William Hogarth (British, London 1697–1764 London) The Reward of Cruelty (The Four Stages of Cruelty), February 1, 1751 British, Etching and engraving; third state of three; plate: 15 1/4 x 12 5/8 in. (38.8 x 32 cm) sheet: 15 3/4 x 13 1/16 in. (40 x 33.2 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Sarah Lazarus, 1891 (91.1.139-) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/400040
London beyond time and place London beyond time and place,Tales beyond time and place What is the Fourth Dimension? – The concept of the echo in Alan Moore’s ‘From Hell’

What is the Fourth Dimension? – The concept of the echo in Alan Moore’s ‘From Hell’What is the Fourth Dimension? – The concept of the echo in Alan Moore’s ‘From Hell’

William Hogarth (British, London 1697–1764 London) The Reward of Cruelty (The Four Stages of Cruelty), February 1, 1751 British, Etching and engraving; third state of three; plate: 15 1/4 x 12 5/8 in. (38.8 x 32 cm) sheet: 15 3/4 x 13 1/16 in. (40 x 33.2 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Sarah Lazarus, 1891 (91.1.139-) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/400040

An echo, which calls through time and space and makes sure that certain actions or events repeat themselves or continue, is one of the main topics in Peter Ackroyd’s novel Hawksmoor as well as in Alan Moore’s and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel From Hell. Both works deal with certain characters and eras of London’s history – architect Nicholas Hawksmoor and serial killer Jack the Ripper – and the capital’s history plays a major part in the novels’ concept of the echo.

British architect Nicholas Hawksmoor began his work as an apprentice to Sir Christopher Wren, often described as the greatest British architect, responsible for many well-known buildings in London. Wren’s masterpiece is St Paul’s Cathedral, ‘constructed between 1675 and 1710 to replace the medieval church of old St Paul’s, destroyed by the Great Fire’ (Bushell 1983: 220). By the early eighteenth century, a commission decided to build a series of new churches in London and Hawksmoor become one of the chief surveyors of this project. Of the twelve churches that were planned and built, ‘Hawksmoor designed six […] and co-designed another two – and they are arguably the crowning achievement of his career. For many architects today, they represent the finest and purest buildings any English architect has ever produced’ (Rose 2006). Hawksmoor was influenced by ‘religious architecture, from ancient Egypt, to Greece and Rome, to Islamic mosques and the English Gothic tradition’ and included ‘“pagan” symbols such as pyramids and obelisks’ (ibid) in his works. The six churches designed by Hawksmoor are St Alfege Church in Greenwich, St George’s Church in Bloomsbury, Christ Church in Spitalfields, St George-in-the-East in Wapping, St Mary Woolnoth and St Anne’s Limehouse. The two co-designed with architect John James were St Luke Old Street and St John Horsleydown. Apart from these churches, Hawksmoor worked on many well-known buildings in Britain, for example he was also responsible for the famous western towers of Westminster Abbey.

Some theories and myths exist about Nicholas Hawksmoor and his works. It is said that for his building sites, he picked locations with historic links to dark history, like plague pits or site connected with fire or crime. Some authors and historian have linked his churches on a map of London and believe to have discovered a pattern. These theories go back to ‘London poet, author, bookdealer, and Necronaut Iain Sinclair, who first noticed the odd characteristics of Hawksmoor’s churches and whose work ‘Lud Heat (1975) […] provided the inspiration for Peter Ackroyd’s […] novel Hawksmoor’ (Moore & Campbell 2006: Appendix I p. 3)[1].

[1] The Appendix of From Hell will hereafter be quoted as App. I, page number.

Our self-guided walk to Nicholas Hawksmoor’s East End churches can be found here:

The echo in Hawksmoor

Peter Ackroyd’s novel Hawksmoor was published in 1985. The novel can be described as a postmodern-mystery-novel, mixing a contemporary crime story with a historic tale about the sacrilegious building of Christian churches. Important in our context is the way ‘it toys playfully with the idea of continuity’s resonance down through the centuries, as this comes to be embedded in the very fabric of the stones from which particular churches are built as a result of necromantic practice’ (Wolfreys 2004: 124). The plot of the story is not easy to describe in a few words. The novel ‘is a lucid, labyrinthine text that intertwines factual and fictional events, locations and characters’, and ‘is constructed around two narratives. The first is a first person narrative set in early eighteenth century London, told in the voice of a character named Nicholas Dyer. Dyer is an architect building a number of churches across London after the great fire of 1666, of which Christ Church becomes the most important’ (Newland 2005). Dyer is a fictional representation of the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The second narrative is set in the 1980s, where a policeman named Nicholas Hawksmoor has to solve crimes that are connected to Dyer’s churches. Ackroyd changed the names; his architect in the eighteenth century is called ‘Nicholas Dyer, while the modern era detective is named Hawksmoor’ (ibid). Dyer is the one to build ‘various churches in London, he decides to turn them into secret shrines to his malevolent thaumaturgy’ (ibid). During that process, he kills several people in a ritualistic way at each building site. In the 1980s, murders ‘that have taken place at the same locations’ (Lewis 2007: 37) have to be solved by the Detective Nicholas Hawksmoor.

