Ernest Parke





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.







In Britain there are two government departments distinguished by euphemisms. The Ministry of Defence collects destructive weapons and uniformed warriors and uses both to kill troublesome foreigners, often in territories where there are natural valuable resources. The Home Office employs a police force to maintain order within the British homeland and to ensure that a comfortable establishment is not made too uneasy by excesses in democracy. Just in case the British people become suspicious the Home Office is denied a government minister. The person in charge of the department is called the Home Secretary. What could be less sinister than that?

Sir Henry Matthews was Home Secretary between 1886 and 1892. Opinion about his suitability was consistent and negative.   The Star newspaper described Matthews as ‘a poor and spiritless specimen of the race of smart adventurers who creep into politics by the back door.’ The rear entrance mentioned in the condemnation could have been a reference to the rumour that Queen Victoria had persuaded Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to appoint Matthews as Home Secretary. Later the Monarch stated that Matthews had ‘a general want of sympathy with the feelings of the people’. Somehow our titled equal opportunities employer and champion of democracy had failed to notice this trait when Matthews was appointed Queens Council in 1868.


Matthews preferred to trust senior civil servants rather than the police but even the men that Matthews relied on were unimpressed by him. Evelyn Ruggles Brise was Private Secretary to four Home Secretaries. He believed that Matthews was ‘quite incapable of dealing with men’. Nothing in the English language is quite as flexible as the word quite and its use by Brise should be noted. Home Secretary Sir Henry Matthews, like his Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, was a Freemason. Both were also members of the exclusive and expensive Athenaeum Club. There is a branch of the Athenaeum Club in Liverpool. The library has 60,000 books, luxurious rooms, and membership costs £1200 a year. Meals and drinks are extra. Most Liverpudlians are unaware of its existence in the centre of the City.


Before he entered politics Matthews was a capable barrister who possessed polished interrogative skills. His cross-examination of Sir Charles Dilke in a high profile divorce case appears to have impressed everyone including Queen Victoria. The cross-examination finished the political career of Dilke and his ambition to be Prime Minister. An ability to pick apart the decisions and motives of others is a blessing to a barrister but it can be an impediment to someone who is required to make decisions and allocate responsibilities. Indeed, Matthews may have felt he was being at his most steadfast and decisive when resisting the urging of others to take action. If there are some bureaucrats who believe that any decision is better than no decision, the majority lean towards believing that no decision is better than most decisions. Matthews belonged with the cautious.



Sir Henry Matthews was born in 1826 in Ceylon.   He never married but was described as charming and a ladies man. Perhaps his ease and confidence amongst both men and women meant he was unable to resist letting people dangle and this conceit or weakness prevailed both in his professional and social lives.  Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren liked military uniforms and rank too much to be self-effacing. And he would have objected to being left to dangle by his Home Secretary. Despite a possible tortuous process Matthews approved several initiatives proposed by Warren. These included the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police to include an increase in the number of inspectors and sergeants. There were, though, disagreements between the two men. Whether or not to give a reward for information about Jack the Ripper was a saga of inconsistencies and disagreements that haunted the Home Office from the 4th of September 1888 when the first request for a reward was lodged and refused. Mary Ann Nichols the first victim in the ‘canonical five’ was murdered on the 31st of August.   More serious than the arguments over the reward was the turf war between James Monro and Sir Charles Warren.   The forthright Monro was appointed as Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police in 1886. He was given responsibility for the CID and was also head of the Secret Department, which was known as Section D. The Secret Department managed internal security and monitored the activities of those that the Government regarded as subversives. These responsibilities gave Monro direct access to the Home Secretary.   Warren objected to one of his Assistant Commissioners being independent and having equal privileges. Monro felt he needed to keep his work discreet and, well, secret. Both men had a point, and a talented Home Secretary would have resolved the matter without too much difficulty. The solution, which was a long time coming, was to give the Secret Department managerial independence, and put someone in charge that had equal rank to the Commissioner Metropolitan Police. Instead, Matthews let the two men dangle.


The trio of Matthews, Warren and Monro did not operate as a successful managerial team.   This does not mean that their conflict prejudiced the Metropolitan Police investigation into the crimes of Jack the Ripper. The detection of the Ripper required sharp men on the streets and some luck. Senior policemen are nowhere near as influential as they think. Read the police reports of H Division that are available today, and they provide an account of a methodical but unimaginative approach to crime detection within the Detectives of Whitechapel. Suspects were interviewed when they appeared, and facts were evaluated. In the main, rushes to judgement were avoided. More decisive action by the Home Office, though, may have prevented the deaths of some of the Ripper victims.   This could have included extra police put on the streets sooner and clear instructions for the extra men on the beat.   Additional resources were invested into crime prevention but there is little evidence of a strategy about how those extra resources could be best used.   Monro managed undercover operators and he should have been able to improve the security of the citizens of Whitechapel.   The Secret Department was interested in security but, of course, the poor that walked the streets were not a priority for a Government led by Lord Salisbury. The poor could dangle in their slums.

If the record of Sir Henry Matthews is blemished, he was Home Secretary during a difficult period.   The mistakes made in the Jack the Ripper investigation occurred because of individual failure but also because there was little precedent for what had happened. Apart from trendsetting crime there was agitation on the streets for a socialist revolution. Meanwhile many of the rich and powerful not only indulged in licentious behaviour but were also part of an establishment that imposed a puritanical morality on ordinary people.   The result was a heady mix of sex, violence, indignation and accusation.


Bloody Sunday in Trafalgar Square in 1887 began as a protest against unemployment and the action of the British Government in Ireland. Sir Charles Warren remembered his colonial days and rather than keep the peace he waged war. 400 demonstrators were arrested, and 75 people were injured.   At least Warren and Matthews permitted demonstrations. Monro wanted them to be subject to a complete ban. There was also the Cleveland Street Scandal in 1889, which revealed a male brothel staffed by telegraph boys. The customers of the brothel were rich and included people important enough to avoid prosecution. The affair was covered-up but eventually exposed by Ernest Parke the editor of the radical North London Press. What followed was a main course in Victorian hypocrisy. The telegraph boys received light sentences, and none of their clients were prosecuted.   Parke was sued for libel and sentenced to 12 months in prison for exposing criminal behaviour that somehow did not require punishment. Sir Henry Matthews did not provide a moral lead in the affair. He looked after his masters. This was not difficult because it meant he could relax and do nothing. Matthews took a similar approach in the case of Florence Maybrick. In dubious circumstances Florence was convicted of poisoning her husband James. The arsenic in his body was not enough to kill anyone especially James. He was an arsenic addict that had developed a degree of immunity. The Press and public protested about the absence of evidence in the conviction of Mrs Maybrick.   Nowhere near as fastidious Matthews prevaricated and fudged. Florence Maybrick was left to dangle inside prison for fourteen years.

Matthews left the Home Office in 1892 and used his title as Viscount Llandaff to attend the House of Lords and do very little else in politics. He disappeared from public life. He died in 1913 at the age of 87.   His main concern as Home Secretary was protecting the status of the establishment he served and, just as important, himself.   Twelve months after his death the same people he protected took the British people into the first of two World Wars.

 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.