The ‘Real’ Inspector Reid

    From the first scene of Inspector Edmund Reid poring over his files in the flickering gaslight of Leman Street police station, I’ve been hooked on Ripper Street, and I’ve avidly followed the adventures of the Whitechapel detectives through all five series. But, what was the real Inspector Reid like? And, did the character portrayed by Matthew Macfadyen resemble him? The ‘real’ Inspector Reid was indeed Head of the CID at the Metropolitan Police’s H Division in Whitechapel during the time of the murders attributed to ‘Jack the Ripper’. The pervious year, Reid had replaced Inspector Frederick Abberline (also present in the TV series), unaware that he would be investigating the most famous crimes in history. Edmund John James Reid was born on 21 March 1846, in Canterbury, Kent. By 1861, the family had moved to Camberwell, London. Working as a grocer’s assistant, Edmund, aged 15, was living with his father, who was a railway clerk, his mother and five sisters. He remained at home until 1868, when he married Emily Jane Wilson, also from Canterbury, and the couple moved to Southwark, where Edmund found employment in a warehouse. The Reids had two children: Elizabeth in 1872 and Harold in 1882.     After several jobs, including working as a pastry cook and a steward on a Thames steamer, Edmund joined the Metropolitan Police on 4 November 1872. Aged 26, he was five feet six and a half inches tall, he had dark brown hair, grey eyes and a ‘fresh’ complexion. PC Reid was first allocated to P Division Camberwell. Within just two years, he was promoted to...

The Art of Tracing Footsteps

  ‘There is no branch of detective science which is so important and so much neglected as the art of tracing footsteps. Happily, I have always laid great stress upon it.’ Sherlock Holmes extolls the virtues of footprinting in his first ever case, A Study in Scarlet, and by the time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective story was published in 1887, real-life detectives were already using footprint analysis in the investigation of crime. Identification of suspects through footprints was first used in criminal investigations in the early nineteenth century. Marks made at a crime scene by footwear can link a suspect to the scene, as well as providing vital intelligence about the incident, such as the position and movement of individuals. The first detective to use footprinting was the French ex-convict and police informer, Eugène Vidocq, who established the world’s first detective department, the Brigade de la Sûreté in Paris, in 1812. Vidocq pioneered many investigative techniques, such as record-keeping and mugshots, as well as the examination of footprints. He used this technique successfully in the apprehension of a former police agent, who was implicated in the theft of a large quantity of lead from a house under construction, by matching the agent’s boots with prints in the soil at the building site. The master detective was also the first to use plaster of Paris to make casts of footprints.     Throughout the Victorian era, footprints were vital evidence in crime scene investigation, especially as shoes and boots were usually custom-made and therefore, unique. By the 1880s, the police were using plaster of Paris to preserve shoe and boot...

Charles Dickens’ Detective Party

  I recently visited the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury, London, where the author lived for two years. He moved into 48 Doughty Street in 1837, with his wife and family and, whilst there, wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. One of my favourite pieces of Dickens’s journalistic writing is his description of meeting the early Scotland Yard detectives.     On a ‘sultry evening at dusk’, in 1850, Dickens and his colleagues at Household Words hosted a ‘social conference’ with the members of the ‘Detective Police’, which had been formed eight years earlier. The gathering was held at the editorial office in Wellington Street, the Strand. It was a hot and busy night, with carriages setting down theatre-goers opposite, and with much ‘shouting and bellowing’ coming through the open window. The editorial staff had arranged the room ready to receive their guests. There was a round table in the centre, on which cigars and glasses had been placed. The chairs were set out around the table. The first to enter the room were the two inspectors, Charles Field and Robert Walker. According to Dickens, Field was middle-aged, with a ‘portly presence’. He had ‘a large, moist knowing eye, a husky voice, and a habit of emphasising his conversation by the aid of a corpulent fore-finger’ (he was the inspiration for Inspector Bucket in Bleak House). Field’s companion Inspector Robert Walker was described as ‘a shrewd hard-headed Scotchman – in appearance not at all unlike a very acute, thoroughly-trained schoolmaster.’     The inspectors were followed by five sergeants: Stephen Thornton, Jonathan Whicher, Henry Smith, Edward Kendall and Frederick...

The Murder of the ‘Little Bobby’

    The man at the heart of my latest true crime investigation is PC Nicholas Cock, the victim. He was patrolling his regular beat in the vicinity of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, when he was shot dead whilst pursuing a suspected burglar. I have been piecing together his story, which sadly was cut short. Nicholas Cock was born in 1856 in Cornwall. He was the youngest of nine children, with four brothers and four sisters. By the time he was born, his brother, also named Nicholas, had died aged eight, of ‘brain disease’, which could have been meningitis. His father, Nicholas senior, was a lead and copper miner, and both he and his wife Elizabeth were illiterate. The Cock family lived in the villages near St Ive, not far from Liskeard. In 1861, the two oldest sons were both working down the mine and a daughter was employed as a copper dresser. Six years later, 59-year-old Nicholas senior died of dropsy, swelling caused by kidney or heart disease. Young Nicholas was just 11 years old. By the beginning of the 187os, teenage Nicholas was also working as a copper miner. As the decade wore on, many Cornish mines closed and, like thousands of other miners, Nicholas lost his job. He then moved to Durham, where he found employment as a collier with a large mining engineering firm. Just before Christmas in 1875, at the age of 20, he joined the Lancashire Constabulary. He was stationed at Chorlton police station, in a quiet suburb of Manchester.     The young police officer was 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall. He had grey...
The Manchester Town Hall Tussle

The Manchester Town Hall Tussle

I’m delighted to have a guest post by Sue Wilkes, expert historian and author of the excellent, Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors:     Before Manchester and Salford were incorporated (1838 for the former and 1844 for Salford), the two towns were controlled by the ancient manorial courts and their officers: the borough-reeve and constables. In 1765 a Cleansing and Lighting Committee was set up for Manchester and Salford, but little progress was made in sanitary reform. Following the Manchester and Salford Police Act (1792), the towns were divided into eight districts, each with fifteen elected commissioners. These 120 police commissioners were responsible for paving, lighting, sewerage, watching, and cleaning and the night watch; in many respects they took over the manorial courts’ functions. One success story was the introduction of gas lighting in 1807.     However, the two towns’ population had greatly increased following the industrial revolution. The streets were filthy and poor people’s houses were overcrowded, unsanitary and unfit for human habitation. The police commissioners could not raise enough money to perform their functions properly, and local ratepayers were reluctant to pay for better services. This archaic civic machinery could not cope with major problems of law and order, as was made dreadfully apparent at the tragedy of the Peterloo Massacre (1819).     After a spirited battle by calico printers Richard Cobden and William Neild, banker Sir Benjamin Heywood, industrialist Thomas Potter and others, Manchester gained its charter of incorporation. The first Borough Council met on 16 December 1838. The following year, Sir Richard Beswick was made chief constable for Manchester Borough. Unfortunately, the...