In the novel, history is presented as a kind of echo, calling through time and letting certain events continue, repeat themselves or even take place simultaneously in different periods. For example, the two main protagonists Nicholas Dyer and Nicholas Hawksmoor share the same forenames. Ackroyd also chooses to give the name of the real architect Hawksmoor to the detective in the 1980s and makes him an architect himself, who – just like the real Hawksmoor – has to rebuild something. In his cases, it is not a church, but the past. As Sentov (2009:125) puts it: ‘The two narratives are divided by three centuries of historical time, but they are skillfully connected by repeating phrases, images and motifs. They share a common locale – the same area of London.’ 

Dyer works in the ‘Old Scotland Yard with his assistant Walter Pyne’, whereas ‘Hawksmoor works at the New Scotland Yard’ (Lewis 2007: 40) and his assistant is called Walter Payne (cf. Ackroyd 2010: 133 f.)[2]. They even live in the same flat; both reside ‘near Seven Dials’ (Lewis 2007: 40), Dyer’s landlady is ‘Mrs Best (a Taylor’s Widow)’ (H 54); Hawksmoor’s neighbour is Mrs West (cf. Ibid 146). Both seem to be very interested in the private and personal lives of the respective Nicholas. Dyer and Hawksmoor both move and work in or around the Whitechapel area, for example in Brick Lane (later the area of the Jack the Ripper murders). As Dyer gets a ‘whipping by a Drury Lane prostitute’, Hawksmoor dreams that ‘he too is whipped’ (Lewis 2007: 43). Dyer loses his notebook in chapter nine; Hawksmoor finds it in chapter ten.

Another connection is the relationship between the victims in the different time periods. The first victims share the same name Thomas Hill (cf. H 26; 49). At the end of chapter two, Tommy Hill in the 1980s relives Thomas Hill’s death from the past as he feels like ‘he was falling from the tower as someone cried, Go on! Go on!’ (H 49), these being Dyer’s cries from the past (cf. H 26). The second victim, Ned and ‘his seventeenth-century equivalent both originate from Bristol; they wander around the country […] and each ends up in the Isle of Dogs’ (Lewis 2007: 39).

Also, Hawksmoor passes a statue of Sir Christopher Wren (cf. H 189), the man Dyer works for (cf. H 6). On the linguistic level are also some links, because ‘the beginnings and endings of each chapter echo one another’ (Lewis 2007: 40), for example as Hawksmoor asks ‘“What time is it now?”’ (H 156) at the end of chapter six and Dyer answers at the beginning of chapter seven ‘It is almost six o’clock’ (H 157).

Through the ‘multitude of the same words, names, images, rhymes, songs [that] appear in both narratives, […] the readers have a sense of two parallel worlds touching one another at times’ (Sentov 2009: 125). Ackroyd explains that his ‘conscious effort was to recreate 16th century London, and 20th century London, and see them as mirror images of each other’ (in Vianu 2006). So, he ‘uses a double time frame to present a conflict between different concepts of time and the ideologies that underlie these concepts. […] Dyer believes in a “natural” time which unites the past, present and future’ and his ‘plan is to use ancient patterns, such as pyramids, in the layout of his churches, to use materials, such as stone, with time already inscribed in them, and to follow the ancient rituals and ceremonies in the construction, such as making a human sacrifice and burying the body in the foundations’ (Sentov 2009: 125). In that, ‘the novel challenges modern assumptions about linear time and history’ (ibid. 133).

When Wren and Dyer visit Stonehenge, Wren admires the ‘Exactness of Placing them [the stones; note from the author] in regard to the Heavens’, whereas Dyer feels ‘in the Fabrick the Labour and Agonie of those who erected it, the Power of Him who enthrall’d them, and the marks of Eternity which had been placed there. I could hear the Cryes and Voices of those long since gone’ (H 74). Dyer despises the common people who say ‘London is now another City or that House was not there Yesterday or the Situacion of the Streets is quite Chang’d […]’ (H 56, emphasis in the original). For him, ‘this Capital of the World of Affliction is still the Capitol of Darknesse’ (ibid). Link (2004: 535), in his text of the same name, adds: ‘it always has been an “other” City’ (emphasis in the original). In Hawksmoor, London can be seen as an influence and a place, where time is echoing to and fro, and therefore, as a main protagonist. We also find this concept in From Hell.

[2] Hawksmoor will hereafter be abbreviated as H.

Hawksmoor's St Alfege's, Greenwich
Hawksmoor’s St Alfege’s, Greenwich

The “echo” in From Hell

The comic From Hell, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell, deals with the Jack the Ripper murders and is based upon journalist Stephen Knight’s royal conspiracy theory, in which Queen Victoria’ physician Dr William Gull is the Ripper. Called by Newland (2005) a ‘rigorously researched and sophisticated graphic novel’, its author Alan Moore

positions Hawksmoor’s Christ Church as a centripetal force at the heart of the Ripper myth. Much of the book centres on the character of Sir William Gull; identified as Jack the Ripper in Sinclair’s White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (1987) and Steven Knight’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (1977) […]. Gull is an intellectual, prepared to question Enlightenment philosophy and to embrace the mysterious, uncanny powers of the occult. His meditations on human experience largely take place in or around Christ Church, Spitalfields, and the church also appears in the dreams of several characters throughout the text. Speaking of the church, Gull tells his colleague, Hinton: “Perhaps some places do indeed possess vitality. They dream and feed and propagate themselves” […].


