|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 29 June 2000. 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.|
By Bernard Brown
ONE OF THE MOST HEINOUS OFFENCES of which you can be guilty under the police disciplinary code is that of receiving a gratuity without the Commissioner s written consent. Considered to be bordering on the corrupt, the reasoning behind this is that a police officer cannot be expected in an unbiased manner, without fear or favour, if he is in receipt of a `gift . This view has been held since the Metropolitan Police Act on 1839 and it was no different in 1888, although there were amendments in the Police Act of 1890 following the disastrous `police strike of that year.
For a police officer to travel on an omnibus or tramcar without payment was strictly forbidden (up to 1975!) and occasionally, usually coincident with the dismissal of some poor soul who had rendered himself liable under the regulations, the Commissioner would issue a timely warning to that effect in Police Orders. However, it was a common practice for conductors to waive the fare for police travelling in uniform, even those they were thus liable under the statutory company regulations for failing to collect a fare. For a plain-clothes policeman or C.I.D. officer to travel free of charge was virtually unheard of as he would have to produce his warrant card, thereby blowing his cover and exposing his identity. If following a suspect or conducting any other business on duty, it was a simple matter to retain one s ticket and claim the cost back on expenses.
In November 1988, on the 100th anniversary of the Whitechapel Murders, an East London bus-driver wrote to the Metropolitan Police Historical Museum after finding a North Metropolitan Tramways pass in the lining of an old chest of drawers belonging to his mother. What was so remarkable about this pass was that it was of the sort normally only issued to officials of the tramway company. In this case, however, the pass, which had been issued in 1892, bore the name: "Inspector Spratling of Bethnal Green police-station".
John Spratling, Warrant No. 53457, had joined the force on 27th December 1870 as P .C. 219 'B, attached to the Westminster Division. Promoted to Sergeant, as PS. 2 1 `C on 27th January 1873 he was transferred to St. James s Division, the Division which responsible for Cleveland Street, which ran north to south, parallel to Tottenham Court Road from Euston Road to Middlesex Hospital, and which would become infamous following the discovery there in 1889 of a homosexual brothel visited by several distinguished individuals, including, it was said, the Duke of Clarence.
In December 1880 he was transferred to `T or Hammersmith Division which less than a decade later would be responsible for investigating the death of Montague John Druitt at nearby Chiswick shortly after the death of Ripper victim Mary Kelly in November 1888.
At Christmas 1882 Spratling was promoted to third class Inspector (a recently introduced position to replace the four-striped Station Sergeant rank) and transferred to `S or Hampstead Division. This was almost a home posting for Spratling, for not only had he been born in the parish of St. Pancras but his father, also called John, had served on the division as a P.C. (Warrant no. 23991) between 1846 and 1869.
On appointment to Divisional Inspector (2nd Class) in December 1885 he was posted to `R or Greenwich Division, where coincidentally our old friend Druitt was appointed Hon, Sec. and Treasurer of Blackheath Cricket, Football and Lawn Tennis Club the same year. Spratling s stay on `R Division lasted just a year and December 1886 he moved to `L or Lambeth Division, where yet again there are tenuous links with the Ripper story as in 1891 the crimes of Cream, Cutbush and Colicott were committed on `L Division. Spratling s stay in Lambeth was even shorter, as three months later in March 1887 he arrived on `J or Bethnal Green division, which had only been created the previous August.
It was here that the North Metropolitan Tramways had their sphere of operation, having opened the first section of the tramway between Whitechapel Church and Bow Bridge in 1870 - in fact it had been opened on the birthday of Spratling, 9th May. It was extended to the City boundary at Middlesex Street, Aldgate, in March 1871 and in September of that same year the Commercial Road line between Gardiner s Corner and Poplar opened. A conductor on this line in 1878 was none other than Thomas Sadler, alleged killer of Francis Coles in February 1891. In 1873 the line running from Mile End Gate through Cambridge (Heath) Road and Bethnal Green was added. All these routes passed Goulston Street, where the piece of victim Catherine Eddowes apron was found and the much-discussed graffito was located.
There were no route numbers in those days to identify the destination of a particular tramcar. This was because so many of the population were illiterate, especially in the East End with its migrant neighbourhood. Instead of names and numbers, the trams were identified by a different colour:
Blue - Aldgate and Stratford. Fare 3d, every four minutes: Yellow - Aldgate and Poplar. Fare 2d, every 4 minutes. Red - Aldgate and Hackney, every l0 minutes.
Despite extensive research in the North Metropolitan Tramways Company records, I have been unable to find any reference to or explanation of the special pass issued to Inspector Spratling.
I did find one or two tit-bits of interesting information in the records of the London Tramway Company, which operated on the south side of the river show a conductor named Arthur Sadler (Badge no. 1001 1), a labourer from Belstead, Suffolk, who was working on the Greenwich Line. He joined the company on 16th June 1890 but had resigned suddenly on 6th March 1891, just three weeks after Frances Coles murder and the arrest of his namesake.
