One of the most important aspects of any research trip, other than the research of course, is the planning and preparation that goes on in the days leading up to a trip. In the past I had thought about spending a day at the British Library in London, but during my previous visits to the Capitol I just didn’t have the time to squeeze in a visit. This week I was able to plan a day in London and visit the library to spend some time researching certain aspects of the case. With primary research on Jack the Ripper, From Hell, From Hull? Vol. I coming to a close I thought it would be the best, and probably last time I would get to visit before the final copy was ready. The trip would be one of both primary and secondary resources, taking in correspondence, financial papers, and articles from the period, coupled with material written after the fact. Some of these have often been alluded to, but never published and they proved to be quiet interesting. They would include,
Robert D’Onston Stephenson and Grant Richards
Robert D’Onston Stephenson and Theosophy
Robert D’Onston Stephenson and the Workhouse
Robert D’Onston Stephenson and Betty May’s Tiger Woman
Robert D’Onston Stephenson and Highgate Hill Infirmary
Robert D’Onston Stephenson and the Islington Board of Guardians
With these topics in mind I searched for both primary and secondary sources associated with Stephenson and Co, and my searches came back time and time again with two locations, the most important of these, holding the most information, was the British Library. I had arranged to see a collection of books and files to cover the majority of the topics above and packed my bag for the trip, booking my tickets online.
The train journey began from Hull at 7.40 on a very wet Friday morning. The last time I had taken this journey was the day my father passed away, it felt strange, but at the same time it felt right. Dad loved history and was the first person I showed my research to.
The first stop on the journey was Hessle Station, a place associated with several notable families, and several names that appear in Jack the Ripper, From Hell, From Hull? Vol. III. The station itself retains much of the Victorian architecture, but now stands in the shadow of the modern monolith that is the Humber Bridge. The train eventually passes the Hearfield family mill at Little Switzerland. It was here at the black mill that the Hearfield family crushed chalk, the present day Humber Bridge Country park being the site of their quarry. Thomas Hearfield was a Hull based Solicitor who was often called in to defend Richard Stephenson Junior in the 1870’s.
Another station on the way is Goole, a location associated with Annie Deary in the later years of her life. From the station one can see the cranes that dominate the docks, as well as both the Victorian and more modern water towers.
Thorne North is another station stop and another location associated with Annie Deary. It was in Thorne that Deary was born, and registered in the 1841 Census with her parents. The station retains much of its Victorian fittings and fixtures, and the main station house dominates the outward bound platform side, albeit with modern automatic doors.
A quick change at Doncaster and I was on the much quicker train that sped through the English countryside to London, arriving at 10.45.
After completing my pre-registration at the British Library I left my belongings at the locker room and with writing pad, laptop, and wish list made my way to the Rare Books Room. The first thing that strikes you about the British Library is the size, it is essentially a multi-storey building with lifts and stairs and very much reminded me of Relativity by M.C. Escher. Lifts, stairs and escalators going back and forth and I got lost in the building at least once during the day.
The Rare Book Room is enormous, and after familiarising myself with the layout and rules I approached the desk and found that my items were ready. Within minutes I had sat down and found some of the material I was looking for. These gave new insights into some of the aspects of Robert D’Onston Stephenson’s life and it surprised me that despite the age of the material it had never been published in recent years. I typed up the relevant passages and sought out some other material. I spent from 11.00 until 13.00 in the rare book room and managed to come out with a pile of material that I had typed up and written up onto an A4 pad.
I still had more material to look at, but it was on order and could take up to 70 minutes for delivery so I went for lunch. Outside of the British Library is a massive seating area with numerous café’s and coffee houses. It was a warm afternoon and quiet busy. After eating lunch I realised I still had some time to spare so visited the Sci Fi exhibition being held at the British Library, entitled Out of this World. This involved a lengthy timeline, finely illustrated by books, and periodicals, and touched on famous authors, stories, theories, ideas, shows, and comic book heroes. Sadly photos were not allowed, which is a shame as the exhibition had some amazing set pieces featuring giant flying saucers, talking robots, giant metal bugs, and props from Doctor Who.
Heading back to library I headed for the Humanities Room where one of the items I requested had been delivered. I spent some time in here looking for the relevant information before returning the book and heading to the Rare Books Room for the final stint of my research. I sat here until 5 o’clock and found letters that were pertinent to my research, reading and copying them out. I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see, but found some fascinating snippets on Robert D’Onston Stephenson that had never been discussed before and has opened up new avenues of research for the future.
It is always nice to have direct access to the source material and to not have to rely on others for it. I also came across several articles on Frederick Bailey Deeming that will come in handy at some point.
Leaving the British Library I headed for the tube to take a trip to Kensington with a view to visiting a Family History Centre. Turning up in Kensington the building I sought had closed. Although this was something of a setback and I was quiet disappointed I decided to visit the nearby museums. First of all I took in the Victoria and Albert Museum, a building that was so big I got lost and had to ask for directions for the way out. The museum was packed with some fascinating objects but because of the name I was expecting objects and information about Victoria and Albert.
Across the road was the Natural History Museum, a location I had longed to go but never made the trip. I loved it, and spent quiet some time admiring the dinosaurs, animals and displays on offer, and hope to return with the children one day.
After leaving the museum I head back via the tube for King’s Cross and my journey home. It had been a long day but well worth it as I came away with more material that I thought I would get and some information that I had thought might exist, but never imagined that it did, or that I would get my hands on it.