Dr Gull, the Whitechapel murderer in the comic, believes that he serves a greater mission, trying to reinforce the symbols of male power over those of female power. Before we go into an analysis of the comic (or graphic novel, as it also often referred to) and the murderers’ motifs, we need to provide a short history of the so-called autumn of terror of 1888, when an unknown murderer killed at least five prostitutes in London’s East End and mutilated four of them brutally. The so-called canonical five are Mary-Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols (murdered in Buck’s Row on 31st August), Annie Chapman (murdered in Hanbury Street on 8th September), Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes (both murdered on the 30th September, Stride in Dutfield’s Yard, Berner Street, and Eddowes on Mitre Square) and Mary Jane Kelly (murdered in Miller’s Court, Dorset Street, on the 9th November)[3]. They were all strangulated and then killed with a throat-cut and (apart from Elizabeth Stride) were then mutilated in the lower body parts. The brutality of these mutilations increased with each murder. Whereas the first four victims were killed on the streets, Kelly was murdered in her room, where the culprit had enough time to fulfil his perverse desires. After this, the murderer – who became known as Jack the Ripper when an alleged letter of confession was signed that way – vanished and was never captured. Police was clueless, the press reported worldwide, letters from all over the country came in, allegedly written by the murderer, and even Queen Victoria commented on the crimes and the living conditions in the East End. Known as the first serial killer, the Ripper went down in history, and the fascination that surrounds him and his time lasts until today and was used in fiction as well, as we can see in this analysis.

[3] I chose not to give a quote for each victim and their death circumstances, but only to give a short summary. Information comes from Begg (2004), Evans & Rumbelow (2006) and Jones (2008).

Our self-guided walk through Jack the Ripper’s East End can be found here:

The ‘echo’ in London

This is an abridged version of the From Hell’-chapter in my book ‘London and its genius loci – A journey beyond time and place‘.

Before Dr Gull starts his mission to kill the prostitutes, he takes his coachman John Netley on a tour through London, to show him that their ‘destiny’s inscribed upon the streets’ (Moore & Campbell 2006: ch. 4, 37)[1]. From Gull’s address in Brook Street, they head in their coach towards Oxford Circus. Gull talks about London as ‘this CITY, in itself, a great work […]: a thing of many LEVELS and COMPLEXITIES’ (FH 4, 6, capitals in the original)[2]. He says ‘it TOO is symbol, history and myth’ (ibid, capitals in the original) as they arrive at St Pancras Station and Battle Bridge Road. Gull starts to talk about a world ‘where females ruled’ (FH 4, 7) and Queen Boadicea, who ‘died upon […] Battle Bridge, […] where Druids once made sacrifices to a Father Sun’ (ibid). The name Boadicea is ‘the Celtic equivalent of the modern English name, Victoria’ (App I, 10), who was British Queen in 1888, gave her name to a whole historical period, and who, at least in this fictional work, is partly responsible for the Ripper murders. Colchester, a city where Boadicea’s tribe, the Iceni, defeated the Romans, ‘was later to be the birthplace of William Gull’ (App I, 10).

On their way to Hackney, Gull describes London as ‘a textbook we may draw upon in formulating great works of our own!’ (FH 4, 9), continuing: ‘We’ll penetrate its metaphors, lay bare its structure and thus come at last upon its meaning’ (ibid). Arriving at London Fields, Gull states that ‘the greater part of London’s story is not writ in words’ (ibid), saying that ‘it is instead a literature of stones, of place-names and associations […] where faint echoes answer back from off the distant ruined walls of bloody history’ (ibid). He mentions the concept of the echo here explicitly. In the comic, it will later be revealed that Gull himself will become the echo – or part of the echo – during his dying process.

[1] Each chapter has self-contained page numbers. Every new chapter begins with a new page 1. That is why I mention the number of the chapter in the quotations.

[2] From Hell will hereafter be quoted as FH chapter number, page number.

London Fields, Hackney (Photo Philipp Röttgers)
London Fields, Hackney (Photo Philipp Röttgers)

Albion Drive and London Fields are for him ‘the ventricles of London, England’s heart’ (ibid). Now being the ‘slums of Hackney’ (FH 4, 10), Gull tells us that this was once a place ‘where Saxons lived and worshipped heroes, deified as gods’ (ibid). Still, he feels ‘a MYSTERY here…A RESONANCE…’ (ibid, capitals in the original), which refers to the echo, and he quotes the painter and poet William Blake, whom he will meet during his dying process as the echo himself. He describes Blake as a prophet and that ‘our lunatics were prophets once and had a prophet’s power’ (FH 4, 11). At Bunhill Fields Cemetery, they visit Blake’s grave, which is ‘beneath a Sun God’s obelisk’ (FH 4, 12). As they leave the cemetery, they pass the grave of John Bunyan, who died ‘exactly two hundred years […] before the first of the Whitechapel murders’ (App I, 12).

