One of the ‘Buck’s Row Slaughterers’ appears in court in September 1888

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I promised that this blog would return to the events of 1888 and the so-called Whitechapel or ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders. In the early hours of Sunday, 30 September, the body of Elizabeth (‘Long Liz’) Stride was discovered by the gates of Dutfield’s Yard in Berner Street. Her throat had been cut but she hadn’t been mutilated. Most experts agree that Liz’s killer had probably been disturbed in his murderous acts by the return to the yard of a trader in cheap jeweler, Louis Diemshutz, and his cart.

Liz’s death was only the first that night. An hour or so later Catherine Eddowes was murdered in Mitre Square on the City Police’s patch. The killer had much more time to carry out his ‘work’ here and Kate’s body was horribly mutilated.  The pair of killings have been dubbed the ‘double event’ after the press received a letter (and subsequent postcard) from someone purporting to be the murderer. Both missives were likely to have been sent by a journalist or mischief-maker and helped to raise the feeling of panic in the East End.

Meanwhile the police courts continued their business as normal, prosecuting  petty crime, domestic violence, and drunkenness on a daily basis. Liz Stride had herself been before the local magistracy on more than one occasion in the years and months leading up to her death.

On the 30 September that Sunday’s edition of Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported that the owner of the slaughter house in Winthrop Street had brought a prosecution for theft against one of his employees. Robert Whiffen (25), a horse slaughterer, was accused of stealing a diamond ring valued at £30.

The proprietor, (who was not named in the report) said he had lost the ring on the 18 August and had asked around at work. No one knew anything, or at least no one would say so. So he pursued his enquiries and when these drew more blanks he went to the police.

Acting on a tip off (in the form of a letter handed to the prosecutor) the police managed to trace the ring to a butcher in Mile End. Moss Joel testified before Mr Montagu Williams at Worhsip Street, telling him that he had bought the ring for £2 from the prisoner and sold it on for £2 15s. He could not recall who he sold it to however, even when Mr Williams pressed him to. The magistrate smelt a rat and suggested that things would go ‘awkwardly’ for Joel if ‘did not find the man’ he sold a £30 ring to. He remanded Whiffen in custody and dismissed the butcher to go and try harder to find the missing jewelry.

The Winthrop Street slaughterhouse was just yards from Bucks Row, where Polly Nichols had been murdered in late August 1888. The paper was well aware of this of course and headlined this report accordingly, terming it the ‘Buck’s Row Slaughterers’. At the time horse slaughters were suspected of being involved in the murders and my recent book presents a likely suspect who works in the horsemeat trade.  I argue that this man (James Hardiman) possibly worked for Harrison and Barber, the capital’s preeminent horse slaughters.

The Winthrop Street yard was owned by Albert Barber and it was he who brought the charge against Robert Whiffen. A ring valued at £30 in 1888 would be worth around £2,500 today so it is clear that Albert Barber was a very wealthy man. There was plenty of money in horse slaughtering, but it was a dirty and very hard trade and someone that was prepared to work hard and whenever required (as we believe Hardiman was) could expect to enjoy the confidence of his masters and the freedom to use their business premises at all hours of the day and night.

Very useful if you want to kill people as a well as horses…

Robert Whiffen was tried for the theft on the 22 October and convicted. He was sent to prison.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 30, 1888]

‘Half a loaf better than none’: a little local difficulty at Thames

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Jewish immigrants on Petticoat lane, by George Eastman House

The newspaper reports of the late Victorian police courts offer us a window into a past society. They throw up all sorts of things that can seem strange, or familiar to the modern reader. London is revealed as a busy and bustling city with all sorts of opportunities for conflict between its denizens. We get an idea of how people lived, where they worked, and how they moved around. We can also see that the capital was, as it is today, one of the world’s most multicultural and vibrant cities.

The East End of London had a large and well established Jewish community. Many of London’s Jews were fairly recent arrivals; coming over during the late 1870s and 1880s to escape persecution in eastern central Europe. Jews living in the Russian Pale (modern day Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland and some parts of Latvia and Russia) were oppressed by laws which prescribed where they could live, how and when they could work, and that forced them to serve in the armies of Tsarist Russia.

Life was extremely hard in the Pale of Settlement and communities were subject to periodic violent outbreaks of anti-semitic pogroms. Not surprisingly tens of thousands chose to leave their homes and travel across Europe in a search for a better and safer life. Many settled in London, particularly around Whitechapel where they established a community, while others tried to find the money to pay their passage to the ‘golden medina’, the United States of America.

London was no paradise however. Prejudice here was rife and periodic instances of anti-semitism continued to plague the Jewish community. But it was not as lethal as the oppression they had suffered in the Russian Empire, nor was the poverty as grinding. Hard work and persistence meant that the Ashkenazi people of the East End set down strong routes in the capital of Empire and gradually moved out of the East to the North and West of London as their prosperity grew.

