AN INTERVIEW WITH LINDSAY SIVITER
Jack the Ripper Expert and Tour Guide
Lindsay Siviter is one of London's best known Jack the Ripper tour guides and her reputation as a researcher is second to none.
In this interview she reveals some of her discoveries and achievements and tells us what it is about the Jack the Ripper case that so fascinates her.
WOULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?
I have been interested in Jack the Ripper for around 26 years.
the Mitre Passage Sign
My fascination began when I was aged just 12 years old and, since then, I've devoted a great deal of time to investigating various specialised aspects of the case.
I have a BA (Hons) degree in history and an MA in Museum Studies, alongside over 20 years of employment and voluntary work in some of the country's leading museums and historical attractions.
This experience enables me to be a successful historical researcher and interpreter.
I have been tour guiding since the age of 17 when I became the youngest guide at Cadbury World in Birmingham.
Since then, I have led informative and enjoyable tours in a variety of venues in several cities throughout the UK.
I am the only Jack the Ripper tour guide to work at New Scotland Yard's famous Crime Museum (formerly known as The Black Museum) as an Official Volunteer.
I am also one of the youngest members of the Metropolitan History Society.
WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN JACK THE RIPPER?
Lindsay With Sir Michael Caine
When I was 12 years old I saw the famous Michael Caine mini-series Jack the Ripper in October 1988.
After watching the concluding episode I felt convinced that Sir William Gull (who was dramatically exposed as the notorious murderer) was completely innocent of the crimes for which he was being so publicly accused of and that I, despite my youth, had to prove this.
That night in 1988, the 100th year anniversary of the murders, changed my life forever and I became engaged on a quest to clear the name of an innocent man.
Twenty six years later I can now at last do this for his family descendants after having recently discovered new evidence that, more or less, exonerates him.
WHAT MOST INTERESTS YOU ABOUT THE CRIMES
AND THE AREA IN WHICH THEY OCCURRED?
Though initially interested because of my aim to clear an innocent man's name, my passion for the subject steadily grew over the years as my knowledge on the history of the East End and the Whitechapel area grew.
Annie Chapman's Grave
I also began to undertake original research, and my fascination on the mystery of the identity of one of the world's most infamous killers led me to discover more about the many suspects linked to the case.
However, my interest lies not only in the mystery of who Jack was, but also in trying to acquire more information on the lives of the ripper victims themselves whom I believe have, until more recently, been largely marginalised by the popular desire to discover the name of the perpetrator with the famous moniker.
I have met, and got to know, key people connected to the case, for example, Joseph Sickert, who was key Ripper suspect Walter Sickert's son. He was(though somewhat reluctantly) responsible for the huge media exposure of the famous "Royal Conspiracy" theory in the 1970's, and the main source for Stephen Knight's iconic best selling book on Jack the Ripper The Final Solution.
Before he passed away he told and showed me many things which were a great privilege to see and which I talk about on my tours.
I have also met several family descendants of various people connected with the case including victims and suspects
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE CONTRIBUTED
TO THE FIELD OF RIPPER STUDIES?
My main contribution to Ripper studies is my work on the life of the famous suspect Sir William Gull (1816-1890).
As his official biographer I have researching his life for over ten years now and have discovered dozens of new things which include:-
- The true and accurate details of Sir William Gull's marriage ceremony being able to now correct all previous writers facts on date and location.
- I had privileged access to his home 74 Brook Street Mayfair (where he lived, worked and died) during its restoration and I was given original artefacts from the site. I also got to visit his house with descendant Nicola Kench.
- In 2011 I travelled to Cape Town in South Africa to stay with Sir William's direct descendant Sir Rupert Gull and his family, being granted unique access to family papers, documents and objects belonging to Sir William and his family, I am the only historian ever to see these items.
