August 31 will mark the 134th anniversary of the Ripper’s first victim, Mary Ann Nichols.
As London’s bells rang in the last day of August 1888, rain was falling. It had been one of the wettest summers in living memory, and there was thunder in the air. On the horizon a fierce red glow seared the sky above Shadwell, where a huge fire had broken out in the dry dock.
Some time between one and two o’clock that morning, a woman called Mary Ann Nichols, known to her friends as ‘Polly’, was thrown out of the kitchen of the shabby lodging house at 18 Thrawl Street, Spitalfields. Fate had dealt Polly a rough hand. A 43-year-old mother of five children, she was separated from her husband and now drifted from one workhouse to another, scratching a meagre existence from handouts and casual prostitution.
Short of the four pence she needed…
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