Britain’s newest museum was billed as a project to “recognise and celebrate the women of the East End”, showcasing 150 years of the social history of London’s women.
But when it tried to open this week local residents were aghast to see that what it actually showcased was the grisly work of Jack the Ripper – a revelation that has led to protests and the designers of the museum in London’s Cable Street labelling it as “salacious, mysogynist rubbish”.
The museum was due to open its doors to the public on Tuesday, but by Friday morning it remained closed, following a week of protests.
“Last night another window was smashed in,” said one contractor, who spent the day clearing broken glass and fixing the defaced exterior. “I don’t know when it will open – the owner’s not been around.”
An original planning application submitted for the museum featured images of Suffragettes, promising to tell the story of east London’s women over the past 150 years. But when the finished design was revealed two weeks ago, residents and business owners were shocked to see “Jack the Ripper” written across the front, complete with a silhouette of the mysterious serial killer, infamous for mutilating female prostitutes in east London during the late 1800s.
The museum, which intends to showcase the murderer’s story, has sparked outrage among community campaigners who say they were misled. A public campaign led to a series of protests outside the museum from residents, women’s rights campaigners and Greenpeace, among others.
The project, billed as the “first women’s museum in the UK”, is led by Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, a former diversity chief at Google who has reportedly stayed away from the site since the first protest began on Tuesday.
Tony Varghese, a sales manager at neighbouring Cable Street business Ludlow Thompson, was leaving work at the time of the first demonstration. “It was Wednesday that was the worst,” he said. “The protesters went a bit nuts and started screaming and shouting the place down. When I went to my car after work there were 50 or 60 people blocking it. They started putting stickers on our cars and windows. The whole road was blocked off, it was mad.”
Several of the local business owners, including Mr Varghese, were invited to look around the museum before its preview. “It’s sympathetically done,” he said. “I have mixed views – some people say we shouldn’t be celebrating him, but there’s a lot of history.”
Anna Potyna, who works in the Mapa café just next door to the museum, also said she was impressed. “I think the museum itself is great,” she added. “The story is very interesting and I think they’ve laid it out well.”
But Ms Potyna’s colleague Serdar Agirman disagreed: “I wouldn’t have chosen a Jack the Ripper museum. It’s ... not a positive thing for women.”
Mr Palmer-Edgecumbe has said that the original plan was to “do a museum about [the] 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 told the Evening Standard. “It is absolutely not celebrating the crime of Jack the Ripper.”
The architect behind the museum’s design said the museum was “salacious, misogynist rubbish”. Andrew Waugh, founder and director of Waugh Thistleton Architects, told Building Design: “The local community was duped, we were duped. They came to us and said they had no money but that this is a real heartfelt project. It is incredibly important to celebrate women in politics in the East End. We really ran with it. We did it at a bargain-basement fee, because we thought it was a great thing to do.”
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