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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #105

Dear Reader,

This month, I am writing Leaves, book three in The Olive Tree, my Spanish Civil War saga. This story features the Battle of Brunete and the plight of refugee children, like six year old Esperanza Careaga (pictured), who fled the fascists for saver havens elsewhere.

A post office directory from 1865 confirming that my 3 x great grandfather Richard Stokes was a furniture maker in Finsbury, London. From the 1600s every member of my Stokes family except one was a carpenter, originally based in Pangbourne (Richard’s father, William, was a weights and measures man, overseeing the distribution of corn as it arrived in London). 

Richard married Lucy Sarah Glissan, the daughter of a chemist and a nurse. The couple had seven children, including my direct ancestor, William Richard Frederick Stokes, another furniture maker.

My article about SOE heroine Eileen Nearne appears on page 36 of this month’s Seaside News.

My 3 x great grandmother Fanny Brereton was baptised on 19 November 1837 in Holy Trinity, Bristol (pictured). Her father, James Richard Brereton, a tinker, died shortly before her birth.

With William Bick, Fanny produced eleven children. However, she only married William when she was a month pregnant with their seventh child.

The family moved from Bristol to Hampshire, back to Bristol, before settling in London. James Richard Brereton was born in London and the family had relatives there.

William Bick worked as a stoker in Battersea Gas Works. The couple gave each of their children two names, so managed to think of twenty-two names, including Albert Charles Bick, their last born and my direct ancestor, who died during the First World War.

The last of my Heroines of SOE articles features Nancy Wake, a truly exceptional woman.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born on 30 August 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand. Two years later, her family relocated to Sydney, Australia.

Nancy was very fond of her father. However, he returned to New Zealand leaving his wife and six children in Sydney. The separation ensured that Nancy endured a difficult childhood and aged sixteen she ran away from home. At first, she worked as a nurse. Then a legacy from a relative enabled her to travel to New York, London and Paris, where she reinvented herself as a journalist.

Nancy Wake

In 1937, Nancy met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca, whom she married on 30 November 1939. The couple lived in Marseille and were there when the Germans invaded.

Never a passive person, Nancy responded by becoming an ambulance driver. Then, after the fall of France in 1940, she joined an escape network known as the Pat O’Leary Line. The Gestapo pursued members of the Line and because of Nancy’s ability to elude capture they named her the ‘White Mouse’. 

In November 1942, the Nazis occupied Vichy France, increasing the danger for Nancy and members of the escape line. When a traitor betrayed the network, she had no option but to flee France. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, decided to stay in Marseille. 

Although Nancy loved Henri, he was known for his affairs and the couple parted on the tacit understanding that neither party would remain faithful. Their relationship was an unconventional one and, personally, I believe that’s why fictional accounts of Nancy’s life have failed to capture the public’s imagination. Indeed, she was unimpressed with a well-made biopic released in her lifetime because she felt it focused on her relationship with Henri and not on her amazing wartime exploits.

The Gestapo captured Henri and murdered him. Although she suspected, Nancy didn’t learn of Henri’s fate until after the Allies had liberated France. The news devastated her and although she later remarried she lived with that sadness for the rest of her long life.

After escaping to Britain, Nancy joined the Special Operations Executive. Vera Atkins, a mother hen to the female members of the SOE, described Nancy as, “A real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well.” Her intelligence record noted her “cheerful spirit and strength of character.” While M.R.D. Foot, the official historian of the SOE, said, “Her irrepressible, infectious, high spirits were a joy to everyone who worked with her.”

Nancy’s honours. From Wikipedia.

During the night of 29–30 April 1944, Nancy parachuted into Auvergne, France as a member of a three-person team. The team liaised with the Resistance, which often tried Nancy’s patience because of internal bickering and local politics. 

Nancy’s duties included surveying, collecting arms and money from parachute drops, training the local Maquis and engaging in sabotage. 

Setbacks occurred, which forced the Resistance and SOE into retreat. During one desperate episode, Nancy cycled 500 kilometres through enemy territory in 72 hours in search of a wireless, a feat she later recalled with justified pride.

