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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 49, September 2003. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
"The Pensioner", and a Brief History of Fort Elson
Paul Shearman

The inquest of Annie Chapman, which commenced on 10 September 1888, two days after her murder, took depositions from many of her associates. It has been well documented from these associates that Annie was known to have a regular consort, who would occasionally pay for her bed at Crossingham's Lodging-House, located at 35 Dorset Street. This man was known only as "the pensioner", due to his claims of being an ex-soldier drawing a pension from the Essex Regiment. Timothy Donovan, the Deputy at Crossingham's, testified that "the pensioner" would sometimes pay the 8d charge for Annie's bed, on condition that she did not bring any men back. Donovan was told to turn Annie away if she had male companions in tow.1 Donovan further stated that 'the pensioner' would turn up occasionally with Annie at Crossingham's, sometimes dressed as to give the impression of a dock labourer, other times with 'a gentlemanly appearance'. At this point in the proceedings, the police stated that they had no information as to the identity of 'the pensioner'. However, on the fourth day of the inquest, 'the pensioner' appeared. His real name was Edward (Ted) Stanley, and his elaborate fantasy was about to be highlighted in the most public of ways.

Ted Stanley resided at 1 Osborn Place, in Brick Lane, and he was actually a bricklayer. He had never served in the Essex Regiment, and he was definitely not drawing a military pension. Why he had invented this pretence is a mystery, but Coroner Wynne E Baxter was not remotely interested in preserving Stanley's credibility as he questioned him regarding the matter:

Coroner: Are you a pensioner?
Stanley: Am I bound to answer this question?
Coroner: You have to answer all questions affecting this case that are put to you.
Stanley: I am not a pensioner, and have not been in the Essex Regiment. What I say will be published all over Europe. I have lost five hours in coming here. 2

Stanley was concerned that he had taken time off from work to be at the inquest, and may be discharged for doing so. He was also more than a little bothered that his sham of pretending to be an Essex Regiment pensioner had now been exposed. He tried to deny that he was the man that Timothy Donovan was describing as 'the pensioner', so Baxter recalled Donovan, who visually identified Stanley immediately.

Coroner: What do you think of that, Stanley?
Stanley: The evidence given by Donovan is incorrect. When you talk to me, Sir, you talk to an honest man. I was at Gosport from the 6th August up to the 1st September. The deceased [Chapman] met me at the corner of Brushfield Street that night.

Eventually, the Coroner dismissed Stanley, with the missive that he thought that Donovan might have been mistaken in his identification. But those who knew Stanley were now aware that he had concocted a fraudulent, and rather unnecessary, web of deceit, based around a career he had not had, and a pension he did not draw. The one truth he did tell was regarding his time in Gosport, as he had given this information to the police3, during the time of Donovan's original testimony at the start of the Chapman Inquest, and his own appearance on day four. As he had stated, Stanley was indeed in Gosport between 6 August and 1 September. He was part of the 2nd Brigade Southern Division, Hants Militia, stationed at Fort Elson.

Fort Elson was conceived from a defence strategy dating back as early as 1784, when the Duke of Richmond, Master General of the Ordnance, became concerned about possible invasion of England's coastal areas. His plans were to fortify the naval dockyards of Portsmouth and Plymouth by constructing a series of continuous ramparts and moats, but a task force commissioned by the King in 1785 ruled that this was too expensive, and somewhat unnecessary, bearing in mind that Plymouth was already relatively well defended.

In 1786 a bill of proposals, put forward by William Pitt, was rejected, based essentially on the government's belief that the Royal Navy was better than any other nation's in the world, and could easily repel any attack launched against the realm. However, the principle point of the need to do something to reinforce the coastal defences of England was accepted, and in the same year 60,000 was granted for this work.

After the strengthening of the defences of these coastal areas was carried out, and the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the next forty years saw little or no activity within these armaments. Indeed, many of these coastal defences fell into a poor state of repair, and some even fell into the sea! 4

In 1844, the questions and concerns over the suitability of naval dockyard defences were again raised, this time by the Duke of Wellington. Wellington wrote two reports on the need to prepare for potential invasions of the dockyards, but both were ignored by Parliament. He then directed his concerns to Sir John Burgoyne5, whom Wellington knew would take his worries seriously. It took many years of discussions, disagreements and changes in personnel, but eventually the mindset of those who believed that our naval forces would be good enough to repel any force began to alter. The Crimean War, which commenced in 1854, persuaded many that our coastal fortifications were insufficient to withstand an invasion, and funds were provided for new fortifications to be designed and constructed.

It was originally decided that forts would be constructed at the Elson and Gomer regions of Gosport. The reasoning for this was that it was felt that there had to be less than 8,000 yards distance between any fortifications and the dockyards (this was based on the fact that there was 8,000 yards between the direct line of sight of the enemy and their potential targets). With the distance between the Elson and Gomer line being 4000 yards, this meant that the enemy would be unable to attack the dockyard at anything less than 12,000 yards without coming under counter attack.

