Located on Commercial Street in the East End’s Spitalfields area, the Ten Bells pub may not look all that extraordinary from the outside. Its grand Victorian days are still visible in its imposing façade, and it has listed building status, but there is more to the pub than this.
It has a very real history, especially if you’re interested in the exploits of Jack the Ripper!
History of the Ten Bells.
There has been a pub close to the current location of the Ten Bells since the mid-18th century. The original pub actually stood a little distance away from its current location, and was moved a few metres in the 1850s during developments in the Commercial Street area. It wasn’t originally called the Ten Bells and has had various names over the years. Most of these names, however, give a nod to the church next door to the pub, Christ Church, and its number of bell peals.
In the 1750s, the pub was called the Eight Bells Alehouse. It is thought that this name became out-of-date when the church changed its bell peals and added two more, hence the new name. The first record of its registration as the Ten Bells came in the 1790s. The pub has generally stayed with this name over the years, despite the church increasing the number of bell peals up to 12 and then down to 8 again!
It did change its name once, however, in the 1970s, when it became the Jack the Ripper and turned into a gruesome kind of theme pub. The campaign group, Reclaim the Night, persuaded the brewery to drop this name in the 1980s on the basis that the pub’s name should not commemorate the murder of women.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, pubs like the Ten Bells became a home-from-home for local East End workers, especially casual labourers. These workers rented beds each night and had no homes to go to. They needed somewhere to be after work until they were allowed into their lodgings to sleep – for many, pubs like the Ten Bells became the place they lived in. They were also favoured haunts for local prostitutes.
The Ten Bells and Jack the Ripper
The Ten Bells is most famous for its connections with Jack the Ripper. We know nothing really about the killer, as his identity was never discovered. Some say he might have spent time in the Ten Bells, as he ‘worked’ in the area, but we’ll never know. We do know for a fact, however, that two of his victims had close connections to the pub, which is located in the heart of the East End area in which he committed his crimes. All of his victims may have drunk in the pub at some point in their lives, as they all lived relatively close to it.
It is thought that one of the last sightings of Annie Chapman was in the Ten Bells just a short time before she was murdered. She was killed in Hanbury Street, close to the pub. One of the many unfounded rumours of the time has it that she was enticed out of the Ten Bells just before her gory death by an extremely ugly and suspicious looking man. There is no proof that this happened, or that the man was Jack the Ripper.
Another victim, Mary Kelly, had more direct links to the Ten Bells. She plied her trade, or had her ‘pitch’ outside the pub for many years. One of the last people to see Mary Kelly before she died had spent some time with her in the pub having a few drinks the night before her murder. Nobody else came forward to say that they had seen Kelly after she left the pub, and she was probably killed soon afterwards in her home.
These connections have made the Ten Bells the focus of many Ripper theories and it still figures as a landmark spot on most Jack the Ripper tours. Once you walk in through the doors, you go back in time as the pub retains much of its original look and feel.
London Pub Renovation
Its dark history aside, the Ten Bells is worth a visit just to see its original Victorian tiling and murals, some of which date back to the 19th century, commemorating the local weavers who lived in Spitalfields at that time. A renovation in 2010 added a new mural to the mix. This one celebrates modern Spitalfields and includes local characters such as the artists, Gilbert and George.
The Ten Bells also has a famous landlord connection, as well as a murderous one. One of its landlords in the 1880s was Jamie Oliver’s great-great-grandfather. If you’ve ever seen Jamie’s Great Britain, you’ll have seen the episode where the chef visited the pub to talk about his own East End heritage.