Nancy participated in attacks on Nazi convoys. She also took part in defensive actions when the Nazis attacked the Resistance. Her main tasks were centred on organising the Maquis and distributing money and arms. Nevertheless, Nancy was active in all aspects of Resistance work and she killed several members of the Gestapo including a sentry with her bare hands. During a television interview in the 1990s, she described the incident. “They’d taught this judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practised away at it. But this was the only time I used it – whack – and it killed him all right. I was really surprised.”

After the liberation of France, Nancy returned to Britain. She mourned Henri then set about the next phase of her life, which included a return to Australia where in 1949 she stood as a Liberal candidate in the federal election running against the deputy prime minister. She achieved a thirteen percent swing, but narrowly lost the vote – 53% to 47%. In 1951, Nancy tried again and came within 250 votes of success. 

Nancy was a liberal in the widest sense. She was sympathetic towards homosexual members of the SOE at a time when hostility and prejudice were the norm. She possessed a heart of gold, and nerves of steel. 

Seeking a new challenge, Nancy returned to Britain where she worked as an intelligence officer at the Air Ministry in Whitehall. In December 1957 she married RAF officer, John Forward. In the early 1960s, the couple relocated to Australia where Nancy resumed her interest in politics.

In 1985, Nancy published her autobiography, The White Mouse. John Forward died on 19 August 1997 and in 2001 Nancy moved again, returning to London. She became a resident at the Stafford Hotel in St. James’ Place, near Piccadilly before ending her days at the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women. 

Nancy died on 7 August 2011, aged 98, at Kingston Hospital. Her ashes were scattered near the village of Verneix, at Montluçon, central France.

Is my character Eve Beringar based on Nancy Wake? Yes, to some extent, but the overall answer is ‘no’. Eve is a composite character based on the lives and exploits of twenty-one SOE agents. I did consider writing about Nancy Wake. However, I felt that aspects of her relationship with her husband, Henri Fiocca, did not translate well into my fiction. 

Nancy Wake was an unconventional woman fighting an unconventional war. She was a remarkable woman, a true force of nature and undoubtedly one of the greatest heroines of the Special Operations Executive.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #104

Dear Reader,

This week, we made a start on the Portuguese versions of A Parcel of Rogues and The Hermit of Hisarya in my Sam Smith Mystery Series, translations number eighty-one and eighty-two of my books.

An exciting new venture for a wide range of Welsh products. Full details here https://www.allthingswales.co.uk

The latest issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads 🙂

In this month’s issue…

Flash Fiction 

New Releases

Bluebells

Interviews

Nature

World Oceans Day

Plus, travel, photography, puzzles, poems, short stories and so much more!

My 7 x great grandfather Gregory Wright, a gentleman who ran a successful stable and coach business, featured in two court trials. The first trial took place on 22 February 1752 at the London Sessions where Gregory gave the following evidence.

‘Gregory Wright on his Oath Saith That On or about the Fourteenth of January Instant Two Coach Door Glasses was discovered to be Stolen out of a Coach House at the Bell and Tunn Inn, Fleet Street. Aforesaid the property of William Chamberlain, esq.’

The report continued with the suggestion that the thief tried to sell the coach glasses for twenty shillings, approximately £120 in today’s money.

Eighteenth century coach and horses

The second trial, for perjury, took place on 8 April 1752 at the Old Bailey. Trials in those days were usually brief affairs, over in a matter of minutes. However, this trial received a number of witnesses and ran for some time. Details from the Old Bailey website https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/

‘Thomas Ashley, was indicted for wilful and corrupt perjury on the trial of Joseph Goddard in swearing he met Simons the Jew near Brentford-turnpike, and asked him to drink a pint of beer, that he then took hold of his beard in a joke, that the Jew held up his staff and struck him, that after that he throw’d the Jew in a ditch and scratched him in the bushes, and flung a stone which fell on his head and broke it three weeks before, Sept. 11.’