During the construction of the Elson and Gomer forts, a Royal Commission was established, led by Lord Palmerston.6 The Commission was charged to 'consider the defences of the United Kingdom'. As well as Palmerston, the Commission was made up of six leading naval officers, and a civilian, James Fergusson. Fergusson was a representative of the Treasury, and had in recent years been a most vociferous campaigner for the increased fortification of England's coastal areas.7

The Commission carried out a fundamental review of the current condition of the nation's defences, and then looked at the proposals for projects that were either in the pipeline, or had already been approved for construction. These included the plans for Fort Elson, as well as those for areas in Plymouth, Dover, Pembroke, Portland and Chatham. The Commission, after carrying out a review of the current developments, then decided that the objective of each of these defence systems should be 'not so much to resist as to deter'.8 It was recommended that Portsmouth be given it's own 'ring' of forts, as this would ensure that an area regarded as, strategically, one of England's most important ports, was completely secure from any enemy invasion.

Palmerston made these recommendations in a letter to Queen Victoria, after he had put these proposals forward to the government. He had originally received short shrift from several cabinet members, the most vocal of these being William Gladstone, who was at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer. Queen Victoria, however, supported Palmerston9, and the Commission's proposals were accepted as a vital step in securing the home front of what was, at the time, still the greatest empire in the world.

So what of Fort Elson? Well, work commenced on its construction in 1855, with an estimated budget of 63,740 allocated for the sixty-month build. Work finished on time, and the final project cost was actually 61,180 (2.14 million pounds today). The fort was constructed in a Polygonal design, which basically means that it was designed to look like a 'D' shaped building. The barrack blocks were to the rear of the fort, and it was designed with a working moat, although not actually filled at the time of the fort's completion. The moat was connected to the dockyards through a sluice gate, and the intention was that should an enemy invasion be detected, this sluice gate would be opened, flooding the moat in no time at all. It is perhaps fortunate that the moat was never filled during construction, as during the second year of building works, part of the scarp slipped ten feet, and fell into the surrounding ditch.

It was ascertained that the scarp had not actually been poorly constructed, but had collapsed due to the failure of the brickwork to resist the pressure of shifting earth. A surviving report10 into the collapse of the scarp, written by Major Lovell, CB, RE, details how all had been well as workers left the site for the weekend on the Saturday evening (1 May 1856), but upon returning to work on the Monday morning, found that the earth had eroded, and the scarp had dropped a full ten feet into the ditch below. The scarp was eventually reconstructed using a method not dissimilar to the way in which railway viaducts are constructed with brick arches. This method was later used in the construction of all future forts recommended by Palmerston's Commission.11

When fully operational, Fort Elson had barracks accommodation for up to 300 soldiers. The barracks area was one central section, divided in two by an access route that led directly to the parade area. On one side of the barracks were the Field Officers' rooms (of which there were two), an Officer's mess room, a storage room for plates and other utensils, and a wine store. There were also quarters for a sergeant, two further officers, and servant rooms.

The second half of the barracks section housed further accommodation for officers, an orderly room, and a mess for the sergeants. To the rear of each half were the kitchens, and the wings on either side contained the remaining areas. These were essentially the remaining barrack rooms, which each housed up to 14 men per room, and a canteen.

From the time it became fully operational, through to 1894, the Hampshire Artillery Militia, as their base for their annual training camp, used Fort Elson.12 This would undoubtedly be the reason why Ted Stanley was based here. During these training camps, many more men than the 300 the fort could accommodate would be stationed here, and so several tents were set up outside the fort. The training camps would concentrate on battle drills, with the soldiers preparing for invasions, working in small-manned teams on watch duty at various stations of the fort, and practice in the use of the 73 different guns and cannons the fort utilized. There was also shifting of personnel between the forts of Elson and Gomer, and also the recently constructed Fort Brockhurst,13 which was built less than two miles from Elson.

By the time that Palmerston's Commission had overseen the completion of all the recommended forts, some 32 million in modern money had been committed to the project. There were also the increased costs in recruiting and training the necessary soldiers to man the forts on a permanent basis, not to mention the vast expenditure on constructing and maintaining the incredible array of weaponry and artillery at each fort.

At final total, there were 6 forts built in Gosport, these being Forts Elson, Gomer, Brockhurst, Rowner, Grange and Monkton. Added to these were forts in Fareham, and the surrounding districts of Portsmouth (Wallington, Nelson, Southwick, Widley, Crookhorn, Purbrook and Farlington). Surprisingly, the Commission identified only three areas where the actual heart of Portsmouth itself was vulnerable to an invasion, and forts were constructed at these areas (Cumberland, Eastney and Southsea Castle). After spending many years vehemently petitioning for the need to improve the defences of the south coast of England, Palmerston got his way. However, all throughout the construction period of each of the forts, there was still much opposition to them. The forts became known to the locals of Gosport and Portsmouth as 'Palmerston's Follies', due to the fact that not one fort ever fired a single shot in anything other than training exercises. The anticipated invasions never came, and the forts became thought of as a total waste of taxpayer's money. To this day, the forts are still referred to as 'Palmerston's Follies'.

