|A Ripperologist Article|
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For most of the 1880s Montague Druitt worked as an assistant schoolmaster at a boys' boarding school located at number 9 Eliot Place, Blackheath in south-east London. The school's official name was the Eliot Place School, but it appears to have been more usually known as "Mr Valentine's school", after its headmaster and founder George Valentine.
In fact, the name Eliot Place School was something of a misnomer as in the nineteenth century Eliot Place was full of schools. At various times, there were schools at numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 11 Eliot Place.
For the most part, Mr Valentine's school hovers in the background of accounts of Montague Druitt. It is a shadowy presence, not entirely solid. Yet despite the dearth of official records for the school, it is quite possible to construct a tangible account of it and of what Druitt's life must have been like there.
Eliot Place lies on the outskirts of Blackheath Village. It ends behind the Hare and Billet public house, but for most of its length, it skirts that vast expanse of open land called Blackheath. (The name Blackheath means "black heathland" and refers to the peaty soil, which is, to this day, black.)
Nine Eliot Place was built in the Georgian era as a private house. It first became a school in 1831 when the Rev George Brown Francis Potticary acquired it. Potticary's father, the Rev John Potticary, had run a school at numbers 2 and 3 Eliot Place, which had been attended by Benjamin Disraeli. George Potticary had taken this over in the mid-1820s. Potticary's school remained at 9 Eliot Place until 1850, when he sold the property to the Rev Richard Cowley Powles.
Powles was a teacher of high calibre who had been forced to give up a university career because he married. To the school, however, this was a blessing. For under his command, it flourished and progressed. A lasting and eccentric legacy he left the school was an extension he built containing, of all things, a swimming pool. This was still there in the 1880s.
Powles was at the school for 15 years until he sold it in 1865 to the Rev Thomas Jackson Nunns. It is from Nunns' time at number 9 that we get the first published descriptions of what the building was like. There is no reason to think that it would have changed very much by George Valentine's time. "The dining hall," wrote Nunns, 'was a long, dimly-lighted room, partly underground, with a passage alongside of it. Above the passage and hall stood the schoolroom, and above this again the 'long-room', and still higher the other dormitories of the school, the topmost being reached by a narrow staircase. Adjoining the big schoolroom was a good-sized classroom, divided into two by a moveable partition.'
WG Hammond, the music master from 1858, noted "The schoolroom faced the Heath, while the classrooms were at the back. The Masters had their Common Room right at the top of the house with a piano in it".
An old boy, HF Abell, recalled that the beds the boys slept in were partitioned for privacy, so that each could sleep in a single compartment. This must have been quite liberal in its day, given the Victorian preoccupation with "self abuse".
A further clue to the extent of the building at this time comes from the 1855 rate book, which describes the property as "a house, garden, greenhouse, yard, gardens, cottage, playroom, forcing house, garden and land". The rateable value was £249. The property extended to six acres, presumably because Powles also leased the field behind Eliot Place. A further extent of land was gained at the front of the property, as it was common practice among the Eliot Place schools at this time to fence off a section of the heath for their own use.
But if there was no shortage of land for playgrounds and sports fields to begin with, this does not seem to have been the case later. In fact, it appears to have become something of a problem -- so much so that Nunns decided to move his school away from Blackheath. "Blackheath," he explained, "was not such a pleasant place as it had been, and there was the great drawback of having no playing fields of our own". He vacated the building in 1872 and moved his school to Maidenhead, where it became St Piran's.
Nunns sold 9 Eliot Place the following year. The man he sold it to was an Anglo-Indian called George Valentine.
The Valentines were colonials. George's father, the Rev George Meaker Valentine, was employed as headmaster of a Church Missionary Society school in Bombay. George's mother was Louisa Valentine (nee Stather), who came from the St Nevis Islands in the West Indies. George Valentine, their first son, was born on 12 March 1842. A second son, William Stather Valentine, followed on 11 December 1843, but in 1844 the Rev George Valentine died in the cholera epidemic and the family moved to England.
It is not known where they lived initially, but by 1859 Louisa Valentine was living at 23 Beretta Villas, Islington. At this time, her son William was a pupil at the Blackheath Proprietary School, and Louisa moved to Marston Lodge, number 9, The Glebe, Blackheath in 1859.
Neil Rhind has suggested that one reason the Valentines might have been attracted to Blackheath was its missionary connections. In fact, in 1857 the London Missionary Society had built a school in Blackheath Village. Whatever the reason, it was in 1859 that the Valentines began their long association with Blackheath and its environs.
