I had a restless nights sleep on Thursday evening, partly due to excitement, partly due to nerves. What little sleep I had was filled with dreams of waking up late, missing my taxi and missing my train, but despite this I got up as the alarm sounded, even though it sounded earlier than I expected.
Waking up I looked out over the street and noticed that the trees opposite were swaying violently in the wind, and the rain was hitting the windows at speed, giving the impression of a steam train whooshing past. After getting ready and saying my goodbyes to the family I headed outside to await my taxi. I did this for two reasons. For many years I have had a condition that makes me feel nauseous before and during travelling. It has been this way since I was a young boy, and it was initially put down to my stomach ulcers, although I am sure in part it is down to nerves. As the wind and rain howled around me, I retreated to the relative warmth and shelter of the front porch, but thankfully didn’t have to wait long, as the taxi pulled up ahead of time.
Driving into the town centre we pulled across Chapman-street bridge into Sculcoates, passing the site of Willows House, the home of Robert D’Onston Stephenson and family for many years, then a short while later onto Charles-street, and past the birthplace of Robert D’Onston Stephenson. It felt weird knowing that hours later I would be passing and photographing other locations associated with Stephenson and those that surrounded him.
Pulling into Hull’s Paragon Station we parked alongside the Royal Station Hotel, now known as the Quality Royal Hotel. Again this was notable as 4 named suspects with links to Hull had visited and stayed here. Exiting the cab, and dodging the pools of accumulated rainwater I headed for the station, visiting the information board to ascertain the location of my platform. As I walked along I remembered that Queen Victoria, a suspect in her own right, had walked along this very platform in 1854 when the Royal family visited Hull to stay at the then newly opened Station Hotel,. Giving it the prefix Royal.
The train was due at 7 oclock and as I looked at the station clock I realised I was a little early, but thankfully I was dry, even if the wind was howling through the station. Eventually the platform began to get busier with passengers and staff awaiting the 0700 to London Kings Cross. A little after 6.50 it pulled up, a beautiful looking East Coast Train with white livery and more carriages than most of the local train services. On entering the train I noticed how clean, warm, and light it was. Over the years I have travelled on some dark, damp, trains that have stunk to high heavens of wet dog and dirty old man. On finding my seat, which was like a challenge from tv’s Gladiators, I noticed that all seats had power points for Laptops and mobile phones. Being a little cheeky I plugged my laptop in to edit a chapter on Jack the Ripper, From Hell, from Hull?
The train will visit Doncaster, Grantham and Peterborough, which are stations I have visited on numerous occasions in the past as a manager in retail for area meetings.
A little before 0800 my mother called to inform me that my father has taken a turn for the worse, I seriously consider turning around and heading home at the next station stop, but she informs me that this is what dad and the family want so with some reluctance I continue along on my journey.
If it wasn’t for my father I would not be involved in the Ripper research that I am involved in today. He bought me my first ripper book, and his passion for local history passed on to me, with me often teaching him new things about Hull. He was, no is, my hero, and a true inspiration.
A short while later my wife calls and sounds upset, something inside me tells me that dad has gone, but I try and stay strong to sort out the weekend and the family. Again I am told that dad would have wanted me to speak, and that my lecture should be carried out for him. Feeling so powerless I agree and continue on.
The rest of the journey is a blur, but I arrived in London at 09.45 and try to find the left luggage room at Kings Cross. After walking round in a circle I finally find it, leaving my large case and carrying my back pack with me.
My aim was to visit several archival centres, but I simply cannot get my head in the game, so I decide to head to Islington and try to find several locations associated with Robert D’Onston Stephenson and his family. As soon as I exit the tube station at Angel I get lost, I realise this when someone stops me for directions and we are looking at their map. The realisation hits me that I am walking in the wrong direction. Turning and retracing my footsteps it begins to rain, and I pull my waterproof jacket from my bag. Eventually I find Gibson Square, a lovely square with large white fronted properties overlooking a lush green garden. As soon as I arrive a squirrel runs at my leg, realising I am about to stand on it, it turns tail and runs off into the undergrowth. My attempts to find the actual property that Richard Stephenson resided in fall flat when it is revealed by a helpful postman that number 4 Gibson Square no longer exists. I head back to the tube station in the pouring rain. My attempt to get to the grave of Robert D’Onston Stephenson are also foiled by the weather.
