Murder or suicide? The death of John Broome Tower in Stoke Newington (part 2)

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For the first part of this story follow this link

Ernest Cogdon saw John Broome Tower several times on 31 December 1884. The two men were friends and Cogden said they met at Haycroft and Gilfillon’s offices   in Great Winchester Street where Broome Tower worked as an underwriter’s clerk.

The course of his work meant that Cogden, a fellow clerk, ran into Tower three more times that day before the pair took a train back to Finsbury Park (where Cogden lodged) at 6.30 that evening. They dined with a Mrs Earl and her daughters (one of whom was sweet on John) before going to a service at St John’s Church in Highbury Vale. It was well past midnight when they parted company on Green Lanes, Cogden going back to Finsbury park and Tower to his digs at 109 Dynevor Road in Stoke Newington.

That was the last time anyone saw John Broome Tower alive but Cogdon was sure he left his chum in good health, sober and with money in his pockets. They’d agreed to meet the following day for lunch. Cogdon was also puzzled that Tower’s body had been found where it was, as he was not on his normal route home; what had caused him to change his habits that night and did he take his own life, or was he murdered?

The police were pursuing the second option: when Tower’s body had been recovered it seemed as if he’d been attacked. His hat was battered (and it wasn’t an old hat), he collar looked as if it had been wrenched from his neck, and the state of his coat suggested the wearer had been involved in a struggle. More than one set of footprints were discovered near the bank of the reservoir where the body was found, and only one matched the boots Tower was wearing. A scarf or large handkerchief was around his neck, spotted with blood, and the press and police speculated that he had been strangled with it.  However, there were no other wounds that might have accounted for his death.

It was a proper Victorian ‘murder mystery’ in ‘the rapidly growing northern suburb’ as the Penny Illustrated Paper described Stoke Newington. It provided its readers with a sketch of the locality and an artist’s impression of the finding of the body at the reservoir (above). No one had heard a sound that night despite there being several potential witnesses including a cab driver, two carriages, and two young lads being close to the scene of the supposed attack at the time.

The police had employed divers to search the reservoir, men working for Doewra and Co., but they had not uncovered anything that might help explain the circumstances of the death. The police, under the direction of N Division’s Superintendent Green, remained baffled and were offering a reward of £100 for information.

Several days later the police investigation had still not resulted in an arrest. Enquiries at Tower’s workplace had now revealed that ‘discrepancies’ in his accounting which hinted at workplace theft. The amounts were significant but not huge – £60-80 – and no cheques were missing. Had Tower killed himself to avoid disgrace? It seemed unlikely, especially as Dr Bond (who examined his body) found no sign that he’d drowned in the reservoir. This suggested to him that he’d been killed first and then thrown into the water. Bond (who was later to be involved in the Whitechapel Murder case of 1888-9) was ‘clearly of opinion that death resulted from homicidal strangulation, and that two or more persons had been engaged in the matter’.

Two years later the case remained unsolved. A man did confess to killing Tower and robbing him with an accomplice but his evidence contradicted much of what the police already new and little credibility was given to it. In 1886 the papers reported that Chief Inspector Donald Swanson was convinced that the poor man had committed suicide. Another theory was that he had been decoyed into the area of scrub near the reservoir by a woman, and then attacked and killed. Swanson may have been content to put the mystery to bed as suicide because it relieved the police of responsibility for finding the killer/s, however unlikely it seems from the evidence presented to the coroner.

The mystery certainly caught the attention of people at the time and the 1886 confession (by a man named Thackery) was not the only one. In January 1887 George Charles Wilson also said he’d killed the underwriter’s clerk but he was dismissed as being unfit to do so suffering as he was, from ‘a disturbed mind’ and being found wandering as ‘a lunatic’.

In the end the crime was and remains unsolved. Somebody killed John Broome Tower or else he made it look that way. It had briefly propelled the outlying suburb of Stoke Newington to national attention, something I’m not sure its inhabitants would have welcomed.

