Albert Einstein





In a UK population of 60m people there are over 200,000 freemasons. Over 90% of these are men, and apart from the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women, the typical Masonic Lodges are not unisex. They are gender specific.   Women who become men are allowed to be freemasons. Men who become women are not. For a freemason a man becoming a woman is too horrible to contemplate. According to their banner headlines the freemasons in the UK each year collect £33m for charity. Although welcome this is not as impressive as it sounds. It amounts to £165 per year per member or a monthly donation of less than £14. Freemasonry is restricted to those whose income will permit them to pay their fees of £240 a year and make contributions to charity ‘without harming their family’. But freemasonry also includes many of the rich and powerful. With a few sticky envelopes and without getting off their backsides any charitable organisation that had 200,000 affluent registered supporters would soon raise £33m.

Those outside the organisation imagine a bunch of old white men who like to take themselves seriously and who need rituals to grant them superiority and self-importance. But the people who become freemasons will have their own reasons. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington were all freemasons. They belonged to the Thomas Waller Lodge No. 49 in California. The Lodge operated as a community and possibly a retreat for Afro-American musicians. More surprising is the membership of the scabrous and outspoken comedian Richard Pryor. Perhaps he was a member of the same lodge as the musicians and joined to attend the lively parties. The membership of Marx, Freud and Einstein, though, is bewildering.


The alleged freemason conspiracy that prevented the arrest of Jack the Ripper is often conflated with the accusation that the assassin was a member of the Royal Family. The allegation first appeared in Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight. According to Knight, the murders were committed by Sir William Gull the doctor to the Royal Family. He did it to protect the secret that Prince Albert Victor had married Annie Crook, a poor Catholic girl.   The allegation, which inspired a couple of half decent movies, was soon dismissed as nonsense. Gull was too infirm to kill anyone, and the Prince was not even in the country when he was supposed to have married Crook.

In They All Love Jack the author Bruce Robinson argues that the conflated theory and its inevitable absurdities has deflected attention away from the role of freemasonry in the crimes of Jack the Ripper.   Robinson feels that Knight was conned into publishing a story that could be exposed as ridiculous and in so doing facilitate a pardon for the freemasons. Robinson states that ‘concealing the Ripper was not a masonic conspiracy but a conspiracy of Her Majesty’s Executive who almost without exception were freemasons’. Ernest Parke the Editor of The Star newspaper exposed the Cleveland Street scandal in 1889 but before that in 1888 he commented on the failure of the police to apprehend Jack the Ripper.  He stated ‘that they are interested in concealing his identity’.


The authors Paul Begg and Philip Sugden are marketed by their publishers as serious authorities on the crimes of Jack the Ripper. In The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Sugden there are no references to freemasons in the final index. In Jack the Ripper: The Facts by Begg there is just one reference to the Brotherhood in the final index  In They All Love Jack there are 10 references but they refer to items on 150 different pages. In Jack the Ripper: The Facts, Paul Begg uses less than half a page to spuriously dismiss the notion that the writing on the wall in Goulston Street could have been a reference to freemasonry. We are all entitled to doubts about what the writing may or may not have meant but the argument by Begg does not convince and it reads like knee-jerk defensiveness.

Bruce Robinson argues in They All Love Jack that the Ripper was a freemason and the murders resembled the rituals of masonry. He adds that the police knew which freemason was the murderer and concealed it from the public.  Freemasons respond that despite its 800 pages and exhaustive research They All Love Jack is misguided. They claim that the similarity between the murders and freemason rituals is slight.  They also reject the Robinson candidate for Jack the Ripper. No doubt Robinson can overegg an argument. It is possible that he, like Stephen Knight, is also guilty of conflating two events. Robinson is perhaps too ready to unite the Jack the Ripper murders with the Maybrick mystery in Liverpool.


Not everyone is convinced that the inverted triangles cut under the eyes of victim Catherine Eddowes were intended as serious Masonic symbols.  But the murders do not have to qualify as exact replicas of freemasonry ritual for us to suspect that Sir Charles Warren the freemason Metropolitan Police Commissioner would have worried that they might be. It is odd that it took 100 years for information about the marks on the face of Catherine Eddowes to enter the public domain.   And what happened during the murders is bizarre. Wombs were removed, rings taken from fingers, pockets were cut open and polished coins left at the side of bodies. The entrails could have been put to one side by a murderer in a hurry but they may have also been carefully arranged.  If that was not enough, there is the writing on the wall at Goulston Street that may or may not refer to the three men who killed the architect of King Solomon’s Temple. Take the coincidences too far and it sounds like tortuous conspiracy theory but the coincidences do exist and they invite curiosity.   Doubt about the coincidences is reinforced by the response of the authorities. Although it existed as vital evidence Sir Charles Warren ordered the writing on the wall at Goulston Street to be removed. The Telegraph referred to polished coins next to the body of Annie Chapman yet Dr Phillips did not mention them in his autopsy report or his testimony at the inquest. The coins became known as ‘the mysterious coins’. Freemason ritual includes the quote, ‘Whatever he or she has about him made of metal is taken away – money in pockets is taken away’.

The murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the ‘canonical five’ was the most horrific of all. Comparisons have been made with the biblical descriptions of the vengeance of King Solomon. The comparisons can be considered as the inevitable similarities that follow from the behaviour of a psychopath indulging his violent fantasies and maybe deserve to be.   No one, though, can conclude with certainty that the similarities are just coincidences. We are obliged to wonder and be uneasy. After the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the police, press and even the Vigilance Committee became silent. What should have produced outrage sparked nothing more than silence. The suspicious believe that at that point, when the role of freemasonry was obvious, the conspiracy became universal. George Lusk the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was a freemason and lost interest in the arrest of the Ripper after the murder of Kelly.   The extent of freemasonry amongst Victorian journalism is not documented. It may have been non-existent, and the subsequent silence of the Press was nothing more than stomachs being turned by the excesses of Jack the Ripper.   Curiosity and fascination were replaced by repulsion and withdrawal.


Sir Charles Warren Commissioner Metropolitan Police was both a freemason and a Knights Templar and had earned fame excavating the cellars of King Solomon’s Temple. As Bruce Robinson stated, Warren was surrounded by other freemasons including the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury.  Wynne Baxter the Coroner who presided over six of the inquests of possible Ripper victims was a freemason and so were most of the doctors who performed the autopsies. Ritualised and inexplicable murders and an odd slogan on a wall would have made the authorities nervous about possible revelations and persuaded the police to keep the Press at a distance. This, though, is not the same as concealing the identity of a person responsible for savage murders. Victorian hypocrisy had a vested interest in apprehending Jack the Ripper and quelling the social unrest of an uneasy society.   Perhaps the Ripper was discovered and quietly thrown into the Thames or abandoned to an asylum for the rest of his life. But if that happened no one has discovered any evidence of concealment of such treachery.


The middle ground is a dangerous place to occupy and is loaded with tempting deceits but based on what we know it is in this instance the safest place for retrospective analysis. Today all that can be concluded is that the authorities were high-handed. They preferred to work in secrecy, avoided accountability whenever they could, resisted and resented scrutiny, and, because most of them were freemasons, were disturbed by the possibility that Jack the Ripper might be a member of a Lodge. To assume the Metropolitan Police knew the identity of the Ripper is to credit them with a competence for which there is little evidence.  We only have to read about the suspects they identified as possibilities or alternatives. After retirement the highly rated and popular Inspector Abberline revealed the limitations of the Metropolitan Police when he nominated George Chapman as Jack the Ripper. He compared a calculating man who married women and poisoned them to a wild impulsive creature who randomly attacked prostitutes in the street. Sir Charles Warren and his people were not even close to discovering the truth.   Neither were they free of freemason paranoia.

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.


Fearflix 39



The kids are creepy, and the bad news is that every family has to have one. The kids wear odd padded blonde wigs and have eyes that are pure black. And that is when they are being pleasant. When the children lose their tempers, the black eyes glow like light bulbs and the humans around them either self-destruct or crumple. Village Of The Damned appeared in 1960. The informed view is that the 60s decade did not begin in Britain until 1963. That particular decade needed to be defined by the Profumo scandal, the music of the Beatles and the contraceptive pill. Village Of The Damned may have been made in 1960 but its British preoccupations belong to the previous decade. It is a film that was made by people who witnessed the brutality and mass carnage of the Second World War. Cinema audiences shared the same memories.

On its release the movie was praised by critics. Before then the standard of post-war British horror cinema had been poor. Night Of The Demon, which was made in 1957, was one of the exceptions. Village Of The Damned mixes science fiction and mild horror whereas Night Of The Demon is concerned with black magic. The two films, though, have common characteristics. The cinematography is in sharp black and white, the exposition is methodical, the characters are restrained and have much phlegm, Britain is settled, and evil and good manners are compatible.


The film is memorable but not a classic. In Village Of The Damned the dialogue is functional rather than inspired, and although there is characterisation it exists to support the narrative. The actors are professional but do not relish their roles. George Sanders is the local professor, and Barbara Shelley is his wife. The early domestic scenes of a loving couple are necessary to what follows but both actors are uncomfortable in these initial encounters. Shelley recovers when she becomes the anxious mother but Sanders never convinces as a serious intellectual.

The structure of the narrative, though, is splendid and it compensates for any limits in characterisation. The film has three parts. The first part reveals the mysterious opening incident when everyone in the village faints for a couple of hours. In the middle of the film mysterious pregnancies affect all the fertile women in the village including a distraught virgin and a woman whose husband has been absent from the village for over a year. Finally, the children appear and cause unease.


The original novel by John Wyndham was called The Midwich Cuckoos. This is a brilliant title but it was rejected by film producers concerned about profit.   Midwich is the name of the fictional village affected by the odd incident. The name suggests a quandary. These people are obliged to live in the middle of what? In fifties Britain modernism coexisted alongside mediaeval tradition, especially in rural life. What would disappear and what would emerge no one knew. Every age experiences a clumsy mix of present, past and future but the fifties were exceptional. War had unleashed technological potential, and modernity required approval. The rise in living standards were welcomed but anxiety about the future was heightened.  In a still conservative society these misgivings had to be kept secret.  Cuckoos are the birds whose calls every child is taught to recognise. Cuckoos arrive and promise a changing world and sunshine. Warm weather may be pleasant but it ignores the individual tragedy and losers that always follow change.

