A strange man at Worship Street – was he the ‘Ripper’?

Illustrated Police News Jack the Ripper

Today I am spending most of my time in Whitechapel planning out a history trip for my undergraduate students. This is something I do every year – take a party of students studying my third year module on ‘Crime and Popular Culture’ in the nineteenth century to visit the sites associated with the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders. Plenty of commercial walking tours exist of course, some much better than others.

Personally I’m not a fan of the exploitative type that thinks that projecting an image of a dead woman onto the brick walls of modern Spitalfields is appropriate. I’d much rather listen to an expert who can impart some context and tell the audience about the history of the area and its peoples as well as treat the murder victims with the respect they deserve. Those tours do exist, so if you want to take one do some research before you make your choice.

I don’t have the luxury of being able to pay for a commercial tour so I do it myself. But Whitechapel is constantly changing so I need to revisit the place regularly to see what changes I need to make to my route. This time however there is added piquancy to my trip because I have almost finished making the edits to my first draft of a new ‘Ripper’ book. This has been written in collaboration with a former student of mine who thought he had a new solution to the world’s most infamous cold case. Andy has done the research on the murders and has added several to the original police file, while I have concentrated on the social history to provide context. We have a draft manuscript, all we need now is a publisher…

Anyway, back to Whitechapel and back to 1888 and a month after Mary Kelly became the fifth canonical (but not , we argue, the last) victim of ‘Jack’, what was happening at the Worship Street Police Court? Worship Street (along with Thames) served the East End and several of the murdered women in the ‘Ripper’ series appeared here on a variety of cares relating to prostitution, disorderly behaviour and drunkenness in the late 1880s.

Joseph Isaacs, a 30 year-old cigar maker, was charged with theft. His name suggests he belonged to the large immigrant Jewish population of the area which have been closely associated with the murders. Quite early on a man named John Pizer was arrested on suspicion of being the killer. Pizer (who was also known as ‘leather apron’ – a local man with a reputation for threatening prostitutes). Pizer was able to provide an alibi and was released but some experts still believe he may have been the killer.

The idea that the murderer was a Jew was helped by widespread anti-semitism and the belief that ‘no Englishman could do such a thing’. Xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant tension suffused society in the 1880s and the killings brought all of this to the surface.

Joseph Isaacs was accused of stealing a watch. He had entered a shop in the West End of London holding a violin bow. He asked the shop’s proprietor, a Mr Levenson, if he could repair the bow. As they discussed the transaction however, Isaacs suddenly ‘bolted out’ of the shop. Mr Levenson quickly realised that he stolen a gold watch and raised the alarm.

Isaacs was arrested some time later in Drury lane but not in connection to this offence. He’d been picked up because his appearance seemingly matched the description offered of a man seen near Mary Kelly’s home on the night of her murder. At Worship Street Police court Mary Cusins, the deputy of a lodging house in Paternoster Row, Spitalfields, testified that Isaacs had stayed there for ‘three or four nights’ around the time of Kelly’s murder.

‘On the night of the murder she heard him walking about the room’. She added that ‘he disappeared after that murder, leaving the violin bow behind’.

All this had emerged as the police made house-to house enquiries in the wake of the murders. The police have ben widely criticised for their failure to catch ‘Jack’ but most experts now acknowledge that they did all the right things things at the time. Without forensics, and chasing a man that attacked strangers, they had very little to go on and were really dependent on the killer making a mistake. Jack didn’t really make any mistakes, however, and eluded the growing cordon that the combined force of the Met and the City Police threw out to trap him.

Isaacs was remanded by the sitting magistrate at Worship Street (Mr Bushby). He had allegedly stolen a watch but there was no sign of it. But more importantly Detective Record said that he still had some questions to answer with regards to his movements around the time of Mary Kelly’s murder. Isaacs appeared a week later, again in the company of Detective Record. He had been cleared of any involvement in the Ripper murders was convicted of stealing Julius Levenson’s watch and sent to prison for three months at hard labour.

Another possible suspect eliminated and another line of enquiry completed, the men of H Division’s search for the world’s first serial killer continued…

[from The Standard, Saturday, December 08, 1888]

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A young girl is cruelly used by her callous stepfather

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When Sarah Craddock was put in the dock at Marylebone Police Court to answer a charge of stealing from her master it uncovered an ugly family quarrel, in which she was being used as a pawn.