[The Penny Illustrated Paper, 12 January, 1884]

The Stoke Newington murder mystery

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Just after nine o’clock on Wednesday  morning, 8 January 1884, a man’s dead body was recovered from a reservoir at Stoke Newington. George Jaggers, employed by the New River Company, had dredged the reservoir after several personal items had been found nearby by a group of boys and two men walking to work. The objects, which included a hat, coat, ‘a pearl pin, an earring, a watch key, a bar of gold, a watch chain’ plus some money, were formally identified as belonging to a Mr John Broome Tower.

At a coroner’s inquest held at the vestry hall in Stoke Newington several witnesses testified to finding the possessions of Broome Tower in the vicinity of the reservoir, which was situated (as it is now) north of Lordship Park, in the space between Green Lanes and the Seven Sisters Road.

The hat and coat had been seen first by William Palmer, an engineer’s assistant, who saw them as he went to work for the New River Company on the Tuesday. At 8 o’clock, as he came back for his breakfast he saw two policeman carrying them and went over to tell them he’d seen them earlier that morning. Palmer lived in Queen Elizabeth’s Walk which ran down from the reservoir at Lordship Road, then along the edge of Clissold Park to the rear of St Mary’s old church on Church Street.

In Booth’s late 1890s map of the area the top end of the Walk is not mapped or categorized at all, the project not covering the very north of the capital. Around the old church, where there was a mortuary near Edwards Lane and Meadow Street, the housing was poor and coloured blue, but the properties along Queen Elizabeth’s Walk were comfortably red. There were pockets of pink on the map above Clissold Park but Lordship Park and the other streets bordering the pumping station on Green Lanes were solid red in colour.

Detective Inspector Glass of CID told the inquiry that his men had found footprints and other marks close to the reservoir and had made casts of them. George Jaggers explained that the water was about 6 foot deep where he found the body and that the edge sloped down from the top. He did not think someone could have thrown a dead body in from the top, he would have had to enter the water as well if the intention was to cover it sufficiently so it was hidden.

The coroner said that on the information they had heard thus far ‘there was no doubt that the young man had been murdered’. He said the likeliest theory was that Broome Tower had been attacked, dragged into the eater, strangled and drowned. The jury recorded a verdict of ‘willful murder against some person or person unknown’.

John Broome Tower had not been seen since New Year’s Eve and his disappearance was followed by that an unnamed young woman, the press reported.  The police were trying to trace her whereabouts as they wanted to question her in relation to the man’s death. As of the 12 January 1884 however, they were clueless and the papers were describing the discovery of a body in the reservoir as the ‘Stoke Newington Murder’.

Broome Tower was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in a service that was attended by a small number of people, including Miss Alice Drage, who had identified most of the items found as belonging to the deceased, his mother and father, and his old school master. In the late 1890s the cemetery, which still lies behind Church Street had a small female prison at its southeast corner.  This was the London Female Penitentiary which later became the London Female Guardian society, and housed ‘fallen women’ (Victorian and Edwardian code for prostitutes).

Was John Broome Tower murdered, or did he take his own life? I’ll continue my investigations and let you know.

[from The Herald, Saturday, January 12 1884)

Housebreaking in Stokey and Hackney; slim pickings perhaps but poverty was relative in 1887

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In early September 1887 William Parker (an 18 year-old box maker) and James Hall (also 18 and described as a boot maker), appeared at the Worship Street Police court accused of breaking and entering.

The pair, both Bethnal Green lads, had strayed west, targeting three different properties in Stoke Newington. They’d been picked up by police from N Division (which covered Islington and included Stoke Newington) with a bag that contained ‘housebreaking implements’ and their lodgings in Hackney and Globe Street, Bethnal Green were raided.

