Originally, the Kensington Gardens were part of the grounds of the Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria. During her reign her husband, Albert, commissioned the lovely Italian Gardens as a gift to his beloved and work was completed in 1860. Albert was an avid gardener and was entranced by the Italian-style water garden composed of ponds, terraces and raised beds along a geometric plan. This relaxing site sits on the Long Water, a river that runs into The Serpentine lake, so it is a nice place to spot birds and enjoy native water plants such as water lilies. After Albert’s death, Victoria had the Albert Memorial built on the south side of the Kensington Gardens.
There are eight Royal Parks in London, and this one dates back to the 1500s. Over time, different monarchs, architects, and gardeners have changed the landscape from a prime place to hunt deer to a sprawling grassy knoll perfect for picnics. It’s an appropriate site for “steam tourism” because the Great Exhibition was held on its grounds in 1851. There is nothing left of the Crystal Palace today, but this green respite is still a very nice place to visit.
If you are there on a Sunday and you stop by Speaker’s Corner on the north-east side of the park, you may still see people exercising their right to free speech on the same spot that has seen countless protests and demonstrations, including several advocating for the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the early 1900s. The Kensington Gardens used to be part of Hyde Park, but today they are considered separate entities due to a road that was built in the 1820s.
The House of Parliament and its iconic clock tower date to 1844 and were built after the original building was destroyed by a fire in 1834. Although today we know the tower as “Big Ben,” this is technically the name given to the huge bell that accompanies the world’s largest four-sided clock. The tower has officially been known as the Elizabeth Tower since 2012 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, and prior to that was simply The Clock Tower.
However, during Victorian times journalists often referred to it as St Stephen’s tower because Members of Parliament (MPs) held their proceedings in St Stephen’s hall. In fact, there is a St. Stephen’s tower on the Westminster premise, but it is much smaller than the clock tower, which is the third tallest in the world. While you can tour the House of Parliament, the tower itself is off-limits unless you are a British citizen with express permission from an MP.
This is definitely a must-see attraction for any Steampunk visiting London. The first exhibit you come to is called Energy Hall and features full-size steam engines and has interactive features that show you the physics of how they work and give the history of how they fit into the evolution of steam technology as a whole.
But, the absolute best exhibit hall is Making the Modern world. It offers a veritable cornucopia of amazing inventions, including Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1 and a working model of a Victorian-era workshop run on a belt system.
Like the Museum of London, I would definitely recommend this as a great place to take people with mixed interests because the museum also has exhibits on the history of agriculture, real objects used in the early days of space travel and a “4D” cinema that has films on a wide range of topics.
This institution has two different locations, but I only got a chance to make it to the one just north of the Millennium Bridge. (the other is at the seafront and focuses on the history of the docklands and shipping industry). The city of London has a very long history, so there is lots to see that doesn’t fit into my Steampunk theme, which can make it ideal for entertaining a group with varied interests. I loved the open format of the exhibits that allows visitors to meander through history, including one of the best displays on the everyday life during the Roman Empire that my Historian hubby has ever seen.
On the steamy side, there is tons to see. There was an amazing immersive exhibit about pleasure gardens like those that became popular during the 1800s. The darkened space features really cool period clothes, and videos that appear on the walls featuring people wearing them and acting out scenes. The mannequins are also sculptures in their own right and are lit according to what is being shown on the walls. The low light made it difficult to capture with a camera, especially because I didn’t want a flash to ruin the experience for other visitors, but trust me when I tell you it was captivating.
There is also a series of Victorian storefronts that you can walk through that are chockfull of period-appropriate merchandise and props. There is a big-wheel bike out in the open if you want a picture with one.
I also liked the displays of shoes, watches, and other technology that were strewn around in some of the other period sections. The exhibit on the suffrage movement was extremely well done, though I was shocked by a lot of what I saw. I had no idea how violent the pursuit of voting rights became in Britain. All in all, it is a wonderful museum with free admission and worth a whole day’s visit.
