Hera’s Steampunkian Whitechapel in Second Life

Whitechapel, December 2022 – click any image for full size

Just over a year ago, Hera (Zee9) revealed her take on Whitechapel, the district of East End London infamous for the predatory wandering of Jack the Ripper and, as a result, the influence for many a film and TV series – perhaps most recently that of BBC’s Ripper Street, with its mix of the fictional stories built around very real figures from the period (notably Edmund Reid, and to a lesser extent Frederick Abberline, although after Season 1 the series strayed much, much further from the story of Edmund Reid).

At the time, the build was fascinating (as Hera’s builds inevitably are) in weaving together her own vision for the district and its rich history together with and equally rich mix of fiction. At the time, the fictional elements included not only Ripper Street, noted by the presence of the H Division station, but also touches of Penny Dreadful, the Jekyll and Hyde and Frankenstein stories, and more – all of which I noted at the time in Hera’s Whitechapel in Second Life.

Whitechapel, December 2022

Well, as of mid-December(ish). Hera’s Whitechapel is back, together with another of her popular builds, that of Whitby – a setting I have twice covered in these pages, in October 2021 and again in April 2022. The two locations are reached via a common landing point, and each is accessed via teleport points at the posters alongside their respective trains, and both recreate the look and ambience of their previous iterations whilst also offering some new twists.

However, while I recommend Whitby to both Hera’s fans and to those who have not previously had the opportunity of seeing her unique take on the town and its links to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (with Hera augmenting this with a few additional fictional and real touches), I am here focusing on her Whitechapel build, as it offer a nice twist on the original iteration.

Whitechapel, December 2022

Unless you read the introductory note card available at the landing point, this twist might not initially be obvious on arrival within the setting – which remains the Whitechapel underground station. But climb the steps up to street level, and it starts to make its presence felt in a very subtle manner. Firstly, there are the street lights; hardly the typical gas lamp of late Victorian London (which, by the 1880s were starting to be converted to electric use within the City of London, if not its outlying districts), these are bulky units with pressure tanks, gauges and valves, suggesting stream is their medium for energy.

Similarly, whilst the early automobiles from the original build are present, several are now apparently steam-powered, adding to the sense that this version of Whitechapel has stepped sideways into Steampunk. This is further added to when one looks up to sky two great steam-powered airships overhead, one apparently following the line of a street towards its eventual destination, the other moored alongside a tall iron-built tower connected to a part of the elevated metal walkways that cling to the sides of many of the buildings and reached by the occasional stairs dropping to ground level.

Whitechapel, December 2022

Just across the road are the first hints of the fictional links waiting to be discovered: Sweeny Todd’s infamous barbershop has been transplanted from Fleet Street to Whitechapel’s Commercial Road, together with Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. As with the original story, these two places of business are separated (courtesy of an intervening alleyway), but sadly no underground tunnel links the two for the transfer of victims.

Its an interesting place for the couple / partners in crime to go about their business, given they are located just across the street from the H Division headquarters building from which Edmund Reid and his men might instantly sally forth to solve a crime. Or if not a crime, then to make their way to the other end of Commercial Road  and Spitalfields’s famous Ten Bells pub to sup a hard-earned pint at the end of a long shift (a pub that remains open to this day – so do be sure to step inside when visiting Hera’s Whitechapel!).

Whitechapel, December 2022

And speaking of Edmund Reid; the mixing of Steampunk with the fictional world of Reid and H Division is seen in Ripper Street actually has the strand of a link to the detective’s real life: in 1883, the Balloon Association of Great Britain awarded him a gold medal for his record-breaking ascent in the balloon Queen of the Meadow from London’s Crystal Palace – one of over 20 flights he made by balloon (and if that weren’t enough to earn him at least a documentary on his life – in 1877 he was the first person to make a descent by parachute from an altitude of 1,000 ft!).

This iteration of Whitechapel retains other element from the original. There is Hanbury Street, where both Florence Eleanor Soper, the daughter-in-law of General William Booth of The Salvation Army, established The Women’s Social Work in 1884, and the location of the yard in which Jack the Ripper’s second canonical victim, Annie Chapman, was found; then there’s Berner Street, Miller’s Court, Buck’s Row and Mitre Square, the locations of the Ripper’s other four canonical victims.

Whitechapel, December 2022

Whilst seeking these out, explorers might also happen across the office of Messrs. Scrooge & Marley (adding a nice Dickensian seasonal twist to the setting), and the apothecary of one Dr. H. Jekyll, together with H. Rider Haggard’s (et al) Allan Quartemain’s townhouse, and Dr. Frankenstein’s loft lab, all of which also carry forward from the original. New (I think) to this build is the Grand Guignol theatre, hopping across the channel from Paris, and – referencing both the seamier side of the East End and giving a slight Sherlockian twist to things – a slightly hidden opium den. A further location I don’t recall from the original (but am obviously open to correction on this) is the Freemason’s lodge.

So, whether you’re new to Hera’s Whitechapel or familiar with the earlier iteration, you’re in for a treat of discovery should you drop-in this time around. However, should you add it to your list of places to visit, might be best to do so sooner rather than later; Hera has tended to take down her recent builds within a couple of weeks or so of opening them.

Whitechapel, December 2022

My thanks to Shawn Shakespeare for the nudge on Whitby / Whitechapel returning to SL.

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