Sergeant Helson and his colleagues Sergeant May explained that they had arrested the pair on suspicion that they were involved with burglaries at the homes of a Mr Cameron (at 102 Clarence Road), Mr Mears (62 Bentham Road) and Ernest Beckman (a commission agent who lived at 82 Rectory Road).

Mrs Beckman testified that she’d left her home at 3 in the afternoon on Saturday 20 August and came back and hour and half later to find that the front door had been forced open. The dining room had been left in a terrible state, and upstairs in the bedroom her jewelry box was lying open and empty.

She said she had lost ‘£5 in gold, a gold watch and chain, a gold ring, two pairs of earrings, two brooches, and a pair of solitaires’.

The solitaires were found on Hall’s person when the police arrested him and a witness testified to seeing him loitering outside the property earlier that day. Sergeant Helson told the magistrate (Mr Hannay) that the area had suffered a great deal from break-ins recently and requested that the men be committed for trial. Mr Hannay obliged and both men were tried at the next quarter sessions. Hall was convicted and sent to Pentonville prison for 15 months, Parker got an extra three months.

In Charles Booth’s 1888-90 poverty maps Rectory Road (where the Beckmans lived) is solidly red in colour, marking it out as ‘comfortable’. Rectory Road had ‘many old houses’ Booth reports, with ‘old fashioned wooden palings round the front gardens’. Several were semi-detached and rents were £45 (around  £,650 today). There were shops on Rectory Road’s west side and at the corner with Amhurst Road there was a large red brick building ‘with a  boy in buttons at the entrance’. This was the ‘Amhurst Club’ which charged a 2 guineas a year subscription. I have to check this but I believe this might be the site of the Regency Club (at 240a Amhurst Road) – popular with the Kray twins in the 1960s (below right).

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However, I can’t find a Bentham or Clarence in the near vicinity so perhaps those break-ins occurred further east, in Hackney (where  there is a Bentham Road). In the notebook covering the wider area Booth mentions Clarence Road (and Terrace) as a street where the houses have workshops ‘in their back gardens’; he coloured these purple moving to light-blue as it reached Clarence Terrace. One wonders what Hall and Parker could find to steal here but if they came out of worse conditions in the East End perhaps even slim pickings were worth stealing.

I’ll look in more detail at the area around Rectory Road in the next post.

[from Morning Post, 2 September 1887]

Exploring Tufnell Park – fifty years on

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The first place I grew up in London was Tufnell Park although, since I left there when I was nearly 8, my memories of it are hazy. My family lived on Lady Margaret Road and then took a house on St George’s Avenue, my first home.

Yesterday I decided to revisit the area to see what remains of the district from my day (the second half of the 1960s) and, more importantly for this blog, the Victorian era.

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In the last blog I used Charles Booth’s notebooks, which revealed that in the 1880s/1890s the streets close to Tufnell Park were mixed but generally fairly comfortable and home to working men and women, mostly skilled or semi-skilled. These weren’t, for the most part at least, homes for the rising middle classes, and the vast majority of people rented.

Arriving at Tufnell Park for my walk (in the rain!) the first thing you notice is the Boston Arms on Junction Road and the underground station (below).  There was no underground railway to Tufnell Park in 1889/90 when Booth’s enumerators trudged the area, but Junction Road railway station served the Tottenham & Hampstead line.  The Boston Arms is listed on Booth’s map but the building there today was constructed in 1899, a few years later.

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Tufnell Park developed from the late 1840s and gathered pace in the mid 1860s and the area gained a good reputation until the end of the nineteenth century. As I noted yesterday, Booth flagged up concerns that poorer building in Celia Road, Hugo Road and Corinne Road all threatened to attract a poorer quality of resident and prompt the ‘better sort’ to leave. It was a process Booth observed across London where the ‘rich would soon be going’ to the greener suburbs away from the overcrowded centre.