In 1897 we get a glimpse of this community and, at the same time, a contemporary English view of them and their traditions. I wouldn’t say the report is racist or ‘anti-alien’ (to use a late Victorian expression) but it does perhaps reflect a contemporary curiosity about the ‘other’ in society.

In January 1897 Joseph Moseley, a Jewish sponge maker, appeared at Thames Police Court to prosecute a summons against Evelina Cohen. The pair had met in January 1896 a year earlier and after a brief courtship Joseph had proposed marriage. He gave Evelina a valuable  diamond engagement  ring and another ‘buckle’ ring as a symbol of their friendship. They agreed to marry in March of that year.

However, something must have gone wrong or Evelina changed her mind because instead of marrying the sponge maker, she married someone else in March 1896 leaving poor Joseph high and dry, and missing two rings. This was why he took her to court.

Mr Dickenson presided at Thames in early 1897 and he was less than pleased that this case had come before him. It did no credit to either of them, he said, to be dragging each other through the courts in this way. He understood that it was the ‘custom among most people, especially ladies, to return rings when an engagement was broken off’.

‘It would be a graceful act on the part of the young lady’ he said, ‘to say “Take back the ring thou gavest,” and give the complainant [Joseph] the diamond hoop, keeping the buckle ring as a trophy of her conquest’.

Moseley was represented by a lawyer, Mr Deakin, who explained that the matter had now been settled. The magistrate was pleased to hear it: ‘half a loaf was better than no bread’ he added referring to the return of one of the rings. Deakin wasn’t convinced that the sponge maker had recovered much from the encounter. ”In this case’, he grumbled, ‘it is only a fifth of a loaf’. After all he had hoped to marry and benefit from Evelina’s dowry, which was reported to be £500 plus a property.

The whole report smacks then of a business deal reneged upon rather than a man jilted ‘at the altar’. The fact that this had to go to law would seem to reflect contemporary negative views of the Jewish community as being built around trade and money, with this being seen as a ‘bad’ thing. Joseph had missed out of a ‘good deal’  and was now trying to get his investment back and I suspect many middle-class English readers reading this had some of their prejudices affirmed by the whole episode.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, January 16, 1897]

Two jewel thieves nabbed in Cheapside

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Cheapside in the 1890s

One of the early jobs I had as an adult was working in a jewellers over the busy Christmas period. Being new to the trade my job was to fetch items from inside the large shop windows and bring them to the assistants serving customers on the counter. Jewellers are different from most retail outlets in that customers are not generally allowed to select their purchases without supervision; after all some of the rings, necklaces and watches they sell are extremely valuable.

This makes it more of a challenge for shoplifters and jewel thieves. The crudest method is the smash and grab: literally smashing a jeweller’s window with something heavy (like a hammer or a brick) and snatching as much as they can before running off with it. This is harder to achieve during daylight so its no surprise that jewellers routinely empty their displays at the end of the day’s trading.

The other common method of theft is deception by distraction. This is frequently deployed by shoplifters and involves convincing the shop keeper that you are an honest regular customer and diverting their gaze or attention from your target long enough to palm it or other wise secrete it about your person. This often works best if the thief has an accomplice.

In October 1889 Mary Ann Sinclair and Sarah Pond (or Pend) entered a jewellers shop in Cheapside in the City of London owned by a Mr Carter. They asked the assistant if they could see some wedding rings. Neither of them were particular young ladies (Sinclair was 52 and Pend 39) but presumably they were respectably dressed and caused the assistant no alarm.

He produced a triangular wire tray containing a selection of rings. Mary Ann tried on 2 or 3 of the rings but none fitted; she told the man that they had better bring in their friend (the bride to be presumably) just to be sure. She then asked the assistant to measure her finger and left. Almost as soon as they had gone the assistant realised one of the rings was missing, a diamond band valued at £15 10s (or around £600 in today’s money).

This was not the first theft these two had carried out however. On the 2 October they had performed a similar deception at John James Durant & Son., also on Cheapside and the police were onto them. Soon after they left Carter’s two detectives picked up their trail and followed them to Gutter Lane, just off the main street, where they were arrested. Back at Cloak Lane police station the pair were identified as the women that had stolen another ring from  Durant’s by Albert Chambers by the same ruse. Chambers, who served as the shop’s engraver, told the police that he counted the number of rings on the wire frame  before handing them to his colleague to show the women. This was probably standard practice.

So the police now had good evidence against the women and at the Mansion House Police court they were both committed for trial. At the Old Bailey on 21 October they were tried and convicted of the theft despite their protestations that they knew nothing about it. Pend admitted to having a previous conviction from 1878 when she was known as Mary Margaret M’Cull. Both women were sent down for 15 months at hard labour.

We have no more information about Sinclair but Sarah Pend (or M’Cull) generated a little more detail in the records. The new Digital Panopticon website notes that she was born in Norfolk in 1850 and had great eyes and sandy coloured hair. She was sent to Holloway Prison and released onto the habitual criminals register in January 1891.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, October 11, 1889]