Sarah was just 15 and had been working as a domestic servant in the home of Mr George Provaze in St John’s Wood. She had been dismissed, not for stealing, but for absenting herself from the house without permission. However, after she had left the girl’s stepfather had called on Mr Provaze to inform him that he’d found a number of items in Sarah’s effects that he believed belonged to him.

The case was reported to the police and a detective instructed to investigate. Detective sergeant Laidlaw accompanied Mr Provage south of the River Thames to the Craddock home in Bermondsey. There the following items were found: ‘a pipe and case, four handkerchiefs’ and a number of other things, amounting in value to around 20s. Having had a look at them Mr Provaze and one of his staff, Harriet Hazel, were able to confirm that they had indeed been stolen from the house.

In court DS Laidlaw revealed that the girl had insisted that her step father had asked her to steal the goods and she’d given the pipe to him. Indeed, he’d even used it!

Next to appear was Sarah’s mother who confirmed her daughter’s evidence and said that her husband had also tried to get her other, younger daughter, to steal for him. She also claimed that he had ‘been knocking her about most cruelly’. When she’d taken him to court about it he’d sought revenge by getting his step daughter into trouble. So the unnamed stepfather was trying to break up the family home, perhaps to strip away his wife’s support network from under her. Mr Mansfield, the justice at Marylebone, remanded Sarah in custody for further examination.

Given that the likely result of a successful prosecution would see Sarah not only dismissed from a valuable and respectable position but also publicly shamed and possibly imprisoned, it was a drastic and extremely cruel course of action. It reminds us that spousal abuse could (indeed can) take very many forms.

[from The Standard, Thursday, December 06, 1883]

Mindless male violence in Bermondsey?

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Victorian Bermondsey

Sometimes even when you have a full trial account at Old Bailey in addition to the initial report of a pre-trial hearing before a Police Court magistrate it is hard to work out what happened. Ultimately this is often because there were contested narratives and a lack of hard evidence.

Let’s take this case, from December 1856, as an example.

On Thursday 4 December three men were presented before the sitting justice at Southwark charged with attempted murder. Richard Burchall, Abraham Burchall (his brother) and Patrick Ryan were accused of beating and stabbing Patrick Griffin and almost causing his death. The incident had occurred back in late October that year but Griffin’s injuries were so severe that he had been unable to attend court before this time.

At Southwark the court was told, by Edmund Valentine (the house surgeon at Guy’s Hospital) that Griffin had been brought in just after 11 at night on a police stretcher.

‘He was under the influence of liquor and his left side was besmeared with blood. On being undressed’ [Valentine] ‘discovered that he had been stabbed on the left side, between the eight and ninth rib’. The wound was an inch long and two inches deep and ‘matter [was flowing] from it like vomit’.

Once he was sufficiently well enough to identify his attackers Griffin pointed the finger at the men now occupying the Southwark dock. He also managed to identify a ‘black-handled clasp knife’ as the weapon that had been used against him.

On this evidence (and that already heard by a number of witnesses at previous hearings) the tree men were committed for trial at the Bailey.

The case came up on the 15 December (there was a much quicker turn around in the Victorian justice system than there is today) where two barristers (Mr J. W. Payne for the prosecution , and Mr Lilley for the defence) conducted matters.

However, what actually occurred that night in late October is far from clear. Patrick Griffin and his brother John had visited the Burchalls’ house on what appears to be a mission for revenge. Some weeks earlier Richard (or Dick) Burchall had beaten up John Griffin and now the brothers wanted to ‘pay him out’ for it.

Before they went however, they paid a visit to a local beer shop or pub (or both) and drank four or five pots of beer between them. They claimed not to be drunk but they were certainly under the influence. Fueled with ‘dutch courage’ they set off to seek their vengeance on the Burchalls.

When they reached the house they apparently got no reply at first and so may have knocked a little louder. According to the defendants version of events the brothers’ shouted abuse, threats and hammered on the door. It was late at night and with two drunken young men calling the odds outside their house it is not surprising that Richard Burchall and his brother came out ready for a fight.