I walked from Tufnell Park down Tufnell Park Road to Lady Margaret Road to explore the trio of streets Booth was concerned about. The houses in Southcote Road and Lady Margaret are notably bigger and finer but to the modern eye the Victorian properties in Hugo, Celia and Corinne are still fine buildings (see above images). This area now is quite desirable with properties being advertised in excess of £1-2,000,000. For example a 3 bedroom flat in Lady Margaret sold for £925k in August this year, a similar sized property in Hugo Road for £1m. My parents bought their house in St George’s Avenue for £1,800 in 1961. In 2016 the very same house (pictured below right, which had 6 bedrooms) sold for £1,575,000.

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In the 1880s there was a school on Carleton Road just down from St George’s church (built in 1868 by George Truefitt and which marked the junction with Tufnell Park Road). The school has gone now and a modern St George’s church stands there. The old church remains but as the Rock Tower community centre (having previously become the St George’s Theatre in 1971). There had been another school, at the other end of Carleton where it joined Brecknock Road, but that closed in 1878 after several of his fee paying female students were tragically killed in the Princess Alice disaster on the Thames.

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St George’s Church (now the Rock Tower centre) 

I walked all the way down Tufnell Park Road to the Holloway Road where I have dim memories of visiting Jones Brothers’ department store. That has gone now and the Holloway Road is a very mixed retail experience today, not one that would easily support a smart aspirational store like Jones used to be. At the end of Tufnell Park Road I was curious to find a row of older Victorian properties (below) which may well have dated back to the beginnings of the area’s development or even earlier. In Bacon’s late nineteenth-century map these appear as small blocks of houses, not the neatly delineated spaces of the majority of properties on the long road. There are grade II listed and smaller and I’d hazard a guess they are from the 1840s.

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Tufnell Park Road is probably not Roman in origin (despite some sources suggesting it is) and is named for the Tufnell family that owned large estates around the area in the eighteenth century. It is a fine straight road with mixed properties and a large pub (the Tufnell Park Tavern) at 162. The pub opened in 1871 as the Tufnell Arms, one of only a handful in the area by comparison to some of the ‘rougher’ parts of the capital at the time.  With its mixed population of artisans, clerks, music hall artistes, postmen and police, Tufnell Park in the 1890s was an area that had risen and developed over the past 30-40 years but in decline. By the end of the Second World War it was solidly working class and large social housing estates were built post 1945 towards the Holloway Road end of Tufnell Park Road, near to Carleton Road (which had been the most desirable street in the district).

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Today most of the people I saw around St George’s Avenue, Lady Margaret’s, Hugo, Corinne and Carleton were fairly well heeled ‘Islington types’. There were lots of ‘Vote Labour’ posters in the windows and on Fortess Road (where my grandmother used to work in a grocery shop) there are some quite smart independent bakers, fishmongers, and butchers; not quite Hampstead or Crouch End but reflective of a district that has rediscovered its position as a desirable location for ‘fairly comfortable’ North Londoners.

Next stop, Stoke Newington and Clissold Park.

 

 

Who lived in 1880s Holloway? Milkmen, posties and the police it seems

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On Wednesday this week I began a slightly different blog series, which, while it will still focus on London in the nineteenth century will not always use the metropolitan police courts for its primary sources material. Today I’m using Charles Booth’s poverty maps and notebooks from the late 1880s and early 1890 to explore the roads around Tufnell Park (where I was born in the 1960s) to see what sort of a district it was at the time.

The previous blog was a reminder that while modern Upper Holloway is a densely populated urban sprawl, in the 1880s open green space still existed and drovers still brought flocks of sheep through the streets to the Metropolitan Meat Market at Caledonian Road.  A friend also pointed out that sheep herding continued in Finchley (where I later grew up) right up to the middle of the last century, the 1950s although the last recorded incident of sheep ‘rustling’ was in 1839.