Jack the Ripper is the world’s most famous serial killer, both because of the brutality of the murders and the fact that the crimes are still unsolved. I have seen many Steampunk works make reference to the Whitechapel Murders as a means of situating their stories in time, as well as Jack appearing as a character in movies and books. But with so many interpretations floating around, it can be hard to keep the facts straight, so here is a cheat sheet to help you get it right.(I went on a Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London for my Steam Tour research and you can read about it here.)
- In 1888 there were a string of murders in the Whitechapel District of London. Due to the similarities between the victims, modus of the murders, and the proximity of the crimes they were attributed to the same killer. There are five women who are generally accepted as victims of the same serial killer, but there easily could have been more murders that were never discovered, or there could have been more than one murderer.
- Murder #1: Mary Ann Nichols, killed sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. on August 30, 1888. She was an alcoholic, which led to her separation from her husband in 1882 and her inability to keep any other job than prostitute. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated.
- Murder #2: Annie “Dark Annie” Chapman, killed at approximately 5:30 a.m. on September 8, 1888. After the death of one of her children by meningitis, she and her husband both became heavy drinkers and separated in 1884. Her husband was required by law to provide for her welfare, but he died in 1886 from alcohol poisoning. She tried to support herself through crocheting and selling flowers, but was also involved in prostitution.
- Murder #3: Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, killed sometime between 12:35 and 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1888. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated. The postmortem doctor identified the weapon as a thin knife blade, approximately 6-8 inches in length. Like the other victims she and her husband separated, but she was a prostitute before and after her marriage fell apart. She spoke Yiddish and Swedish in addition to English.
- Murder #4: Catherine Eddowes (aka Kate Conway and Kate Kelly), killed a few hours after Elizabeth Stride on September 30, 1888. She left her first common-law husband, Thomas Conway, and her three children in 1880. Later, she took up with John Kelly and they lived together in a lodging house on Flower Street. The night of her death she was arrested for drunkenness and held at the Bishopsgate police station until approximately 1:30 a.m. Within minutes she was killed on her way home. Her face and her abdomen were mutilated, and a piece of her ear as well as her kidney was taken by the killer.
- Murder #5: Mary Jane “Fair Emma” Kelly (aka “Ginger” and “Black Mary”) was killed November 9, 1888. It is believed that the increase in police patrols accounts for the lag between the deaths of Eddowes and Kelly. Her origin is less well-documented than the other victims, but sources say she was the widow of a coal miner with the surname Davies who died in an explosion around 1881. Like the other victims, she was a drinker and reportedly sang Irish songs while enjoying her gin, so it is believed she hailed from Ireland. Unlike the other victims, she was found murdered in her home around 10:45 a.m. and the time of death was set at between 6 and 8 a.m. that morning. Her body was extensively mutilated, the coroner believed the murderer took more than two hours to complete his task.
- During press coverage, the killer was most often referred to as “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron” because of the aprons worn by butchers. The name “Jack” became connected to the murders after letters began to arrive at news outlets and signed by that name.
- The five canonized Ripper killings occurred between August and November of 1888, but police continued to investigate a total of 11 murders that they suspected were linked up until 1891.
- Historians and hobbyists alike have speculated over the identity of The Ripper, and some sources say as many as 500 different people (including at least one woman) have come under suspicion. Many of these people were not suspects during the actual investigation and that is far too many to talk about here to I will only highlight the most well-known and/or plausible.
- According to some, Jack’s identity was already discovered in 2014—or was it? A silk shawl that supposedly belonged to one of the victims underwent DNA testing starting in 2007. In 2014, a book by Russell Edwards detailed the findings of scientist Jari Louhelainen, who claims to have definitive evidence that identifies Aaron Kominski as the notorious murderer. Kominski came under suspicion in 1888 at the age of 23 and died in a mental institution 30 years later. Unfortunately, Louhelainen made at least two major errors in his analysis that were brought to light in October 2014, rendering the conclusions useless. The search continues.
- Others think that the Jack the Ripper conspiracy went all the way to the highest levels of government. Spoiler alert! In the 2001 Johnny Depp flick called “From Hell,” Jack is in fact Prince Edward “Eddy” Victor, aka “grandson” to queen Victoria. According to the theory, Eddy impregnated a low-class girl (and a Catholic no less!) and to avoid the scandal, the queen ordered the matter be “taken care of.” Annie Crook and her royal offspring are spirited away by the royal physician, John Gull, but her friends like Mary Kelly are making too much noise about the disappearance and must be silenced. The serial killer who hates prostitutes is created to cover the real scandal and claims many victims.