In my future book I will finally reveal the alibis which prove one of the world's favourite suspects, Sir William Gull, was not Jack the Ripper, but this information is under wraps for now. (aww go on, tell us! Ed)
AND SIR WILLIAM GULL ASIDE?
I go out into the field so to speak by travelling all over the world in pursuit of Ripper research.
The From Hell Letter
I visit archives, museums and a variety of places with Ripper links, including locating the graves of people connected to the case and take photographs as a record.
I go and see the original documents and sources where possible all over the UK.
Over the years I have compiled an archive of original images of various suspects and officials involved in the case, alongside a collection of past and current topographical images, and a vast archive containing various contemporary and modern sources and documents
A few years ago I published an article on the history of the Frying pan pub where Polly Nichols was seen on the night of her murder (today the Shiraz restaurant on Brick Lane) and created a huge framed wall poster containing photos and the history of the site, which was then unveiled during a meeting of the Whitechapel Society in the restaurant as a gift to the owner.
It now hangs proudly on the wall in the restaurant!
DIDN'T YOU ALSO
DISCOVER SEVERAL VICTIMS GRAVES?
There was a sad twist to Martha's discovery as she was not listed under her name in the burial register because her body had not been identified at the time of her burial.
It was sadly not until after her burial that her ex-husband later identified her from the mortuary photograph.
IS IT TRUE YOU GOT TO DISCUSS
THE CASE WITH PRINCE WILLIAM?
Yes, that is 100% true, and he was absolutely lovely.
I actually got to meet him, and talk to him about the Ripper crimes, on his visit to the Metropolitan Police Crime Museum where he examined our Ripper display.
It's really surprising how, all sorts of people - some of them like him, who you would never think would be bothered about the case - do have an interest in the ripper murders.
IS IT TRUE YOU WORKED ON A BUILDING SITE?
Lindsay The Builder
Can We Fix It?
In 2013 I had privileged access to the buildings at the Mitre Square Ripper murder site during their demolition, being the only historian allowed to record and photograph its gradual demolition.
After assisting the site manager with plans and historical knowledge of the square, I was photographed with the original Mitre Passage sign, a true relic forming part of this Ripper site's history.
As a result of the photograph of me in a hard hat, my fellow guides dubbed me the Anneka Rice of ripperology!
But, that's the closest I've ever come to working on a building site!
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE LOCATION ON THE TOUR?
I always say on my tour (after I have finished talking about the murder of Annie Chapman on Hanbury Street) that I'm now going to take the group to my favourite street on the tour and indeed Wilkes Street is my favourite.
With the spire of Christ Church looming over the original 18th century houses I feel like I've been transported back to the past. I just love it.
It gives a real sense of what some of the streets were like in the Ripper's time.
HOW ABOUT A FAVOURITE
PHOTOGRAPH PAST OR PRESENT?
I suppose it would have to be this photo, that shows what I think is an iconic location on the tour, and which captures the famous landmark of Christ Church which, no doubt, all the victims would have visited at some point and, of course, the amazing Ten Bells pub where most (if not all the victims, and maybe even the Ripper himself, drank in Victorian times.
This corner can be seen in the famous Ripper film starring Jonny Depp called FROM HELL.
However, when I stand at this location with my groups I often surprise visitors by revealing that, despite the fact Jonny Depp went on a ripper tour, and despite the fact he had a pint in the pub, none of the film was actually filmed on location as these two buildings were actually re-created on an amazing film set in Prague!
The monumental structure of Christ Church has always been a special place for me with almost a magical quality I can't quite explain.
Though the Ten Bells has changed over the years, it still has some original features like the tiled wall scene which the Ripper victims would have seen.
However, the richness and splendour of the beautiful architecture of Christ Church was in 1888 juxtaposed with the poverty of those living and sleeping in "Itchy Park" which was located in the gardens next door.
DIDN'T YOU HAVE A
STRANGE EXPERIENCE IN THE TEN BELLS?
While filming a documentary in the pub, I had a very spooky experience.
