Remembering the Manchester Martyrs

Remembering the Manchester Martyrs

150 years ago today, William Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien were hanged in Manchester – they had been convicted of the murder of Sergeant Charles Brett on 18 September 1867. Whilst researching my book Who Killed Constable Cock? I delved into the history of the Irish community in Manchester and I was shocked by what I discovered. This sensational and highly emotive case of the Manchester Martyrs cast a long shadow on the city, and had a drastic impact on the outcome of PC Nicholas Cock’s murder almost a decade later.   Between 1841 and 1851, Manchester’s population rose by some 73,000, with a third of the new citizens being migrants from Ireland. By the 1850s, 15 per cent of the city’s residents were of Irish origin, and a decade later they made up a fifth of the inhabitants. Despite their hopes for a better life, the migrants suffered high unemployment and dire poverty, making the Irish the largest and poorest ethnic minority at that time. Many were forced to live in the notorious cellar dwellings on the banks of the river Medlock, which became known as ‘Little Ireland’. Some 20,000 people barely survived in these cramped, humid and almost subterranean rooms, with several families packed together in the worst conditions. To make matters even worse, the knowledge that one third of those receiving poor relief in the city were Irish migrants, fuelled the undercurrent of hostility and prejudice against the community. By the late 1860s, anti-Irish hatred was fiercer than ever following the fatal shooting of Sergeant Charles Brett by members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also...
Victorian CSI: ‘Dead Bodies’

Victorian CSI: ‘Dead Bodies’

Until the end of the 19th century, crime scene investigation in England was rather haphazard. When a suspicious death was discovered, the local police were usually called to the scene, followed by a doctor. The matter was then referred to the coroner, who organised a post mortem. There was no preservation of the crime scene – which would be trampled by the coming and going of so many people, including ‘sightseers’ (the Victorians loved a good murder!), and potential evidence would be removed from the scene. Such important items, including potential murder weapons were often  kept in the homes of police officers and court officials, until being produced in court, by which time, some would have been cleaned but others,  more often than not, would be still covered in blood. If discovered outdoors, the body of the unfortunate victim was usually taken immediately to a nearby building, such as an outhouse or the local workhouse infirmary/ If indoors, it remained at the scene until the coroner made arrangements for its removal. It was common to wash the body prior to examination.   On 17 August 1849, whilst investigating a missing person case, two police officers discovered the body of a man under some flagstones in the kitchen in a house in Bermondsey. Noticing a damp patch on the stone floor, PC Henry Barnes and his colleague had removed the flags and dug into the wet mortar, until they came across a man’s toe and then his loins. The man, who was naked, was facing downwards, with his legs drawn up behind him and tied with a clothes-line. Although his...
False Fashionistas and Wily Seducers

False Fashionistas and Wily Seducers

‘There are few frauds of a worse kind than those by which respectable girls are induced to leave their homes. Finding themselves destitute among strangers they become an easy prey to the wily seducer.’ (Jerome Caminada, 1895)   At a local history exhibition on the Isle of Wight last month, I was surprised to discover a link between our Island house and a nefarious criminal from my home city of Manchester, who posed as a fashion designer to groom young women for sex. The House of Redfern, a leading Victorian fashion house, was founded in Cowes, Isle of Wight, by John Redfern (1820-1895). Starting out as a tailor, Redfern developed a successful business that became world-famous in the 19th century, with celebrity clients including royalty.     Inspired by the renowned annual event of Cowes Week, John Redfern designed yachting outfits, riding costumes, evening dresses and travelling suits. At the height of his success, he was appointed as one of Queen Victoria’s dressmakers. Redfern also created outfits for the Princess of Wales Alexandra of Denmark, as well as for her husband’s well-known mistress, the actress Lillie Langtry.     As the Redfern empire expanded, John Redfern’s sons joined him in business, and the House of Redfern opened branches in London, Paris, Edinburgh and New York. Known for employing attractive female sales assistants, their success led to a lascivious conman taking advantage of the couture house’s reputation to open his own branch in Manchester. In 1893, when advertisements for young women to work in the new showrooms appeared in the local newspapers, many rushed to apply.     Applicants were...
Investigating Murder on the Orient Express

Investigating Murder on the Orient Express

‘All my life I wanted to go on the Orient Express’ (Agatha Christie)   Like the Queen of Crime, I’ve always wanted to travel on the Orient Express (I’m still holding out hope) and that’s partly because Murder on the Orient Express is one of my favourite crime novels. After my recent visit to Greenway, and ready for the release of the new film, I investigated the story.   Murder on the Orient Express was published on 1 January 1934. The 40th Hercule Poirot story features the world-renowned detective travelling on the Orient Express from Istanbul to Calais, when the train is stranded in a snowdrift. During the night, fellow traveller Monsieur Ratchett, a wealthy American antiques dealer is stabbed to death in his compartment. With no signs of entry to or exit from the train, the killer must still be on the train. Hercule Poirot, in his customary fashion, interviews the other passengers and begins to compile clues as to the identity of the perpetrator of this bloody murder.     Agatha Christie travelled on the Orient Express several times and, in 1931, she was returning home from her husband’s archeological dig in Nineveh, when she became stuck onboard for 24 hours during a heavy rainstorm. Ever the sleuth, Christie positioned herself close to the Wagon Lits director to glean information: ‘I was always in the position of having inside information. I used to creep to the door and listen.’ Observing her companions closely during their stop, she soon had a setting and ideas for characters for a brand-new crime story.     The plot of Murder on...
The Phantom Detective

The Phantom Detective

  Victorian detectives got up to all sorts of tricks to track felons, and Detective Jerome Caminada went to the extreme of adopting a ‘supernatural’ state, whilst investigating the theft of some sheet music at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The Free Trade Hall is one of the most iconic buildings in the city of Manchester. The original building – a wooden pavilion – was erected in 1840 on the site of the Peterloo Massacre, which took place in 1819 when the Manchester Yeomanry attacked innocent protesters, killing at least 11 and injuring more than 600. When it was first built, the Free Trade Hall was home to the Anti-Corn Law League, and it remained at the heart of the city’s political and cultural scene for the following century. Famously, it became the venue for the Hallé Orchestra, founded in 1857, and was the setting for the very first ever public meeting about women’s suffrage, in 1868.         Following complaints from a local business which sold sheet music, Manchester’s real-life Sherlock Holmes Detective Caminada, investigated the strange case of the missing music. Every concert night, sheets of music disappeared during the performance at the hall. No clues could be obtained as to the identify of the thief. Caminada arranged with the firm to have a large piano box made with holes in, so he could hide inside and watch what was going on. On the evening of the next concert, he climbed inside the box and waited until the players had left for the stage. During the second half of the performance, the detective spotted...