For George Valentine, though, the connections were intermittent, for in May 1860 he became an undergraduate at Lincoln College, Oxford and he remained there until 1864, graduating with a BA in 1865. By this time, his mother was living at 4 Woodlands Villas, Lee High Road. However, in 1866 she moved to 10, Belmont Park, where she stayed until 1872. It was here that George began his teaching career by running a small school, which had seven pupils. In this, Robert Boyd BA, who taught mathematics, assisted him. Clearly, the school was a success, for in 1873, George Valentine felt it was time to move to larger premises.
Such, then, was the background of the man who, in 1873, took over 9 Eliot Place.
George Valentine opened the Eliot Place School in the autumn of 1873, and all the Valentines, except his brother William, moved to the address.
Neil Rhind has pointed out that Valentine's purchase of 9 Eliot Place reveals he was a man of quite some financial means as a lease on a property like this would have cost around £2,000. Though only 31, Valentine could afford to take on what was an enormous property and, in addition, employ a large number of domestic staff and attract graduate teachers. There is every indication that the school was successful and absolutely nothing to suggest it was a crammer. It appears to have educated boys to go on to the major public schools and universities, and follow careers in the army and the professions.
In 1881 there were 38 boarders ranging in age from nine to 17. Many of them came from far afield. Besides those from the British Isles, there were Albert Bridges and Nathaniel B Winter from British Guyana; John W Mennie from Poonah; and Henry J Mackern from Buenos Aires. The pupils were talented. Five of the 38 boarders listed in 1881 subsequently appeared in Who's Who.
Besides Valentine himself, there were two resident assistant masters at this time, both of whom were graduates -- Druitt and a Guernseyman named Mark Francis James Mann. There were also no less than ten domestic staff, including a matron called Mrs Sims. This, then, was the state of the school seven and a half years after it opened. A school employing this number of staff and attracting talented and geographically diverse pupils would appear to be a success, and not the failure so often painted.
Montague Druitt probably began teaching at the school in the autumn of 1880 when he came down from New College, Oxford, but there is no documentary proof of this. All we can say with certainty is that he was a resident assistant master at the school from, at the very latest, the spring of 1881, since this is when he appears in the census.
What was it that attracted Druitt, a native of Wimborne, Dorset, an old boy of Winchester and alumnus of Oxford, to Mr Valentine's school in Blackheath? One can only speculate, but Neil Rhind has suggested that a likely reason was Druitt's sporting interests. Druitt, we know, was a keen cricketer and rugby footballer. In fact, one suspects that his keenness for sport may have been the reason for his disappointing degree. After all, he had a proven intellect, having won scholarships to Winchester and Oxford; and yet he graduated with only a third.
Blackheath was well known for its sporting connections. Cricket had been played on the heath since the 1820s. By the latter part of the century, it had grown so popular that on Saturday afternoons there were 36 separate games of cricket taking place on Blackheath. There was also a Blackheath Hockey Club. Druitt, mixing in sporting circles, must have known of Blackheath's sporting activities and Neil Rhind speculates that Druitt might have heard, through sporting circles, that George Valentine needed a new member of staff. He also suggests that it is quite possible that George Valentine might simply have advertised. Blackheath's sporting reputation might, of course, have encouraged Druitt to apply.
FE Hermes has pointed out another possible reason. For many years, the cricketer Nicholas Wanostrocht (aka 'N Felix') lived in Blackheath and, in fact, ran schools there. Wanostrocht was, I suppose, one of the celebrity cricketers of the generation before WC Grace. Besides being a prominent cricketer and excellent left-handed bat, he was an inventor of cricketing equipment (such as the automatic bowling machine, the Catapulta) and was the author of an illustrated book on the art of cricket entitled Felix on the Bat (1845).
Wanostrocht was a well-known figure in Blackheath, but what is less well known is that after some years spent in retirement at Brighton, he moved to Druitt's home town of Wimborne. In fact, he had a long association with Wimborne. He seems to have visited the town for years and as early as around 1840, he nearly drowned in the river there. He finally moved to Wimborne with his second wife in 1872. Despite deteriorating health, he continued to take an interest in cricket. His home in Wimborne, 1 Julian Villas (now 23 Julian's Road), was beside a field, and he would sometimes coach the local boys in cricket there. Was Druitt, I wonder, one of those boys? Whether he was or wasn't, it is quite inconceivable that Druitt, the ace cricketer, would have been unaware of Wanostrocht's presence in that small Dorset town, and he may well have known of Wanostrocht's long association with Blackheath.