They ride past Saint Luke’s church on Old Street and Gull informs Netley about Nicholas Hawksmoor’s work and describes him as ‘no Christian, and his pagan works perpetuate the occult teachings of the ancient Dionysiac Architects, his greatest influence’ (FH 4, 12). He points at the steeple, which is in form of ‘an obelisk: Another altar to the sun, and masculinity and reason’ (ibid). After visiting Northampton Square, they arrive at another of his churches, Saint George Bloomsbury, its steeple based upon ‘the Pagan Mausoleum at Halicarnassus’ (FH 4, 16). As they approach ‘Earls Court, which […] was once called “Belinos’ Well”, sacred unto the Solar God-King Belinos’ (FH 4, 17), Gull refers to Stonehenge, the place where Nicholas Dyer in Hawksmoor travelled to, as he wonders if ‘the Dionysiacs have helped design that ancient Solar Shrine, where Druids once made sacrifice?’ (ibid). The Dionysiacs have been, according to Gull, Hawksmoor’s main influence.

As Gulls marks his map, he sums up:

There’s Battle Bridge, where Matriarchy fell with Boadicea; London Fields where Saxon’s praised the Moon’s assassin; Bunhill Fields with Blake asleep beneath an obelisk; Old Street, where Hawksmoor raised its twin…, Northampton Square, bought with Masonic gold, and Bloomsbury St George, where Hawksmoor raised his pagan mausoleum. Finally Earl’s Court, where Belinos once had his well.

FH 4, 19

Gull remarks, that ‘maps have POTENCY; may yield a wealth of knowledge past imagining […] Encoded in this city’s stones are symbols thunderous enough to rouse the sleeping Gods submerged beneath the sea-bed of our dreams’ (ibid, capitals in the original).

Gull and Netley arrive at Cleopatra’s Needle, which is placed ‘beside the Thames, after discarding plans to site it at Westminster, where Apollo’s temple stood’ (FH 4, 20). Gull also mentions that ‘it is a haunt for suicide and ghosts: a naked man is seen, who leaps into the Thames. No splash is ever heard’ (FH 4, 21). This man will be him during his dying process when he himself echoes through time and space.

They travel along Hercules Road in Lambeth, where Blake ‘once saw a scaly phantom’ (FH 4, 22). This phantom, which will lead Blake to draw The Ghost of a Flea, will also be Gull himself when he dies. At Herne Hill, Gull explains that ‘this hill, near Half-Moon lane, is named for Herne’ (FH 4, 24), who was ‘leader of the Wild Hunt, formerly managed by the goddess Diana’ (App I, 15). He also talks about King Canute, ‘who in his reign outlawed the worship of the moon’ and tried ‘to attack the city from downstream’ (FH 4, 24) from this spot. Gull sums up: ‘Man kills the Moon, exalts the Sun instead; […] with symbols man casts woman down, and then with symbols, keeps her there’ (FH 4, 25).

Half Moon Pub, Herne Hill, London (Photo Philipp Röttgers)
Half Moon Pub, Herne Hill, London (Photo Philipp Röttgers)

Then they drive back north to arrive at the church of St. Johns, Horsleydown, where Hawksmoor built ‘an obelisk to loom above the bridges, streets, and lives that teem therein’ (FH 4, 26). Riding over London Bridge and past the Monument towards the Tower of London, Gull says that the ‘Druids believed locations were empowered by suffering; soaked up despair and terror which reverberated in the soil and stones for ever more’ (FH 4, 27). Passing the Tower of London, ‘built on the “white mound” named in pagan myths, where Britain’s founder Brutus, late of Troy, lies mouldering’ (ibid), Gull names various people who were murdered there and mentions that ‘the “Sol Tower” of the Sun King Lud stood here, rebuilt by Romans; Normans; Britain’s conquerors’ (FH 4, 28). He also mentions that ‘in 1817, a keeper and his wife perceived a cylinder of viscous azure light’ (ibid), which will be Gull in his dying process as well (cf. FH 14, 11). He also tries to appear in the Tower in 1954, ‘but can only manage a vague fog’ (ibid). Those were real incidents happening in the Tower of London.

At Ratcliffe Highway, Gull tells of ‘the ghost of Ratcliffe’s murderous clergyman’ (FH 4, 29) and the Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811, where two families were brutally murdered and the culprit never found. At Hawksmoor’s George-In-The-East, ‘obelisks are missing’ (ibid), because he was refused to build them. The two men arrive at Hawksmoor’s church St Anne’s Limehouse, close to the Isle of Dogs, ‘its name derived from numerous sightings of Herne the Hunter, leading his dogs in the Wild Hunt’ (App I, 16). The Isle of Dogs later became known as ‘the home of the New Billingsgate fishmarket, with Billingsgate being a corruption of Belino’s Gate’ (ibid). Finally, they reach Christ Church in Spitalfields. Here, Gull says about Hawksmoor that ‘his personality encoded into stone might thus endure throughout the centuries’ and that ‘his cheerless soul informs this spot’ (FH 4, 32).

He mentions the prostitutes in the area (his future victims), who served as Diana’s priestesses and when they reach their last stop, St Paul’s Cathedral, he says that ‘the Pagan times that followed Rome’s collapse saw here a temple of Diana, so revered that early Christian monks despaired of e’er converting London and complained “London Worships Diana, and in the suburbs of Thorney they burn incense to Apollo.” Thorney’s now Westminster.’ (FH 4, 34). Gull informs Netley that ‘in 610, Christian convert Ethelbert of Kent destroyed Diana’s shrine and built St. Paul’s, a church of Christ’ and concludes that ‘Christ is clearly but the Sun God’s latest guise […] He is the SUN of God’ and that ‘Apollo, Lud, Belinos, Atum, Christ or Baal’ are ‘all one God’ (ibid).

