Little slices of London's history

Pinchin Lane, Sherlock Holmes, and Jack the Ripper

Pinchin Lane: I was recently watching a rerun of ‘Sign of the Four’ with Jeremy Brett as Holmes, and noticed the street sign of Pinchin Lane. (No, I hadn’t really been paying attention and, yes, streets signs are everywhere for me.) Of course I rushed to look it up. I think it must have existed only in the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I could find no mention of it outside of the pages of his story.

The lane is immortalized first when Holmes says to Watson, “When you have dropped Miss Morstan I wish you to go on to 3 Pinchin Lane, down near the water’s edge at Lambeth.” When Watson goes there he finds: “Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby, two-storied brick houses in the lower quarter of Lambeth.” (As an aside, it’s interesting how many people have seen the BBC’s Sherlock but never read any of the books. They’re worth it.)

So much for the fictional Pinchin Lane. There is, however, a Pinchin Street in Whitechapel where, on the 10th of September 1889 a female torso was discovered under a railway bridge. The poor woman’s head and legs were never found, and she was never identified. Some bloodstained clothing was later found in Batty Street (which has its own murderous connection) but amounted to nothing in the investigation.

The brutality of the murder, the geographical location of the torso, and the fact that the time of death was estimated to be the day before – the one year anniversary of the murder by Jack the Ripper of Annie Chapman – led many to speculate that this was yet another notch on the Ripper’s belt. This theory, however, is generally discounted, there having been two similar murders earlier in the year, and not enough evidence to tie them to the Ripper killings.

Oh, yes, as to the derivation of the name of Pinchin Street, once more I have to hold up my hand and admit ignorance, though it is likely that is from the surname, which is of Old French origin.
According to genealogical research sites, it is possibly a ‘nickname’ surname from the Old French word for finch, so referring to a bright and cheerful person. Or it could be an ‘occupation’ surname from the word ‘pinson’ or pincers – forceps. Alternatively, the name, introduced into Britain after the Norman conquest, could derive from the Normandy place name of Pontchardon.

Incidentally, two other London streets on this blog with Jack the Ripper associations include Flower and Dean Street and Dorset Street.

5 responses to “Pinchin Lane, Sherlock Holmes, and Jack the Ripper”

  1. Always liked Brett as Holmes. Having read many of the books as a teenager, he always came the closest to my impression of Sherlock, just this side of insane. Brett got that over very well.
    Thanks for another great find!
    Regards from Norfolk. Pete.

    1. Hey, Pete. I think it’s one of those generational things: my mother swore Basil Rathbone was the best ever, like you I thought Brett was fantastic and I suspect the generation that thinks Daniel Craig is James Bond will associate Sherlock Holmes only with Benedict Cumberbatch. I do love that interpretation (and Martin Freeman makes an even better Watson than Cumberbatch does a Holmes).

      1. The new version is great for the 21st century, I agree. At least the old Brett versions are regularly shown on TV.

  2. Brett is the closest if you have read the original canon of stories.

  3. The Brett series are to my taste far and away the best. As accurate as could be, transferring from book to TV. Some episodes, though, were written by a real 42-carat idiot, combining distorted bits of several stories. The compiler should be put in the pillory for a fortnight.

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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