Henry Simons gave evidence through an interpreter and insisted that no one had harmed him, therefore suggesting that Thomas Ashley had committed perjury at Joseph Goddard’s trial. In his evidence, Henry Simons mentioned the Rose and Crown, an inn later owned by my Brereton ancestors.

Lettice Sergeant also gave evidence and mentioned the Rose and Crown, ‘on this side of the turnpike on Smallbury-green’. She lodged there ‘from the latter end of April to Michaelmas Day.’ She stated that Ashley was drunk, that insults were offered, but that no violence took place.

Gregory Wright gave evidence. He stated, ‘I live at the Temple-Muse, Fleet-street, White Fryars, on the 21st of August last, I set out from my house after one o’clock, for Newberry-Fair by myself, till I came on the other side Hammersmith, there Mr. Pain and Mr. Mercer overtook me; we lay at Maidenhead that night; we continued in company till we came to Newberry; upon out going between the Coach and Horses, on the other side Brentford, and the Rose and Crown Alehouse, before we came at the Turnpike, I saw one man pursuing another; we might be about two hundred yards from the Rose and Crown Alehouse; I saw it was a Foreigner by his dress, that was pursued, which made me anxious to enquire what was the matter; the man behind called out stop Thief! stop Thief! which I believe to be the prisoner at the bar; when the Jew got to us, he got between Mr. Pain’s horse and mine; the drunken man, the pursuer, scrambled up near, we kept him back, the drunken man said he is a rogue and a villain; we desired he’d tell us what he had done; he said he has drank my beer and ran away, and would not pay for it; said I if that he all, let the poor man go about his business, and what is to pay, I’ll pay it; no said he, he would not, and made a scuffle to come at the Jew; I took particular notice of the Jew, he made signs holding his hand up to his beard, we said he should desist; then he (Ashley) said to me, you have robbed me, said I if this is the case you are a villain, and if you say so again I’ll horse-whip you; we stopped him there till the Jew got near to the houses at Brentford; he was very near turning the corner where the bridge is; I believe on my oath, the Jew was at least two-hundred yards off; I turned myself on my horse, half britch, to see whether he was secure, the drunken man swore and cursed, and used many bad words; there came a woman and took hold on him, she seem’d to be his wife, she desired him to go back: he fell down, then Mr. Pain said, the man (Simons) is safe enough; the last woman that gave evidence told me nothing was the matter, that the Jew did nothing to him, he had drank none of his beer, but refused it, and that he made an attempt to pull him by the beard, with that we advanced towards the Crown Alehouse, I, and I believe Mr. Pain, stopt with me; there was the woman that was examined first, I asked her what was the matter, she said no thing at all; I said if there is anything to pay for beer that that poor Jew has drank, I am ready to pay for it; she said the Jew did no harm to the man, nor drank none of his beer.’

Eighteenth century trial at the Old Bailey

Question: ‘Had there been a stone throw’d?’

Gregory Wright: ‘I saw none throw’d, and believe the man was so drunk that he was not able to pursue or over-take him: I saw the woman at the door the time they were running, they crossed the road backwards and forwards; the Jew kept, it may be, fifteen or twenty yards before him, I kept my eye upon them from the first of the calling out stop thief!’

On his cross examination Gregory Wright said, ‘When we first heard the alarm, we believed the Jew might be within fifty yards of the alehouse, and the others about two-hundred yards from the Rose and Crown alehouse; that they were nearer that than the Coach and Horses; that they met the Jew about two-hundred yards on this side of the Rose and Crown alehouse; that we saw no blood or mark at all on the Jew, that he made no such complaint or sign to his head, but said my beard, and sign’d to it.’

Other witnesses agreed that although the mood was threatening no violence took place and that on the whole the community were protective of Henry Simons.

Question to Mr. Wright again. ‘How came you to know of this trial to give your evidence?’

