A detective uncovers smuggling by Horsleydown, but a much worse discovery is made there in 1889

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Detective sergeant Howard was watching the comings and goings of ships and sailors by Horselydown Stairs on the River Thames. Situated near to what is now (but wasn’t then) Tower Bridge and opposite St Katherine’s Docks. In 1881 this was a busy stretch of the river with shipping bringing in goods from all over the world. Now, of course, it’s mostly a tourist area, but it is just as busy.

As DS Howard waited he saw a man he recognized go on board a steamship which had a Hamburg registration. He was sure the man was John Michael, someone he knew well as a smuggler, so he kept on watching.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes afterwards Michael reemerged and made his way on to the docks. The officer followed and then stopped him nearby. When he searched him the detective sergeant found seven pounds of tobacco and ¾ lb weight of cigars. The duty alone on these amounted to nearly £3 and so he arrested him.

When questioned Michael denied all knowledge that the goods might in any way be dodgy. He merely stated that a man on board had asked him to carry the goods ashore and was going to meet him in Tooley Street later. It was a weak defense and he probably knew it, but what else could he say?

When he was up before the Southwark magistrate he said very little at all expect to confirm his name, age (42)  and occupation (labourer). DS Howard was also there and told Mr Bridge that the man was well known as someone who earned money by carrying goods ashore to help seaman avoid the excise due on it. He got paid sixpence for every pound he smuggled, so he stood to make about 3-4s  for the haul that DS Howard confiscated.

He was ordered to pay £1 149d for his crime but since he didn’t have anything like that money he was sent to prison for two months instead.

On 4 June 1889 a human a parcel was found floating in the river just near St George’s stairs, Horsleydown. Some small boys had been lobbing stones at it but when it was recovered it was found to contain a decomposing lower torso of a woman. A leg and thigh turned up days later by the Albert Bridge and the upper torso was found soon afterwards by a gardener in Battersea Park. It was quickly linked to the Whitehall and Rainham torso mysteries that had been overshadowed in 1888 by the infamous Jack the Ripper or Whitechapel murders. Fig 2.1

For most of the last 130 plus years researchers have concluded that there were two serial murderers running amok in late Victorian London but was this really the case? A new book, penned by Drew with his fellow historian Andrew Wise, sheds new light on the torso and Whitechapel series and argues that one man might have been responsible for both.

Jack and the Thames Torso Murders: A New Ripper is published by Amberley Books and is available to order on Amazon here:

[from The Standard, Tuesday, June 21, 1881]

Drink: the curse of the working classes…

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Throughout the nineteenth century the problem of drink (especially the drinking habits of the working classes) were the subject of intense discussion. The Temperance Movement began in the early 1820s and while it began by advocating ‘moderation’ it became more radical, demanding the prohibition of the sale of alcohol and urging people to take the pledge of abstinence. The Band of Hope was founded in Leeds in 1847 and a national organization grew from this in 1855. In 1864 William Booth founded the Salvation Army with temperance one of its key tenets.

Of course while many people agreed that moderation and even abstinence were a ‘good thing’, others either resented the attack on their lifestyle and ‘freedoms’ or saw temperance as a threat to their business and livelihood. Publicans and brewers in particular can’t have welcomed the emergence of an anti-alcohol movement.

In 1850 Mr. William Townsend was due to speak on the subject of the ‘social. moral and religious condition of the working classes’ at the Temperance Hall at Horsleydown, in Bermondsey. Before the meeting placards were printed and distributed announcing the lecture. He rose to speak but had not got very far into his lecture before he was interrupted.

A group of people close to the podium stepped forward and threw red paint at him, covering the front of his clothes. The men then left and Mr. Townsend, to his credit, finished his speech.

However, as he was leaving and stepping into a cab ‘his assailants’, who had been waiting for him nearby, rushed forward and chucked a quantity of flour all over him; he was now, as the paper dubbed him, the ‘red and white lecturer’!

Townsend told the magistrate he knew who his attackers were and his worship issued a summons for them to appear to answer the charge. Perhaps they were members of the ‘skeleton crew’ supposedly hired by landlords to thwart the efforts of the prohibitionists.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, September 28, 1850]