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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #140

Dear Reader,

This week, I made great progress with the writing of Operation Rose, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE book seven, and Fruit, book four in my Olive Tree Spanish Civil War saga. Covid slowed me down over recent months, but this week was much more like it.

In this month’s issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads…

Crime and thriller author Shawn Reilly Simmons interviewed by Wendy H Jones. Plus, Author Features, Nature, Photography, Poetry, Short Stories, Young Writers, National Batman Day, and so much more!

You discover all sorts when you look through parish records.

My 3 x great grandmother Lucy Sarah Glissan was born in Stepney, London in 1842. In 1851 with her sisters Amelia, 13, and Mary Ann, 6, she was living in 28 Church Road, St-George-in-the-East, London in the shadow of this impressive Anglican church. Lucy’s parents were John Glissan, a surgeon/chemist/dentist and Sarah Glissan née Foreman, a nurse/chemist/dentist.

In 1861 my 3 x great grandmother Lucy Sarah Glissan, 19, was living with her sisters, Amelia, 23, and Sarah Ann, 16, in 2 Charles Street, St George-in-the-East, London. All three were unmarried tailoresses.

A baby also lived with the sisters, William, their ‘brother’. A problem: their mother, Sarah, was a widow of seven years and past childbearing age. To save face, the sisters had lied to the enumerator. So, which one of them gave birth to William?

The answer: my 3 x great grandmother Lucy Sarah Glissan. Shortly after the census was taken, Lucy Sarah married William’s father, Richard Stokes. Sadly, shortly after that William died. The couple produced seven more children including my direct ancestor William Richard Fredrick Stokes.

Lucy Sarah Glissan married Richard Stokes, who later ran a furniture-making business, at St Mary’s, Stepney on 27 May 1861. Both were nineteen, and literate. By 1870 80% of males were literate compared to 75% of females, up from 66% and 50% in thirty years. Lucy Sarah’s younger sister, Mary Ann, who witnessed the wedding, was also literate.

Roath Village School, Cardiff, 1899 (National Museum of Wales).

Lucy Sarah Glissan gave birth to eight children in twenty years 1861 – 1881. Her first and eighth child both died in infancy. The other six prospered. In the Victorian era the average number of children per family was six.

Family portrait, (not the Glissans) 1893.

The Glissan sisters were close, so we should take a moment to explore Amelia and Mary Ann’s lives. Amelia married Charles Samuel, a mariner from Antwerp. The couple did not have any children. When Amelia died in 1894, Charles fell on hard times and entered the workhouse. Mary Ann married James Reynolds, a gun maker/engineer. The couple produced only one child, who died young.

Lucy Sarah died on 9 October 1888 at Red Lion Street, Shoreditch.

***

My 4 x great grandfather John Glissan was born in 1803 in Ireland. In 1824 Apothecaries Hall in Dublin recognised him as an apothecary with a licence to trade. A few years later, John moved to London where he found employment assisting John William Keys Parkinson, son of James Parkinson, the doctor who gave his name to Parkinson’s Disease.

Photographed in 1912 this is 1 Hoxton Square, London, the home and office of Parkinson and Son, surgeons and apothecaries. In the late 1820s my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan assisted the son, James, and added the skills of dentist and surgeon to his trade of apothecary. Picture: Wellcome Trust.

17 September 1829 a report in the London Courier detailing the evidence John Glissan, a surgeon, gave to an inquest into the death of Henry Kellard, a pauper.

In the early 1830s my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan left Parkinson and Son and set up his own business as a surgeon/chemist/dentist. Initially, he struggled and was forced to go on the road as a traveller, selling his medicines. In 1834 he was declared insolvent. Life for him in London was tough.

In early June 1833, at nine o’clock in the evening, Susannah Griffiths left her lodgings at 12 Dyer Street, London. She walked along George Street to the junction of Blackfriars Road, one of the most fashionable roads in nineteenth century London. She made her way to 147 Blackfriars Road and the shop owned by my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan. There, Susannah purchased a quantity of arsenic.

Returning home, Susannah set her needlework to one side and wrote a note, quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, Raze out the written troubles of the brain.” She added, “I have taken poison.” Then she placed the note under her pillow and swallowed the arsenic.

Susannah was educated. She understood Shakespeare. I imagine that she was a sensitive soul. A coroner’s inquest held at Christ Church Workhouse absolved John Glissan of any blame and concluded that Susannah died whilst being of unsound mind.