Gregory Wright. ‘I was waiting at the door of the grand jury last sessions, to find a bill against a person (the stolen coach glasses); as I was leaning over the rails, I heard Lettice Sergeant talking about the affair of this Jew; the Jew I observed looked me out of countenance; I asked his interpreter what he look’d at me so hard for, he said he believed he knew me. The woman said she was come to support the cause of this poor unhappy man, and added, that in August last there were four gentlemen coming on the road when he was pursued, and he has made all the enquirey he can to find them out, and can’t find any of them; said I what time in August? she said the 21st; I look’d at the Jew, and saw he was the same man; I ask’d his interpreter whether he was pursued by any man, he said yes, he was; I said to the woman, I know the men, by which means I was brought to the grand jury about this affair; this bill and mine were in together.’

Question to Mr. Wright. ‘Did you, or any of you, tell this witness the drunken man had thrown the Jew into the ditch?’

Gregory Wright: ‘When this witness said so, it gave me a shock: we neither of us told him so. I saw Ashley down: there were none but women at that man’s house when we came there.’

Other witnesses, including thirteen-year-old Edward Beacham supported the testimony offered by Gregory Wright, while Martha James stated that Thomas Ashley was drunk, and that ‘I never saw a man so drunk in my life.’

Verdict: Guilty.

Sentence: Thomas Ashley, to stand once in the pillory at the gate of the Sessions House for the space of one hour, between the hours of twelve and one, and imprison’d during twelve months, after which to be transported for seven years.

Perjurer in the Pillory

This trial offers an insight into the local community, the legal system and Gregory’s character. He was protective of Henry Simons and was willing to meet any expense incurred by Simons at the inn. Gregory was obviously a kind and principled man; an ancestor to be proud of.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #103

Dear Reader,

Published on 5 June 2021, many thanks to everyone who has placed Operation Sherlock, Eve’s War book five, in the top thirty hot new releases.

Currently, I’m storyboarding The Olive Tree: Leaves, book three in my Spanish Civil War saga. This story centres on the Battle of Brunete (6–25 July 1937) and a race against time to evacuate children before the fascists controlled the northern Spanish ports.

Map credit: Wikipedia

Several branches of my family came from the West Country. This is Avon Street, Bath, Somerset 1880, a street that must have been familiar to some of them.

Mapping My Ancestors

Maps Five and Six: 1750 – 1800

New counties on Map Five are Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Cheshire. Various ancestors from these counties either moved to London or married someone from London during this period. 

On Map Six my Canadian ancestors emigrated to that country from Yorkshire and Durham while a branch of my family moved to Cheshire from the Netherlands, possibly in connection with the cloth trade. Several branches of my family established plantations in Barbados and one ancestor was ‘Born at Sea’. The exact location wasn’t recorded, but I suspect it was during a journey from the West Indies to Britain. More research required. Captains used to fire their guns to ‘encourage’ women to give birth, hence ‘son of a gun.’

My  7 x great grandmother Sarah Wildsmith was born in London in 1698 to affluent parents. On 23 October 1719 she married Philip Spooner, a ‘gentleman’. However, an air of mystery surrounds the marriage for it was a Clandestine Marriage, a Fleet Marriage, pictured.

A Fleet Marriage was an example of an irregular or Clandestine Marriage that took place in England before the Marriage Act of 1753. Specifically, it was a marriage that took place in London’s Fleet Prison or its environs during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

By the 1740s up to 6,000 marriages a year were taking place in the Fleet area, compared with 47,000 marriages in England as a whole. One estimate suggests that there were between 70 and 100 clergymen working in the Fleet area between 1700 and 1753. The social status of the couples varied. Some were criminals, others were poor. Some were wealthy while many simply sought a quick or secret marriage for numerous personal reasons.

Sarah and Philip’s marriage was recorded in the ‘Registers of Clandestine Marriages and of Baptisms in the Fleet Prison, King’s Bench Prison, the Mint and the Mayfair Chapel.’ I assume the couple were married in Mayfair Chapel. However, maybe not because in 1729 Philip found himself in a debtors’ prison.