As they unfurl the map on the ground inside St Paul’s Cathedral, and rule lines between the spots of their journey, they end up as a pentagram with St Paul’s in the centre. Gull later sees the same pentagram connecting the different points in London as he ascends over the city during his dying process. It is still possible to take Gull’s and Netley’s route today and visit all the sites and connect all the points of the pentagram on the map.

Outside St Paul’s Cathedral, Gull shows Netley that the brasses of the horses all bear ‘a sun and moon’ (FH 4, 37). Gull finishes his journey through London with the words: ‘Your destiny’s inscribed upon the streets wherein you grew; upon the horse you ride each day […]! Our story’s WRITTEN, Netley; inked in blood long dry…’ (ibid) ‘…engraved in stone’ (FH 4, 38).

In chapter 14, during his dying process, Gull sees Netley for the last time. He appears in front of his coach on the street in 1903, causing an accident, in which Netley dies. A coachman named John Charles Netley really existed and he ‘died in an accident when his horse bolted and his carriage wheel struck the base of an obelisk’ (App I, 42).

During Gull’s dying process he says: ‘Below the skin of history are London’s veins that pulse and glisten with significance. That course with energy and meaning. And I am that meaning. And I am that energy.’ (FH 14, 10). In From Hell, he not only represents the echo, he also becomes and is the echo.

St Paul's Cathedral (Photo Philipp Röttgers)
St Paul’s Cathedral (Photo Philipp Röttgers)

The character of William Gull as the echo

Gull becomes the time-travelling echo himself during his dying process in chapter 14, but also comes in touch with it during the murders themselves. When he murders Polly Nichols and opens her body, for him ‘she was full of light’ (FH 5, 33). This is a reference to an experience ‘immortalised by Elliot O’Donnell – the “huddled figure, like that of a woman, emitting from all over it a ghostly light, frequently to be seen lying in the gutter.” This was often seen in Durward Street where the Ripper’s first kill, Polly Nicholls, was found’ (Brooks 1982: 11).

In chapter seven, p. 24, as Gull follows Annie Chapman through the passage into the yard of 29 Hanbury Street to kill her, he looks through one of the windows and sees a man obviously from the twentieth century, watching television. They both stare in horror at each other, before Gull leaves the window. This moment, in which two periods meet each other, has a real background. A Mr Chapman, who shares the same name with the victim, lived at 29 Hanbury Street, where the murder had taken place. On several ‘occasions spread over a number of years’ he saw ‘a man and a woman disappearing along the passageway’ and ‘it was always the same pair’. He also said, that ‘these apparitions would […] usually occur in the very early hours of morning during the autumn months’ (App. I, 25), which would fit to the time, the 8 September, when Annie Chapman was killed at this place. The fact that she and Mr Chapman share the same name is even more fascinating.

Our self-guided walk through Jack the Ripper’s East End can be found here:

The double murder is depicted in chapter eight. After killing Elizabeth Stride, who was not mutilated by the Ripper, probably because he was disturbed, Gull mumbles: ‘Yes…Yes, I remember now…This is the one that I didn’t finish, isn’t it?’ (FH 8, 33) as if he was looking back at the event from the future. When he kills Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square that same night, Gull has ‘a vision of Mitre Square as it would look more than a century into his future’ (App I, 29.). He is on his way of becoming; through his murders he wants to rise above time and space. This culminates of course in the murder of Mary Jane Kelly in her room in Miller’s Court. During the murder and the following mutilation of Mary Jane Kelly, Gull has another vision of the future. He sees himself in a modern-day office and no one realizes he is there. Gull calls out: ‘See me! Wake up and look upon me! I am come amongst you. I am with you always!’ (FH 10, 10). On page 23, panel two, he hugs the dead body of Kelly and tells her that he has made her safe from time; a legend, ‘inextricable in eternity.’ Apart from that he has some other visions there. They are not really visions; they are outlooks on the future, relating to the idea of the fourth dimension posted in the comic.

Former site of Miller's Court (Photo: Philipp Röttgers)
Former site of Miller’s Court (Photo: Philipp Röttgers)

In chapter 14, Sir William Gull dies and becomes the echo, depicted here is an influence that travels through time and space. His dying process starts with a question about time itself: ‘What is the fourth dimension?’ (FH 14, 4), posed by his friend James Hinton. The answer in From Hell is to let the Whitechapel murderer become the echo that travels through time and therefore through the fourth dimension. For Moore, the Ripper becomes ‘a super-position: the sum of all the possibilities presented by London in 1888’ (Ashford 2013). Maybe this is why he is the centre of everything, why he is the echo. In From Hell, ‘[t]he Ripper ultimately turns out to be, not William Gull, but the single point upon which the oppressive energies generated by the architectural structures mapped in Chapter Four converge’ (ibid).

As he dies, Gull relives a childhood memory, being with his father on a boat on a canal that runs through a tunnel. In chapter two, page two, panel two, he is depicted as boy saying that he is listening to the echoes in the tunnel. As he relives this moment in chapter 14, he starts the same sentence, but realizes that he is dying. He says: ‘I was listening to the echoes in… in the…’ (FH 14, 5). As the echo, Gull travels beyond the fourth dimension; although he is in the past again, he remembers everything from his whole life (cf. Ibid) and he is fully aware that he is dying.

