Cabbie’s Curios: A Forgotten Museum with a Grim Past…
Tucked away behind a communal swimming pool, in a corner of the gardens adjoining Shadwell’s St George in the East church, there sits this rather forlorn ruin:
Built in 1877, the origins of this little building are rather unsettling… in its first incarnation, it was originally designed as a mortuary.
It was here, in September 1888, that the body of Elizabeth Stride- widely believed to be the third victim of Jack the Ripper– was brought for a post-mortem.
Originally from Sweden and known locally as ‘Long Liz’, Elizabeth Stride’s body had been discovered just off of Commercial Road on Berner Street (now renamed Henriques Street), approximately half a mile from St George’s Gardens.
At the post mortem held in St George’s Mortuary, it was determined that Elizabeth had suffered a “clear-cut incision on the neck… six inches in length and commenced two and a half inches in a straight line below the angle of the jaw…”
If Elizabeth had indeed been murdered by the Ripper, it is believed the killer was disturbed during the deed as, unlike other victims of the notorious spree, Elizabeth’s body had not been subjected to the serial killer’s horrific signature of disembowelment.
In 1904, the mortuary took on an entirely different role when it was converted into the ‘Nature Study Museum’; a commendable attempt to introduce impoverished East End kids to the wonders of Mother Nature.
Teeming with tanks of live fish, amphibians, insects, a beehive, aviary and an array of stuffed creatures, the museum was a great success, drawing in 1,000s of eager schoolchildren every year.
In 1939, the outbreak of World War Two brought a sad and abrupt end to the Nature Study Museum.
With conflict looming on the horizon, the authorities had little time to consider the problems that zoos and other such establishments dealing with live animals would face in time of war.
As a result, many creatures- including thousands of household pets- were destroyed.
Although the closure of the Nature Study Museum was intended as a temporary measure, it never reopened and the ensuing decades have seen it sink into crumbling decay.
Apparently, there is a planned renovation in the works for this historic little ruin….
Let’s hope it comes to fruition soon.