Debtors’ prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debts. Destitute people who could not pay a court-ordered judgment were incarcerated in these prisons until they had worked off their debt or secured outside funds to pay the balance. 

In England, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 10,000 people were imprisoned for debt each year. However, a prison term did not alleviate a person’s debt; an inmate was typically required to repay the creditor in full before their release.

In England and Wales debtors’ prisons varied in the amount of freedom they allowed the debtor. Through his family’s financial support a debtor could pay for certain freedoms; some prisons allowed inmates to conduct business and to receive visitors while others even allowed inmates to live a short distance outside the prison, a practice known as the ‘Liberty of the Rules.’

A mid-Victorian depiction of the debtors’ prison

Along with the embarrassment for the family, life in these prisons was unpleasant. Often, single cells were occupied by a mixture of gentlemen, violent criminals and labourers down on their luck. Conditions were unsanitary and disease was rife.

Many notable people found themselves in a debtors’ prison including Charles Dickens’ father, John. Later, Dickens became an advocate for debt prison reform, and his novel Little Dorrit dealt directly with this issue.

More tragedy befell Sarah in 1729 when Philip died, possibly from gaol fever contracted at the prison. Gaol fever, was common in English prisons. These days, we believe it was a form of typhus. The disease spread in dark, dirty rooms where prisoners were crowded together allowing lice to spread easily.

Alone, and in financial difficulties, Sarah had to regroup and rebuild her life, which she did.

Sarah’s fortunes changed in 1731 when she married Gregory Wright, my direct ancestor. Gregory was also a ‘gentleman’ running a successful stable and coach business. Once again, the marriage was registered in the ‘Registers of Clandestine Marriages and of Baptisms in the Fleet Prison, King’s Bench Prison, the Mint and the Mayfair Chapel.’

Sarah’s Fleet Marriages raise the question: were her husbands in debt when she married them? With Philip Spooner this is a possibility because he did end his days in a debtors’ prison. However, the records suggest that Gregory Wright ran a successful coaching business and that debt was not an aspect of his life. Wealthy people participated in Fleet Marriages, especially if they sought secrecy or a quick marriage. It would appear that Sarah’s marriage to Gregory Wright fell into that category.

For Sarah and Gregory a child followed in 1739, my 6 x great grandfather William Wright, born in St Dunstan in the West, London. At last, Sarah had found contentment. However, drama followed in 1752 when Gregory featured in two trials at the Old Bailey. More about them next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #102

Dear Reader,

A busy time preparing my books for the next nine months. Projects include: Damaged, book nineteen in my Sam Smith Mystery Series; Leaves, book three in The Olive Tree, my Spanish Civil War saga; Operation Cameo, book six in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series and Colette, A Schoolteacher’s War, book one in a new series about various women and their participation in the French Resistance.

My latest translation, the Portuguese version of Operation Treasure. I’m delighted that Dilaine will continue to translate my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series.

Mapping my ancestors over the past thousand years.

Maps Three and Four: 1800 – 1850

These maps highlight the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. My Welsh ancestors remained fairly settled, mainly working on the land. Ancestors moved from Cardiganshire to Glamorgan, but the rest remained in their native communities.

In England, the story was different. Ancestors moved from Berkshire, Limerick, Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire taking their trades as carpenters, nurses and stone masons to London. Other branches, in Durham, Somerset and Essex intermarried with London ancestors while branches of my Durham and Yorkshire family emigrated to Ontario in Canada.

This speaks for itself 👇

I have discovered many fascinating stories while researching my ancestors this week. These include: marriages in London’s Fleet Prison, pictured, people in a debtors prison, slave owners in Barbados, a medal won during the Napoleonic Wars, Old Bailey trials, transportations to the penal colonies of Australia, and ancestors who ran an inn, which possibly doubled as a brothel. I look forward to sharing details of these stories with you in future weeks.

My 20 x great grandmother Isabella of Castile, Duchess of York, was born in 1355, the daughter of Pedro Alfónsez (Pedro I) “Rey de Castilla y León, el Cruel” and his favourite mistress Maria de Padilla.

