Jack the Ripper: An Important c.1866 Cast Iron Street Sign; New Goulston Street E


Origin: English
Period: Mid/Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1866
Width: 50.75 inches
Height: 6.75 inches
Weight: 12.2 KGS   

The mid Victorian period rectangular cast iron street sign with typical shaped ends in black, white and red pigments reading “New Goulston Street, E” survives from the middle of the nineteenth century and is contemporary with the murders of Jack the Ripper of 1888.

The piece is in good overall condition and appears to have had its paintwork retouched since 1866 in the original colours, but is undamaged, without cracks or chips, aside from commensurate wear to the paint, so remains in fine order. It could easily be wall mounted as intended, though there are no mounts present. The reverse shows rusting and corrosion as expected.

The sign bears the red painted 'E' suffix which helps date the sign precisely, as Victorian road signs in East London prior to 1866 bore the 'NE' suffix. The original NE district created in 1858 was in North East London, but this was abolished in 1866; parts were transferred to the N and E districts, while others were removed from the London postal district altogether. The current E postcode area was originally formed in 1866 as a merger of the E and NE areas created in 1858 and the E suffix was dropped in 1917 the postal districts were numbered alphabetically by their location. This sign, therefore, was essentially redundant after 1917 and thus displayed between 1866 an 1917 and was obviously salvaged in 1917 when it was replaced.

Goulston Street was first recorded as a small passage in the 1730`s, and acted as the thoroughfare running north-south from Wentworth Street to Whitechapel High Street. Within ten years it had been widened and extended as far as Goulston Square, a former garden which sat half way between Wentworth and Whitechapel High Streets. The street was extended further north between 1800 and 1830, this part initially being called New Goulston Street. The 'New' prefix was soon dropped.

The Whitechapel murders were a series of brutal attacks on women in the Whitechapel district in the East End of London that occurred between 1888 and 1891. The prime suspect in the murders was the notorious serial killer called "Jack the Ripper", whose identity remains unknown.

Matthew Packer, witness in the murder case of Elizabeth Stride, was born in Goulston Street in 1831. It was the northern half of the street which came under the scrutiny of the Metropolitan Board of Works when the Cross Act of 1875 earmarked it for demolition on account of its dangerous slum tenements. At the same time, properties in George Yard and the Flower and Dean Street area were also suggested for redevelopment. The resulting changes in Goulston Street meant that unsanitary dwellings in Three Tun Alley (on the west side) and Goulston Court (on the east) were wiped out, along with much of the west side of Goulston Street itself. In 1886/7, Brunswick Buildings were built on the west side of Goulston Street (as far as New Goulston Street) and Wentworth Dwellings were constructed on both Wentworth Street corners.

After the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes during the night of 30 September 1888, police searched the area near the crime scenes in an effort to locate a suspect, witnesses or evidence. PC Alfred Long was on the beat on Sept 30th 1888 when at 2.55am he noticed a piece of Catherine Eddowes blood stained apron in the doorway of 108 to 119 Model dwellings, Goulston Street, Whitechapel and the Goulson Street Graffiti chalked above it on the jamb of the entrance. He had not noticed either when passing along the street at 2.20am. Detective Constable Daniel Halse had also been searching the area at about 2.20am and failed to see anything of note. To this day it is not fully agreed upon whether or not the graffito is relevant to the murders. This chalk-written message has been the subject of many a debate both as to its relevance if written by the Ripper and as to whether it was written by Jack the Ripper at all. Some have theorized that the message was written prior to Mrs Eddowes murder and quite possibly, Mrs Stride's murder, which of course, occurred prior to the Mitre Square tragedy on the same night. It is a matter of opinion, rather than fact, that the Ripper was illiterate or unskilled in English.

The cloth was later confirmed as being a part of the apron worn by Catherine Eddowes. Above it, there was writing in white chalk on either the wall or the black brick jamb of the entranceway. Long reported that it read, "The Juwes [sic] are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.". Detective Constable Daniel Halse of the City of London Police, arrived a short time later, and took down a different version: "The Juwes are not the men who will be blamed for nothing", and a third version, "The Juws are not the men To be blamed for nothing", was recorded by City surveyor, Frederick William Foster. It has been noted that the speed in which the Ripper carried out his butchery on Eddowes impressed even the doctors who examined her body. And such rapid work might easily have resulted in self-injury. Consequently, the murderer may have cut a strip of cloth from his victim's clothing to bandage a cut hand. A popular train of thought is that the Ripper binds his hand with the piece of apron, crosses Duke Street and Houndsditch, along Gravel Lane then Stoney Lane, across Petticoat Lane and along New Goulston Street and then into Goulston Street itself. He ducks in to the entrance of 118-119 model dwelling housing to take stock. It is therefore very likely that the murderer entered Goulston Street from New Goulston Street and then headed North up Goulston Street dropping the apron piece at the entrance of Nos 106 to 119. Arriving in Goulston Street, he spied a water trough; removing the apron-bandage, he threw it into the entrance to the flats and quickly washed his hands before moving on, And such an injury may, perhaps, explain the Ripper's six week leave of absence which ended with the murder of Mary Kelly.

There are a large number of experts and enthusiasts on Jack the Ripper, Ripperologists, who put in a huge amount of time and research into trying to make sense of the killings and as such there are a number of opinions on the exact movements of the notorious killer on September 30th 1888. What cannot be in doubt, however, is that this sign is contemporary with the murders in the immediate area, the Catherine Eddowes blood stained apron and The Goulston Street graffito and is therefore a fascinating and rather important artefact in British criminal history.

With thanks to casebook.org