Thinking allowed — 15 May 2018

When Jack the Ripper was going about his grisly work, rumours about his identity ran riot. This account from that time has been sent to me by an archivist of the London cab trade. Where the Cabbies’ Shelter was situated in Pickering Place was the northern end of Queensway, north of Bishops Bridge Road, it could have been the de facto HQ of the shelters and was certainly the centre of the Temperance Movement for cabbies.

THE MOST IMPORTANT clue which has yet been discovered with regard to the perpetrators of the inhuman murders in Whitechapel, came to light yesterday through information given by Mr. Thomas Ryan, who has charge of the Cabmen’s Reading-room, at 43, Pickering-place, Westbourne Grove. Mr. Ryan is a teetotaller and is secretary of the Cabmen’s Branch of the Church of England Temperance Society. He has been stationed at Pickering-place for about six years and is widely known throughout the metropolis and the country as an earnest temperance advocate. Ryan says that on Sunday afternoon, while he was in his shelter, the street attendant brought a gentlemanly-looking man to him, and said, “This ‘ere gentleman wants a chip, guv’nor; can you cook one for him? He says he’s ‘most perished with cold.” The gentleman in question, Ryan says, was about 5ft. 6in. In height, and wore an Oxford cap on his head, and a light check Ulster, with a tippet buttoned to his throat, which he did not loosen all the time he was in the shelter. He had a thick moustache, but no beard; was roundheaded, his eyes very restless, and clean white hands. Ryan said, “Come in, I’ll cook one for you with pleasure.” This was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Several cabmen were in the shelter at the time, and they were talking of the new murders discovered that morning at Whitechapel. Ryan exclaimed, “I’d gladly do seven days and nights if I could only find the fellow who did them.” This was said directly at the stranger, who, looking into Ryan’s face, quietly said, “Do you know who committed the murders?” and then calmly went on to say, “I did them. I’ve had a lot of trouble lately. I came back from India and got into trouble at one. I lost my watch and chain, and £10.” Ryan was greatly taken aback at the man’s statement, and fancied he was just recovering from a drinking bout; so he replied, “If that’s correct you must consider yourself engaged.” But he then went on to speak to him about temperance work and the evils wrought by drink. Meanwhile, the chop was cooking, the vegetables were already waiting, and the stranger began eating. During the meal the conversation was kept up with Ryan and others in the shelter, all of whom thought the man was recovering from a heavy drinking bout, and that his remarks as to his being the murderer were all nonsense. Ryan reasoned with him as to the folly of drinking and at last he expressed his willingness to sign the pledge, a book containing pledges being shown him. This the stranger examined, and at length filled up one page, writing on the counterfoil as well as on the body of the pledge. In the hand of a gentleman he wrote the following words:

“J. Duncan, doctor, residence, Cabman’s Shelter. 30th Sept., 1888.” After doing this he said, “I could tell a tale if I wanted.” Ryan called his attention to the fact that he had not filled in his proper residence, and the man replied, “I have no fixed place of abode at present. I’m living anywhere.” While Duncan was eating his chop he again asked for something to drink, and water was brought him, but then he said he would have ginger beer, and when that was brought him, he filled up the glass with the liquid from a bottle he had in his pocket. “This be drank,” said Ryan, “differently to what people usually drink, he literally gulped it down.” In answer to further conversation about teetotalism, Duncan accepted an invitation to go with Ryan to church that evening, and said he would return to the shelter in an hour, but he never came back. Duncan carried a stick, and looked a sinewy fellow, just such a one as was capable of putting forth considerable energy when necessary.

In conclusion with the letter received on Thursday last by the Central News and published yesterday, the agency says that a postcard bearing the stamp “London, E., October 1.” Was received yesterday morning, addressed to their office, the address and subject-matter being written in red, and undoubtedly by the same person form whom the former letter was received. It runs as follows:- “I was not codding, dear old Boss, when I gave you the tip. You’ll hear about Saucy Jacky’s work to-morrow. Double event this time. Number One squealed a bit: couldn’t finish straight off. Had not time to get ears for police. Thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.-Jack the Ripper.” The card is smeared on both sides with blood, which has evidently been impressed thereon by the thumb or finger of the writer, the corrugated surface of the skin being plainly shown. Upon the back of the card some words are nearly obliterated by a bloody smear. It is not necessarily assumed that this has been the work of the murderer, the idea that naturally occurs being that the whole thing is a practical joke. At the same time the writing of the previous letter immediately before the commission of the murders of Sunday was so singular a coincidence, that it does not seem reasonable to suppose that the cool calculating villain who is responsible for the crimes has chosen to make the post a medium through which to convey to the Press his grimly diabolical humour.

Morning Post 2nd October 1888

Featured image: Cabbies’ Shelter c1930 by Mercie Lack, other night time photos of the city are being exhibited at the Museum of London from 11th May to 11th November 2018.

Morning Post article discovered by Sean Farrell, any enquires regarding his extensive database of London Cab Drivers and associated articles may directed via CabbieBlog’s Contact Page.

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