More of London’s murder streets: Acre Lane and Amen Court

Following on from the previous post, we can look at two more streets in London with gruesome pasts: Acre Lane in Brixton and Amen Court near St Paul’s Cathedral.

Acre Lane has two murders in its past: one 19th century and one 20th century. 

In 1853, an elderly man called William Jones was beaten to death in his home in Acre Lane. His late wife’s niece Elizabeth Vickers, who lived with him as a housekeeper, was apparently prone to drink and to beating Jones, who apparently died from one such attack. A bequest of £1,000 in the old man’s will was considered to be a sufficient motive for murder, but at trial Vickers was found not guilty.

On 9 May 1923, near the junction of Acre Lane and Baytree Road, Jacob Dickey, a taxi driver, was attacked in his cab and shot fatally. The murderer escaped by leaping over a fence leading to the back gardens of the Acre Lane houses and forcing his way through one of those houses into the street. 

An unusual walking stick left by the body eventually led police to an Alexander Mason, though evidence against him was less than watertight. He was sentenced to death but granted a reprieve.

The street name could indicate the size of a particular plot of land upon which the lane in Brixton stands.

At the back of Amen Court, which leads off Amen Corner, is part of a Roman wall that once formed the boundary of Newgate prison’s graveyard. Amen Court was the path leading to the graveyard and for a time had the cheerful sobriquet of Deadman’s Walk.

The court was said to be haunted by the ghost of Amelia Dyer, a Victorian mass murderer known as the Reading Baby Farmer. Dyer collected money to look after unwanted babies and then drowned them in the River Thames. She was executed in June 1896 and took her final stroll along Deadman’s Walk.

Dyer was the subject of a Victorian murder ballad, which included the lines:

The old baby farmer, the wretched Miss Dyer
At the Old Bailey her wages is paid.
In times long ago, we’d ha’ made a big fire
And roasted so nicely that wicked old jade.

There has been some speculation that Dyer, because she was alive at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings, was that murderer, killing prostitutes through botched abortions.

The names of the Corner and Court, as with the many other religious names in the area of St Paul’s Cathedral, are said to come from the fact that, before the Reformation, there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral. This procession involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.