My family lived in St George’s Avenue in the early 1960s, moving there just before or during the Second World War from a property not that far away. I can’t find Booth’s notebook entries for St George’s Avenue but we do have them for nearby street like Lady Margaret Road. Booth coloured Lady Margaret Road pink, meaning it was ‘fairly comfortable’ with ‘good ordinary earnings’. It was a better off street to some of those around it, notably Fulbrook Road (which was ‘not quite so good, used to be rough’ and Brecknock Road which had elements that were purple (meaning some residents were poor).

The people living in Warrender Road in 3 storey sub-letted houses were paying £34 to £40 rent per annum and were mostly milkmen, police and postmen. The two storied houses in Brecknock Road had seven rooms, so clearly houses of multiple occupation are not a ‘modern’ thing at all. It cost more to live in Southcote Road and Lady Margaret Road (£40-45 in the former, £52 in the latter) and so we’d expect the residents there to be clerks and better paid artisans and shop workers. For comparison £52 in 1889 would equate to about £4,250 today.

This area of North London was the setting for George and Weedon Grossmith’s Diary of Nobody (serialized in Punch in 1888-9, later published as a book in 1892). The fictionalized diary is kept by Charles Pooter, a London clerk, and records his misadventures in social climbing and reflects a contemporary view of the sort of people that were buying and renting property in the expanding Northern suburbs of London.  Pooter and his wife end son lived at ‘The Laurels’ (pictured, right below). It is very funny and well worth your time if you haven’t read it.

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Going east from Lady Margaret Road, Booth’s enumerators noted that while the people living in Celia Road, Corinne Road and Hugo Road were all ‘mostly comfortable’ the property they were living in was ‘all badly built’. Despite the houses being ‘not 10 years old’ they were ‘cracking above the windows’, had ‘very small backs’ and would ‘probably go down in character’. This might reflect rapid expansion in the area with builders and developers keen to cash in on the growth of London’s population and the desire to move out of the East End and centre.

He went on to comment that while the north west end of Upper Holloway was pink and the south red, suggesting comfortable living and some relative affluence, the north east was light and dark blue, revealing poverty. Moreover he reflected that ‘the best people are leaving’. Adding that if good new small houses for rent were built then the area could maintain its ‘pink’ status (like Stamford Hill) but if not there was a risk that it would only attract the poorer elements and ‘go rapidly down’.

Today the street layouts around Lady Margaret Road remain almost identical to the 1880s so in my final blog of the first trio I will head off to the area on foot to see what it looks like today. Hopefully you’ll see the results on Sunday or Monday of next week.

Sheep rustling in Holloway; a reminder of our rural past

The new Metropolitan Cattle Market, Copenhagen Fields

Today I am starting a new blog series which will look at the smaller events (and some larger ones) associated with London’s streets and the people that lived in them in the past.

I am going to start with Tufnell Park Road in north London because it very close to where I was born and my family lived. Today it is a very urban, built up area, with some fairly well heeled residents living alongside rougher areas of relative deprivation. In that respect then Tufnell Park and Holloway is quite like a lot of the capital in the 21st century.

In May 1867 Richard Allcock was walking along Kentish Town Road at about 10 or 11 at night when he saw a man approaching, driving a ‘drove’ of lambs towards him. He knew the man, John (or ‘Jack’) Read as a fellow drover from the Highgate area. He counted 30 lambs and recognized as a breed native to the Isle of Wight.

He hailed his colleague who replied with a cheery,  ‘holloa Dick, is that you? Will you have a glass of ale?’ Allcock happily agreed and the pair enjoyed a few beers at a nearby public house.

On the following Thursday Allcock ran into Read again, this time at the Metropolitan Cattle Market at Copenhagen Fields by Caledonian Road. The market had moved there just a dozen years earlier from Smithfield as the City authorities attempted to ‘improve’ the built up centre of London. This, and the fact that Allcock later stated that flocks of lambs were regularly graved in Tufnell Park reminds us that, in the mid Victorian period, the area was very far from being as urban as it is today.