Isabella accompanied her elder sister Constance to England after Constance’s marriage to John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and on 11 July 1372 married Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund Langley, 1st Duke of York, a man fourteen years her senior. The marriage was a political alliance to further the Plantagenet claim to the crown of Castile.

Chroniclers described Isabella and Edmund as ‘an ill-matched pair’. Isabella was flirtatious and committed many indiscretions, including an affair with Richard II’s half-brother, John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, a ‘violent and lawless’ man. 

Isabella of Castile

The chroniclers didn’t like Isabella and tarnished her reputation, taking exception to her ‘loose morals’. Of course, their comments must be seen within the context of the political intrigues of the day, which were numerous in Richard II’s court. It seems certain that Isabella did have affairs, no doubt looking for the love and affection that might have been absent in her marriage.

Officially, Isabella and Edmund produced three children: Edward, Constance (my direct ancestor) and Richard, although there is a suggestion that John Holland fathered Richard.

Isabella died on 23 December 1392, aged thirty-seven and was buried on 14 January 1393 at the church of the Dominicans at King’s Langley.  Shakespeare, however, brought Isabella back to life when he featured her in Act V of his play, Richard II, set in December 1399.

Coat of Arms of Castile, adopted by Isabella.

There are no records of the King’s Langley tombs. The priory surrendered to the Crown in 1536, but was not dissolved until 1559, when the estate passed into private hands. It’s assumed that the heraldic tomb-chest now standing in the north chapel of King’s Langley parish church originated from the priory. It was moved in 1877 and opened to reveal the disturbed remains of a sixty year old male and a forty year old female, thought to be Edmund and Isabella.

In her Will, Isabella bequeathed to the Duke of Lancaster, a tablet of Armenian jasper; to her son Edward, her crown; to Constance Despenser, her daughter, a fret of pearls; to the Duchess of Gloucester, her tablet of gold with images; and to Richard II her heart of pearls and the residue of her goods, in trust that he should allow his godson Richard, Isabella’s younger son, an annuity of 500 marks for life, a trust which Richard II, out of the great respect he bore for her, accepted.

Richard II loved pomp and pageantry, and it’s clear that Isabella had more in common with him than with her husband, Edmund. While Isabella’s marriage was no bed of roses, in Richard II’s flamboyant court I sense that she was at home, even though that home was a long way from her native Castile.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Bestselling psychological and historical mysteries from £0.99. Paperbacks, brand new in mint condition 🙂
https://hannah-howe.com/store/

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #101

Dear Reader,

My latest translation in Portuguese, The Olive Tree: Roots. A Spanish Civil War Saga. Available soon 🙂

Many of my London ancestors came from Lambeth. This is the Thames foreshore at Lambeth, c1866, a photograph by William Strudwick, one of a series showing images of working class London.

My article about SOE heroine Eileen Nearne appears on page 36 of this month’s Seaside News.

Mapping my ancestors over the past thousand years.

Map One: Twentieth Century.

My twentieth century ancestors lived in Glamorgan, London and Lancashire. My Glamorgan ancestors were born there while some of my London ancestors were evacuated to Lancashire during the Second World War where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Map Two: 1850 – 1900

Three new counties appear on this map: Carmarthenshire, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire. Yorkshire is represented by a sailor who lived in Canada for a while before settling in London. My Gloucestershire ancestors moved to London because they had family there, and no doubt they were looking for better employment opportunities. My Carmarthenshire ancestors moved to Glamorgan to work on the land, on the newly developing railway lines, and in the burgeoning coal mines. Some branches emigrated to Patagonia, but my direct ancestors remained in Glamorgan.

Published this weekend, Stormy Weather, book eighteen in my Sam Smith Mystery Series. My intention was to write one book, but I’m delighted that Sam convinced me to develop her story into a series 🙂

My 2 x great grandmother Jane Dent was baptised on 9 October 1870. The eldest daughter of Richard Davis Dent and Sarah Ann Cottrell, she lived in Whitechapel during the terror of Jack the Ripper.

