Mary Ann Nichols, first victim of Jack the Ripper, remembered in service for victims of sexual exploitation
St Bride’s, Fleet Street held a service to commemorate a former parishioner, Mary Ann Nichols, a victim of sexual exploitation, the first of five known victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’. The service, on 26th August, was in aid of Beyond the Streets, a charity working to end sexual exploitation.
In a central act of remembrance, three candles were lit: one for Mary Ann Nichols herself; a second for women of her day who shared her fate; and the third for vulnerable women who find themselves in similar circumstances today. Around 100 people, many new to the congregation, watched as Janis Kelly, who will sing the part of Mary Ann Nichols in the English National Opera’s production of Jack the Ripper and the Women of Whitechapel next Spring, lit the candle for Mary Ann.
Victorian hymns, written during Mary Ann’s life, were combined with choral music from Eastern Europe, reflecting the background of many present day victims of sexual exploitation. £465 was raised for Beyond the Streets.
The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce, Rector of St Brides, said:
“We were profoundly moved to discover that “Polly” Nichols had links with St Bride’s, and to learn more about her tragic story and its startling parallels with the plight of many vulnerable women in London today. It was important for us to honour her memory at this service, and to remember the story of her life – rather than simply the circumstances of her death. We were also delighted to be able to support the invaluable work undertaken today by ‘Beyond the Streets’, as part of this event.”
Mark Wakeling, Co-Director, Beyond the Streets, said:
“The life and legacy of Mary Ann Nichols has long been neglected, we are delighted that instead of focusing on the identity of a serial killer – St Bride’s have put her story in the spotlight, reflecting both on her strength and struggle. We know that the issues that blighted Mary Ann’s life – marriage breakdown, substance misuse, homelessness, poverty – aren’t issues of the past, but the lived reality of many women in present day. Issues that result in thousands of women in our city finding themselves with little alternative but to sell sex as a means of survival. We are heartened to know that the experiences of these women are being recognised by the congregation of St Bride’s – whose giving will enable our work responding to sexual exploitation in East London.”
As quoted in this week’s Church Times, the Chaplain of St Botolph’s, Aldgate, the Revd Andrew Richardson offered an address,
“Noting the recent sale, for £22,000, of a postcard said to have been written by ‘Jack the Ripper’, he posed the question put by Beyond the Streets: ‘Are people willing to invest as much into protecting and supporting services for women who are sexually exploited as they are in maintaining the historic legacy of a serial murderer?’”
Beyond the Streets run ‘Alternative’ Jack the Ripper Tours, exploring the hidden history of women in the East End, telling the untold story of Jack the Ripper’s victims. By celebrating the strength of women led to sell sex for survival, rather than focusing on a serial killer, the charity raises funds to support its work to end sexual exploitation.
Mary Ann (aka Polly) Nichols
Mary Ann was born on 26 August 1845, in St Bride’s parish, and married William Nichols, a printer, at St Bride’s on 16th January 1864. After a turbulent marriage and problems with alcohol, the couple separated, and Marry Ann entered Lambeth Workhouse in 1880. Her story thereafter is a tragic tale of a descent into destitution, alcoholism, and prostitution.
She was murdered on 31 August 1888 in Buck’s Row, by Whitechapel Road. She was warming herself by the fire at Wilmott’s Lodging House at 18 Thrawl Street, when she was asked to leave, because she was unable to pay the 4d that it would cost her for a bed for the night – so she went out to earn it. Her body was discovered at around 3.40 am that morning, the first of the central five victims of the unknown killer commonly referred to as ‘Jack the Ripper’.
Photo: St Bride’s Church.