A N Wilson

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

SEVENTEEN– THE LADIES WITH SMILES IN THEIR EYES

 

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As with the body count in the Iraq War, there was disagreement. In the 1880s the police reckoned that there were 8,000 prostitutes in London. Evangelist organisations disagreed and claimed that there were as many as 80,000. The police did underestimate but the evangelists were also culpable. Evangelists had a broad definition of what constituted prostitution, and it included not just the paid mistresses of the English aristocracy but common law wives.   Whatever the definition London had plenty of prostitutes.  Tolstoy and Dostoevsky visited Victorian London and were astonished and disgusted by the numbers of women selling sex on the streets. Both men had used Russian brothels but had not witnessed public spaces defined by prostitution.

If London had an abundant number of prostitutes in 1888, there were a lot of customers to encourage the trade.   London had the City, the docks, the Woolwich military encampment, labour intensive food markets, industry, railways, central government and newly arrived and lonely immigrants.   Men wanted wives who were respectable but needed women who would satisfy desires that had to be kept secret from the mothers of their children.   Either way, women were expected to reflect the conceit of men.  Virgins were popular as both future wives and prostitutes.  Virginity indicated decency in a potential wife. Virginity may have had fetishist appeal for the male customers of prostitutes but it also had hygienic advantages.   The enticingly named Lock Hospital was founded in 1747 to treat venereal disease. As the British Empire spread, lock hospitals appeared elsewhere around the globe. The largest was in India. When the NHS was founded in 1948, Lock Hospital was incorporated into the nationalised service.

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The average age of a prostitute in the Victorian era has been estimated as being between 18 and 22 years. It is impossible to confirm the accuracy of the figures but those able to observe what was happening insist that turnover was high. Prostitutes endured abuse, both physical and economic. Those suspected of being Ripper victims have become famous.   In the 19th Century not all the murderers of prostitutes left identifiable victims. Neither are there adequate records of the suicides of Victorian prostitutes.   There were too many working class Victorian casualties for all the dead bodies to avoid anonymity.   The men who killed prostitutes had used extreme violence well before Jack the Ripper arrived. Mutilated women were discovered throughout the Victorian age and before. In 1806, a dead eighteen years old Elizabeth Winterford had flesh torn from her body. In 1838 Eliza Grimwood had her throat cut and was stabbed in the abdomen and chest. Because of injuries, the corpse of Sissy Aldridge was unrecognisable. She was identified because of the borrowed boots she was wearing.  Aldridge was murdered in 1870.

There is, though, an element of truth in the playful fictions of Thackeray and Fielding.   Prostitution did enable some beautiful young working class women to climb the social scale and acquire an education and what were considered to be refined habits.   One lady wrote an elegant letter to The Times and described how she had been able to fund opportunities for her parents and brothers. To achieve that degree of social mobility a woman would have required industry, confidence, self-discipline and much pragmatism. The less fortunate prostitutes abandoned the career before they were prematurely old. If not, they buckled into degradation. Working class men may have spent less money on prostitutes than their upper class counterparts but, because they formed the majority of the population, most prostitution was between working class men and women.   Prostitution paid for alcohol but the gin also made the work bearable. Many sexual transactions occurred between men and women who were drunk. This increased the risk of violence. Israel Schwartz saw a man throw Ripper victim Liz Stride to the pavement. Used to rough behaviour between men and women, Schwartz walked by.

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Millbank Penitentiary registered 18,000 prostitutes in the 1880s and completed a survey. Of the 18,000 inmates 4,558 had both parents dead and 3,540 had one parent no longer living. 40% of the 18,000 had worked as domestic servants. Prostitution attracted both lost souls and the defiant women who were unable to settle for traditional lopsided social and economic contracts. And there were women who were both lost and defiant. An American visitor to London observed, ‘As to servants and women of the humbler class, (they) were proud of having a gentleman to cover them.’

