I’ve been feeling murderous of late – vicariously, I hasten to add; over the past few weeks I have been catching up on British television dramas that I missed the first time around. I am now up to date on Luther, Unforgotten, and have started on Whitechapel.
Naturally, all these murderous thoughts drove me to my notes, in which there are a few murders, so I thought I would focus for a while on the darker history of some of London’s streets and kick off in the east.
We start with Pinchin Street (which I found after looking for the fictional – or disappeared – Pinchin Lane that appears in the Sign of the Four, both the Sherlock Holmes TV drama (with Jeremy Brett) and the book itself.
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.”
The real Pinchin Street in Whitechapel is 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.
As to the derivation of the name of Pinchin Street, it could be from the surname, which is of Old French origin.
Speaking of Batty Street, that has its own sinister association, the stuff of fiction: a locked room murder that took place here in 1887. Miriam Angel, one of the lodgers in a building at number 16 Batty Street was found dead in her locked room. She had been killed by the very unpleasant method of having nitric acid poured down her throat.
Another lodger, Israel Lipski, was discovered under her bed with acid burns in his mouth, so it was a pretty safe bet he was the culprit. He professed his innocence at first and was found guilty and sentenced to hang so swiftly that it aroused public outrage and claims of anti-semitism.
This reaction led to Lipski’s execution being delayed while the Home Secretary and trial judge met to consider a reprieve. While the meeting was taking place, Lipski broke down and confessed his guilt to a rabbi, stressing that his motive was robbery and not, as the prosecution claimed, rape.. He was hanged in the prison at Newgate.
The origin of this street name is also uncertain but there was a William Batty who developed property in London so it could have been named for him.
In Brick Lane, in 1888, a woman called Emma Smith was set upon, raped and beaten and, though she was able to make her way back to her lodging house, she later died of her injuries. Some people attributed her murder to Jack the Ripper, but that is considered unlikely, particularly as Emma had said that she was attacked by more than one man.
The name comes from the fact that in the 15th century, the earth in this area was suitable for brick and tile making and the area became a centre for that industry.
Just off Brick Lane was once Flower and Dean Street; while the street no longer exists, there is now a Flower and Dean Walk. The street was at the heart of the Jack the Ripper activities and it was, and is, considered to be where the Ripper may have lived.
Two of the Ripper’s victims lived in the street: Elizabeth (‘Long Liz’) Stride and Catherine Eddowes; coincidentally, they were murdered on the same night. Stride’s body was discovered in Berners Street; her throat was cut but she had sustained none of the Ripper’s trademark mutilations, which gave rise to speculation that the Ripper had been interrupted. He then went on to Mitre Square where he murdered Eddowes, whose body did not escape his customary atrocities.
The street name arises from the fact that the street was built by two bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean, in the 1650s. In 1677 it was known as Dean and Flower Street and in 1702 the name was corrupted to Floodrun.