Monthly Archives: October 2014

VI. Mr Truelove

The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger

Only known image of Jennifer Bellows, drawn upon her arrest for prostitution 1882

Only known image of Jennifer Bellows, drawn upon her arrest for prostitution 1882

T’was a guttin’ hook what she gave me that night, down Duckett’s Passage under the gas lamp. Proper sharp it were too, like what you’d use for slicin’ under the gristle-belly of a pig to rake out the gizzards and fill the bags o’ mystery sausages what’s sold on Eastcheap.

Ah, Jenny Bellows was a proper strumpet, all pale skin and wild hair like an Irish minx. She was a bit o’ jam, an’ I was sweet on her an’ no mistake. The poppet knew it, too, for she flashed her ankles from under the crimson petticoat, and looked at me saucy as she passed the tool over.

“And what’s you askin’ for?” I said, taking the parcel from her grasp. It’d come wrapped in a stained cloth, but she’d shown me the blade before passin’ it over. It was curved right cruel, like the Sikh kirpans old Company men sold in pawn shops. The markings were wrong though. Symbols were etched on the blade in crude cuts, not the flowing lingo of the Punjab. The colour, too, was all wrong, for the blade held dark blue stain, almost midnight. I smelt slinkamalink on it, of the ritual kind.

“A bull an’ its yours.” She smiled at me. Still had most of her teeth, bless ‘er, which helped me loins stir a bit toward her price – not that’d I’d pay the best totty in London five shillings for a blade.

“Oh, shut your sauce-box, luv. Half a crown? What do you think you’ve got, the bleedin’ crown jewels?”

Her eyes lit up right fierce at that. “I gots something I know’s precious, Rutter, and I wants what’s fair.”

“Fair? Where’d you get it, hey?”

“That’s information, what is confidential and privileged.” She said each word with an affectation of grandeur, which felt right rum out of her over-painted lips.

I scratched a merciless itch botherin’ me scalp. “Big words for a ‘ditch girl born in a cunnywarren. Smells like you chanced on somethin’ out’a blind luck and fancy makin’ a bob for it.”

“Can smell of what you want, as far as I cares. I’ll call the price at a half-crown, if that’s more agreeable. Two and six.”

“Two shillings and you name the spot you filched it.”

“I never filched it! I ain’t never filched nothing.” She bristled, tryin’ to peacock her way to seem offended. “Two and a thrup’ny an’ it’s yours.”

I relented at that, and slipped the coins into her mitts. She counted em in her palms, testin’ each one to make sure it were proper. I wrapped the guttin’ knife tighter in its rag an’ slipped it under me overcoat. She flashed me a smile and a half-courtesy, and turned heel toward the Dog’s Head. It was easy enough to see where the thrup’ny would go.

“Not so sharp,” I said, grabbing her shoulder. She looked offended, but I held my grip firm. “You ain’t told me the spot, Jenny Bellows. Where’d you get it?”

The annoyance slipped off that painted face of hers, and she gave a smile.

“Saw it stuck fast in the mud, right under the new bridge at Blackfriars. Scooped it up from Father Thames ‘imself.”

I let her arm go, and watched her thighs shimmy as she made off down the passage. Blackfriars Bridge would be a bad bit o’ business an’ no mistake. For the only thing under the bridge was the entrance to the Fleet Sewer.


V. Monty

From Prosper or Perish in the Attempt: A Gentleman’s Journey to Music Hall Stardom, the collected letters of F. Montgomery Skaldon, Hardaker Press


Jack Dandies dancing to ‘Make It Rain’ by FM Skaldon


My Dearest Effie,

It is a truth universally acknowledged that those inclined to hatred wont to hate.

How else can I explain the slander to have reached your ears? I have seen the reports, and understand your misapportioned shame. Tales that I chase the dragon? That I take company with (and indeed extend my protection to) fallen women? That I posed for a portrait of decidedly French persuasion? Outrageous, and my solicitor has already issued writ.

Perhaps it shall help if I clarify the truth of this latest ‘scandal’. It began on my return from Saturday’s trip to Brighton, where I had taken the waters. I was travelling the Southern Turnpike with my usual cohort of friends, accompanied by some ladies of most respectable virtue, on a privately contracted omnibus.

