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I've always thought that the expansion of 19th century London must have been a real sight to behold. It was increasing by leaps and bounds, becoming, by the mid-point of the century, the largest city in the world. London in the 19th century had political and religious freedoms, making it a stable alternative to many other countries in the world and it was flooded with immigrants. Its economy was robust, and London’s positioning as a port city only served to enhance its commitment to industries like trade, shipping, and fishing. As such, London became the place, along with America, for people the world over to begin their fresh starts.
But that isn't to say that 19th century London was all roses. The vast expansion the city experienced had some pretty terrible downsides. It was overcrowded, and the infrastructure was not able to keep up with the massive influx of people from all over England and the world. On the periphery of the city especially, congested slums started popping up to hold those with little money and means. Thousands of people, slammed together, in a place whose water and sewer systems just couldn't do enough to be salubrious. So disease was rampant and morale was low. And then, of course, there was the crime.
Much was made of the so-called “criminal classes” at this time. The Victorians were terrified of the lower-classes, particularly down-and-out men living in the crowded outskirts of the city who, they thought, were lurking in the shadows, just waiting for the opportunity to arise for a well-timed theft, brawl, or even worse. Life, for most, was hard. But in 1888, Londoners clamoring for a bit of excitement to spice up the drudgery of their unhealthy lives got far more than they bargained for. They got weeks of abject terror surrounding a madman who slaughtered women in London’s East End… Who was never identified or caught. And more than 100 years later, we are still no closer to really identifying one of the most terrible killers of all time.
Or are we?
In this first half of our special two-part Halloween episode, we are going to delve into a theory that identifies Jack the Ripper as the English painter Walter Sickert. And come back next week to hear the second half of the show and see images of Sickert's work.
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