In Village Of The Damned the children, the Midwich cuckoos, are different, and there will be tragedy. The undiplomatic village doctor is disturbed by the strange eyes of the babies. The children experience rapid growth and demonstrate superior intelligence. Although he realises the children have come from another planet George Sanders, the professor, finds the difference encouraging. The professor is tempted by the idea that his child, or the child that is living in his home, will be cleverer than Einstein.



Village Of The Damned has warnings about progress but it is never hysterical. The references to the communist world are non-judgemental. It exists as another imperfect social system where the powerful are obliged to make the same difficult decisions about the future. The doubts about what the world will become are universal. Nobody is triumphant in Village Of The Damned. No free market or communist ideology is quoted. Decisions about the future, as the scene with the Home Secretary demonstrates, require thought and the ability to think of the consequences for all.  Minimising damage is more important than victory.

The subsequent confrontational protest about what the modern world had become appeared in the sequel Children Of The Damned. By then the contraceptive pill had been supplemented with marijuana and gloomy hippies had arrived. In Children Of The Damned the alien children are viewed sympathetically.  Non-stoned and puritanical adults kill them.


Village Of The Damned is not as simple-minded as its unworthy successor. The villagers are not brutish but neither do they endear. From the moment when the villagers faint there are doubts about human status. Fifteen years earlier these humans participated in a worldwide conflict but one whiff of invisible dust from outer space and they are quashed in a moment. At the beginning of the film we see them either collapsed on their machines or at the side of the road. The humans are no different from the sleeping animals. If the horror of the Second World War has persuaded everyone to be peaceful, these uncomprehending creatures will now have to continue without the comfort of conflict or a noble cause.   Resistance provides the hope of survival, and, unable to practise resistance, human beings have no substance and cease to exist. And resistance is more than military combat. Conversation and routine also qualify as organised resistance. It is how we cope with what we avoid acknowledging, our isolation and the destructive nature of time. At the end of the film the villagers prevail but it has demanded more than organised resistance. Sometimes survival requires people in the group, community or nation to be sacrificed. The best of them in Midwich is obliged to sacrifice himself. At that point in the film, when the humans have triumphed, the audience relaxes but the moment that follows is peculiar. Glowing eyes appear in the flames and wreckage. This may have deliberate meaning or be mere tongue in cheek whimsy by a designer. Either way the image is disturbing. Only human beings, and probably the dimmest of them, think they understand what will happen next.


The British in this film are defined by resistance rather than ambition.   The beauty of Barbara Shelley is important. Her presence somehow represents a whole decade. She is beautiful but ordinary. She has suburban grace rather than charisma and was a woman born to welcome the new comfortable homes. Her clean facial features and neat figure flatter G Plan furniture. The military are a commanding presence in the film but they represent the need for security rather than a desire to conquer.  Experienced in organising resistance the Army shapes society more than is realised. The decisions about future security, the next steps, are made by Army men and not the police.

Village of the Damned 1960 (1).jpg

The doubts about human status are confirmed when redundant men watch the women they know be used as incubating machines. The men seek solace in the village pub but it provides neither conversation nor solace. These are the gloomiest pub scenes in any film. The protest from the village men is inevitable but ineffectual and embarrassing.  These humans are deluded about their worth and potential.

Misconceived human status has implications for human entitlement. The alien children have one priority, and that is to survive. Like the Nazi supremacists that were defeated, they think they have superior status and entitlement. The conviction the aliens have in their superiority is destructive but humans also have a need to survive and they too have a sense of entitlement. It is this sense that has been sharpened and refined by the capabilities acquired in the destruction that happened in the Second World War. The presence of the military throughout the film confirms modern social ambition. The communities and societies that existed will now also belong to the State. ‘This isn’t a police state yet,’ says a military man, except he pauses before he adds the word yet. The Second World War required communities that had to unite as a nation but the legacy of that unity is the State, and the options for the modern powerful State are troubling.


Hysteria was taboo in Britain in 1960 but the ‘yet’ was what made everybody anxious. Perhaps it was that anxiety which helps explain the headstrong irresponsibility that began in 1963. Of course, we have made progress since those primitive times, just look at the large phones and small British cars in the film. Today it is different. In 2016 we are anxious not just about the future but each other. UKIP and many of the people who voted to leave the EU hope for a society that resembles fifties Britain.   Some of them imagine independent communities and yearn for the self-effacement and lack of pretension that existed then. The military culture and control and the self-censored doubt are ignored. The rest of us, those who are more critical of Britain and its past, are also anxious.  We wonder about the eyes that we saw at the end of the film.

Howard Jackson has had five books published by Red Rattle Books. His latest book Choke Bay is now available here. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the other books of Howard Jackson and other great titles, click here.