In every profession destiny and opportunity depend upon mentors. The favoured prostitutes were the mistresses of the aristocracy.   For the rest their fortune depended on the nature of pimps and those who owned the brothels.  Mother Cummins prospered in the early years of the 19th Century. She owned several brothels, and her establishment in St Giles had 200 beds. In 1861 St George’s Southwark had a population of 55,000.   The number of brothels in the District had perhaps decreased by 1861 but at one point the District had somewhere between 200 and 300 brothels.   Shoreditch was more respectable.  Entrepreneurial ambitions there settled for a 100.

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Not all the prostitutes were female. John Saul was implicated in the infamous Cleveland Street scandal. Saul claimed to earn an average of £8 a week. In the 1880s most wage earners had to settle for a pound a week or less. Post office telegraph boys aged between fifteen and seventeen were brought to Cleveland Street. Their customers were elderly men who had income well above that of post office workers. The Cleveland Street scandal occurred in 1889. Sodomy had been illegal from the sixteenth century and punishable by death until 1861. Not all the male or female prostitutes were adults. The price of a child for sex was five shillings.   In some instances the child would be offered by a parent but for homeless and abandoned children prostitution would have provided an alternative to starvation.

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A N WILSON has interviewed Bruce Robinson the author of THEY ALL LOVE JACK.  Halfway through the interview Wilson mentioned that there existed a Harley Street surgeon who had a back room where children could be abused and killed. This particular service cost more than five shillings but it did include removal of the dead body. In his book LONDON IN THE 19TH CENTURY, historian and academic Jerry White devotes no more than a sentence to the murders. He describes the killings as a few and appears to justify his scandalous neglect by saying there were not many press reports. His lack of curiosity about establishment secrets taints an otherwise impressive book.

Technology provided alternatives to prostitution. Books were expensive in the 19th Century but their price did not prevent a significant trade in pornographic literature. Imitating what was happening elsewhere in publishing, pornographic books were exchanged and sold second-hand. Pornographic literature, though, was not available from provincial libraries. William Dugdale was born in Stockport in 1800 and prosecuted several times for publishing obscene material. His activities inspired the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.   Dugdale was a radical and in his early career published political texts. The pornography attracted income, and his radical texts became fewer.   London was eminent in the production of pornographic photography. A police raid in Pimlico of the studios of Henry Hayler discovered 130,000 photographs and 5,000 slides.   Henry, Mrs Hayler and their two sons appeared in some of the photographs.

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While the prostitutes of Whitechapel were obliged to walk the streets their well-dressed colleagues would use the music halls and expensive restaurants. In the less reputable music halls the prostitutes would walk the promenades. In 1847 theatre owners had been compelled by the Lord Chamberlain to ban prostitutes from their premises. This was the age of ‘flagrant lewdness’ when bare breasted prostitutes waved from windows. In the theatres men were often impatient and had sex while they were still in the audience.  The prostitution industry connected restaurants, theatres, brothels, ‘accommodation houses’ and the streets, which may have been why Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were overpowered by the ubiquitous presence of London prostitutes.

After the prostitutes were banned from theatres they moved into dance saloons some of which, like the Argyll Rooms, were built to accommodate soliciting.   William Gladstone used to wait outside the Argyll Rooms so that he could perhaps save one of the fallen women. Waiting also saved him the two shillings entrance fee and the opportunity to lounge on velvet benches, drink, dance and observe.   In 20th Century America more than one jazz musician earned money playing in brothels and other illegal establishments. The Argyll Rooms lacked Louis Armstrong but was famed for its excellent orchestra.   As in the theatres, the prostitutes were forced from the dance saloons. The prostitutes moved to casinos but again were urged to move elsewhere. This was the story of prostitution in Victorian London but it is a worldwide phenomenon.   In 19th Century London prostitution never ceased because its practitioners, customers and mentors were adept at finding new locations and alternative establishments.   The poor of the East End lacked mentors, access to fashionable entertainments and the ability to purchase fine clothes. For the poor it meant dark streets and women risking what happened in Whitechapel in 1888.