Two days after the newspaper report on Susannah’s tragic suicide, this mysterious message appeared in the Morning Advertiser. I’m not sure what to make of the note. There were no follow up messages, so I’m not sure what my ancestor John made of it either.

17 November 1833. If gout was your problem, my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan, a surgeon/dentist/chemist, was your man. In the 1830s, John appeared in many newspapers advertisements promoting potions for all manner of ailments.

16 February 1834. Another advertisement featuring John Glissan. This advert ran on a regular basis in the Weekly True Sun.

Top of the Pops, 16 February 1834. Note that female singers dominated. Madame Vestris (pictured) was Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (née Elizabetta Lucia Bartolozzi; 3 March 1797 – 8 August 1856) an actress and a contralto opera singer. She was also a theatre producer and manager.

For the first thirty years of his life John Glissan concentrated on learning the skills of a chemist, surgeon and dentist, and on establishing his business. In 1834, life offered a new challenge. More about that next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #129

Dear Reader,

Nelmari has completed the translation of Sam’s Song, book one in my Sam Smith Mystery Series, into Afrikaans and I’m delighted to say that soon she will make a start on Love and Bullets, book two in the series.

After the tragic events of this week.

A scene familiar to my London ancestors, Victoria Station in 1912.

The World Chess Championship between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi started this week. I’m a big chess fan so I’m enjoying the coverage on chess.com. Two exciting draws so far. All to play for in the fourteen game series.

https://www.chess.com/news/view/2021-fide-world-chess-championship-game-1-nepomniachtchi-carlsen

The son of Edward Stradling and Joan Beaufort, Sir Henry (Harry) Stradling was born c1412 in St. Donats, Glamorgan. He married Elizabeth Herbert c1440 in St. Athan, Glamorgan, their marriage uniting the powerful Stradling and Herbert families. The marriage produced four children: Thomas, my direct ancestor, Charles, Elizabeth and Jane. 

In 1449, Henry, his wife Elizabeth and their daughter Elizabeth, encountered a Breton pirate, Colyn Dolphyn. A native of Brittany, Colyn Dolphyn was based on Lundy, an island in the Bristol Channel. Five kilometres long and a kilometre wide Lundy was granted by Henry II to the Knights Templars in 1160. Over following centuries privateers took control of the island.

Map of Lundy Island by Henry Mangles Denham (1832)

Because of the dangerous shingle banks and the fast flowing River Severn with its tidal range of 8.2 metres, the second largest in the world, ships were forced to navigate close to Lundy. This meant the island was ideally situated for pirates to prey on merchant ships and their rich cargos.

The chroniclers described Colyn Dolphyn as a tall, athletic, and mighty man, ‘like Saul in Israel’. He ‘towered head and shoulders’ above all men and was regarded as ‘a terror in South Wales’.

In 1449, Henry and his family spent a month visiting their estates in Somerset. Whenever possible, for passengers and trade, ships were the preferred mode of transport because the roads were often nothing more than dirt tracks. Therefore, Henry made the return journey by ship.

Aboard the St Barbe, Henry, his family and crew, set sail from Minehead for the Welsh coast. They encountered Colyn Dolphyn, who transferred them to his barque, the Sea Swallow. Dolphyn demanded a ransom of 1,000 marks for Henry, Elizabeth and daughter Elizabeth’s release. 

The ransom was not forthcoming so over a period of two years the price went up to 2,200 marks. At that point the Stradlings were forced to sell their manors of Bassaleg and Rogerstone in South Wales, two manors in Oxfordshire and the Lordship of Sutton in Monmouthshire. With the ransom paid, Dolphyn released Henry and his family.

Nash Point (Wikipedia)

While the coast of South Wales is beautiful it also contains some treacherous rocks, particularly the rocks off Nash Point, Glamorgan. Several years after kidnapping the Stradlings, Colyn Dolphyn was out pirating when a storm blew up. That storm drove his ship on to Nash Rocks near Colhugh Beach. 

The locals alerted Sir Henry Stradling who raised his men. They captured Colyn Dolphyn and his men, and dispensing swift justice hung them the following day.

In 1837, Taliesin Williams wrote a poem, The Doom of Colyn Dolphyn, which concluded with the following lines:

The beach they trod, destruction there,

Had stamped his footsteps ev’ry where.