Despite reports that I was ill-attired, I assure you that I appeared in a morning jacket, accessorised rather finely by my top hat, monocle and swordstick. Yes, my dear Effie, I know you wish I would not carry such a tool, but a gentleman is permitted a personal defence, and we at the height of the rivalry between the operatic schools of East and West London; one never knows when such a device shall be required.

Regardless, we were in high spirits, and decided to sing a rousing chorus of my latest operatic:

Make it rain, make it rain
Make it rain, make it rain
No one in our nation denies minted precipitation!
Make it rain, make it rain
Make it rain, make it rain
Do not detest the player, one must vilify the game!
Make it rain, make it rain, make it rain!

This very lyric proved my undoing. I was, at this late stage in the day, tired and emotional, and felt a pressing need to demonstrate my wealth from the top of the omnibus. We had approximately two hundred shillings which I began to throw with liberal abandon to passers-by, much to the delight of my fellow passengers.

Most pedestrians we passed accepted this offering gladly, and cheered me on in my endeavours. This noise attracted others, and soon men and women began to line our passage while urchins scurried along the pavement, scooping up any coins that fell in the gutters. My friends hooted and cooed, while I, resplendent in a fine purple velvet longcoat, pleated silk shirt and measured top hat, cast my wealth into the crowds.

Unfortunately at least three ladies, and perhaps one man (I suspect the thorough scamp to be of malingering and deceitful persuasion) were caught by my benefaction. I doubt their accounts of lacerations and severe bleeding, for being struck by a coin is hardly the most grievous of wounds, but it appears there were some minor injuries and at least one case of hysteria and syncope.

This news was invariably wired to Fleet Street, for I was met as I arrived home by a collection of journalists and photographers for the morning’s broadsheets and kinetoscopes, all questioning my display of altruism.

As you are no doubt aware, my dear sister, the hacks brought out the cleavers for me, and questions have been asked in Parliament about conduct, and indeed the tone portrayed in my body of work. They say I am a scalliwag, and that I should have remained a Killing Gentleman for the East India Company, rather than a humble musical hall composer.

I say balderdash! No establishment understands the music of its time, and I write operatics for the masses. Let the débutantes and Jack Dandies of London decide if my music has merit, not the Privy Council! I shall continue to write witty ditties, and the good fellows and ladies of London shall continue to embrace my beat!

They shall not silence me, dearest sister! Of this I am most certain!
I trust that you will believe the account I have provided, and this letter exonerates me from any defamation I have suffered in your eyes.

Sincerely yours,

ps/ Please offer a salutation to mother


IV. Telegram

Telegram sent to Commodore K. Dale, R.N, March 20th



III. Dick

Conversation overheard at the Eight Bells Tavern, Shoreditch, the night of March 20th

Amazing escape from balloon peril

Amazing rescue: mid-air escape

“It were bloody amazing, that’s what it were!”

“Would have been better if she fell. Nothing funnier than a posh tart fallin’.”

“Nothin’ better than a tart’s knickers fallin’, you mean? Ain’t that right Bess?”

“Oi! Get your paws off me hose, you filthy taff-licker! You don’t get a grope ’til you cough up a groat. And you, John Chambers, what kind of a man wants to see someone fall to their death?”

“I saw a steeplejack fall off a chimney once…”

“Nobody cares, Boggs. They wants to hear about this Lady Posh-Bint. Go back to your cup.”

“Me cup’s dry. Now, as I were saying. It were in Macclesfield, famed for its tram-lines. This jack, he were climbing…”

“Oh shut yer chattergob, or I’ll batty-fang you back North of Watford Gap! Landlord, get this grub-scrubber a pint to keep ‘im schtum, will you? Now go on, Dick. What happened with this girl?”

“Right, so I were heading down Cable Street with the slop cart, stinking up the show as usual, when I hear this cry, see? Sort of a high-strung shriek.”

“Like a ‘Eeeeeh!’? Or a ‘Heeeewwwww!’?”

“An ‘Uuuuuuuuuuk!’, if you must know, Bess. No more sound effects, if you will, because you’re interruptin’ my tale. Now, I’m used to cries around the slop cart, ain’t I? Because the roads ain’t paved proper yet, and every so often a bit of the sump spills out and some half-rats chum stumbles past and gets covered in week-old shit. So, at first, I don’t pay any notice of the din. But then I notice people stoppin’ and starin’, and all pointing up in the sky. So I tell the mare to halt, and take a look-see.”

