31 August 1888
WOMAN SHOCKINGLY MUTILATED.
HEAD NEARLY CUT OFF.
A tragedy, even more revolting in its details than that of George-yard, and surrounded apparently with circumstances fully as mysterious, has just occurred at Bucks-row, a low class neighbourhood, adjoining Whitechapel-road. Passing the Essex Wharf, in Bucks-row, at about 4.30 this morning, Constable Neale, 97J, found lying on the pavement there the dead body of a woman. On further examination her head was found to have been very nearly severed from her body. A horrible gash, fully an inch in width, extending from one side of the neck to the other, completely severing the windpipe. The lower portion of the abdomen also was completely ripped open, causing the bowels to protrude. The woman was at once conveyed to the mortuary, where she now lies. She is apparently about five and thirty years of age, with dark hair, of medium height, and with small features. Her clothing, which was examined by Inspector Nelson (sic Helson), is scanty, consisting only of a threadbare cloak with a hood, a brown dress, and a petticoat, which bears the mark of Lambeth workhouse. The woman has not yet been identified.
It is thought that the woman was assailed by some man with whom she had been in company. Her front teeth had been knocked out, the woman probably having received a kick in the mouth from her assailant.
No more revolting crime has ever been committed in Whitechapel than that which occurred in Bucks-row, Thomas-street, a comparatively unfrequented thoroughfare - especially at night - lying at the back of the Whitechapel-road. As Police-constable Neal was leaving his beat in that locality, he saw what he first thought was a drunken woman. A closer investigation made the officer arrive at a different conclusion, for, upon stooping down, he observed that the woman's throat was literally cut from ear to ear, and her head nearly severed. The wounds in the neck extended to the spinal column. Dr. Llewelyn, of the Bethnal-green-road, was at once called. He could only pronounce it as a case of murder. It is presumed that death took place about two o'clock, for the discovery was not made until shortly before four, and the body was then warm.
Inspector Helston, Detective-Sergeant Enwright, and Sergeant Godley were soon on the spot, and made a diligent search for any weapon which might have been used in the perpetration of the crime. Their efforts in that respect were futile, but, from the nature of the injuries, it is conjectured that a knife such as would be used by butchers was wielded in the murderer's hand.
When the body of the unfortunate creature - not yet identified - was taken to the mortuary, a more minute examination showed that the actual wounds were of a character too horrible to mention in detail. As a Criminal Investigation officer remarked this afternoon, "The injuries were such that they could only have been inflicted by a madman."
When the body was searched, a comb and a piece of soap were found in one of the woman's pockets, and the only clue as to her previous place of abode was found on her garments, one of which showed that she had, at some time or other, been a workhouse inmate. Her life, it is thought, had been that of an immoral woman.
The deceased was lying just inside the gateway of the Essex Wharf - at the corner of Bucks-row, where there is a night watchman, who, it is said, heard nothing unusual occurring in the neighbourhood last night. It is thought not improbable that the woman was murdered some little distance off, and that her body was then taken to Bucks-row and thrown inside the gateway.
Not only the police officers immediately engaged in the case, but the whole of the available detective force in the East-end are making a search for the slightest possible clue to the tragedy, and their investigations are materially aided by the advice of Inspector Reid, whose latest experience in crime of the kind was the dreadful affair at George-yard-buildings, when Martha Turner died from injuries, some of which are very similar in character to those inflicted upon the unknown woman found in Bucks-row. It is surmised by the detective authorities that several of the undiscovered crimes of a hideous character have been
whom they think is a madman. Another theory advanced is that the deceased was mistaken for another woman, and was murdered from motives of jealousy. A feature incomprehensible to the medical man and the police engaged in the case, and one only to be accounted for by classing her murderer as a maniac, is the fact that the wounds in the woman's throat were alone sufficient to cause death. Yet there were various injuries to her body, which could only have been perpetrated for purposes of mutilation. It is this which makes the police think that the deceased was the victim of a criminal who has, while suffering from some special form of madness, wandered about London and committed crime of a mysterious nature. There is yet another suggestion, that these murders may have been the work of a gang of scoundrels who seek to levy blackmail upon unfortunate women. But it is hardly possible to believe them to have been the work of sane, however depraved people.
The deceased was dressed in a brown ulster, with metal buttons, having upon them the figure of a woman on horseback, and a man standing at the side. She had lost one tooth, but there is no appearance of any struggle, the clothes not being torn in any way. This adds to the mystery, but it is extraordinary how such wounds could have been inflicted without considerable struggling. The police, who are making the most careful investigation into the matter, express an opinion that the deceased was killed by a left-handed person, judging from the nature of the injuries. Naturally, the occurrence has caused great excitement in the crowded district in which it happened, and the scene of the tragedy was surrounded this morning by a large crowd.
One night towards the end of August last year it was my fortune, or rather mis-fortune, to form one of a motley crowd who found their bed on the cold stones of Trafalgar-square, where my neighbour diverted my thoughts by asking if I had ever been at the hopping. He said he had been every year since he could remember, and he intended to be this year.
His words worked in my mind, and in a short time I found myself walking away from Trafalgar-square with my face set towards the hop country. I had not the remotest chance of raising the railway fare to East Farleigh or anywhere else.