A couple of historic incidents are shown which are ascribed to Gull. He appears above the Mediterranean Sea in form of a cloud of blood, consisting of his victims’ blood and rains down on a ship (cf. FH 14, 6). This incident really happened on 6 March 1888 (cf. App I, 41), five months before the first Jack the Ripper murder took place.

Gull is in London next, at Cleopatra’s Needle, a heavy presence, ‘solid, fixed and permanent in time’ (FH 14, 8), contrasting the changes happening around it through the centuries. He then jumps into the Thames, becoming one of the famous London ghosts: ‘a completely naked figure dashes out of the shadows and dives into the river, though […] a splash is never heard’ (Jones 2002: 5).

No splash is heard because Gull rises into the air and sees the symbol of the pentagram, which connects the sites of his London-journey in chapter four. He floats down to Lambeth to visit poet and painter William Blake, who is horrified and runs away. Blake saw a scaly phantom on the stairs of his Lambeth house which later influenced him when he created his painting The Ghost of a Flea (cf. Ackroyd 1995: 192).

At Christ Church, Spitalfields, Gull relives a conversation with Dr. James Hinton (cf. FH 14, 12), which took place in his earlier life (cf. FH 2, 14) and where Hinton explains the idea of the fourth dimension, which suggests that ‘time is a human illusion’ and that they all ‘co-exist’ (FH 14, 12). He refers to the ‘Monster, Renwick Williams, who slashed women’s buttocks in the autumn months of 1788’ (App I, 41). This is ‘a case strikingly similar to the Ripper murders that would happen just a century later’ (ibid). He then talks about the Halifax Slasher in ‘autumn 1938, fifty years after the events in Whitechapel’ (ibid). During that time ‘the town of Halifax was terrorized by what appeared to be a series of razor attacks carried out by an unknown assailant’ (ibid). After the time span of 100 years, followed by 50 years, he now jumps 25 years into the future, when, ‘Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley […] attend a showing of the movie Jack the Ripper’ (ibid). Shortly after, ‘in the autumn months of 1963, Brady and Hindley rose to prominence as the Moors Murderers, killing several children who were buried on the Yorkshire Moors’ (ibid). The next jump is twelve and a half years later, when Gull’s spirit speaks to ‘Peter Sutcliffe, later to gain notoriety as the Yorkshire Ripper for his hammer and knife attacks on prostitutes around the Halifax and Bradford areas’ (ibid). It is also proved, that ‘Sutcliffe claimed to have heard a supernatural voice call his name and instruct him that he must murder prostitutes’ (ibid). The echo – Gull in this case – calls through the centuries, always in a period of time half as long as before.

Gull’s spirit inspires Robert Louis Stevenson to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, after Stevenson dreams of ‘a doctor with the soul of a terrible beast inside him’ (FH 14, 15). Stevenson did have this dream, it ‘occurred in 1886’ (App I, 41). Richard Mansfield in turn, who played the double role of Jekyll and Hyde onstage two years later, ‘was considered as a suspect’ (App I, 42) in the Jack the Ripper case, because many people thought if he could play Mr Hyde convincingly on stage, he had to be a murderer.

Gill visits William Blake again, whereupon Blake creates The Ghost of a Flea (FH 14, 16). Peter Ackroyd, who wrote a biography on Blake, is one of many who suggest that the spirit Blake was drawing in The Ghost of a Flea was identical to the creature that he had seen upon the stairs in Lambeth (cf. Ackroyd 1995: 350 f.).

Hinton is shown again, explaining the echo as ‘an invisible curve rising through the centuries’ (FH 14, 17), to which Gull describes his spirit as ‘free of time’ and as ‘a wave, an influence’ (ibid). His influence is shown again as he appears before Ian Brady (cf. Ibid) and Peter Sutcliffe (cf. FH. 14, 19) in different time periods. These incidents took place when ‘Brady claimed to have seen the face of an old man’ (App I, 42) as a boy, whom he believed ‘to be the countenance of Death itself’ (ibid). Sutcliffe and his brother and sister-in-law ‘saw a heavy glass ashtray leave its original position and float into the air’ (ibid). After a couple of more visions, Gull finally dies.

Gull is not the only one that has visions. There is a short sequence, where Klara and Alois Hitler have sex and she has a vision of a church in a Jewish quarter, whose doors open up and blood spills over the Jews in front of it (cf. FH 5, 2f.) Adolf Hitler was ‘born in April 1889’ (App I, 18), so his conception might have been in August 1888, at the time the first Jack the Ripper murder took place. Mr Lees, a ‘professional seer’ in the comic (and in real life), shares Klara Hitler’s vision of ‘an old church in the Jewish quarter’ (epilogue, p. 10), where ‘the doors splinter open and there’s blood’ (ibid). He thinks, that ‘there’s going to be another war’ (ibid).

William Gull's former home in Brook Street (Photo Philipp Röttgers)
William Gull’s former home in Brook Street (Photo Philipp Röttgers)

Nicholas Hawksmoor in From Hell

Moore draws his ideas on Hawksmoor from Iain Sinclair’s book Lud Heat, in which Sinclair discovers ‘the cabbalistic pattern allegedly mapped onto central and East London by the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor’, a concept, which was then further developed ‘by Peter Ackroyd in his novel Hawksmoor’ (Wolfreys 2004: 169 f.). According to Moore, it is true that ‘From Hell’s specific association of Hawksmoor and the Dionysiac Architects is based upon Hawksmoor’s well-documented obsession with the work of Vitruvius […]. Vitruvius is identified as member of the Dionysiac Architects’ (App I, 3).