Heading back to Kings Cross I swap tube lines and head to Russell Square, leaving the station and heading across the road, down an unknown lane. You would think that I would be able to see a giant tree covered square at the end of the road, but for some reason I failed to and ended up lost once again. Eventually I found Russell Square and I walked around it to Montague Street, where Robert D’Onston Stephenson had allegedly taken a room with Mrs Heilmann. Walking down Montague Street I was again faced with huge three and four storey buildings, all with white facades and black iron railings. Several high class hotels and eateries are now situated in the buildings and I fail to find number 21 so continue on to the British Museum.
I headed for the museum for two reasons, firstly Robert D’Onston Stephenson had acquired a readers ticket for the legendary reading room, and secondly because I have never been and wanted to check out some of the artifacts. Entering the museum I was amazed at how big it all is, the reading room was enormous and the main plaza was awe inspiring. I purchased a guide book, and a book on the creation of the reading room and headed for the displays. Whilst I enjoyed the experience, I was a bit shocked that the British Museum was full of non British items, with only a couple of galleries featuring “European History” After leaving the displays I asked about gaining entry to the reading room, but was told that it had also been acquired for future exhibition space. I left the museum and had a quick snack before heading back the Russell Square tube station. At this moment I found 21 Montague Street, whether or not this is the original number scheme is unknown, but here it was. I managed to get some photos and decided that my next stop would be Baker Street, alleged home of the infamous Pompadour Cosmetics.
The tube to Baker Street was quiet old, and the station was even older, but all the better for it. I exited the station and took some photos, but again it was raining so I headed back to the tube station. This time I got lost in the tube station itself, almost getting on a tube to west London, but I found my platform and headed back to Kings Cross.
By now it was well after lunch, so I decided to grab a bite to eat, but the problem with Kings Cross is the lack of seating. I found a dry spot outside, and sat to eat lunch, occasionally waving away street vendors and people collecting for wildlife charities. Another thing I noticed after lunch was he lack of bins, what do Londoners do with their rubbish? I had to carry around my food cartons until many hours later.
I picked up my baggage and headed for the tube line to Liverpool Street, finally arriving at the station a short while later. Leaving the station I got lost once again, my instructions had led me the wrong way once more. Luckily a motorbike paramedic was sat by the roadside and he was able to direct me to the hotel. I arrived a short while later and checked in, finally being able to sit down and empty my pockets of rubbish acquired during the day.
After freshening up and sorting out my luggage I decided to take a walk around Whitechapel and surrounding locales, again taking my trusty instructions, directions and several maps. I headed for Goulston Street first, which is a short walk away from the hotel and arrived to find the market stalls were just clearing up. Having never been to Goulston Street, and seeing many photos I was actually surprised to discover that the street was so small. I wanted to take some photos of the street signs, but several market stalls were covering the way, so I politely asked several Asian gentlemen if I could gain access to see and take photos of the sign. Not only did they help move their stalls, they also stopped people walking in the way of my camera. I thanked them, shook hands, and made my way to Whitechapel High Street. With a photograph of the Goulston Street sign I made my ways along Goulston Street to the Happy Days Take Away and Restaurant and took photos of the doorway and the building itself where the notorious Goulston Street Graffiti was discovered over 122 years ago. Whether or not you believe the Whitechapel Murderer wrote the graffiti, it is an important part of the case and worthy of a few photographs and a pilgrimage by Ripperologists and Historians alike.