An amusing entry concerns driver Thomas Hicks (Badge no, 189249) of Portobello Road West, who had worked on the Blackfriars Road line since 1 0th July 1887. He was discharged on 1 0th November 1888, the day after the murder of Mary Kelly, for: "Being worse for drink on Lord Mayor s Day."
Some tram companies hired Metropolitan policemen as pointsmen, an example being the Southwark and Deptford Tramway Co., which on 4th Decemeber 1880 employed two policemen at Jamaica Road, Bermondsey.
Back in Whitechapel, the North Metropolitan Tramways Act, 1887, (50 Victoria. CH X 1 1) had received the Royal Assent on 29th March 1888 and authorised the company "To lay down and maintain a new tramway in Commercial Street."
Gangs of navvies descended on Whitechapel and Spitalfields and work commenced on digging up the entire length of Commercial Street and laying track. The work continued day and night until completion in November 1888. During the construction Emma Smith, Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were murdered. Coincidence?
The diverted horse-drawn traffic from Commercial Street was horrendous and the `ladies of the night and their clients were hardly able to conduct their business. Could the disruption explain why there were no murders during October and why Mary Kelly was killed indoors?
On 15th November 1888, a week after Kelly s murder, the Commercial Street tramway finally opened with a line of brownpainted horse trams running between Bloomsbury and Poplar (fare 3d). Near the latter line on 20th December 1888 the body of Rose Mylett was found just off the High Street.
One more tenuous link with Marv Kelly and the tramway is that the company had a large repair works at Union Lane, Leytonstone. Now known as Langthorne Road, it lay opposite the Roman Catholic cemetery where she was laid to rest.
No Jack the Ripper-type killings were reported during 1890, when the Leman Street line to London Docks was being laid, but in February 1891, shortly after the tram service was sanctioned on 6th December 1890, Frances Coles was found murdered just off Dock Street.
Between January and February 1899 the North Metropolitan Tramways Co., introduced the first All-Night Service in London between Aldgate and Stratford/ Poplar respectively. It was on the latter line that `unfortunate Emily Wood was allegedly attacked by a policeman near Commercial Road in January 1899.
The old-fashion horse-trams Inspector Spratling once rode continued to be a familiar sight in the Whitechapel district for some years until replaced by the new electric trams on the Commercial Road line (1906) and the Commercial Street and Leman Street lines (1907).
Although the High Street, Whitechapel Line was the last to give up its horses in the summer of 1908, the experimental system adopted failed and between May and July 1909 the old horse-trams reappeared temporarily Even at the late date horse-trams could still be seen in regular service in the East End at Mile End, operating between Victoria Park and West India Dock. They might have continued to operate indefinitely had it not been for the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914.
Inspector Spratling finally left `J Division on 21 April 1894 and reported to Limehouse Police Station on the neighbouring `K Division. An experienced Uniformed Inspector, he probably expected a posting to a division. instead he was banished to the Government Powder Magazine at Purfleet, a dismal hamlet of West Thurrock, where their wasn t even a village. It is in Essex, beyond the Metropolitan Police District, but since 1884 the Magazine had been placed under Metropolitan Police jurisdiction.
We can only speculate about why Spratling had been transferred to Purfleet, but he was to remain there until his retirement in March 1897. when he moved to St John s Road, Mortimer, Berkshire.
John Spratling was born on 9th May 1840 at St. Pancras and was a clerk before joining the Metropolitan Police on 27th December 1870. He was 5 feet 10 and "' inches tall with dark brown hair and eyes
. Spratling s father, John, was apparently found drowned in a village pond when returning home from an evening of over-indulgence at the local pub.
His transfer to T Division in 1880 has been a matter of some small concern because although Police Orders state, no doubt correctly, that he was sent to T, the Pensions Branch said J.
He attended Bucks Row, where Polly Nichols was found dead where he arrived at 4.30 a.m. on 31st August 1888 as Nichol s blood was being washed away. He visited the mortuary to take a description of the body and discovered that her injuries were more extreme than had preciously been realised. With Sergeant Godley, he searched the East London and District railway embankments and lines and the Great Eastern Railway Yard, but they found nothing of interest.
According to family memories, he had been offered a job either taking charge of the police at the Houses of Parliament or the ammunition depot at Purfleet. He chose the latter, which he liked but which his wife and surviving son did not.
He had married, his wife s name being Emma, and they had two children, but one died aged 7.
He retired after 26 years 71 days service on 8th March 1897 aged 51 years. For a while he lined in Mortimer on the edge of Reading, then moved to Tilehurst, living first in Victoria Road, then Armour Road. On the death of his wife he moved into Reading itself and lived at 7 St. Roman s Road. Eventually unable to cope on his own, he moved to line with a cousin in Beccles. He died in the 1930S when in his 9os - a good age for a man who later boasted that he smoked blacker tobacco and drank blacker tea than anyone else in the Met.
The tram-pass was found by a bus driver-operator named David Smith when he was a child in the lining paper of a chest of drawers purchased by his mother. Recalling the pass when he heard Spratling's name when watching the Michael Caine television drama in 1988, he contacted the Black Museum at Scotland Yard.
Sources for the tram-pass find: London Regional Transport News, 11th November 1988, East London Advertiser, 2nd December 1988.