Above, below, were strown along,

The fragments of a vessel strong.

Here helm and shatter’d masts were seen,

There lay the hull, the rocks between, 

With upward keel and crag-rent side. 

Thro’ which had pass’d the refluent tide.

And, all around, appear’d in view,

The bodies of a numerous crew. 

Whose course was run, confederates sent,

Well armed on Colyn’s rescue bent. 

But, ere they reach’d the rugged strand,

To ply the dirk, and light the brand. 

Justice ordain’d they should abide,

The tempest’s ordeal, and they died!

The story of the Stradling branch of my family and their encounter with a pirate Colyn Dolphyn as illustrated, animated and told by the children of Wick and Marcross Primary School, South Wales.

Like his father, Edward, Henry Stradling visited Jerusalem, in 1475, where he became a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. Also like his father, he died on his journey home, at Famagusta, Cyprus, in 1476.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #124

Dear Reader,

I’m researching the Victorian era and my poverty-stricken London ancestors. This is a view of Whitehall from Trafalgar Square, 1839. Produced by M de St Croix, it’s one of the earliest daguerreotype photographs of England, taken when M de St Croix was in London demonstrating Louis Daguerre’s pioneering photographic process during September and December 1839. 

In the foreground is Le Sueur’s statue of Charles I on horseback, and in the distance Inigo Jones’ Banqueting House – practically everything else has subsequently disappeared. The image has been reversed to show the scene as it was, as daguerreotypes only produce reversed views.

My direct ancestor Joan Plantagenet, daughter of Edward I of England and Eleanor of Castile. Joan was born in April 1272 in Akko (Acre), Hazofan, Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Joan has appeared many times in fiction, often depicted as a ‘spoiled brat’.  There is no evidence that this depiction represents her true character, but the myth remains. That’s the power of fiction.

A lovely drawing of St Mary’s, West Bergholt, Essex, in the 1600s and 1700s the parish church of the Fincham, Balls, Clark and Sturgeon branches of my family.

My 4 x great grandmother Mary Ann Thorpe was baptised on 4 August 1816 in Great Braxted, Essex. The daughter of Thomas Thorpe and Mary Ann Freeman, she married Henry Wheeler on 3 November 1844 in St Mary, Lambeth, Surrey.

Mary Ann was Henry’s second wife. He was a petty thief. Also, she was eighteen years younger than him. Why did a young woman marry a far older, disreputable man? We will explore that question later.

A slum in Market Court, Kensington, 1860s.

Mary Ann and Henry produced four children: Mary Ann, Charlotte, Joseph and Nancy, my direct ancestor, who when married at sixteen changed her name to Annie. There was a nine year gap between Mary Ann’s birth and Charlotte’s birth. This pattern replicated Henry’s first marriage to Elizabeth Mitchell where there was a nine year gap between their first two children, Henry and Eliza. That marriage produced five children in total. Why the nine year gaps? Henry’s wives were clearly fertile, but he was not around. Where was he? Read on…

After each marriage and the birth of the first child, Henry resorted to petty crime to make ends meet. The family endured great hardship, extreme poverty, and with new mothers and babies to feed Henry became ‘light-fingered’.

At other times, Henry was no saint. His name features frequently in the criminal records. However, on many occasions he was found ‘not guilty’. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the Wheeler family lived their lives on the fringes of society and mixed with petty, and possibly, hardened criminals.

“Wentworth Street, Whitechapel”, 1872, by Gustave Doré (Wellcome Trust).

In 1845, after the birth of his daughter Mary Ann, Henry served a seven year prison sentence. The Victorians were keen on multiples of seven for their prison sentences, and this pattern extended to periods of transportation as well.

While Henry was in prison, his wife Mary Ann endured a difficult time. On 24 August 1849 it’s possible that she entered St Luke’s asylum. The records are sketchy, so it’s difficult to be certain, but the facts and circumstances fit so I am inclined to believe that she did spend some time in the asylum, maybe due to the burden of her circumstances. 

Or maybe Mary Ann suffered from long-standing mental health issues. It’s possible that those issues made a match with a man her own age unlikely, hence her choice of Henry, the eighteen year older petty criminal. The psychological profile certainly fits. That said, maybe it was a love match. Love can still blossom even in the most dire of circumstances.

