22 – SIR CHARLES WARREN
Sir Charles Warren earned early fame by leading an archaeological expedition in Palestine. He explored the tunnels below Temple Mount and discovered a water shaft that either he or someone named the Warren Shaft. His surname somehow fitted something underground. Whatever else happened down there amongst the tunnels did his back and spine no harm. In the photographs we have of Warren the posture is always rigid and upright, and most of the time he looks straight at the camera. The gaze dares us to blink. He has the eyes of a man whose curiosity yearns for conviction. Sir Charles Warren was a freemason of senior rank. Rather than a burden the weight of his uniform and medals appear to confirm for him a belief in masculine worth. This is a man who spent all his life endeavouring to offer a legacy. The eyes and posture demand both admiration and acknowledgement. Most of the time it happened for Sir Charles Warren. He liked to serve and to be served.
His life contained enough adventure to inspire several movies. Warren was 27 years old when he led the dig in Palestine. The title of his account refers to his exploration as ‘the recovery of Jerusalem’. Before that Sir Charles spent four years surveying Gibraltar. In less than careful hands those two movies of his adventures could possibly be a little dull. The next adventure, though, was a cracker. In 1880 Warren was posted to Sinai to investigate what had happened to the archaeological expedition of Professor Edward Henry Palmer. After discovering that Palmer and the rest of the expedition had been murdered Warren located the dead bodies and captured the killers. Four years later he also led the successful Bechuanaland Expedition. The main objective was to establish British sovereignty but Warren also settled local conflict and in his favour he did it without killing people.
The glory did not last. In 1885 he failed to be elected as a Liberal MP in the Sheffield Hallam constituency. Twelve months later he was appointed Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis. The initial consensus was that he ‘was the right man for the job’. The right wing press relished his success as an imperial adventurer. The left welcomed a man whose campaign to be a Liberal MP had advocated radical reforms. Because of the subsequent failure to identify or capture Jack the Ripper, Warren lasted for just two years as head of the Metropolitan Police. After this less than successful attempt at law enforcement Warren had a long career and one more military escapade in the Second Boer War. At this point the reputation of Warren really did go down hill although it did involve him and a lot of other men going uphill but perhaps not as far as they thought.
The Battle of Spion Kop Hill took place on the 23rd and 24th of January 1890. A simple account proclaims that he took the Hill but was obliged to yield when the Boers attacked on the second day. The fastidious object that the position he occupied on the Hill was not the summit and that enemy troops occupied parts of the Hill above the British. The same British troops were also in the firing line of Boer artillery. What happened during those two days has been debated. If what happened was a military misjudgement, there were others besides Warren who were culpable. Historians have been reluctant to suggest that the British were suckered into a trap but simple cynics do wonder.
Opinion is also divided about the performance of the Metropolitan Police during the two years Sir Charles Warren was Commissioner. Warren had obvious skills. He had the technical eye that helped him survey Gibraltar and lead archaeological digs but also a capacity for adventure. In the bureaucratic role of Commissioner, though, these skills may have been redundant. Reports about the man depend on a number of people and are inconsistent, yet all are agreed that Sir Charles Warren was an early riser and had a capacity for hard work. He was supposed to have been a disciplinarian. Those who liked him claim he had a sense of humour and cared about his men. His difficulties were with his peers or rivals and with those to whom he reported. The ambitious pragmatists, the other bureaucrats, described him as prickly. His relationship with Henry Matthews the Home Secretary was difficult and produced more than one threat of resignation from Warren. The resignation that eventually ended his role as Commissioner supposedly happened because he had written about his lack of control of the CID. By expressing this opinion in public Warren had breached protocol. Bruce Robinson in They All Love Jack claims that this explanation is bogus and that Warren was fired because of his inability to capture Jack the Ripper. This may or may not be true but the official reason for the resignation is not without credibility. What happened to Warren feels like the consequence of a power play within a bureaucracy where there was conflict between departments.
Warren became a Knights Templar in 1863. His enthusiasm for masonic history led him to dig below Temple Mount and find the foundations that he believed had been built by the masons employed by King Solomon. His life had the symmetry of a game of billiards. He was born in quiet Bangor in North Wales and died at the age of 87 in select Weston-super-Mare. In between he bounced around the world. He was married to one woman for over 50 years and he abstained from alcohol. His allegiance to freemasonry has done no harm to the conspiracy theories that exist about whether Jack the Ripper was an assassin acting on behalf of the establishment.
In the Ripper investigation, Warren made five significant decisions. None enhanced his reputation. He used bloodhounds on the busy streets of London and somehow imagined that the dogs would be able to ignore the confusing scents from busy streets and trace the escape route of the killer. He authorised a house-to-house search that discovered nothing but at least was well received by the residents of the East End. His offer of a pardon to any accomplice of the Ripper was ridiculed. Finally, he allowed a reward to be paid for information about the crimes. This decision like the arrival of extra police on the streets followed prevarication and did little to affect the outcome of the investigation.
None of these initiatives appear to have been inspired by the thinking of Warren. He was responding to pressure from concerned citizens. Before the end of his tenure as Commissioner he was regarded as a martinet bereft of ideas. If the weaknesses exist, Warren has to be given credit for his loyalty to those in his police force who were also culpable and ineffectual. He did not search for scapegoats or attempt to deflect blame. The conflict with James Munro about who managed the CID was an argument about the organisation of police. Warren was not making excuses for the failure to catch the Ripper. His decision to wipe away the famous writing left in Goulston Street, though, was not his finest moment.
In the year before the Ripper began his crimes Warren had already lost the support of the left wing press. Bloody Sunday happened on the 13th of November 1887. The Metropolitan Radical Association with the help of other socialists and radicals organised a mass demonstration in Trafalgar Square against about just everything that the poor, unemployed and homeless had to endure. The crowd in Trafalgar Square has been estimated as somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 people. W T Stead the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette described the behaviour of the police as brutal and unprecedented. Two men died during the demonstration, and around a hundred people were sent to hospital with injuries. Compared to what happened at Peterloo almost 70 years earlier the casualties were modest. In that demonstration 15 people were killed and 400 injured. This time there was no cavalry charge but witnesses claimed that only good fortune prevented mass slaughter. Warren may have been a Liberal but he was not sympathetic to anarchists. The violence on Bloody Sunday, though, did not happen because Warren had a wilful desire for order and lacked sympathy for the plight of the demonstrators. Unlike his successor as Commissioner, James Monro, Sir Charles Warren did permit demonstrations by the poor, the oppressed and the disenchanted.
Warren was educated at Cheltenham College and Sandhurst. As a young man, he entered the Royal Engineers and acquired the nickname Placid Sapper. At some point he grew a full moustache. He never stopped being an enthusiast. In retirement he helped Baden Powell to form the boy scouts movement. We neither know what happened to the conscience of Sir Charles Warren nor what he thought about the lives that were lost in London and elsewhere. He remembered his work as an archaeologist and cartographer and left some of his memories behind in seven books. He is buried alongside his wife in the churchyard at Westbere, Kent. While Fanny Margaretta Haydon was alive she gave birth to four children. The pub in Westbere was opened in 1348. Today it has real ale and a decent menu.
Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.