Museum Intended to Celebrate Women’s History Dedicated to Jack the Ripper

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July 30, 2015; Evening Standard

A London museum has some residents protesting even before the opening. The museum, which is set to open next Tuesday, was originally planned and pitched as a celebration of women’s history in the East End, a section of London. However, this week, residents discovered the original plan had been scrapped; instead, the museum would be focused on Jack the Ripper, the 19th century serial killer who terrorized women from 1888 to 1891 in the same area.

At the helm of the abrupt transition is former Google Diversity Chief Mark Palmer-Edgcumbe, who has residents and others fuming. The change was only revealed after a storefront reading “Jack the Ripper Museum” was unveiled earlier this week.

Some are also questioning the historical accuracy of the placement of the museum compared to where the murders were committed, while others are saying the local council was tricked into approving the project. “We feel we have been completely hoodwinked and deceived,” said filmmaker Julian Cole to the London Evening Standard. “My neighbor thought it was some kind of sick joke.”

And, said Jemima Broadbridge, a government press official, the history of the East End extends beyond what could be experienced in a museum focused on the serial killer. “The history of the East End is not just about misogyny: it’s about the Battle of Cable Street, it’s about Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Grey, among other things,” she said.

According to the Standard, the original proposal for converting an out-of-use Victorian store and apartment building promised a “world class” museum that “will recognize and celebrate the women of the East End who have shaped history, telling the story of how they have been instrumental in changing society. It will analyze the social, political and domestic experience from the Victorian period to the present day.”

So how did such an abrupt change occur? Here’s Edgcumbe’s explanation: “We did plan to do a museum about social history of women but as the project developed we decided a more interesting angle was from the perspective of the victims of Jack the Ripper.”

He continued, “It is absolutely not celebrating the crime of Jack the Ripper but looking at why and how the women got in that situation in the first place.”

But from the physical appearance of the museum and the merchandise that is available for view, the museum seems to have a very tangential relationship to the female victims.

At least from the way the museum has been marketed, the only indication of a woman in the design of the museum appears to be the bloody smears.

NPQ has previously written about the role of museums and cultural institutions in communities, but what does a community do with a museum it does not want? Or a museum that may not be properly fulfilling its role?

Despite the unrest, local council has said their hands are tied. “Ultimately the council has no control in planning terms of the nature of the museum… The council is investigating the extent to which unauthorized works may have been carried out.”—Shafaq Hasan