In chapter four of the comic, Hawksmoor’s works have been included as part of the echo, the influence. Throughout the comic they keep appearing, sometimes to add to the atmosphere, sometimes to show them subtly influencing certain actions.

Hawksmoor is first mentioned by William Gull when he and James Hinton visit Christ Church and Gull states, that ‘few churches conceal secrets like Christ Church, Spitalfields; or like his maker Nicholas Hawksmoor’ (FH 2, 13). This is also the first time that he mentions that Hawksmoor was ‘following the pagan traditions of the ancient Dionysiac architects’ (ibid). Inside the church he reveals that ‘Hawksmoor cut stone to hold shadows’ (FH 2, 14). Hinton explains the ‘fourth dimension’-theory (cf. Ibid) here for the first time, a moment that William Gull relives when he dies. It is also mentioned that Hawksmoor built ‘an abbey […] upon the ancient temple-site of Anubis’, which is ‘Westminster’ (FH. 4, 15).

Our self-guided walk to Nicholas Hawksmoor’s East End churches can be found here:

As Gull suffers his stroke, he has hallucinations that inspire his idea of the greater mission of his killings. During these hallucinations, he sees Hawksmoor in person (cf. FH 2, 25). Gull addresses him ‘you knew your purpose, Hawksmoor. H-have you come to tell me MINE?’ (Ibid, capitals in the original). This is one of the main and most important moments for Gull. From there on he knows his purpose. Hawksmoor plays an important role in giving him this purpose, even if only as a hallucination Gull sees, caused by the stroke.

After writing a blackmail letter, the consequences of which will lead to their death, four of the prostitutes and later Ripper-victims pass Hawksmoor’s Christ Church and call themselves ‘the four whores of the Apocalypse’ (FH 3, 15). Gull says about Christ Church, that ‘its atmosphere envelopes Spitalfields, casts shadow-pictures on the minds of those whose lives are spent within its sight’ (FH. 4, 32).

Shortly before Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols died, a fire had broken out near the Ratcliffe Docks. On page 40, in chapter five, where she is killed, the fire is depicted, and ‘the fire-lit church in the last panel is Hawksmoor’s St George’s In the East’ (App I, 21), close to the docks. On the afternoon before she was killed, Annie Chapman was found ‘weak and unwell outside Hawksmoor’s Spitalfields church’ (App I, 24). This scene is depicted in chapter seven, page twelve. Moore also places the journalist Best, who is said to have written some of the Jack the Ripper letters, ‘near to one of the Hawksmoor churches’ (App I, 26). The inquest on Elizabeth Stride ‘was conducted in the Vestry Hall of Hawksmoor’s St George’s In the East’ (App I, 30). Moore underlines that by letting Inspector Abberline, the leading investigator in the murder case, say: ‘They could’ve chosen somewhere warmer as well. This place is cold as the fuckin’ grave’ (FH 9, 8). That was also the place where the victims of the Ratcliffe Highway murderer, who was mentioned by Gull earlier, ‘had been taken to over seventy years before’ (App I, 30).

Hawksmoor’s churches have historically been connected to the Whitechapel murders, mainly because they are in the same location. In From Hell, Moore gives an additional meaning to it by sharing Ackroyd’s beliefs that Hawksmoor (aka Dyer in Hawksmoor) used symbols in his works, which are used by the murderer Dr William Gull to accomplish his mission.

What is the fourth dimension?

What is the fourth dimension? This question is strongly linked to the idea of the echo that is being dealt with in Hawksmoor and From Hell. In both, this echo is not only used in a fictional way, but has a historical background.

David Lowenthal explains that ‘the past surrounds and saturates us; every scene, every statement, every action retains residual content from earlier times. All present awareness is grounded on past perceptions and acts; we recognize a person, a tree, a breakfast, an errand because we have seen or done it before’ (1986: 185). So therefore ‘the past as a realm’ is ‘both coexistent with and distinct from the present’ (ibid); for Lowenthal, ‘time is, to be sure, linear and directional. The histories of all things begin in a more or less remote past and extend in an unalterable sequence until they cease to exist or to be remembered’, but also ‘sequential order gives everything a temporal place, lends history shape and form, enables us to set our own lives in the context of external events’ (ibid 220). In contrast to this perception of time stand ‘the structure and the content of contemporary fiction’, in which ‘the linear time of nineteenth-century fictions’ is replaced by ‘flashbacks, streams of consciousness, duplicitous narrators, and multiple endings’ (ibid 227). Both Hawksmoor and From Hell fulfil the definition of a postmodern novel in that way that they toy with different concepts of time.

As for history, Lowenthal thinks that

[t]angible relics survive in the form of natural features and human artefacts. Awareness of such relics enhances knowledge gained through memory and history. But no physical object or trace is an autonomous guide to bygone times; they light up the past only when we already know they belong to it. Memory and history pin-point only certain things as relics; the rest of what lies around us seems simply present, suggesting nothing past.