- Others actually suspect John Gull himself as the murderer because of the precision of the cuts made to the victims and the fact that Jack was never caught points to some kind of conspiracy in the minds of many enthusiasts.
- One of the more likely suspects is Seweryn Klosowski (aka George Chapman), a Polish-born Jew who had only been in Whitechapel a short time before the murders began. In 1903 he was convicted on three counts of murder and hanged for killing his wives. This would seem to make him a very good suspect indeed, but he killed his known victims with poison, not brutality, and serial murderers rarely change their modus operandi.
- John Pizer was arrested in 1888 for the murders, but was later let go because he had alibis (including talking to a policeman) during two of the five canonical murders. The Sergeant who arrested him, William Thicke, allegedly had personal animosity against Pizer and no evidence whatsoever. Pizer sought reparations from at least one of the news outlets that reported he was the murderer. Thicke was later accused as being The Ripper in a letter sent to The Home Office, but this was likely a hoax and was never followed up on by the authorities.
- Gotham by Gaslight (1989) pits Jack against Batman in Gotham City.
- In the Steampunk Chronicles series by Kady Cross, Jack is a character.
- Ripper (2012), by Stefan Petrucha, follows the quest of young man from New York City to find his father in London, but instead finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.
- Ripper (2012), by Amy Carol Reeves, is about a young woman who is volunteering at a Whitechapel hospital and has visions of the Ripper’s murders before they happen.
- “Ripper Street” is a BBC show about rebuilding Whitechapel in the wake of the Ripper killings. It began in 2012 and the third season is airing as of now (January 2015). (Review coming soon!)
- “Time After Time” (1979) Jack the Ripper uses H. G. Wells time machine to escape his own time and is pursued by Wells to San Francisco, CA.
- “From Hell” (2001) Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in this film that takes its name from one of the famous Ripper letters that were sent to the press.
- “Progress” is a webseries that operates in an alternative Victorian London where there is already a steam-powered internet. You can watch the first three episodes for free at progresstheseries.com.
- A game for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows entitled “Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper” was released in 2009.
Did I miss and Ripper references, books or movies you know? Please leave a comment so I can add to my list!
My favorite part by far of visiting the Tower Bridge was venturing into the engine rooms below street level. The green and black coal-powered hydraulic engines reminded me of a giant mechanical grasshopper ready to spring, and made the whole exhibition worth the admission fee. One of the biggest surprises for me during Steam Tour was how colorful some of these old engines are! If you are a fan of engines and haven’t seem my post about the London Museum of Water and Steam don’t forget to take a look.
How it works: “When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed (“bascule” comes from the French for “see-saw”). These bascules were operated by hydraulics, using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators, as soon as power was required to lift the Bridge, it was always readily available. The accumulators fed the driving engines, which drove the bascules up and down. Despite the complexity of the system, the bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees.” From the Tower Bridge website.
For more information and pictures from my visit to the Tower Bridge, check out Parts 1 and 2.
Visiting the bridge and looking at the outside is of course free, but visiting The Tower Bridge Exhibition within has a small fee. Visitors begin by going up into the top of the north tower where there is a short introductory video with a screen that blends into the Victorian era props around it. Afterwards you get to move into the tower and enjoy the historical and artistic exhibits on the East and West Walkways. I can’t say that the walkway exhibits were the highlight, but there was some interesting information about the history of bridge construction for “how does it work?” types. (You should go to their website for more info on what exhibits are currently on view.)
They recently installed glass floors on the West Walkway, but this was shortly after my visit in September 2014 so I didn’t get a chance to experience this aspect of the bridge. I can only imagine the incredible view onto the bustling street below, but I can vouch for the panoramic views of the city from the top of the towers!
But for me, the best was yet to come. As part of your exhibition admission, you also get to visit the engine room that used to power the raising of the bridge. So check out The Tower Bridge Part 3: The Inner Workings next time!