Taking the route by Gravesend and Chatham, on the third day I reached East Farleigh, about two miles from Maidstone. It is a little village situated on ground rising steeply from the Medway, which is here a sluggish but pleasant stream. The church and the old Bull Inn opposite, constitute the nucleus of the village, which boasts a railway station in the hollow, another inn - the Victory - on the other side of the bridge, a post-office in the general dealer's shop in the one long street, and a school-house beside the church. All the country round is one vast hop garden, studded with the kilns in which the hops are treated.
It was interesting to watch the influx of visitors into this little village, usually so quiet. Hoppers' trains arrived, bringing whole families from East London, properly equipped for the ensuing campaign, with bedding, cooking utensils, and provisions. Crowds of passengers arrived by road, with some bundles and sticks, others without either stick or bundle. The families had been engaged beforehand, and were immediately accommodated in the hop houses of their various companies. The travellers by road were generally adventurers, who had nowhere to lay their heads. The Authorities, however, were accustomed to this state of things, and at the workhouse at Coxheath, two miles away, several tents had been erected for the accommodation of the homeless. Hundreds continued to use this shelter, night after night, until they found employment, their only visible means of subsistence being the two pieces of bread which were served out to them at the "spike" night and morning. It was the fourth day before I secured half a "binn," and got to work.
A hop-garden is a very pretty sight. The poles round which the hops are trained stand in regular rows, several feet apart either way. Three plants are trained round each pole. When a field is "taken down" the stems of the plants are cut at about the height of a man's shoulder, and the pole is pulled up and laid across the "horse" of the binn. The picker then proceeds to "strip the pole," that is to pick off all the hops and put them into the binn, which is a simple wooden arrangement for sustaining the "cloth" which holds the hops. From the binn the hops are measured out into sacks, and these are carted away to the kiln; and that is the whole operation.
A field is taken down by "setts," each sett consists of six binns' companies. A binn's company consists of five binns and ten pickers, two to each binn. The binn's company is under the care of a pole puller, who pulls, or is supposed to pull, all the poles. Each sett, again, is under the care of a measurer, who, at certain intervals, indicated by the blowing of a horn, measures the hops out of the binns into sacks, and marks in a book against each picker's name the number of bushels to his credit.
Each binn's company occupies one house - men, women, and children, married and single, all together. The only furniture of these hop-houses is the straw with which the floor is littered for bedding, and a tin sconse for a candle. Cooking is performed in a common cook-house, a long low shed, where fires are made of faggots, each hop-house being supplied by a farmer with so many faggots a day.
Anything more comfortless and cheerless than the appearance which these hop-houses present, externally and internally, especially on a rainy day, could not well be imagined. The routine of our day was something like this. We got up about five in the morning, made tea in the cook-house, and got breakfast. We were expected to be in the hop-garden by six, when the horn blew, to commence work. At eight the horn blew again, to clean hops, that is, to take all branches, large leaves, &c., out of the binn. The measurer then came round, and the hops were measured out of the binns into the sacks, which were carted away to the kilns. This measuring out process was repeated at intervals two, three, or many times a-day, according to the demands of the kilns. At twelve, the horn blew for dinner, which we had brought with us, and which was eaten in the field. Half-an-hour was allowed for the midday meal. At three, four, five or six, as the case might be, according to the demands of the kilns, the horn blew for the last time, to pull no more poles.
When the horn had blown for the last time, when the measurer had made his last round, when the binns were all measured out, and the sacks were all carted away to the kilns, we left off for the day. On our way back to the hop-houses we paused to make our purchases at the temporary market established beside the Bull - two or three bread carts, two or three barrows with fish, bloaters, kippers, and a stall with bacon, butter, cheese, &c. Having provided ourselves with the stuff of life and some cheap relish, we went home and prepared another pot of tea. Supper over, we had two or three hours to dispose of before going to bed. We might take a quiet walk along the banks of the Medway, or we might mingle with the company of the Bull or the Victory, and listen to uproarious songs, generally smacking strongly of the Emerald Isle. Perhaps there might be an entertainment of some sort in the school-room, a reading, or a concert, or a magic lantern. The curate, who was a great friend of the hoppers, and, I believe, did not a little good amongst them, was very good in getting up these entertainments.
Such is the hopper's life at East Farleigh. It is not a very tempting one, you will say, and yet the hopping season is looked forward to by hundreds in East London with feelings of eager anticipation. It is the annual holiday of East London, which then migrates to Kent to recruit itself in health, in spirits, and, perchance, in purse; that is, if East London is a married man, with a wife and children, for hop-picking is work for nimble fingers. The individual adventurer who has not been a picker from his youth up seldom clears much. For my own part, all that I gained, from my hopping expedition was to keep myself for two or three weeks in the very plainest way, and to utterly ruin my clothes.
The reports from the hop country this year are not encouraging, nevertheless we may take it for granted that the migration of East London to Kent will not be less than in other years. It is difficult to account for the fascination which hop-picking has for the East Londoner. Men will even throw up steady work to make their annual excursion to Kent. The change, no doubt goes for much, and the fresh air and sense of freedom. One thing is certain, that hop picking cannot be good for the children who are engaged in it. The coarse language so often heard on the field, and the disgusting state of the hop houses, must have a deleterious effect upon their tender minds. But then, unfortunately, they are perhaps no more exposed to these evil influences in Kent than in East London.
UP AND DOWN.