Ibid 238

So, concluding from that, it would seem as if a city and all its monuments, buildings, relics, are always simply present. They come from the past and, following that logical explanation, they also are always present. This must mean that they stand outside of time – therefore the city stands outside of time.

Lowenthal goes further and thinks that

imitations reproduce past artefacts; re-enactments reproduce past events. Some re-enactors simply seek to entertain, some to convince themselves or others of the reality of the past, some to heighten history’s revelatory significance, some for a sense of purpose or excitement lacking the present. […] Like restorers, re-enactors start with known elements and fill in the gaps with the typical, the probable, or the invented.

Ibid 295

With London as a setting, both Ackroyd and Moore ‘enter a literary domain spreading across the centuries, an evolving dialogue of space and place through which the city has been continually (re)negotiated and (re)constructed’ (Green 2013: 31). We can add the fact that ‘[t]he London that they write about is a city that has already been envisaged and shaped in the cultural imagination by countless other authors. Literary works, in other words, function in and of themselves as shapers of urban space’ (ibid). According to that, literature can shape an urban space. In the end, it is all about one’s own interpretation of history, literature and symbols. London only offers the historic and literary background; one’s own story is written and performed by oneself and one’s own context.

In From Hell, Sir William Gull’s story is based on what he believes to be an echo that runs through time and space and ensures a continuity of events. He interprets history and Hawksmoor’s symbols to create a framework for his murderous mission. He even becomes the echo that influences him and influences others, influences everyone, after his death. Someone hears the echo and answers it. The question remains if one’s own story and mission can even go beyond death and continue to be performed, but of course, this is only fictional.

London is full of echoes from the past and even the future. The idea that once something is connected to a certain place, similar events will happen there again and again and that one’s (hi)story is already written and one cannot escape it, is very fascinating, but also a little frightening. The historical background of some of the echoes in the work seem to prove that there must be something that links the past, the present and the future. Time does not exist for the echo. It seems that it is always there, at all times at the same time. It is beyond comprehension; it fascinates and it makes one shiver.

In the TV series Whitechapel, a copycat murderer of Jack the Ripper starts killing in Whitechapel in 2008. The producers gave the detectives names from persons connected to the Ripper case. In the third season, they investigate a similar case to the one of the Ratcliffe Highway murders. The series plays with the concept of the echo as well. Places are connected; events repeat themselves, even if the perpetrator does not know it. One can always find connections when one looks at history. In 2006 several women in Ipswich were murdered. One of the victims’ names was Nichols, just like in the Jack the Ripper case. Perhaps the echo had called again.

List of references

Ackroyd, Peter (1999): Blake. London: Vintage.

Ackroyd, Peter (2010): Hawksmoor. London: Penguin.

Ashford, David (2013): The Mechanics of the Occult: London’s Psychogeographical Fiction as Key to Understanding the Roots of the Gothic. The Literary London Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 (Autumn 2013). Online at http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/autumn2013/ashford.html. Web. 2 December 2022.

Begg, Paul (2004): Jack the Ripper. The facts. London: Robson Books.

Brooks, John (1982): Ghosts of London. Norwich: Jarrold.

Bushell, Peter (1983): London’s secret history. London: Constable.

Evans, Stewart P.; Rumbelow, Donald (2006): Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard investigates. Stroud: Sutton.

Green, Andrew (2013): London in Space and Time: Peter Ackroyd and Will Self. In: English Teaching: Practice and Critique 12 (2), p. 28–40.

Jones, Richard (2008): Jack the Ripper. The casebook. London: Andre Deutsch.

Jones, Steve (2002): London… The Sinister Side. 13. udgave. Notthingham: Wicked Publications.

Lewis, B. (2007): My Words Echo Thus: Possessing the Past in Peter Ackroyd. University of South Carolina Press.

Link, Alex (2004): “The Capitol of Darknesse”: Gothic Spatialities in the London of Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor. Contemporary Literature, vol. 45 no. 3, 2004, pp. 516-537

Lowenthal, David (1986): The past is a foreign country. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Moore, Alan; Mullins, Pete; Campbell, Eddie (2006): From hell. Being a melodrama in sixteen parts. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.

Newland, Paul (2005): “On an Eastern Arc’: Reading Iain Sinclair’s interest in Christ Church, Spitalfields and its uncanny territory through East End discourse’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 3 Number 2 (September 2005). http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/september2005/newland.html. Web. 2 December 2022.

Rose, Steve (2006): Don’t tell Dan Brown…. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2006/sep/25/architecture. Web. 2 December 2022.

Sentov, Ana (2009): The Postmodern Perspective Of Time in Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor. In Facta Universitas. Series: Linguistics and Literature Vol 7, No 1, 2009, pp. 123-134. http://facta.junis.ni.ac.rs/lal/lal2009/lal2009-10.pdf. Web. 2 December 2022.

Vianu, Lidia (2006): The mind is the soul. Interview with Peter Ackroyd (born 1949), British novelist. Published in LIDIA VIANU, Desperado Essay-Interviews, Editura Universitatii din Bucuresti, 2006.

Wolfreys, Julian (2004): Materiality, memory, spectrality. Basingstoke, Hampshire: algrave Macmillan (Writing London, / Julian Wolfreys ; Vol. 2).

Featured image: The Reward of Cruelty (The Four Stages of Cruelty) by William Hogarth

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