A CAST OF THOUSANDS
BY CHRISTOPHER SCOTT
Like the murder of Alice McKenzie, the death of Frances Coles was seen in many contemporary press reports as attributable to the Whitechapel murderer. She was found, still breathing, but with her throat cut in the early hours of 14 February 1891 in Swallow Gardens, which led into Royal Mint Street. Coles died soon after being found by PC Thompson, who heard footsteps running away to the south. Thomas Sadler, who had been in Coles' company prior to the murder and was charged with killing her. Sadler was discharged but some sections of the police remained convinced that Sadler was indeed the killer of Frances Coles.
There is only one unequivocal census entry relating to Frances herself, although we do find other information about other members of her family. Frances was the daughter of James William Coles, a master bootmaker, and Mary Ann Coles. We find the family listed in 1871 living at 8 White Lion Court, Leather Market, Bermondsey.
James W Coles aged 51 born Woolland, Somerset - Master boot and shoe maker
Mary A Coles aged 40 born Hammerton, Scotland
Mary A aged 18 born Bermondsey
Selina aged 14 born Bermondsey
Frances aged 11 born Bermondsey
James aged 8 born Bermondsey.
By 1881 Frances' father was living in the Bermondsey Workhouse. Interestingly, he is listed as unmarried, which suggests that by this time he was either divorced or widowed. His details are given as follows:
Workhouse, Russell Street, Bermondsey
James Coles aged 61 born Woolleston, Somerset - Shoemaker.
In the same year Frances' sister, Selina, was registered as an inmate of the Southwark Workhouse:
St Olaves Unions Workhouse, Southwark
Selina Cole aged 21 born Southwark, Surrey - Domestic servant - Inmate
In the 1891 census, less than two months after Frances' death, we find records of three of her immediate family. Her father, James William, was still listed as living the Bermondsey Workhouse. On this occasion he is described as widowed and, oddly, as being born in Bristol.
Bermondsey District Workhouse
James William Coles aged 68 born Bristol - Retired bootmaker
Frances' sister, Mary Ann, was, in 1891, living at 32 Ware Street, Haggeston, Shoreditch:
Mary Ann Coles aged 38 born Bermondsey - House cleaning (Char) - Unmarried
The saddest case was Frances' other sister, Selina, who in 1891 is listed as a lunatic in the Leavesden Asylum:
Leavesden Asylum, Watford
Selina Cole (sic) aged 32 born Bermondsey - Book folder - Lunatic
The only other possible sighting, and it is only a possibility, is the case of two girls of the name of Coles listed as lodgers:
12 Tabernacle Row, London
Mary A M Coles aged 21 - born Edgbaston Warwick - Boot machinist - Unmarried
Fanny E Coles aged 19 born Rotherhithe, Surrey - Unmarried.
The place of birth for Mary is obviously wrong if this is the same Mary Coles and her age also at variance. This Fanny E. Coles may be Frances but the identification is by no means definite.