Earlier, on 20 September 1848, Mary Ann entered the workhouse, a foreboding institution that was more a place of punishment than support. The Victorian era through the Industrial Revolution generated great wealth, but that wealth was concentrated on a relatively small number of individuals. These people were extremely rich, but they treated the poor with contempt. We can see a parallel in our own times.

Mary Ann left the workhouse on 10 January 1849, but her troubles were far from over. She still had a baby to feed, no husband to call on, and a fight against the diseases poverty brings. For all her troubles Mary Ann was a strong woman and lived to be eighty-six.

Before exploring Mary Ann’s later years, first we must go back in time, to 3 February 1845 when she found herself following her husband’s well-trodden path to the Old Bailey.

A trial at the Old Bailey.

Mary Ann was indicted for feloniously breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Susan Laws, on the 18 January 1845, and stealing two gowns, value 30s., the goods of Caroline Allen; and one shawl, 6s., the goods of Henry George Steer.

Caroline Allen, a dressmaker, gave evidence: she locked her door and went to bed late. In the morning, she discovered the door open and her possessions gone. She had no knowledge of Mary Ann. She also stated that two families and an old gentleman shared the dwelling-house.

John Robert Davis stated that he was a shopman to Mr. Folkard, a pawnbroker, in Blackfriars Road. On the 18 January, at half-past nine in the morning, Mary Ann pledged the stolen gown at the pawnbrokers and he gave her an inferior duplicate. He reckoned that Mary Ann made three shillings on the trade.

The Pawnbroker’s Shop, 1876. 

Police constable Michael Cregan stated that he visited Mary Ann’s lodging and found the gown and shawl hidden under bedclothes. The court also established that the main door was ‘broken open’ although there were no marks of violence. The conclusion was that someone had used a skeleton key.

Eliza Beale, a fellow lodger, stated that she knew Mary Ann and that she was ‘an unfortunate girl.’ – An observation on Mary Ann’s mental health? Crucially, Eliza added that she came home at four o’clock in the morning when a man and woman asked her if she knew where they could get a bed. She let them into her room. They had a bundle with them, but she did not see them the following morning.

Martha Winfield, the landlady, contradicted Eliza Beale. However, Martha did not live in the house and therefore she was not an eyewitness to the events that night. Her contradiction was based on opinion, not on fact.

Verdict: Not Guilty.

In her closing years, as a widow, Mary Ann lodged with other elderly people. Over her eight-six years she certainly witnessed the darker aspects of London life. She also witnessed a period of dramatic change. At no stage was Mary Ann’s life easy. But she battled through and her life stands as a testimony to the human spirit.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #106

Dear Reader,

Where there’s a will there’s a murder, and my 12 x great grandfather Thomas Brereton (born 1555) was implicated 😱 The case reached the Star Chamber, who produced a report covering 106 large sheets of parchment. Was Thomas innocent or guilty? More research required…

My latest translation, the Portuguese version of A Parcel of Rogues.

My 7 x great grandfather Sandford Brereton was a Norwegian rug maker in Cheshire in the 1730s. Here’s a design from that period. I shall endeavour to discover how he became involved in that trade.

A scene familiar to my London ancestors, London Bridge looking north to south, 1890.

Many of my Welsh ancestors were agricultural labourers. A local view, taken today, and an image they would be familiar with.

The Dent branch of my family dates back to Sir Roger Dent, born in 1438, a Sheriff of Newcastle in the north-east of England. The line continued through his son, also Sir Roger and a Sheriff of Newcastle, to Robert, William, James and Peter until we arrive in the seventeenth century with the birth of my 12 x great grandfather the Rev Peter James Dent.

Peter was born in 1600 in Ormesby, Yorkshire. In 1624, he married Margaret Nicholson the daughter of the Rev John Nicholson of Hutton Cranswick in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Margaret was baptised on 8 March 1602 at Horton in Ribblesdale, Yorkshire.

The couple had five children:

William, my direct ancestor, born 1627

Peter, born 1629

Thomas, born 1631

George, born 1633

Stephen, born 1635

Dorothy, born 1637

In 1659, Thomas emigrated to Maryland with his cousin John Dent and his nephew Nicholas Proddy.

The Rev Peter James Dent was a Professor of Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and practiced medicine as an apothecary.

An apothecary. Image: Science Museum.

In addition to dispensing herbs and medicines, an apothecary offered general medical advice and a range of services that nowadays are performed by specialist practitioners. They prepared and sold medicines, often with the help of wives and family members. In the seventeenth century, they also controlled the distribution of tobacco, which was imported as a medicine.