Wanostrocht died in Wimborne on 7 September 1876, and he is buried in Wimborne Cemetery in a grave close to Druitt's own. FE Hermes and Neil Rhind seem to be the only people who have pointed out the Wanostrocht connection, but it may very well explain why Druitt, who had no connections whatever with Blackheath, should have ended up there.
Druitt's official job title was assistant master, but after about 1886 George Valentine ceased to be resident at the school and Neil Rhind believes that Druitt may consequently have at times been the master in charge. We can get some idea what Druitt's job must have been like in practice by looking at his other documented activities. These appear to place doubt on the belief that he was a full-time schoolmaster.
It is certainly true that Druitt was resident at the school. But he also led an active sporting life locally. Besides playing cricket, he was secretary of the Morden Cricket Club and honorary secretary and treasurer of the Blackheath Cricket, Football and Lawn Tennis Club from 1885. In addition to these, he trained as a barrister while he was employed at the school, joined the Inner Temple in May 1882 and was called to the Bar in April 1885. Thereafter he became a certified special pleader for the Western Circuit, and for Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton Assizes. Whilst not quite on a parr with being a barrister, this was a form of employment, which Druitt appears to have found lucrative. When he died, he left a minimum of £2,600 excluding property. He had borrowed £500 from his father to set up in chambers, but a significant amount of this would presumably have been spent in doing so. He had a posthumous inheritance from his mother of £1,083. As a teacher, he appeared to earn around £200 per annum (above the average for the time, which was around £119 per annum). This figure is borne out by the fact that a cheque for £50 was found on his body when it was retrieved from the river. Fifty pounds would have been one term's salary. Out of this salary, Druitt would have to have paid George Valentine for board and lodging. Added to this was his share of expenses at chambers.
Whatever the status of special pleaders, Druitt appeared to earn a lucrative salary from his legal work. It appears to have been regular enough for him to have a first class railway season ticket from Blackheath to London. This would have been by the South Eastern Railway and would have taken him into Charing Cross. From there, he could have walked to chambers in around 15 minutes. Alternatively, he could have caught any one of a multitude of buses passing down the Strand or, on the Underground, taken the District Railway one stop eastbound from what was then called Charing Cross station (it is now Embankment) to Temple.
All this leads one to question just how much time Druitt spent teaching and exactly what his role was at the school. It may be that Druitt and Valentine were personal friends and so Druitt's rather unorthodox holding of a second, fairly full-time job was permitted. It is also possible, as Neil Rhind has suggested, that Druitt was in charge at night. After all, this seems to be the only time that his presence at the school could be guaranteed!
One also has to question why Druitt continued as a schoolmaster when he was so successful as a special pleader? My suspicion is that he remained at the school because he was sexually attracted to the boys.
Druitt left the school under a cloud, and yet he seems if anything to have been a favoured member of staff. His offence was described at the inquest into his death as "serious trouble" and indeed it must have been. Don Rumbelow and Pamela Ball have both suggested that Druitt may have been sacked for having some kind of breakdown. Whilst this is possible, I am not sure that this could be described as "serious trouble". It is more something to be sympathetic towards (especially in the case of a favoured colleague) than a cause for dismissal.
I believe, like many others, that Druitt was molesting one or more of the boys. It is interesting that Druitt does not appear to have been dismissed until around 30 November 1888, which would have been the end of term. This would have accounted for the two cheques found on his body, one for £50 (his term's salary) and one for £16, which might have been in lieu of a month's notice. Both cheques were probably from George Valentine as they were drawn on the London and Provincial Bank, which had a branch in Blackheath Village. (The London and Provincial were to merge with the South Western Bank in 1917, and with Barclays the following year. In 1937 the manager of the Barclays branch at 213 Trafalgar Road in the neighbouring suburb of Greenwich was a Mr SV Valentine. This branch of Barclays had previously been a branch of the London and Provincial. I have discovered that the SV Valentine in question was Sidney Victor Valentine, who died in 1948 at the age of 56. Unfortunately it has not so far proved possible to ascertain if he was related to George Valentine. If he was, however, it might suggest that the Valentines had a long association with the bank, and that they had been customers of the London and Provincial.)
Returning to Druitt's dismissal, I believe that "serious trouble" would surely have meant instant dismissal, and I therefore suspect that Druitt's offence either did not occur until the end of term, or was not discovered until then. In fact, it, or its discovery, might even in some way have been connected with the end of term -- perhaps a compromising letter Druitt had written was discovered because the boy in question was packing up to go home?