Both Patrick and John were attacked as a fracas ensued; a brick was thrown and hit Patrick Griffin in the head and eye and he went down. He received a sharp kick in his backside and and someone (possibly Dick Burchall) stabbed him with a knife.

At that point it all became something of a blur and so the idea that either Griffin could really describe what went on is somewhat fanciful. A policeman arrived (though no one could be sure who’d called him) and he found John cradling his brother and kissing his head – he believed he was dead or mortally wounded. The Burchalls and Ryan were arrested and Griffin taken to hospital as the surgeon had testified.

In the end the jury were just as confused as the modern reader is and acquitted the threesome as charged. Clearly Griffin had been stabbed but who knows what he might have done had he got his retaliation in first, so to speak. It was a confusing and confused case of drink fueled male violence between young working-class men in a Bermondsey street, nothing remarkable and sadly quite in character with this rough part of the capital in the mid 1800s.

[from The Morning Chronicle , Friday, December 5, 1856]

‘Every member of the force has a watch and chain, of course, How he got it, from what source?’ A policeman in the dock at Thames

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If you want to know the time, ask a policeman.
The proper city time, ask a policeman,
Every member of the force has a watch and chain, of course,
How he got it, from what source? ask a policeman.

This well-known music hall ditty (which I’ve mentioned before) reflects a contemporary working-class distrust of the police by suggesting that they weren’t always as honest as they should have been.

When William Harris, a Ratcliff wine cooper, and his wife got home from a night out they found the door of their house open and a policeman guarding it. It was half-past midnight and the couple must have been both surprised and concerned.

The officer quickly moved to reassure them. He told them he’d found it ajar and had investigated. There may have been a burglary but he wasn’t sure, no one was on the premises, but they had better check if anything was missing.

Mr Harris rushed upstairs and looked around to see if anything had been disturbed. It didn’t seem as if it had but then he realised his pocket watch and chain was missing from the dressing table. He went down to report it the loss to the constable.

Earlier that evening PC Patrick Barry (382K) and PC John Prestage (also K Division), were patrolling on Broad Street in Ratcliffe when the latter called Barry’s attention to a door that seemed open. PC Prestage told his colleague to wait outside while he investigated. He went upstairs but reported that no one was in the the house. He then sent Barry off to  to report a suspected robbery, telling him he would stand guard in the meantime.

Barry soon returned with sergeant Richard Plumsett, who had been checking the patrols of his constables as was normal practice. Sergeants would set constables off on their beats and time them to ensure they were  in the right place at the right time. He came over the the house in Broad Street and spoke to both officers. This was about 11.45 at night.

Just after 12.30 Sergeant Plumsett was back and now he found Barry, Prestage and Mr Harris embroiled in an argument. Harris was complaining about the loss of his watch but wasn’t keen on going along to the police station to officially report it. PC Prestage told his superior that:

‘Mr Harris does not seem satisfied about losing his watch: I don’t know whether he wants to blame the police for it’.

The sergeant then noticed that Prestage was drunk, or at least under the influence of alcohol. He immediately instructed the pair of them to return to the station with him.

Back at the King David Lane police station the situation developed. Mr Harris arrived later on and accused the policeman of robbing him. With a drunken officer and an unhappy local resident the desk sergeant, Robert Smith, told Prestage that he’d better turn out his pockets to satisfy the cooper’s suspicions.

‘Have you got a watch?’ Sergeant Smith asked.

‘Yes, I am in the habit of carrying two watches’, replied PC Prestage, and unbuttoned his great coat to reveal a watch on a chain around his neck.

‘Where is the other watch?’ the sergeant continued, and it was handed over.

When Mr Harris was shown the watch he immediately identified at the one he had lost from his dressing table. The police had no choice and the next morning PC Prestage found himself in the dock at Thames Police Court in front of the imposing figure of Mr Lushington.

The magistrate asked him to explain himself but all he could say was that he was ‘under the influence of liquor and was not aware he had taken the watch’. This was too serious for Mr Lushington to deal with there and then so he remanded him for a week with a view to committing him for trial at the Middlesex Sessions.