“What did you see?”

“Bleedin’ ‘ell woman, I’m coming to that. So I look up, and at first I don’t see nothin’, cause’ it’s a hot day and London’s coated in the usual smoggy fug, right? Then, through the clouds, I make out this flying contraption. One of those great balloons it was, like what the Prussians used to bomb Paris during their war.”

“A dirigibibul.”

“Dirigible, you illiterate shafter. Go on, Dick.”

“Yeah, so it was a dirigible. Now they come in two a penny down by Limehouse reach, because they follow the Thames toward the Tower Hill jetty so they can anchor. But this one was different, ‘cause it was in trouble an’ no mistake. The thing was swingin’ round in a spiral, the balloon looked like Saggy Nell’s tits, and the under-basket with its passengers was all squwiffy. Flames was comin’ out of it from somewhere, and this thick black smoke was belchin’ out of it. Ropes was hanging wild off the side, and at the end of one of these, hands gripped on to the cable for dear life, was this lady, all petticoats and corsets. Her legs were kickin’ furiously, and as I watched she finally managed to look her ankle around the coil and steady herself, like.”

“Could see her ankles? I didn’t know this were a saucy tale.”

“Never mind her ankles. Could you see up her skirt?”

“Hush, you two! Peril like that ain’t the time for perversions, and she weren’t so much interested in dignity as survival. By now everyone below was watchin’ the drama unfold. The balloon was still spinnin’, stuck as it was always turnin’ left, and it had begun to create this black twist of vapour in the sky that came lower with every pass. We could see it was goin’ to slap down on us, and those what was in the balloon were all going to end up strawberry jam unless the ship righted itself sharpish.”

“Well, go on, Dick! Did you run for it, or did you stay and watch?”

“Who’s tellin’ this story? I was pausin’ for effect, you thick bugger. Now, the gents on the craft, a couple of ‘em looked ready to meet the maker; I swear, one of ’em was God botherin’ his way to the Almighty’s good books, with another two watchin’ on in a kind of stupor. But then there were this squat chap. He were hangin’ off the side, hands thrust out toward the woman on the cable. And she, believe it or not, had begun to climb up ‘im! She moved proper nimble too, like that monkey the Gazette were talkin’ about, the one what stole the nipper? In seconds the lass had hauled herself up the rope, and with the assist of that gent she was back in the basket with the rest of the fools.”


“And if you want to hear the rest of it, get me a pint. This story tellin’ lark’s thirsty work… ah, much obliged, sir! Now, were was I? Oh yeah, they’re was all about to die. Well not if this little madam has anythin’ to say about it, they wasn’t. The craft is, by now, shakin’ and rattlin’ and bouncin’ all about, but she grips the hand rail, and drags her way straight at that fire, no hesitation. No idea what she does, but an instant later there’s this sudden ‘whoooosh!’ of spray and steam and the craft rights itself in an instant. The balloon’s still gone and they’re still crashin’, but she don’t seem bothered. She just grips on to the ship’s wheel, and gives it a firm tug. ‘Hold fast, gentlemen!’ cries she, barely fifty feet above us now, and she twists the wheel right round. Then the balloon, and the basket, and every soul on board, vanishes from sight behind the Wilton’s Music Hall.”

“So? What did you do?”

“What d’yer’think? I climbed off the slop cart and ran down Fletcher street to see what’s what. I weren’t the only one, neither. The airship came down right in the middle of Swedenborg Gardens, and by the time I got there a whole crowd had surrounded the wreck. Right ragged it was, with the canvas tarp coverin’ the whole show like a tent.

“Did they make it?”

“At first it were hard to tell, what with the canvas blanketin’ ’em ‘n’ all. Nobody seemed to be movin’ rapid, but eventually some of the more stalwart lads grasped the balloon’s skin and cut their way through. There was silence, me buckos, like a collective intake of breath. Then a soot-stained hand emerged, the woman climbed free, and the whole gathering erupted in cheers and huzzahs. One by one the passengers, scrambled free, a little dazed and with a few cuts and bruises but nothin’ serious. She’d saved the whole bleedin’ lot of ‘em.”