Medicinal recipes included herbs, minerals and animal fats that were ingested, made into paste for external use, or used as aromatherapy. Some of the concoctions are similar to the natural remedies we use today. 

Along with chamomile, fennel, mint, garlic and witch hazel, which are still deemed acceptable, apothecaries used urine, fecal matter, earwax, human fat and saliva, ingredients discredited by modern science.

Experimentation was the name of the game. Detailed knowledge of chemistry and chemical properties was sketchy, but if something worked, such as drinking coffee to cure a headache, it became the elixir of the day.

A page from the Voynich Manuscript a book, possibly, used by apothecaries.

Peter left a Will, which I include here in his own words, for they offer a great insight into his life and times.

In the name of the Lord God my heavenly father and of Jesus Christ my sweet Saviour and Redeemer, Amen.

I, Peter Dent of Gisbrough in the County of York, apothecary, being in health and perfect memory, blessed be the name of God, doe make this my last will and testament the ffifth day of August one thousand six hundred seventy and one, hereby revokeing and making void all wills by me formerly made.

Ffirst, I give and bequeath my soule into the hands of the Allmighty, my blessed and heavenly Creator and Maker, fullly believing to be saved by faith in his mercy throught the meritts of Jesus Christ my alone redeemer and Saviour, my advocate, my all in all.

Item, I bequeath my body to the earth whereof it was made and the same to be buried in the parish of Gisburne aforesaid at the discrecon of my wife and friends.

Item, my will is first that my debts be paid and discharged out of my estate which being done, I give and bequeath unto my sonne Wm Dent all the estate and interest that I have in the dwelling house in Gisbrough aforesaid, wherein he, the said Wm Dent doth now inhabitt, he paying the rent and taxes lyable for the same.

Item, I give and bequeath to my wife, my house & garden and backside, which is in northoutgate called northoutgate house and garden, as alsoe the shep and stock in itt under the tollbooth and the two closes called the Turmyres and which I hold under Edward Chaloner of Gisbrough, Esq.

Item, I give and bequeath to my sonne Peter Dent halfe of all my goods belonging to my Apotheray trade or the value of them, with all the instrunts and other things belonging to itt, my debt books, all other my bookes, one great morter excepted.

Item, I give to my said sonne Will’m Dent the somme of ten pounds.

Item, I give to my sonne Thomas Dent tenn pounds.

Item, I give to my sonne George Dent the sume of tenn pouonds.

Item, I give to my sonne in law Oliver Prody my great brasse morter now in his shop as alsoe the summe of tenn pounds.

Item, I give to my daughter Dorothy Prody, wife of the said Oliver Prody, the summe of ten pounds and thirteen shilllings and foure pence to buy her a mourning ring.

Item, I give to each of my grandchildren which shall be living at my death tenn shillings as a token of my fatherly blessing upon them.

Item, I give to my daughters in law every one of them a mourneing ring about thirteene shillings foure pence a piece.

Item, I give to the poore of Ormsby five shillings.

Item, I give to Sarah & Abigail Nicholson, James Paul & Elizabeth Dugleby, each of them five shillings.

Item, I give to my sister Eliz. Prody 10s, to Kath Clark & Jane Con each of them 5s & to Eliz & Jane Prody 5s a piece.

Item, I give to (Christ)inna Dent, daughter of my brother Geo Dent, dec’ed, the sume of 10s.

Item, all the rest of my goods, moveable and unmoveable, I give & bequeath to my wife & desire her to discharge my funerall charges & expences not exceeding, but in a decent maner. And I give to the poore of Gisbrough ten pounds to be disposed as she shall think fitt.

Item, I do make my wife Margret Dent sole Executrix of this my last will and testa’nt & desireing her that my daughter Dorothy Proddy if living at my death may have after her mothers death the Northoutgate house and garden and all that belongings to it, except a lodging to my sonne George Dent in the said house dureing his batchlourship onely.

Item, I desire, nominate and appoint my cozen Thomas Proddy and my cozen Thomas Spencer to be sup’visors of this my last will and to each of them I give tenn shillings.

In witness whereof I have here unto sett my hand and seale the day and yeare above written.

Peter Dent

Sealed and published in the p(re)sence of

Ger. Ffox

Ja Wylnne

5 Oct 1671 – probate issued

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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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

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