October 7, 2015; Evening Standard
NPQ has written about the opening of Mark Palmer Edgecumbe’s Jack the Ripper Museum in the East End of London and the ensuing backlash that followed. After months of protest, largely due to the allegedly deceptive tactics originally promoting the museum as a “women’s history museum,” Edgecumbe may have found something to appease his opponents. He has hired an all-female, seven-person advisory board to oversee the function of the museum as a way to tell the institution’s story “through the eyes of women.”
“The advisory board, composed of a cross-section of women, will work closely with the museum on developing our community outreach strategy and to help us to tell the story of Jack the Ripper from a new and unique perspective—to tell the story through the eyes of the women who were his victims,” said Edgecumbe.
In the brief months it has been open, the museum has been a magnet for controversy. On the day of the opening and in the weeks following, there has been outrage at whether the museum was truly built in the interests of preserving women’s history, or if it is merely another “salacious and misogynist” ploy to attract profits. Historian with an expertise on Jack the Ripper, Fern Riddell had several criticisms after taking a tour of the museum and chronicled her experience room by room on Twitter.
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“You can’t say you’re promoting a story from women’s points of view when you have three A4 pieces of paper dedicated to the women in the first room and the rest is fantasy,” she said. “I was horrified that there was so little contextualization…it was just nameless violence inflicted on nameless women. I came away with a sick feeling in my stomach. To call it a museum is laughable.”
Others, like activist group Class War, oppose the museum for what the group says its contribution to the “Manhattanization” of London’s East End. Only a few days ago, the group called off a massive protest, citing the potential for widespread arrests. Edgecumbe has also said he has been receiving death threats from these opponents, but says he refuses to give into the “bullying” tactics:
They are absolutely trying to intimidate me. They have made personal attacks on me, my friends, and my family. I’ve had death threats from them and they have told me they are going to burn my museum down and that they know where I live and I should watch my back.
While it seems that nothing short of shutting down the museum or changing it to the “original” blueprint would mollify Edgecumbe’s varied opponents, the advisory board may help open lines of civil communication between the two parties. Edgecumbe also remains steadfast in his decision to keep the museum open, despite the criticism and threats. Can supporters of East End find a happy medium with Edgecumbe, or is this museum doomed to controversy?—Shafaq Hasan