“Blimey’s right, squire. And get this: she didn’t seem fazed by the experience, neither. People rush to congratulate her, but she ignores ’em all and gets out this pocket mirror. She flips it open, looks disapprovingly at the soot on her face, and proceeds to powder ‘er bleedin’ nose! Her hair’s a mess, her dress is in tatters, and she’s more concerned with the grime!”

“Sounds like my kind of girl.”

“Aye? Well, finished attending to herself, she sighs and turns to this fat gent who she’d just saved. ‘Captain Da Silva,’ she says, lookin’ down her nose at ‘im, ‘I have been most inconvenienced by the deficiencies of your craft. One cannot overstate the importance of airship maintenance, or indeed knowledge of its operation, and you have been most neglectful.’”

“She never!”

“She bleedin’ did. Then she turns to the little fella what helped her up from the cable. ‘Sykes,’ says she, ‘gather my belongings. Do not recompense Captain Da Silva. I am not satisfied by his conduct or his vessel, and believe it is only fitting he forfeits payment. Colonel, Reverend, I bid you both a good day.’”


“Then she’s away, the crowds partin’ for her as she walks off, tellin’ her little mate to collar a Hansom cab.”

“Walks off? Just like that?”

“Yeah. But here’s the kick. The last thing I hear her say as she swans off? ‘Mother will be most put out at the state of my attire. I have got oil stains quite all over my person.’”

“Toffs. They live in another world, don’t they?”

II. Lydia

The Wrong Way To Build A Bridge, or The Memoirs of Lady Lydia Parker-Wright, artificer and explorer

Vol IV. March 20th

Credit: Wellcome Library

The Sacramento (from Southend to Tower Hill)

We departed S_____ on what appeared to be a most expeditious form of transportation. Sykes had engaged a dirigible line to traverse the South Essex countryside, as the direct line to Fenchurch Street was closed. She was named Sacramento, and her captain was a stout Portuguese named Da Silva, whose affected manner of English was as charming as his attentions proved vexing. Twice he slipped while assisting my boarding, and I was forced to take a sharp restitutionary measure with my knee to ensure such accidents were not repeated.

The dirigible had been a last minute decision that Sykes had made on his own initiative. While it was impertinent of him to doubt the abilities of the Essex Railway Company to produce an efficacious mode of alternate transportation to London, I appreciated his forethought; the weather was exceedingly clement and an omnibus would have been hot and crowded. I have my father’s constitution for such affairs, and an Englishwoman must remember that perspiration, as with all bodily functions, remains the sole preserve of the male.

Sykes stayed near the brazier that operated the contraption, as per his station. I had, of course, instructed Sykes to pack my brass goggles and calibrators in the hand luggage, and so did not peruse the mechanism or take more than a cursory professional interest in its operation. I also refrained from any whoops of delight as we rose steadily in the air, although I confess the majesty of soaring among the clouds was a joyful experience.

Above Hornchurch I took tea with my fellow passengers, the Reverend Jacobs and Colonel Blumstead, who had both chosen our form of travel for novelty. Jacobs was hoping to visit his mother in Pimlico before he departed Britain to bring the word of our Lord to the natives of Siam. The Colonel refrained from discussing the purpose of his travel, and at the time I made the mistake of thinking little of his oversight.

Our conversation was, alas, most tiresome. I had barely taken a bite from the cucumber squares on offer when the Colonel engaged the topic of pacifying certain regions of the country, insisting Her Majesty’s government to be comprised of “weak-willed cowards” under the influence of “costermongers, plebeians and their assorted foreign notions”.

Listening dutifully to a rather one-sided discussion, it soon became apparent the Colonel had several quaint and misguided beliefs on the operation of Armstrong guns, and was confident they would have proven great benefit in our recent wars in the Punjab. He proved most disagreeable when I endeavoured to venture certain logistical considerations regarding heavy ordinance he had failed to contemplate, and he stated, rather frankly, that a woman should not have ideas above her station.

“Indeed,” I replied. “And a colonel should not entertain ideas of government policy.”

“Madam,” he retorted, “war is the merely the continuation of politics by other means.”

“You have read Von Clausewitz, then, Colonel? How marvellous. I had considered such an author outside of your remit, given that he was a Prussian gentleman and full of ‘assorted foreign notions’.”

