No one likes being misled. That much is so painfully obvious that it shouldn’t require spelling out. Over the last few days, people (and not just museum people) have been up in arms about a new ‘museum’ that has opened up, which claims to tell the story of the notorious Whitechapel murderer Jack the Ripper.
It’s not the tacky, tourist-bait subject that has the masses up in arms, Londoners are used to that. How else would one explain M&M World or even the Sherlock Holmes Museum? Rather, it’s that in the planning stages, this museum promised to be “the only dedicated resource in the East End to women’s history, and as such it got planning permission. Such a worthy and worthwhile story has become a tawdry, grubby cash-in, and it is a real shame.
Perhaps what is most galling is that the ‘museum’ itself flatly refuses to admit that the concept on which it was approved has been horribly corrupted. On the venue’s website, in the all-important ‘About Us’ section, they say…
“The purpose of the museum, as stated in the original proposal, is to highlight the often overlooked history, and untold stories of women in the East End of London.
In Tower Hamlets, the female victims of Jack the Ripper formed a significant and undeniable part of that history.”
In speaking to the Evening Standard, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, the person behind this monstrosity ‘museum’ said “It is absolutely not celebrating the crimes of Jack the Ripper but looking at why and how the women got in that situation in the first place.”
So let’s have a look at what’s on show…
The ‘museum’ tells us that “As you make your way up the stairs, you’ll see details of each murder recorded on the walls. The victims’ names, ages and murder locations are shown, along with newspaper reports and illustrations of the crimes.” Not so much exploring the victims’ lives so much as reducing them to a pile of corpses.
Following from this, the rooms are describes as a series of grisly, gruesome, salacious tablauex; resplendent with wax-works figures, replicas and things ‘just like these.’ All the while, the museum seems to be asking that all important question Who was Jack?
With no artefacts, objects or even a clear focus as to what this place is all about, is it even fair to call it a museum? Annoyingly, the definition of museum can be a bit vague. According to the Museums Association, it’s easily arguable that this place is not a museum:
The Museums Association (MA) agreed a definition in 1998. It says: ‘Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.’ This definition includes art galleries with collections of works of art, as well as museums with historical collections of objects.
It doesn’t collect, it doesn’t safeguard and the learning is questionable.
Earlier in this rant post, I mentioned the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Located at an address that has become 221b Baker Street, the museum has stayed true to the narrative it is trying to tell by being in the right location. The same can’t be said for the Jack the Ripper Museum. A local resident, speaking to the Guardian, said “Jack the Ripper has nothing to do with Cable Street. Cable Street was the home of the anti-fascist march in 1936, that’s what it’s known for. The Ripper murders took place on Batty Street and the Spitalfields area.”
So what is it doing in Cable Street? Looking at the ‘museum’s’ website, they claim to be “situated in a historic Victorian house in the heart of Whitechapel” which is clearly not the case.
Jack the Ripper Museum opened on 4th August. Not to the pomp and fanfare they might have expected, but rather to protesters concerned about how the powerful stories of East End women had been twisted into a ‘museum’ celebrating a misogynistic murderer.
— Donnacha DeLong (@donnachadelong) August 4, 2015
Interestingly, Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs was invited to the official opening but boycotted the event. He said: “I have withdrawn from attending the opening of this museum as I feel the focus of the Museum has significantly changed. I will be seeking an explanation from the museum owners as to how this shift in the nature of the museum has come about.
“Planning officers in the Council will be investigating whether the installed museum sign is contrary to the planning approval conditions. Further enforcement may also be taken in relation to the opening hours listed on their website, which are not in line with the original planning application.”
It looks like this story will continue on for a while, and I for one will be interested to find out what happens.