Such a serious offence as paedophilia would have meant not only the loss of Druitt's (less profitable) job, but also loss of home and loss of social life. There is no way Druitt could have remained in Blackheath after such an event. His social life was tied up with that of George Valentine, who like Druitt was a keen local sportsman.
The Blackheath Cricket, Football and Lawn Tennis Club minutes for the 31 December 1888 record that Druitt "having gone abroad" should be "removed from the post" of honorary secretary and treasurer. Whatever was recorded in the minutes, they must in reality have known why Druitt had deserted his post. I suspect also that the boys knew. Scandals involving teachers can rarely, if ever, be kept from their pupils. The whole school and probably most of the sporting fraternity of the village must have gossiped.
By a twist of fate, on the very day that Druitt was removed from his post as honorary secretary and treasurer, his body was pulled from the Thames at Chiswick.
Whatever the cause of Druitt's dismissal, the Eliot Place School seemed untouched by any possible scandal. It continued to flourish. George Valentine's mother Louisa had died on 1 November 1885, and his younger brother William followed on 9 August 1893, but George Valentine lived on. He never married and himself remarked in 1893 that the school had "been the chief interest" of his life. Despite this, and despite the school's continued success, he sold it and retired at the end of 1893 at the comparatively early age of 51. He held a lavish party at the Criterion restaurant attended by many former pupils. Accepting a collection of £150 from them, he said that he "no longer felt able to perform the arduous and incessant duties" running the school "entailed, and that he must tax himself less severely in the future."
He also expressed the satisfaction that all teachers can express: "that the effects of his efforts would not altogether cease with the existence of the school"
Valentine sold the school to William Adolphus Cocq, who in 1896 reopened it as Nelson College. It closed in 1908.
Valentine moved house several times after his retirement -- first to 33 Lee Terrace, Blackheath (until 1896), then to 6 Leyland Road, Lee (from 1898 until 1906), before, in 1907, moving in with his nephew George Herbert Valentine at 57, Lee Road. It must have been a source of profound sadness to him when in 1909 the school was demolished and two semi-detached houses were built in its place. The only part of the school building to survive was the extension added by Valentine's predecessor Powles, which still stands and is now part of the neighbouring number 10.
George Valentine died of coronary artery disease on 26 May 1912 at the Kidbrook House Nursing Home run by the Misses Marks and Underhill at 78 Shooters Hill Road, Kidbrooke. He was buried on 30 May in Ladywell Cemetery with his mother Louisa and cousin John Crowe, in a grave immediately in front of his brother William's. The grave is still legible and contains, as its motto, the words: "FATHER IN THY GRACIOUS KEEPING / LEAVE WE NOW THY SERVANTS SLEEPING".
1. Neil Rhind, "Jack the Ripper -- The Blackheath Connection" (unpublished lecture transcript, 1989)
2. Blackheath Local Guide and District Advertiser (30 December 1893, page 11)
I would like to thank Neil Rhind, Blackheath local historian par excellence for his help. Thanks also to Nick Warren for interpreting George Valentine's death certificate, to Roger Dale and Paul Webber of Dorset County Library, and to the staff at Greenwich Local History Library in Blackheath.
Begg, Paul. Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts (London: Robson Books, 1988)
Blackheath Local Guide and District Advertiser (30 December 1893, page 11; 8 June 1912, page 6)
Briggs, David R. The Millstone Race: A Study in Private Education (no stated publisher, 1983)
Brodribb, Gerald. Felix on the Bat, Being a Memoir of Nicholas Felix (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1962)
Census of England and Wales (1881 and 1891)
Hermes, FE. Letter to Greenwich Local History Library (27 March 1976)
Howells, Martin and Keith Skinner. The Ripper Legacy: The Life and Death of Jack the Ripper (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987)
Kelly's Blackheath, Lee, Greenwich, Eltham and Mottingham Directory (Kelly's Directories, 1912, 1913, 1916, and 1937-1938 editions)
Rhind, Neil. Blackheath Village and Environs 1790-1970 Vol II (Blackheath: Bookshop Blackheath, 1983)
Rhind, Neil. "Jack the Ripper -- The Blackheath Connection" (unpublished lecture transcript, 1989)
Rhind, Neil. Letter to the author (5 September 2000)
"Wanostrocht, Nicholas", in The Dictionary of National Biography Vol XX (London: OUP, 1921-1922) edited by Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee (London: OUP, 1921-1922)