A chastening experience in Whitechapel

William Watson was the landlord of the Queen’s Arms in Wapping, close by the River Thames. On the face of it at least, William was a very lucky man. His uncle was a City of London alderman who had recently died leaving him the princely sum of £160 in his will. On 3 May 1840 William May had decided on a night out and headed for Whitechapel where he knew he could have some fun.

His good fortune continued when he ran into Sarah Goddard who promised, for small fee, to show him a good time. She took him to the house where she lodged in Goulstone Street (later to become infamous as the place where ‘Jack the Ripper’ supposedly left the police a cryptic message on the wall). Sarah lived in a brothel (a ‘house of ill-fame’ as the newspaper report termed it) run by Anna Stanton, and William, probably a little the worse for alcohol by now, must have expected that a wild night awaited him.

Here though it seems that his luck ran out. Rather carelessly (or perhaps because he had no where else to keep it safe) he had taken his inheritance with him. He had a £100 and two £30 bank notes in his pocket and had placed a penny piece in each (presumably to weight them down keep them secure).

This was never likely to provide much of a problem for practised thieves like Sarah and her friends. When William left the brothel he found to his horror that the money – a small fortune (possibly worth as much as £7,000 today)* – was gone. He immediately charged Anna, Sarah and a third girl, Hutchinson with the theft. All of the women were described as being of ‘bad character’ but it is very unlikely that the case reached a proper trial.

They probably did steal William’s money but it would have disappeared into the alternative economy of the East End. William would have got little sympathy from the ‘beak’ and without tangible evidence there was little he or the police could have done anyway. Hopefully William chalked it up to experience and just maybe that life-changing sum of money enabled the girls to set themselves up with a legitimate trade.

Unlikely of course, but not impossible.

[from The Standard , Monday, May 04, 1840]


* according to the National Archives handy converter

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