The pub was closed for filming and I was dressed in period costume waiting to be interviewed.
Needing the toilet, I descended down to the cellar toilets when suddenly the lock on the inside of the cubicle was forcibly locked shut in front of my eyes by an invisible force.
I could not get out and tried for ages to shout for help but no-one could hear me.
I became so frightened that, after what seemed like forever, I said the Lord's prayer and the door flew open!
The landlord subsequently told me that the spirit of a lady haunts the cellar.
WHICH OF THE VICTIMS
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE MET?
Out of all the victims, the one victim I think I would have liked to have met is Catherine Eddowes.
She was born in the Midlands, like myself, and even lived and worked in my home City of Birmingham for a while, where she had family.
Lindsay At The Grave Of
Having walked in her footsteps, I have always felt an instant affinity with her for this reason and was even asked to play her in a period costume dramatic reconstruction of some episodes of her life at the Jack the Ripper conference in Wolverhampton.
In 2011 I was asked to help do the family tree research for several Ripper related people, including Catherine, for the TV series Find My Past and, with great pleasure, I actually met one of Catherine's descendants.
I think it would be fascinating to meet all of the women as each had their own unique, but often sad, tale.
I have travelled around the UK visiting places connected to all the victims.
Every year, on the anniversary of each of the victim's deaths, I pay tribute to all of them by visiting their graves and leaving flowers.
Hopefully one day all these women will finally have justice as their murderer is finally exposed.
WHO DO YOU THINK JACK THE RIPPER WAS?
There are so many suspects in the Ripper case and I personally am not convinced 100% by any of them so far.
However, one man that fascinates me is the suspect James Maybrick.
This cotton merchant from Liverpool became famous when a Diary emerged a few years ago followed by his alleged pocket watch, both of which seemed to incriminate him.
Having been to his house in Liverpool, held the watch and the diary, and undertaken much original research on Maybrick, I do not believe he was the Ripper, despite the fact he was a probably a bigamist, drug addict and womaniser!
However, I think more research needs to be done on his brother, Michael Maybrick, a high ranking freemason who was living in London at the time and who may well be connected to the crimes.
WHAT MAKES YOUR TOURS DIFFERENT?
I bring a female perspective and many women on the tour appreciate this and it allows me to look at some of the facts from a different perspective.
My tours are engaging and educational, and I aim for my passion and enthusiasm to shine throughout the tour in the hope that this will encourage and inspire visitors (young or old)to become passionate about history.
Lindsay With Ripperologist
I like to think that I talk with, and to, my groups, not at them, so they feel as though they are participating in a unique experience with an expert.
Indeed, I'm an expert who encourages questions from tour participants, and I provide frequent chances to do so throughout the tour.
These moments are some of the most cherished, according to visitors I have talked to afterwards, as it shows I am not reading from a script.
In addition, I use pictures from my private collection, some of which are unpublished
I undertake a great deal of original research and meet regularly with other major experts on the case to discuss their latest finds.
As a result, I am able to provide groups with the latest facts and updates on the subject.
WHAT IS THE SILLIEST
QUESTION YOU HAVE BEEN ASKED?
Why did Sherlock Holmes not manage to solve the mystery?
WHY DIDN'T HE?
WHAT IS THE MOST EMBARRASSING
THING THAT HAS HAPPENED ON A TOUR?
The Suspect's Revenge!
On one occasion I was getting to the end of the tour and I had dramatically built up to the point where I was about to reveal who many people, Hollywood film directors included, thought the Ripper was.
Having really played up the coming revelation, and with all the participants waiting with bated breath, and in a state of heightened expectation, I turned the picture over, and raised it triumphantly with a truly dramatic flourish, and held it high so that all my group could see it.
This was it, the climax of the tour, my big moment.
Only, rather than act astounded, everyone started to laugh.
I had got the suspect's picture upside down!
Never had a tour guides revelation been so deflated.