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.

 

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JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’

THIRTEEN – ‘THEY ALL LOVE JACK, BUSTING THE RIPPER’ – BRUCE ROBINSON

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Most men settle as they age. They become cautious, less ambitious and acquire different habits and opinions. Others take their youth to their grave.  Bruce Robinson is in his seventh decade and wears his hair as if he was still a hippie from the seventies. Like the hippies used to do back then, he swears a lot. Interviewers struggle to keep his expletives at bay.   There is a YouTube clip where the more sober A N Wilson does his best but the effort makes him wilt. Bruce Robinson is the kind of man who will take his youth to his grave. Prior to spending fifteen years researching and writing They All Love Jack he acted, directed films, wrote screenplays and produced novels. He is revered for the film Withnail and I. The film is brilliant but, because of my own misspent youth and some painful memories, I avoid it. The characters in Withnail and I have a withering scorn for a world that is indifferent to their appetites.

They All Love Jack was listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize.   Few people associate books about Jack the Ripper with literary merit. They All Love Jack is written in a colloquial and informal style. Not everyone has responded well to the expletives and the free use of uninhibited insults.  The argument is that history should be sober and impartial. Of course, none of it ever is which is why the bias of history is so often disguised with restrained and formal accounts.   The expletives in They All Love Jack exist because that is the nature of Bruce Robinson but they also fit the content.   Robinson uses the language of gangsters to describe the villains of the Victorian establishment.   Swear words and gangsters, whatever their manners, go together.   The British establishment has been a cesspit for a while, and in They All Love Jack its members get what they deserve, contempt, scorn and exposure, which is not bad for a book about a man who killed bargain basement whores.

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Unlike Bruce Robinson I have yet to devote fifteen years and £500,000 to discover the truth about the Whitechapel monster. I have, though, spent 35 years working with those in authority in the public sector. I also have had experience of their private sector counterparts. There were odd occasions when I encountered people who inspired. But most of the time I rubbed shoulders with rogues that were incompetent, self-serving and sometimes corrupt, people who had an exaggerated sense of both their ability and personal entitlement. These flaws enabled them to be indifferent to their responsibilities. The behaviour of powerful officials reflects all kinds of limitations, and any examination of the establishment benefits from knowing what moral and professional failure relates to which consequence. This does not happen in the 800 pages of They All Love Jack.

No book has everything, and if one did, it would be unreadable. They All Love Jack is a fabulous read. The excesses of the powerful should never be mitigated but if we claim corruption and conspiracy for every instance of inexplicable behaviour we misunderstand the casual crimes of those that rule. An individual without power can be abandoned through a bureaucrat doing nothing more than puffing out his chest and taking himself too seriously.  In They All Love Jack there is a good account of how expert opinion was misused and ignored in the inquests held by coroner Wynne Baxter.   Bruce Robinson claims that Baxter introduced the bogus theory of the murderer selling organs to an American to divert attention away from the freemason ritual involved in the murders. Perhaps but Baxter may have been just another official indulging his ego with whimsy and fancy and drooling on about something that would make him sound important.  It happens.

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The rare critics of They All Love Jack dismiss the book as conspiracy theory. If it is then Robinson takes conspiracy theorising to a new and superior level. Its 800 pages provide a lot of detail to back up the arguments. Robinson is good at smelling a rat, and the book is great when it identifies obvious absurdities that have been ignored. The problem with rats is that they run around a lot, and the more you follow their trail the more it makes you sound obsessive and a bit strange. Robinson is right, though, to state that the murders included freemason rituals.   This alone does not prove that Jack the Ripper was a Freemason. Even if he was not, the police and the politicians were worried that he might be and they did take steps to hide the freemason aspect of the crimes.   The British police and politicians were dominated by Freemasons.    The truth about the crimes was spun because there were secrets and because the police needed to keep a distance from an expanding and threatening Press.

