Smithfield Market (c.1890)
George Waller junior was a butcher like his father and traded from the Central Meat Market at Smithfield. In April 1889 he was, as was normal, selling meat from his stall in front of the wholesale shop operated by his father. Once the wholesale business of the market was concluded the public were able to come and buy directly from the trade.
George was offering cheap offal that morning, in this case lamb kidneys. And he was selling at a knockdown price. Where normally these would be advertised at 2s 6d to 3s 6d a dozen Waller was selling them at just 6d a dozen. It was a real bargain and it drew the attention of punters but also one of the meat inspectors.
Inspector Terrett came over to the stall and examined the goods on sale. He found that the kidneys were ‘putrid’ and not fit for human consumption, so he seized them. In June George Waller was summoned before the magistrate at the Guildhall (Smithfield falling under the City of London’s jurisdiction) to answer a charge of selling diseased meat to the public. In court Waller offered a limited defense, claiming that while he was charged with selling 121 putrid kidneys there were only 46 for which he was liable. He added that they came from imported German sheep and so he shouldn’t really be blamed.
The alderman magistrate brushed this aside but did comment that it was unfair if imported meat was not expected to be of the same standard as domestic produce:
‘I take a very strong view of the case’ he said. ‘Foreigners can send filthy stuff to England, and have no liability, whereas our own subjects would be liable’.
Goodness knows what he would make of chlorinated chicken…
In the end he decided that Waller would be fined but excused him the whole penalty, having some limited sympathy for him. Instead of paying 20s each for 121 items of ‘bad meat’ he would pay just £36 and he hoped it would be a lesson to him to be more careful in future where he got his produce from.
[from The Standard, Friday, June 07, 1889]
On 16 October 1888 George Lusk, the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance committee (set up as a communal reaction to the police’s inability to catch the Whitechapel murderer) received a very unpleasant parcel in the post. When he opened it Lusk found a small part of a human kidney wrapped in a little box with a letter attached. It read:
Sir, I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman preserved it for you. tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a while longer signed Catch me when you can
The letter was addressed ‘From Hell’ and has become one of the most contested pieces of evidence in the Jack the Riper mystery. On June 15 Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here: