On the night of Friday, February 16, 1821, two men faced each other across the field of honour, a wooded knoll beyond the Chalk Farm Tavern near Primrose Hill, to the north of a great chase that had yet to become Regent’s Park. This had been the scene of many duels; there were no neighbouring houses, just open fields ...
On August 24, 79AD, Hell came to the Gulf of Naples. Vesuvius erupted and a searing pyroclastic cloud scorched, choked and buried the prosperous provincial Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under thousands of tons of blistering ash and boiling mud. To the witnesses and victims it must have felt like the apocalypse.
Like his popular predecessors, ‘Jack the Ripper’ was not, therefore, simply a murderer, he was a hyper-real media event, and, apparently, he still is. So how did this lunatic become the Elvis of murder? The continuing obsession with Jack the Ripper is all about genre, setting, and the lack of a third act.
It was the British, always out of step with their European neighbours, that laid the foundations of a cultural re-evaluation which would later spread to the continent ... the ‘Gothic polity’ therefore represented free institutions and was opposed to tyranny and privilege.
Georgian surgery was not pretty. There was no real understanding of infection, and no anaesthetic. John Hunter called his patients ‘victims,’ and they were tied down and held as necessary, conscious and screaming throughout the procedure, which was often conducted in front of a large class of medical students.
The Ratcliffe Highway was an ancient road running east out of the City to Limehouse. Cutting its way through Tower Hamlets in the heart of the East End, the road had long held a bad reputation, being close to the old Execution Dock in Wapping where pirates were left hanging to rot – ‘a most dangerous quarter’ according to Thomas De Quincey.
Sellon enlisted at sixteen and spent several years in India. There he developed a taste for prostitutes and the bored wives of officers and diplomats, thus embarking on a series of sexual adventures and at least one duel of which he wrote with wit and candour in his autobiography The Ups and Downs of Life, published posthumously in 1867.