Heading up Goulston Street I met Whitechapel High Street and headed right towards Aldgate passing St Botolph’s Church and following the road to Mitre Street and turning right again in Mitre Square, taking photos of Mitre Street, the Gurkin, and the entrance to Mitre Square. As I turned into the square, a place I had visited in the past, I noticed that there was a gentleman passing through with a tour, but rather than standing near the spot where Catherine Eddowes was discovered he stood near the entrance at Duke’s Passage. As I took photos of the square, I noticed that the local school was ending for the day, so took care not to take any images of the children, despite this a local policeman, who appears in one of the photos, stopped and enquired as to what I was taking images of. I quietly informed him I was a Ripperologist, pointing to the spot where Eddowes had been found. He smiled and left me to it. I walked over to the spot of the Priory Plaque and took photos before moving across to Mitre Passage and obtaining more images. Even with the lack of Victorian buildings in the square and the high volume of passers by, it still seemed quiet eerie and not somewhere I would enjoy being at night. Leaving Mitre Square by Duke’s Passage I turned onto Duke’s Place, taking a few photos before heading back to Whitechapel High Street and back up Middlesex Street, taking photos of the Bell, where Frances Coles and Thomas Sadler are reported to have had a drink. From this point on I headed towards the Kings Stores, taking photos of several lanes and alleys, then walked along Artillery Passage, an experience in itself. After taking several images of some of the streets and shop fronts I walked out onto Brushfield Street, although in hindsight it could have been a different street altogether. I took several photos of the church, whose name espaces me at the moment, and of the Ten Bells, which was sadly covered in unsightly scaffold and green tarpaulins. Heading along Commercial Street I turned onto Whites Row and took several images of the former site of Millers Court and Dorset Street, before heading back to the Ten Bells and turning right onto Fournier Street then along Wilkes Street before meeting Hanbury Street where Annie Chapman was found murdered. The first thing that hit me was how close the properties on left hand side of the road are to the properties on the right hand side of the road, the smells permeating from local shops and eateries, the colours from the shops selling silks and dresses, and the amount of rubbish piled at the road side. Trying to obtain a decent photograph of 29 Hanbury Street proved problematic, as blue wooden boards covered most of the wall, and rubbish covered the rest. I obtained a couple of shots and headed up Hanbury Street, passing Brick Lane which was alive with sights and sounds, and deeper into the East End. As I wondered along Hanbury Street I noticed how many ethnic people were residing in the area, and the large blocks of flats seemed to overpower the sun light casting dark shadows along the route. Eventually I found Vallance Road, former home of the Krays, before heading up Durward Street, which many of us will know as Bucks Row. The welcoming appearance of the Board School draws you to the spot where Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols was brutally murdered in the shadows of the board school in a gated entrance to a yard. Standing at the spot taking some photos I saw a road works sign that said “End” which was quiet poignant.
After paying my respects to Polly I walked around to Woods Buildings but noticed that road alterations and building work spoiled the view. With this in mind I headed around onto Whitechapel High Street, and took images of the sign above Woods Buildings and of the Royal London Hospital, a place associated with Robert D’Onston Stephenson. I headed further up the High Street towards the White Hart and George Yard, now known as Gunthorpe Street. At this point I lost all sense of direction, turning around and double backing before turning around again and retracing my steps. I actually text Jon Rees informing him that the White Hart has been moved! Eventually I found it, and walked up George Yard towards the spot where Martha Tabram was discovered. Along the way I spotted not one, but two large street gangs, so took a few discreet snaps and turned back towards the High Street.
At this point I crossed the road and headed down a side street for Commercial Road, turning into Henriques Street, or as many of us know it, Berner street, where Elizabeth Stride was found dead in Dutfields Yard. I took several shots of the site as it is today, and turned off into Fairclough Street to Back Church Lane then Pinchin Street. Pinchin Street was quiet, dark, and very atmospheric and I managed to obtain some general shots of the district, before heading under the railway and heading towards Leman Street. Upon reaching the street I walked along, taking photos of the alleged bolthole of Robert D’Onston Stephenson before heading back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel I freshened up, changed clothes and met JTR Forums member and moderator Jon Rees in the bar for a drink and a bite to eat. After showing Jon my manuscript, we headed to the Bell Inn for the Frances Coles Memorial Appeal.