At market Allcock was speaking to another drover about his conversation with Jack when he came over and took his mate to one side. ‘Don’t say anything to anyone that you saw me on Monday night’, he said. If Allcock was puzzled it all soon became clear. On the night in question the lambs, part of a larger flock of 71 belonging to John Fuller, had vanished. Police sergeant David Older (16Y) had arrested Read following a tip off.

Read denied stealing them and said he was in bed by 5 o’clock that night, and didn’t get up again that day. Allcock’s evidence undermined that because he’d been drinking with him between 10 and 11. The police were sure they had their man but he wasn’t acting alone. Read himself came close to admitting his crime but muttered that he was ‘not going to take this all alone’.

His solicitor asked for bail when he appeared before the magistrate at Clerkenwell but Mr Cooke refused. Apparently Read had previous for stealing livestock and the police were reluctant to see him at liberty. Off to prison he went while the investigation continued.

Looking at George W. Bacon’s map of London for 1888 Tufnell Park Road is much less built up that it is today. There is a cricket ground and considerable open space on the north side, in Upper Holloway, although there are buildings along most of the street. By the early 1900s the cricket ground is surrounded by housing and other property; all the green space has gone and a railway (the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction) runs across its northern edge.

In Charles Booth’s 1889/90 map of the northern suburbs Tufnell Park Road is solidly red in colour, marking it out as a comfortable middle class area with, as one might expect for a major thoroughfare, plenty of commercial property. Tufnell Park Road looks then, like a respectable street in a mixed working-class area but the situation does vary across Holloway, something I’ll pick in more detail by looking at Booth’s notebooks in the next blog.

[from Daily News, Thursday, June 6, 1867]

A dangerous hound on Houndsditch

 

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Captain Joseph Wiggins

This one is curious, not for the offence – keeping an unmuzzled dog – but for the circumstances and position of the person being prosecuted. It is a reminder, perhaps, that no one was above the law in the late nineteenth century.

Police constable Harker (918 City) spotted a gentleman walking a large dog on Houndsditch (no pun intended!). The dog was unmuzzled and, in 1889, this represented a breach of the Rabies Order. Since the man was a gentleman the officer merely took his name and told him he would have to appear by summons to answer for the breach.

On 10 December 1889   the man presented himself at the Guildhall Police court in the City of London to answer his summons. He gave his name as Captain Wiggins, and said he no idea that the Privy Council had passed order stating that all animals like his should be muzzled, as he’d been out of the country at the time.

Moreover, the dog wasn’t his, it belonged to the Prince of Wales (pic. left). Royal CollectionThe captain had purchased it in Siberia and when the policeman had stopped him he was on his way to Sandringham to deliver it to his highness. So what sort of dog was it? untitledQuite possibly a Siberian Mastiff (see image), these were large dogs indeed and probably quite an outlandish sight on the streets of the capital in 1889. It could have been a Husky of course, more popular today and perhaps more familiar, but not particularly large.

The Prince of Wales was the future Edward VII and he was passionate about animals. Well, passionate about shooting them at least! He reportedly insisted that all clocks at Sandringham ran half an hour ahead so that there was more daylight time for hunting. He was also very fond of dogs, keeping a large number both as Prince of Wales and then as king.

As for the man in the dock this was probably Captain Joseph Wiggins (1832-1905) a Norfolk born sailor and trader who developed new trade routes with the Russian Empire in Siberia. He is credited with helping establish the Trans-Siberian Railway by transporting rails and he was honoured by the Tsar. He must have cut almost as much as a dash in London as the dog he brought back with him.

Sadly for him it didn’t immunise him from the law. Sir Polydore de Keyser was the first Catholic Lord Mayor of London since the Reformation, a Belgian by birth, and a hotelier. In 1889, having ceased to be Lord Mayor, he was serving as an alderman and presiding as magistrate at Guildhall. He reminded the captain that ignorance of the law was no excuse for not obeying it, and he fined him 5s plus costs.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, December 11, 1889]