Fort Elson today has fallen into a very poor state of ruin, and in many parts is completely derelict and unsafe. It was used during the Second World War as a storage depot for depth charges and pyrotechnics14, and has been retained by the Ministry of Defence, despite its poor condition (due to the fact that it falls within the boundaries of Gosport's naval armament complex at Frater Gate). In many ways, the follies of Ted Stanley, 'the pensioner', are similar to those of Lord Palmerston. Stanley created a fantasy where he was a former high-ranking soldier, now drawing a pension from a regiment he never served in. His 'folly' was to allow this hoax to become accepted as fact, and only when a tragedy such as Annie Chapman's murder occurred, was he forced to climb down from his charade. Palmerston, whilst clearly believing that the threat of invasion from enemy forces was real, perpetuated a folly that the nation needed a vast and expensive system of forts to protect itself from a threat that never really looked like it would materialize.

Although Palmerston's folly was no doubt carried out with the best of intentions, it is hard to determine whose folly was the most unnecessary.

Notes

1. Daily Telegraph Tuesday 11 September 1888.

2. The Times Thursday 20 September 1888.

3. MEPO3/140 ff 242 256. Written by Inspector Abberline on 19 September 1888.

4. In 1827 parts of Lumps Fort in Portsmouth fell into the sea.

5. At the time, Burgoyne was the Inspector General of Fortifications, and well knew the dilapidated condition of the current defences, as well as the need for improved armaments.

6. The Royal Commission was established on 20 August 1859.

7. In 1856 Fergusson wrote a paper entitled The Peril of Portsmouth, in which he detailed the current deficiencies in the nation's defences. He followed this up with his 1857 document Portsmouth Protected.

8. Solent Papers No.6, published by David Moore in 1990.

9. Palmerston wrote a letter to Queen Victoria stating that 'we can afford to lose Mr Gladstone, but we cannot afford to lose Portsmouth'. The Queen gave her support to Palmerston, and in view of this, Gladstone resigned.

10. Written in 1856, and stored at the Gosport Museum.

11. Solent Papers No.6.

12. Ministry of Defence archives.

13. Work began on Fort Brockhurst on 31 March 1858, and was completed on 20 December 1862. The total project cost for Brockhurst (a much larger fort than Elson) was 108,909. This is roughly equivalent to 3,811,815 at today's rates.

14. Solent Papers No.6.

Special thanks go to Brian Wingfield, for his local knowledge of Gosport, and bloodhound-like determination to sniff out the facts on Fort Elson!!


Related pages:
  Annie Chapman
       Home: Timeline - Annie Chapman 
       Dissertations: Cadosch The Other Side of the Fence 
       Dissertations: Considerable Doubt and the Death of Annie Chapman 
       Dissertations: Long -vs- Cadoche 
       Dissertations: Windows and Witnesses 
       Message Boards: Annie Chapman 
       Message Boards: Annie Chapman, Jack the Ripper Victim: A Short Biography 
       Official Documents: Annie Chapman's Inquest 
       Press Reports: Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser - 21 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Atlanta Constitution - 8 June 1889 
       Press Reports: British Daily Whig - 10 September 1888 
       Press Reports: British Medical Journal - 22 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Croydon Advertiser - 15 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Daily News - 20 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Daily News - 27 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 14 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 19 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Echo - 13 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Evening Standard - 12 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening Standard - 13 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening Standard - 14 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening Standard - 15 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening Standard - 17 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening Standard - 20 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Lloyds Weekly News - 30 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Macclesfield Courier and Herald - 15 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Macclesfield Courier and Herald - 22 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Manchester Guardian - 10 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Manitoba Daily Free Press - 9 January 1892 
       Press Reports: Marion Daily Star - 22 May 1889 
       Press Reports: Montreal Daily Star - 10 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 10 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 11 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 13 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 14 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 15 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 18 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 20 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Munster News - 12 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: New York Times - 9 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: St. James Gazette - 20 September 1888 
       Press Reports: St. James Gazette - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 10 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 11 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 13 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 14 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Star - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 8 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Te Aroha News - 10 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Times - 10 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 11 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 12 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 13 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 14 September 1888 
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       Press Reports: Times [London] - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Weekly Herald - 14 September 1888 
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       Ripper Media: Annie Chapman, Jack the Ripper Victim: A Short Biography 
       Ripper Media: Dark Annie (Piston Baroque) 
       Victims: Annie Chapman 
       Victims: Testimonies of Elizabeth Long and Albert Cadoche 
       Victorian London: Hanbury Street 
  Ted Stanley
       Press Reports: Daily Telegraph - 15 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 15 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Irish Times - 17 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 15 September 1888