On 17 December 1877 John Prestage (described as a baker, not a policeman) was tried and convicted of theft at Middlesex Sessions and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. He was 20 years old and pleaded guilty. He was sent, as so many of those sentenced were, to Cold Bath Fields prison. I’m curious to know why he wasn’t described as a policeman when the newspaper report is very clear that he was.  The Daily Gazette (a Middlesbrough paper) reported the case at Middlesex as that of a ‘Dishonest Policeman’ so there seems to be no doubt as to his occupation.

[from The Standard, Monday, December 03, 1877]

A pair of well-read rogues at the Mansion House

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The New Police (created in London in 1829) spent most of their time on patrol. They were tasked with knowing their beat inside out; all the locals, shops, warehouses and dwellings while keeping an eye out for suspicious characters, open windows and broken locks. The aim of the police was crime prevention and deterrence and in this they were a ‘modern’ extension of the old watchmen of early modern and eighteenth-century London.

One of these new ‘Peelers’ (after Sir Robert Peel, the home secretary that created them) was walking his beat on Liverpool Street in early December 1851 when he noticed two men acting suspiciously. One seemed to be trying to hide something under his coat while the other glanced about, as if checking whether anyone had seen them.

Perhaps noticing the policeman they turned into a street and the ‘bobby’ (another nickname derived from Peel) watched as one stopped and trued to time a pair of books up with a piece of string.  The officer (named in the newspaper report) approached and stopped them and asked what they were doing.

The men, Henry Robinson and Henry Hamper, said they had been given the books by a beer-shop owner to take to a pawn shop on her behalf. The books in question were two volumes of the Waverley Novels by Sir Walter Scott. They were ‘elegantly bound’ and the policeman was unconvinced by the pair’s explanation.

It wasn’t hard to trace the beer shop owner, who doubled as the men’s landlady, and she and the would-be thieves all appeared at the Mansion House in front of the Lord Mayor. She explained that she had bought the books at £1 8 a volume and had a set of them.  There were a lot of the Waverley novels, published by Scott (anonymously at first) from 1814 to 1831. The novels (which included Ivanhoe, a work I have at home) were extremely popular with readers in the nineteenth century. The landlady’s set must have been worth quite a bit, as just one of them would be the equivalent of about £80 today.

In recent weeks she’d found that four of the books had been stolen from the trunk she kept them in. When challenged in court one of the Henrys admitted taking two books out of the trunk and selling them in Petticoat Lane for 5s, a fraction of their value.

The Lord Mayor chose not to send them for trial before a jury, possibly because the evidence was not as concrete as it might be. A jury might not be convinced that both of them had taken the items or that they hadn’t simply found them. Better then to use his summary powers and convict them as ‘rogues and vagabonds’ which required much less of a burden of proof. He sent them to prison for two months.

Sadly I don’t think they were allowed to take the books with them as reading matter.

[from The Morning Post , Tuesday, December 02, 1851]

Pram (and class) wars in Regent’s Park

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A family nursemaid and her fellow servant were taking the children in their care to the park when they ran into an angry pedestrian. The case was trivial but reveals the deeply ingrained class distinctions of late Victorian London.

Evelyn Thatcher lived and worked for General Knox and his wife in Portman Square. The couple had two children, a boy of five and baby under 12 months old. On the 11 November 1891 Ms Thatcher and her assistant nurse, Annie Leadbitter, were on their way to Regent’s Park for the afternoon. The little boy was in his go-kart while Leadbitter pushed the infant along in a perambulator. Together, however, they occupied most of the pavement which as they made their way two abreast, with a yard between the children’s vehicles.

Meanwhile Captain Saunders, of 3 Upper Spring Street, (off nearby Baker Street), also enjoying the late autumn air. Looking up the captain suddenly saw the approaching women and their charges. He stopped in his tracks, ‘stamped his feet, raved, and flourished his umbrella’ before telling them to get out of his way as they were ‘obstructing the footway’.

Leadbitter (possibly ill-advisedly) was in no mood to be gracious enough to move aside. She said:’Good gracious man, are you mad […] what is the matter?’ before pointing down the street at a policeman and telling him to call him to arrest them if he really felt they were causing an instruction. After all there was clear yard of pavement between them he could easily pass through.

At this the captain started his ‘ravings’ again and Leadbitter decided to ignore him and set off again. This enraged Saunders who grabbed her by the shoulder, shook her and then proceeded to drag her along the street. The boy on his go-kart started to cry and the little baby looked terrified by his display.