The fundraiser for Frances Coles was held at the Bell Inn, a lovely building a short walk away from the hotel and retaining much of the interior and exterior charm that would have been in existence when Coles and Sadler drank here. Walking in I was met by Suzy Haney, Rob Clack, Robert Anderson, Caroline Morris, Laura Prietto, John Bennett, Bill Beadle, Neal Sheldon Stubbings and his wife Jennifer Pegg, Mark Ripper and many more faces from the Whitechapel Society.
It must be said at this point that the reception was warming, welcoming, and relaxing, with several of the people present coming up and passing on messages of condolence. After a short while we headed upstairs for the main event.
Upstairs I met fellow Yorkshireman Andrew Firth, and Trevor Bond, the duo who had planned this event. Also in attendance was Jeff Leahy sporting a fabulous handlebar moustache from the filming of the new Ripper documentary.
The quiz got off to a rather amusing start after some delay as both technical difficulties and the occasional rearrangement of teams and rules were discussed and applied.
I left the memorial appeal quiet early, possibly around ten oclock, and made my way to the hotel in the darkness. Despite my awful abilities at map reading in the daylight I managed to find my hotel without getting lost and walking round in circles.
I retired to bed but despite being incredibly tired I had a restless night, struggling to get comfortable and being woken up by every passing person or vehicle.
The day of the conference started early when I awoke at 6.00 in the morning, watching the news and taking in a cup of tea and some light breakfast. The weather had improved on Friday’s wet and windy affair, and despite the coldness the sun was shining and it was a lovely day. Leaving the hotel a little before 9.00 I headed for the King’s Stores. I was pleasantly surprised at how close the public house was to the hotel and made it there in no time. Upon arriving Adam Wood could be seen scurrying around inside, and Jeff Leahy appeared with his partner around the corner. The three of us, and one of Jeff’s production crew entered the King’s Stores which was a well lit, warm, little pub sitting on the corner of a tiny narrow street with tall buildings at either side.
After a short while delegates began to turn up and some familiar faces began to appear and notable names such as Andrew Firth, Bill Beadle, Caroline Morris, Gail Dowle, Jackie Murphy, Jennifer Sheldon, Jon Rees, Kate Bradshaw, Laura Prieto, Mark Ripper, Norma Buddle, Phil Carter, Philip Hutchinson, Rob Clack, Robert Anderson and Robert Smith, and Suzi Hanney, not to forget Diddles!
The conference speakers were also evident with John Bennett, Gareth Williams, Trevor Bond and myself, and the fantastic Colin Cobb gave a comical twist on the days event as the official emcee.
The first speaker of the day was the fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable John Bennett, who took us through a virtual tour of the Doss houses of the Rookery, which was finely illustrated throughout with maps, plans, sketches, and actual photographs of the guest lists from the period. John’s delivery was fantastic, touching, and at time hilarious.
After a short break Gareth Williams took to the podium, and delivered an excellent, well researched piece on Severin Klosowski, who I shall refer to as George Chapman as my spell check is going haywire. Gareth’s lecture was an eye opening thought provoking tour de force that illustrated the life and family of Chapman, and how they lived in both Europe and England. One of the most breath taking images, and this has nothing to do with the ripper was the shots of the Warsaw Ghetto taken before and after the bombing raids of the World War II. These showed a densely populated region turned into nothing more than wide open empty ruins.
After Gareth’s excellent presentation we broke for lunch, and were treated to a delightful buffet that seemed to vanish quicker than you could say Severin Klosowski.