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They All Love Jack is far from precise on what is being spun or hid. If an axis exists from incompetence to corruption then one also travels from defensiveness to conspiracy. In the interview that is on YouTube, writer A N Wilson asks Robinson when did the police discover the identity of Jack the Ripper.   In the interview Robinson states 1892 but this is not evident from the book. In 1892 the alleged Ripper abandoned London for the Isle of Wight. He moved almost four years after the death of Mary Jane Kelly the last of the victims in the ‘canonical five’. The move does not establish that the police knew the identity of the Ripper. There are different options. The alleged Ripper may himself have decided he wanted to move to the Isle of Wight, or the police had realised this famous and rich man was the Ripper and applied pressure, or something else which was more complicated and that here needs to be explained.

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They All Love Jack links two conspiracies to the Ripper. Robinson not only identifies Jack the Ripper he claims that his Ripper also framed Florence Maybrick for killing her husband James. Her criminal conviction in 1890 created a scandal.   Over a 100 pages of They All Loved Jack is devoted to this miscarriage of justice. The police may have put pressure on the man they thought killed James to exit London but we do not know if they thought he was responsible for the Whitechapel murders.   There may have been two separate cover-ups by the police. In 1888 the police hid freemason details and in 1889 they protected an establishment figure from being discovered of a murder in Liverpool. Thanks to his detective work Robinson connects the two conspiracies through the man he identifies as Jack the Ripper but the police may have let the alleged Ripper go to the Isle of Wight thinking that his only crime was a murder in South Liverpool.   The Star newspaper in 1888 said that the ‘London Police were rotten to the core.’   Robinson describes the Police as ‘the thug end of the law’. Few would dispute either claim but conspiracies can consist of stumbles and lurches rather than grand plans.

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For many these qualifications will be nit picking.   They All Love Jack is a marvellous book full of barnstorming ambition and daring. There are at least two brilliant ideas that make the book essential. In most Ripper books it is the dosshouse that is imagined as the retreat for the Ripper after his crimes. In They All Love Jack Toynbee Hall is identified as the base for the Ripper, and the notion makes much possible and strengthens the case against the man suspected by Robinson. They All Loved Jack also examines the evidence of witness Packer, the man who remembered selling grapes to the man he thought was the Ripper.   Robinson transforms the statements of Packer into something credible and wipes clean so much rubbish that has muddied previous thinking.

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Not everyone is content to merely enjoy a good read especially when Jack the Ripper is involved. They want what Robinson promises at the beginning of the book. They want the monster to be nailed. A N Wilson is convinced by They All Loved Jack. The case against the Robinson suspect rests on letters that the Metropolitan Police had assumed were a hoax. Robinson thinks the opposite. He went through the letters and discovered that the itinerary and threats mapped the murders.   In his interview with A N Wilson we hear Robinson claim that the match between the letters and the crimes is ‘extraordinary’.   For Robinson reading the letters will have had an impact denied to us that only read an account of the investigation. Credit has to be given for what has been accumulated by Robinson.   No one has built a better case against a Jack the Ripper suspect than the one that exists in this book. But, as impressive as the evidence is, it would not convict anyone. The handwriting on the letters varies, and while handwriting experts mix overcooked intuition and basic mechanics we have to wonder why one person would feel obliged to alter his handwriting as often as happens in these letters. This does not mean that the arguments of Robinson should be dismissed. The explanation would, though, have benefitted from mathematical analysis and formula. The connections are not demonstrated graphically and they should have been.   But there is enough in the analysis of the letters to make readers want to read the book a second time, which is what I will be doing soon.   My need for a mathematical summary to support evidence may have something to do with my age.   It is a dry ambition, and They All Love Jack is a confident flourish of intelligence and style. Its 800 pages are packed with insight, discoveries, scorn for dopes, funny quips and smart comparisons. Only the young have such daring to attack a mystery and history in this way, the young or those men who will take youth to their graves.

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.