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.

The last of Jack the Ripper

This day in London history: on the 9th of November 1888 Jack the Ripper claimed his fifth and last victim, Mary Kelly, who was found in Miller’s Court off Dorset Street in the Spitalfields area of London.

Spitalfields church
A view through the roof of the market

The Dorset Street of the time, considered to be the worst street in London, was in what was a dirty and crime-ridden  slum area.

The area is now known for the modern and bustling Spitalfields market, a market that began in the 13th century, in the fields that forms part of its name. The rest of the name comes from the ‘spital’ – hospital and priory of St Mary, founded in 1197 by Walter Brune.

Now, 125 years after the first Ripper killing, theories as to the killer’s identity still abound, from Queen Victoria’s surgeon to a German sailor to no one killer at all. There have been innumerable movies and TV shows about or based on Jack the Ripper, from Alfred Hitchock’s The Lodger to From Hell with Johnny Depp as  Inspector Abberline – possibly one of the most famous policemen of all time.