The police investigated eleven brutal murders in Whitechapel and Spitalfields between 1888 and 1891. Subsequently, five of those murders were attributed to Jack the Ripper, those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, the murders taking place between 31 August and 9 November 1888.

The murders attracted widespread newspaper coverage and were obviously the major talking point within the Whitechapel community. What did that community look like and where did my ancestor, Jane Dent fit in?

Members of the public on the streets of Whitechapel, London, circa 1890.

By the 1840s, Whitechapel had evolved into the classic image of Dickensian London beset with problems of poverty and overcrowding as people moved into the city from the countryside, mingling with an influx of immigrants. In 1884, actor Jacob Adler wrote, “The further we penetrated into this Whitechapel, the more our hearts sank. Was this London? Never in Russia, never later in the worst slums of New York, were we to see such poverty as in the London of the 1880s.”

In October 1888, Whitechapel contained an estimated six-two brothels and 1,200 prostitutes. However, the suggestion that all the Ripper’s victims were prostitutes is a myth. At least three of them were homeless alcoholics. The common thread they shared was they had fallen on hard times.

Jane’s father, Richard Davis Dent, died in 1883 when she was twelve so Jane lived in Whitechapel with her mother, Sarah Ann, and younger brothers and sisters, Thomas, Arthur, Eliza, Robert and Mary. The 1881 census listed Jane as a scholar, and it’s likely that she became a domestic servant after her schooling.

Charles Booth’s poverty map of Whitechapel. The red areas are affluent while the black areas indicate criminals and extreme poverty.

The Dent family lived in Urban Place. Their neighbours included a toy maker, a tobacco pipe maker, a French polisher, a vellum blind maker and a cabinet maker. These people were skilled artisans, so it wasn’t the roughest of neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, did Jane and her family discuss Jack the Ripper and his latest atrocities over the dining table? Almost certainly they did, and mothers throughout the generations have echoed Sarah Ann’s warnings to her daughters.

Did Jane meet Jack the Ripper, socially, at work or in the street? Possibly. Did she have a suspect in mind? Her thoughts were not recorded so we will never know. Did she modify her behaviour and avoid Whitechapel’s network of dark and dangerous allies? It is to be hoped that she did.

Although there are numerous suspects, from butchers to members of the royal family, it’s unlikely that we will ever discover Jack the Ripper’s true identity. The police at the time were led in the main by retired army officers, and were not the brightest detectives. Forensic science was basically unknown, so evidence gathering was limited. Nevertheless, the police’s failure to identify Jack the Ripper does raise some serious questions. 

‘Blind Man’s Bluff’. A Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, 22 September 1888, criticising the police investigation.

Was there a cover-up? It’s likely that members of the royal family did visit prostitutes – this is a common theme over many centuries – and the government would have issued instructions to the police to cover-up any royal association with prostitutes for fear of a public backlash and revolution, which was rife in parts of Europe. Any royal cover-up would have hampered the investigation, but ultimately Jack the Ripper evaded arrest because the Victorian police force did not have the skills required to solve complex murders.

By 1891, the Whitechapel murders had ceased and Jane had married William Richard Stokes, a cabinet maker. The couple moved to Gee Street, in the St Luke’s district of London where they raised a family of nine children, including my direct ancestor, Arthur Stokes, and Robert Stokes who died on 26 June 1916 at Hébuterne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France during the First World War.

Jane Dent survived the terror of Jack the Ripper, but memories of his murders must have remained with her for the rest of her life. After all, she was only eighteen years old, an impressionable age in any era. She died on 6 June 1950 in the London suburb of Walthamstow.

As for Jack, I suspect that either he took his own life in November 1888 or, unknown as the Ripper, he entered an asylum at that time, and remained there for the rest of his life. Jack the Ripper was a compulsive murderer. He didn’t stop killing, something stopped him.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Bestselling psychological and historical mysteries from £0.99. Paperbacks, brand new in mint condition 🙂
https://hannah-howe.com/store/