This response made my dining companion rather dyspeptic, and I retired to the rear, allowing the men to benefit from brandy and cigars. From here I could see the expanse of the Metropolis below, and enjoy our gentle flight above the smokestacks and tenements that had begun to creep beyond the Bow Road. We were coming in to land when I sighted a small group of children playing cricket, and felt inclined to lean over the railing to see if the lower classes had mastered a gentleman’s game. They were not wearing top hats (one supposes they could not afford them), nor pads, but even as we soared some three hundred feet above I could see the bowler had good action, and the basic principles of a strong silly mid-off field had been ingrained in them.

My interest in the game, however, was interrupted by a most inconvenient eruption. The brazier I earlier neglected to examine had developed a fault, and sent the Sacramento reeling to the side with considerable force and a terrible, rattling screech. Holding firm to the railing, I twisted to see if Captain Da Silva would make the remedial correction required (an emergency vent in the secondary pressure regulator while altering the flow to correct our ballast) and halt the list to port. However, the man seemed at a loss to repair his command (one can only speculate how he became a captain at all, a child would have been more competent), and I was obliged to instruct him in its repair.

Unfortunately, this course of action was thwarted before it began. For it was at that moment the much celebrated rogue cable, loosed by the blast, struck me on hard on the shoulder and swept me off the dirigible’s platform.

I confess, dear reader, I began the perilous fall toward the streets below with a most unbecoming scream…

I. Gideon

Extract from Remembrances of a Gutter Press Hack by Gideon Pound, published Hardier-Walt, 1923


Incredible peril: child abducted by a monkey

We led with a monkey on the front page. It’s the first rule of common man journalism: always lead with the monkey. Blood is good, child endangerment is better, and savagery tops the list. A monkey stealing a baby and dangling it off a building? That’s a rum mix that ticks every box. Nothing scandalises a reader than the Empire failing to control nature, and there is nothing society likes more than to feel scandalised.

Death only made the splash if there was something exotic about it. The woodcuts of Vicky’s London always show some gruff sod hauling a coffin, and it’s for sound reason. Britain was, in truth, three realms in those days. There was London, where ladies and gentlemen marvelled at the wonders of our age; the Country, where they went to escape those wonders; and there was the underbelly, all ripe with faeces and fevers. For every gentleman’s invention ten Yorkshire lads broke their backs shovelling coal into a furnace, and for every woman who promenaded across Westminster Bridge with a parasol under her shoulder there were two seamstresses dying of consumption.

The Gazette thrived on this blood like a leech to London’s sores. The Times could keep its wars and high brow readership, who study its pages like verses from the gospels over cigars and brandy. The Illustrated Crime Gazette gave the people what they wanted: gruesome tales of terror, yours for a mere penny, and every word the truth, God as my witness.

That’s why I found myself attending the Patterson death. The issue was short some colour, and when we heard the station was sealed off I was tasked with poking my beak in to see if it was because of something interesting we could print.

I arrived at Fenchurch Street a little after two in the morning. The mutton chompers were out in full force, at least a dozen constables accompanied by two mechanised Lovelace Coppers, giant wheezing clockwork rustbuckets that constantly spat hot water from their tanks and clattered along rhythmically. No good for detection, but a seven foot lumbering copper and brass automaton armed with a truncheon is dashed useful for law enforcement – which is precisely why the Corporation of London had hiked up the taxes to pay for a fleet of ’em.

I slipped one of the more corrupt (by which I mean human) constables a bribe to tell me what happened, then side-stepped the Copper patrol and crept to the platform for a look-see to confirm it. They’d cut the body down, and the poor bastard who found the girl had been taken for a stiff drink. The corpse was laid out for the coroner on the platform, and as I came closer I couldn’t help but think it was rather queer.

I’d covered hangings before and knew how bodies kick and convulses, roughing up the flesh even if the neck snaps clean on the fall. Yet her neck was sublime, without a scratch or sign of rope burns. Her China doll eyes, too, were out of place, for they were two clear unblemished beads; strangulation turns eyes bloodshot as the capillaries burst. And then there was the scent. She smelled like a musty rose, a heavy kind of sweet perfume that hung in the air. I couldn’t place it, but it was no fragrance I knew, and it seemed out of place on a corpse so recently hanged.

