Last year, the world went wild at the news of Catherine Eddowes’ shawl, but why is this tatty and torn, blood-stained garment so very significant, and what do we have to corroborate the story that it did, in fact, belong to one of Jack the Ripper’s famous victims?
Well, other than the forensic evidence that revealed the material’s tie to Eddowes, we have plenty to suggest that the shawl was not just one of the woman’s possessions, but perhaps one of her most prized possessions.
Well, for starters, it is highly likely that a woman of Eddowes’ profession and social standing would have had a shawl, either made whilst in the workhouse or somehow handed down to her. Working class women needed an affordable way to be both modest and warm, and that is where the shawl came in.
Fashionably speaking, the shawls of the mid-to-late 19th century were cashmere and black lace at one end of the scale, or patchwork, cotton and wool at the other. Satin, silk and heavy velvets were the preferred options for more mature women, whilst lighter materials worked best for youngsters and husband hunters.
Of course, Catherine Eddowes’ distinctive shawl was an 8’ wide, silk screen printed one, with brown colourings and Michaelmas daisy motif. The design was likely inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement that was becoming increasingly popular at the time of the Whitechapel murders, and which continued in popularity through to the early 20th century. It even features a fringe, which was fashionable at the time, though the “fringe” in this case could be better described as “fray”.
Regardless, this fashion-forward design only adds credence to the fact that the Eddowes shawl must be legitimately significant. Otherwise, why would Simpson have kept something so fashionable (read: profitable) locked in a chest?
It was valuable to the Ripper’s victim in life, keeping her warm, decent and offering somewhat of a status symbol amongst the other street workers. And it is proving to be valuable after her death, as the ultimate missing link.
Naturally, though, as with any new piece of evidence in such a notorious case, we are initially left with more questions than answers. So while you wait for 21st-century forensics to catch up with the most infamous 19th-century murderer, why not join us on one of our Jack the Ripper Walks?