Get to Know Jack the Ripper Guide Jenny Phillips

Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper terrorised the impoverished area of Whitechapel in London in 1888. Now you can discover the sordid history of those dark events with a guided walk through the streets once walked by the Ripper, led by expert Jenny Phillips.

Here Jenny tells us how she came to be an expert in the field and throws in some juicy secrets about the man himself.

How did you become a Jack the Ripper expert?

By reading many books about Jack the Ripper over the last 20 years. You have to study – people will ask questions which you will want to be able to answer. When I started, I knew a little but learnt my first script off a tape from another guide!

How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?

The tour guide part came at the same time as Jack the Ripper – I was a Jack the Ripper guide from the beginning. I studied the area of Whitechapel with intentions of doing history walks but when I would meet my teacher Bill Fishman in the Alma pub, I got to know lots of guides working on Jack the Ripper walks, as there was a small Jack the Ripper museum there and all the tours used to end up there.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

Well a typical day starts with breakfast then answering emails about bookings, working on fresh ideas for other murder mystery walks (for example I now do a Sweeney Todd walk on Friday nights). I also have another unrelated website that I am working on at present.

In the evening I might have a walk, but mostly I just do weekly walks. On Fridays I do Sweeney Todd and on Saturdays, Jack the Ripper. These are public walks that anyone can join.

I also offer private walks for groups of 8, a pirate walk and a tour of the Spitalfield Market area on a Sunday when the market is in full swing. Smithfield Market was an execution ground in Tudor times.

Have you got a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day? 

I do have a certain style for Jack the Ripper as I have done it so often I know what works with most public groups. They want full details of the murders and to ask questions about the period and what life was like then. On other walks, I would probably look at the group, especially if it is a private group, and work out what they would like best. For example, on the pirate walk some groups might be more interested in the pub stops – especially in the winter!

What is the best part of your job?

Getting to meet many different people and interacting with them, hearing all the questions that they have and trying to provide them with answers.

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?

Well apart from many amusing drunks over the years, especially one who used to beg for £6000 to get back to Jamaica, I had an experience when I was standing waiting for a group outside Aldgate East station. A small young man walked past, looked at me, then a few minutes later sidled up to me and said “Business.” My reply was unprintable but I can tell you it ended with “I will call the police!”

Ever had any odd requests from clients?

Not really, however I did do a Jack the Ripper Walk for an American lady’s wedding. She had come on the walk previously with her fiancé and thought it would be fun for their guests! I have also done stag Jack the Ripper – I even have a T-shirt!

Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?

I was never keen on doing school groups. Jack the Ripper was on the curriculum at one stage and the kids were not really interested as it was school work and so did not want to be there. But I have done student groups also and found that they were really interested.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?

A guide will know the area thoroughly and will be able to point out many things that you would miss if you were on your own.

In your view, what makes a good tour guide?

The ability to grab the interest of the group in the story, to be able to make them feel empathy with these women so they go away feeling that all their questions were answered and it was good value for the money!

Have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?

Look for someone who has an all-round knowledge of London, who has lived and guided here for a number of years. Try to have contact with them via email so you can get a good idea of what they are like, then find out if they know the area you want to tour thoroughly. If it is a particular walk you are interested in check their website to look at their reviews.

Finally, tell us something about Jack the Ripper that only a guide would know.

That the descriptions of the men seen with these victims do NOT match, so some of them could not have been Jack!

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