Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Frying Pan Public House

Anyone who has spent time recently in Brick Lane will be aware that the street is one of the most popular in London for Indian (and other ethnic) restaurants. The popular Sheraz Balti House stands on the corner of Brick Lane and what used to be Thrawl Street.

However, a look at the red brickwork at the top corner of the building will quickly tell you that this building was not always used for it's current purpose. Picked out of the brickwork in bas relief is a crossed frying pan motif and lettering which show that in 1888 this was a public house called The Frying Pan, and it was here that the first of the recognised Ripper victims spent her last evening.

Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols was 43 years old at the time of her death, although it was said in contemporary reports that she looked younger. She had been married at the age of 19 and had five children, but in 1880 she and her husband separated, apparently because he was unable to cope with the fact that she had started to drink heavily in the previous three years or so. Initially he had agreed to pay her maintenance of five shillings per week, but two years later when he learned that she had turned to prostitution he discontinued payment.

Between 1880 and 1888 she had moved around quite a lot. For the first three years she had been in and out of workhouses and had lived for a time with her father but had moved out due to constant arguing over her disollute lifestyle. For a few years she lived with a man named Thomas Drew and the pair appear to have lived quite respectably, Polly having shown up at her Brother's funeral dressed well. But this relationship ended and she found herself back on the streets.

In early 1888 she worked for at time in Wandsworth, in service for a respectable family, the Cowdrey's, who were deeply religious and teetotal. However this ended when she absconded with clothing worth over two pounds, and by August 1888 she was living in the lodging houses of Whitechapel, selling her body to earn enough for her bed for the night and a few pints of beer or glasses of gin in the Frying Pan.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The London Hospital

The London Hospital stands on the south side of Whitechapel Road in the very heart of Ripper territory. It had stood in this spot since 1757, and had been granted a Royal charter by George II the following year, although it's Royal title would not follow until 1990. In 1785 the first medical school in England was founded here, and by the late 1880's it was among the most important hospitals in the capital.

The hospital plays a large part in the story of the Whitechapel murders. Several of the medical students located here were among contemporary suspects, while another suspect who has emerged since, and who thrust himself into the investigation through articles written in the newspapers of the time, was an inmate here during the time of the murders. Also resident here at that time was Joseph Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man, who had come here in 1886 after being befriended by one of the resident doctors, Frederick Treves, and who would continue to occupy rooms in the hospital until his death two years later at the age of just 27.

It was to this hospital that Emma Smith was brought on the morning of her attack, by the lodging house keeper Mary Russell. Along the way she told Russell the story of the attack and pointed out where it had occurred. On her arrival she was treated by the duty house surgeon, a Dr G. H. Hillier, who found that the wound to her peritoneum had developed peritonitis, which would result in her death the following day. The police, meanwhile, heard nothing of the attack until two days after her death, on April 6th, when they were informed by the coroner that an inquest was to be held.

No arrests were ever made, and on the face of it we have to accept Smith's story that she was attacked by three men, one of whom she described as being no more than 19 years of age. Almost certainly she was not a victim of Jack the Ripper, but her killing would later be connected with those crimes by the newspapers. And it has been suggested that Jack may have been a member of the gang who carried out the attack, and that his taste for blood could have stemmed from this incident.