I think I’d have pinned that whiff down if I’d smelt it for a bit longer, but at that moment was caught by the constabulary, and soon found myself hauled back behind the cordon. After that the Met’s commander set a Copper to block the doors, and, avenues of inquiry exhausted, I returned to the press to file copy.

My story made page 4, as I recall. We typeset it the next morning, the print blockheads titling it ‘Fearful scene – suicide at Fenchurch Street’, and the artists drawing her dangling there with a swollen, black tongue poking out of her mouth. I told them it wasn’t like that, and said straight up I didn’t believe it was a suicide, but I was only a junior reporter at the time and nobody cared. Emily Patterson had been a governess. She wasn’t in high society and her guts hadn’t been smeared down the Commercial Road, so she wasn’t worthy of the dog’s bollocks. The matter was closed.

That’s why The Gazette went with a monkey as its lead on the day it all started, and I almost missed the biggest story of my career.

Book One: Journey to the East

Taken from The Unusual and Most Celebrated Murders in London and Canton, Anonymous

Horrible Murder

The Fenchurch Street Horror

It is deep night, and ill moonlight falls on the platforms of Fenchurch Street Station. The bells of St Olave Hart Street sound the quarter hour along Crutched Friars as the last train pulls in to the station. Smoke billows and puffs from its engine, steam hisses from its whistle, and, as it comes to a halt, carriage doors open and a steady stream of passengers emerge. The night porter, a ruddy, round fellow with his hand lantern gripped proudly as though it were a badge of office, oversees the passengers’ departure in to the London smog.

Soon he is all that stands on the platform, the smoke drifting around his feet. The shadow of the Tower of London sends a chill down his spine. The Tower is already locked for the night, but gas lamps burn the windows of the ancient fortress, and the ghosts have begun to walk. He turns his head away from that silent shadow by the Thames, and instead looks East, out along the tracks to the poor and squalid mire of London.

Fenchurch Street rests on the frontiers of Whitechapel, the blackened canker of London’s impovrished East End, a world full of noise and shadow. Yet the noisiest of places also hold the most unnatural quiet and greatest sense of isolation.

There is a sinister magic haunting his movement as he walks along the platform to check the train is abandoned and passengers alighted. Four times this month he has had to rouse some ruddy-faced vagabond from the third class carriages, and pack the man off to his home for the night. Tonight, he feels, is different. The air seems to hang with an eerie perfume.

Hairs prickle on the porter’s back. Sweat seeps across his brow. Composing himself, the veteran railwayman draws a breath rich in courage and directs the hand lantern’s beam along the train’s carapace.

The lantern’s beam halts on the fourth carriage. Something lurks behind that beads of condensation that cloud the pane.

He takes a step forward. Again, that strange, creeping sense of silence washes over him. He dismisses superstition to the pit of his stomach, a shaking hand mustering false bravado as he pulls out a whistle and tucks it into the fold at the corner of his mouth. He calls out to the silhouette, narrowing his gaze, trying through the breathy fog that smokes the glass.

“All change, please. All change.” He is answered only by his echo.

He calls again. “Is anyone there?”

Still no reply. He takes another step, and another, and another…

The light reveals the foul sight waiting in the gloom and the lantern slips from the porter’s horror-stricken grasp. The desperate man fumbles to his waist, snatching up his silver whistle and forcing it upon on his quivering lip. He cannot muster the spit to blow. He forces out only dry air as he tries to summon aid, still unable to move his sight from the object in the carriage.

Finally, thankfully, the whistle’s shrill noise shatters the mystery of the night. He keeps blowing. He blows until his cheeks are red and he lungs burn, he blows from fear and desperation, he blows to escape being the sole witness to the horrific sight inside.

A corpse hangs from the carriage roof, illuminated by the steady light of the fallen lantern. A woman in a petticoat, her hair tangled and torn, a thin sliver of silver cord round her neck. Her eyes are rolled back, staring upward to the carriage luggage rail that acts as her gallows. As the noose swings, her tragic frame twists in an ethereal waltz, drifting as if directed by an unseen hand. She is elegant and graceful in her sleep, a face defined in death by ivory-white skin and a defiant jaw. There is no breeze, so she hangs straight down, hands to her sides and legs resting against each other. She is a beauty, frozen in this moment between life and corruption.

Her name is Emily Patterson. And her death marks the opening of our tale.