The policeman soon arrived and while he agreed that the women should perhaps not have occupied all the pavement they had broken no laws. Nevertheless the captain seized hold of the nurse and shook his umbrella ‘violently’ at her and even in the face of the children. A nearby cabdriver saw the whole thing and when the captain was summoned before the magistrate at Marylebone, he testified in support of the servants against the military man.

Captain Saunders was seemingly apoplectic in his rage. The cabbie, Henry Canning, reportedly called him a ‘Zulu’ so fierce was he at having his daily perambulation  interrupted by a pair of lowly nursemaids and a boy in a go-kart.

Mr Newton (the magistrate) had heard quite enough of this nonsense and it was making a scene in his courtroom. Given that the public galleries often attracted the ‘meaner’ sort of Londoner we can imagine that they were enjoying the sport of watching a member of the ‘better’ class being bested on the street and in court by a pair of working-class women.

Captain Saunders vehemently denied assaulting Annie Leadbitter, the children, or indeed anyone else, ever. The nurses were in the wrong for blocking the pavement with the pram and cart. Mr Newton agreed with him on this at least but supported the view of the policeman at the time; it might be wrong but it was not against the law. Grabbing hold of the nurse and hauling her up the street was wrong however, and a crime. He fined him 2s 6d  – a trivial amount for what he described as a ‘trivial offence’.

With a snort that probably reflected his contempt for both the fine and the decision, the captain paid the money and left. Annie and Evelyn were also free to return to Portman Square with an amusing tale to relate over supper in the servants’ quarters later that day. Whether their employers were quite as pleased is another matter of course.

[from The Standard, Thursday, December 01, 1892]

The sad story of an elderly seamstress and her Majesty

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In the light of yesterday’s happy announcement of a royal engagement I thought I’d feature a (sort of) royal story from Victorian London’s Police courts.

In 1871 Queen Victoria had been on throne for 34 years. Her husband Albert had been dead for a decade and she was yet to adopt the title of Empress of India. Victoria had a big influence on her subjects but her withdrawal from much of public life following the loss of her consort increasingly isolated her from public affection. 1870 had seen the overthrow of the French monarchy and the creation of the Third Republic, dark echoes in England called for a similar revolution, one that never transpired. In late November Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, fell ill with typhoid (probably the same disease that had killed his father) and Victoria must have feared she would lose him as well.

Meanwhile, for ordinary Londoners life went on as usual. The ‘widow of Windsor’ was almost an abstract concept since she’d ducked out of view but her name, and what she symbolised, mattered  considerably.

It certainly mattered to an elderly seamstress called Mrs Lyons. She told the magistrate at Clerkenwell that she had been promised work by her Majesty but ‘court intrigues’ were preventing her from pursuing it. Mrs Lyons lived off the Caledonian Road in north London, close to where the new St Pancras terminal was being constructed. She was poor and in ‘want of money’ she explained, but was confident that with the queen’s patronage she would be fine.

Sadly Mrs Lyons was not very well; she suffered from some form of mental illness, as a police inspector told Mr Cooke, the justice sitting on her case at Clerkenwell Police Court.

‘About two years since the poor woman began to get strange at times in her speech, said that her room was full of rats, that she had an interview with the Queen and members of the royal family, and that her Majesty had promised her money, but that she was prevented from getting it by court intrigues’ .

He went on to say that up until recently Mrs Lyons had lived quietly but in the last few months her condition had worsened and she had started threatening people, including her landlady. A doctor had been called to examine her and he’d declared she was ‘not right in her head’ and she’d been carried off to Islington workhouse. From there she was to be sent to the Colney Hatch Asylum, Europe’s largest such institution.*

She had left her room with rent arrears and her landlady was refusing to give her sister leave to take away her sibling’s few possessions until that was paid. Mr Cooke said he was glad the woman was now in safe hands (although I’m not sure I’d consider being in the ‘care’ of a Victorian asylum ‘safe’. I suppose he might have meant the public were safe from her). He ordered the court to pay the arrears so she could be reunited with her ‘things’ and dismissed the case.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, November 28, 1872]

*(and now my gym!)

for another story that feature Queen Victoria see: “Let me see the Queen, I know who the ‘Ripper’ is!”