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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 57, January 2005. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
Off the Wall
Howard Brown

The Goulston Street Graffito is a legend within this legendary case that has baffled and bewildered almost all Ripperologists since its discovery by PC Albert Long at 108-119 Wentworth Model Dwellings on the night of the Double Event. Is it a clue or was it just another graffito among others on the black brick fascia?

The Editor of Ripperologist, Paul Begg, saw some observations I had made about the Goulston Street Graffito on a couple of Internet sites (JTRForums and Casebook: Jack the Ripper) and asked me to do a little piece on this constant source of intrigue. As with many things, our 21st century experience often distorts our perception of how things were in previous times. Graffiti are no exception. The urban blight of graffiti tends to make one picture a spray-painted epithet, gang symbols, initials within a heart, or various lettering, all usually large, garish and colourful, spray paint and magnum ‘magic markers’ having replaced chalk as the instruments of choice.

It is noteworthy, perhaps thankfully so, that masons and chalk manufacturers haven’t changed with the times. Bricks are still 2-inches wide and almost always 73/4-inches long, and chalk, such as the cylindrical hardened ‘enamel’ or the more common and far more utilized cylindrical ‘soft’ chalk used in schools is 3/8 of an inch in diameter, for many years an industry standard. Since I had some chalk, the walls, a camera, the opportunity and a plan, I came up with conclusions that I hope the reader will find interesting.

Paul Begg has argued that although a coincidental placement of the apron in relation to the graffito is possible, it is equally and perhaps a little more likely that a connection was intended. I’m one of many who wholeheartedly agree with this theory, but the problem is that we can’t be certain where the writing was located or how many lines it occupied. Detective Daniel Halse said the writing was on the black bricks of the dado in three lines. Paul Begg has suggested that each line might have occupied a single brick. I tried it using the ‘ballpark’ estimate of 3/4-inch capital letters, as Halse mentioned, and could not do it on numerous attempts. Experiment #1 was determined to be impossible to do considering the length of the bricks and the words that had to fit ‘proportionately’, as Halse stated. So I wrote each word of the graffito at a height of exactly 4 feet from the ground, one word to a brick for three lines of brick. This seemed to be a far more reasonable method as the chalk would have undoubtedly broken going laterally across the mortar between the bricks. Besides that, it complied with the ‘good schoolboy hand’ reported by Halse.

I also conducted experiments writing the words one word to a brick on four lines of bricks, also with one line of bricks free of writing between each written brick on three written lines and one with four written lines.

These are some of the facts that came about from this experiment.

1. In five tests it took me 45 seconds to write the graffito in a completely legible hand in, 30 to 34 seconds to write it proportionately, although a word or two could have been misinterpreted, 25 to 30 seconds to write it in a hurried and less legible hand, and finally 20 seconds in a very rapid and barely decipherable hand.

2. I also did a ‘timing’ test. In the 30 to 34 seconds it took to write the words in the second test a co-worker was able to walk at a steady pace 115 feet or 45 paces. This indicates that the Ripper, IF he was the writer, had a ‘bubble’ of 115 feet or a third of an American football field to complete the message free of interlopers from the street.

3. Six co-workers of various heights were asked to write the message just as I had done. Their heights were 6’2” down to 5’2” and despite this disparity in height all six had to be on their haunches to write the last line of the message. The shortest of the six had to stoop to make sure that the last line was legible.

4. After the first day I was able to easily rub out the message with my fingers on several of the makeshift graffiti which were outside but sheltered and not remotely close to any rain or weather factors. This seemed to make unnecessary the hoopla of taking a sponge and bucket to remove the original, as Superintendent Thomas Arnold, ‘H’ Division, had requested. But on three exposed walls I found that the chalk had ‘hardened’ a bit and would need something other than a mere set of fingers to eradicate. However, on three walls unexposed walls to rain and sunlight, as the hallway walls would have been, I was able to wipe off the message after two days just as easily as the first experiment. On Friday, 10 December 2004, I spent over an hour removing the countless versions of the Goulston Street graffito I’d placed on the walls!

Halse used the figure of 3/4-inch capital letters but it is virtually certain that the good detective did not carry a ruler and that this was a ‘ballpark’ figure. I used 3/4-inch with a plus/minus of 1/8th-inch. I was successful in duplicating the message to these latter parameters. The size of the 3 lined, non-spaced message, was 16 inches laterally and 71/2 inches vertically with a distance of 40-inches from the ground. The size of the 3-lined one brick spacing was 16 inches by 131/2 inches and 34 inches from the ground. The size of the 4-lined non-spaced message was 16 inches laterally by 101/2 inches with a distance of 37 inches from the ground.

Finally, the last test was the 4-lined one-brick-spacing and was 16 inches by 181/2 inches with a 30-inch gap from the bottom of the message to the ground.

It may be worth noting that the only word that was not universally understood at once was the word ‘Juwes’ (or ‘Juives’ as those pesky D’Onstonites prefer). This latter experiment was done, rest assured, with the compliance of five people who knew what I had written yet had difficulty interpreting what I had just written.

If the Ripper did write this message, from experience I can attest that a non-cylindrical piece of chalk would not have worked as well in terms of legibility. It was hard enough duplicating the message within the parameters Halse stated and to make it legible.

I encourage other interested parties to undertake similar tests, but considering the removal of the chalk I would be persuaded to believe that this was a fresh chalking, and I agree that its proximity to the apron and height from the ground makes the two items almost impossible to disassociate. I’ve seen graffiti for numerous decades and the only graffiti I’ve seen which resemble the proportionality, symmetry and uniqueness of the infamous Goulston Street Graffito are generally found in men’s rooms.


Related pages:
  Goulston Street
       Dissertations: A Curious Find in Goulston Street 
       Dissertations: A Piece of Apron, Some Chalk Graffiti and a Lost Hour 
       Dissertations: The Goulston Street Graffito Debate 
       Victorian London: Goulston Street 
  Graffito
       Dissertations: Jacob the Ripper? 
       Dissertations: Stephen White, Amos Simpson and Eddowes' Shawl 
       Official Documents: Warren's Report to the Home Secretary - 6 November 1888 
       Press Reports: City Press - 17 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily News - 13 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 13 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 17 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 8 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Illustrated Police News - 20 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 12 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 08 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 1 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 6 December 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 12 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 15 October 1888 
       Ripper Letters: Ripper Letters