At this point it was decided that a selection of speakers and delegates would take a tour of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, and try to locate a wall that could have been a part of a building on Flower and Dean Street. I say could of, because we simply do not know whether it was or it wasn’t, but this still excited some Ripperologists who were in attendence. Rob Clack gave a quick lesson on what the wall could have been, and several photographs were taken before the group headed back for the Kings Stores for my lecture. I must admit I was quiet nervous at this point, lecturing in front of none Ripperologists is daunting, but discussing the case with peers who are both critical and analytical of your findings was proving to be nerve racking. Still I put on a brave face, and after a brief introduction by Colin Cobb I stepped up to the podium. What followed was my lecture on the Ripper Scares that troubled Hull between 1888 and 1900, and then a run through of the 10 named suspects with links to Hull. The lecture went quick, and afterwards the feedback was positive, with a few delegates coming over during the next tea break to discuss the case and my research.
The final speaker of the day was Trevor Bond, who like myself, was a relative newcomer to the Jack the Ripper Conference. Trevor had admitted to having problems with his lecture earlier in the day, but watching it back you would not realise. The lecture ran very smoothly, apart from a few technical difficulties with the projector and the wand which enabled the speakers to click between slides. Trevor gave a fascinating and quiet profound lecture on the life and family of Frances Coles, and I think Bill Beadle summed it up best when he said that Frances would be proud of such a lecture in honour of her life.
After Trevor’s excellent performance there was an auction with a rare signed picture from the up and coming Jack the Ripper documentary to be airing on Channel 5 later in the year, and a beautiful painted portrait of Frances Coles by the very talented Jane Coram.
After the auction I returned to the hotel briefly to deposit my conference pack and bag before heading back for the evenings entertainments.
Upon arriving back at the Kings Stores I was informed that the hot food had arrived and I didn’t waste any time tucking into a hot plate of meat balls, bolognaise and rice. Whilst chatting to Trevor Bond, Gareth Williams and Norma Buddle. After food was consumed I returned to the bar area and sat with the gents from JTR Forums, Jon Rees and Robert Anderson, who were both full of amusing stories. For a bunch of Ripperologists sat around the table, I don’t actually recall the talk ever turning to the Whitechapel Murders. Instead other topics were discussed, photos were taken, and drinks were drunk. A short while later the raffle was drawn, I had been trusted with Phil Carter’s tickets, so had both mine and Phil’s to check. One of my numbers was drawn, and as the winning prize was Saucy Jack, a publication I already had, I gratefully passed it on to Jon Rees who does not own a copy. A short while later one of Phil’s numbers came up, winning him a copy of Jack the Ripper in the Movies. After some discussion with Philip Hutchinson, and Kate Bradshaw, I returned for one final drink before leaving with the karaoke in full swing.
On my return to the hotel I made plans for my early departure back for Hull.
I had planned to leave on Sunday at 18.00 but with the news that my father had passed, and that both he and the family wanted me to attend this conference, I had now done what was expected and wanted to return back to my wife and children and see what I could do for the family back in Hull. With this in mind I had arranged for a train that left London at 10.40.
With yet another restless night in what must be the coldest hotel room in London I awoke at 07.00 in the morning, skipping breakfast to get to the tube station on Liverpool Street Station. Arriving at the station and obtaining my ticket I heard that many of the tube lines were down for construction purposes, so I had to get two tube trains back to Kings Cross. After a short journey I found myself at the station, and explained my circumstances to the ticket office, who transferred my ticket with only a small cost to pay. With two hours to spare I grabbed a quick bite to eat and found a place to sit in the station. After what seemed like an eternity the train arrived at the platform and I was shown my seat so that I could return home finally rolling into Hull a little after 13.00.
Thank you to Liverpool Street Travel Lodge, East Coast Trains, Hull Trains, Adam Wood for allowing me to speak at what would be his last ever conference and all the delegates, and speakers that were all fantastic people.
Finally I would like to thank my father. A man whose kindness, courage, and love has shaped and guided my life. This is for him.
Photographs of my trip can be seen here,