurate waxwork of a dead woman in it didn't exactly change her mind.

The 'mortuary' could have redeemed the museum a little bit...

...but it didn't.

All in all, Riddell was, it's safe to say, underwhelmed.

Among the blood-splashed Ripper branded shot glasses, coffee mugs, whistles and top hats for sale in the gift shop, Fern found one book about women's (rather than Jack's) history. But it looked like it might have been left there by accident.

She told i100.co.uk that the museum had a shot at being good if it had stuck to "even half" of what was in the original proposal.

But the way they’ve done it is laughable. You can’t say you’re promoting a story from womens' points of view when you have three A4 pieces of paper dedicated to the women in the first room and the rest is fantasy.

I was horrified that there was so little contextualisation... it was just nameless violence inflicted on nameless women.

Riddell said that the museum also had troubling implications for how we treat sexual and gendered violence in the 21st century.

We work so hard now to try and identify crime victims and make the stories about them and not the killer, just look at how people fought to make sure Reeva Steenkamp was named as more than just Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend.

It's just cementing that idea. It's not moving forward at all. I came away with a sick feeling in my stomach... To call it a museum is laughable.

i100.co.uk reached out to Joshua Walker, a spokesperson for museum, who said he disagreed with Riddell:

We've had consultations about how to present the museum and like most things it's an evolution. It's a happy medium between mass appeal and stories of these women. The mythology is important, we couldn't have a museum and not reference it.

Walker added that the museum's owner was planning to develop a nearby site that would host more exhibits, including one about the East End's suffragettes.

More: Jack the Ripper museum hires PR guy. PR guy defends Jack the Ripper

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