31/12/2009

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL...



 May 2010 be healthy and happy,
with none of your vegetables gone to seed!

Disclaimer: The VV has no idea what the  actual significance of this card could have been. But, she quite likes it - and it's not too twee!

17/12/2009

SHERLOCK HOLMES THIS CHRISTMAS...


Although this may not be one for the purists, the VV is VERY VERY excited when it comes to the new Sherlock Holmes film. Directed by Guy Ritchie, its UK release is this Boxing day.

Jude Law as Watson and Robert Downey Junior as Sherlock Holmes

Just take a look at this trailer. What a marvellous, steampunk vision of London, with Holmes as we've never seen him before. I may well have a fit of the vapours!

But, for those who prefer a more traditional Victorian rendition of Conan Doyle's famous character, I don't think the actor Jeremy Brett has ever been surpassed in his television portrayal of Holmes. I have to thank another Victorian sleuth, the splendid Lord Likely (http://www.lordlikely.com/) who reminded me of this video clip in which Holmes demonstrates the Queensbury rules of boxing. Watch out for that fancy footwork and those whirling windmill fists!

Here he is inspecting The Blue Carbuncle - the subject of a short story first published in the Strand Magazine in 1892.


Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

Set at Christmas-time, the story opens with the lines: "I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season."


From the opening scene of The Blue Carbuncle
An innocent social visit finds Watson learning about the theft of a precious jewel, stuffed in the neck of a goose, with Holmes - quite literally - embarking upon a wild goose chase as he tracks down the bird's origins. And, if you would like to read more, the story is available as a free download here.

So, this Christmas, why not sit by a fire with your pipe and slippers and enjoy Conan Doyle's wit and elegant prose. After all, Holmes' first outing was a festive one when the short story A Study in Scarlet was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual of 1887.




15/12/2009

SOUP, SOAP AND SALVATION...


Most of us only notice the Salvation Army at Christmas - hearing their brass bands and choirs singing carols.The movement, first known as the Christian Mission, was founded in 1865; officially known as the Salvation Army from 1878.

At its head was William Booth, a maverick Methodist from Nottingham who set off to London  with one thing in mind - to raise his tent on the Whitechapel Road and start up his own evangelical church.

The Young evangelist, William Booth (1829-1912)

It was based it on a quasi-military structure with Booth at the head. His foot soldiers were men, women and children who marched though the streets with their banners and flags campaiging for all theatres and bars to be closed. And, it was a battle! Booth was considered a killjoy for his anti-alcohol, anti-gambling stance. His soldiers were often brutally attacked and, more than once, boys threw rocks and fireworks through the smashed windows of derelict warehouses where the earliest meetings were held.

But Booth was not to be deterred in his mission to fight Satan on the streets, making saints out of sinners and prostitutes. He had a mantra: Soup, Soap and Salvation - preferring to offer practical aid to the poor, destitute and fallen, rather than simply preaching the Gospel.

And despite his wish to have all the music halls closed down, he knew the value of a good sing song. When he heard Champagne Charlie sung on the streets, he asked, "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?" Using the very same melody, he changed the words to that of his hymn: Bless His Name, He Sets Me Free.


The original Army uniform was erratic, variations on a theme of navy blue - basically whatever came to hand. Women wore the famous Salvation bonnet, with ribbons and rossettes on the side. The movement gave many a purpose in life, and those who had been 'saved' themselves were perhaps the most fervent activists. There were surely many converts when, during the Ripper murders, shelters were set up in Whitechapel where street women were fed and washed, and then slept safely in Christ's arms - if not in the lap of luxury.

The men wore a  mixed collection of headgear which ranged from pith helmets and toppers to discarded sailors hats. But all were adorned with new bands and ribbons proclaiming the name of the Salvation Army.


 A rather dashing Salvation Army hat - Prepare to Meet Thy God

As time went by, bicycling brigades were formed, some riders with specially adapted machines, with poles from which to fly banners and flags and big boxes attached at the sides and back, to carry their bibles and pamphlets.



 
There were even mobile churches - caravans sent out to the suburbs.

And today, the Army works all over the world, spreading the word of General Booth, providing food or shelter to those who are lost or homeless. If you would like to hear some typical Salvation band music, and learn a little more of the movement today, I have provided a link to a video, promoting a Salvation Army album.


12/12/2009

THAT MR WAINWRIGHT OF TREDEGAR SQUARE ...


In the middle of Bow, in East London, just a five minute walk from the Mile End Road tube station, there is a beautiful garden square with houses that would not be out of place in the more affluent parts of Kensington. The North side of the Square is the grandest with fine stucco and classical decoration - hardly changed since the nineteenth century.



The land upon which the houses were built was originally pasture. It was leased out to builders by Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar, whose ancestral home was in Newport, Wales. Many streets in the surrounding estate have names with Welsh connotions - such Rhondda, Aberavan, or Cardigan. 



The development, was completed around 1860, by which time it had its own school, shops and church, along with several public houses. It even had its own murderer. (I know, I can hear what you're thinking - the VV is off on another blood-crazed spree. But, bear with me. The story is unusual and caused a great stir at the time).

Henry Wainwright,  lived at number 40, Tredegar Square, along with his wife and four children.


Henry Wainwright

He ran a brushmaking business on the nearby Whitechapel Road. Right next door was the Pavilion theatre - and Henry did love a trip to the theatre, socialising with many performers, even inviting them back to dine with his wife - though the younger, prettier actresses were entertained elsewhere. And, when he met a  hatmaker by the name of Harriet Lane, he set her up as 'Mrs King' in various East end residences, the last being in Stepney's Sidney Square. But, Henry tired of Harriet's charms. She was murdered and her body was buried under the floor at Henry's Whitechapel warehouse. A year later, in 1875, with the warehouse sold and about to change hands, Henry was said to have exhumed the corpse, cutting it into pieces which he wrapped in thick canvas cloth. He certainly did try to move the remains, even asking a member of staff to help with transporting them to his new premises - claiming they contained hair for his trade. When the poor workman complained at the stench, Wainwright assured him that it would 'blow off'. A little while later, out in the street, when he complained again at the weight, Wainwright became exasperated, leaving his employee alone with the parcels while he went off to find a cab.

Wainwright returned and loaded the packages into the cab and then travelled on alone. But during his absence, the suspicious employee had sneaked a look and discovered a human head and hand. He did not challenge Wainwright at the time, fearing he might be murdered too, but as soon as the cab set off, a constable was informed and, in due course, Wainwright was detained, red-handed, with blood seeping out through the cloth in his arms.

However, there was a twist. Wainwright was hanged for the crime, but during the court case it came out that he had a brother, Thomas, and Henry had encouraged Thomas to woo Harriet in his place - hoping to make their break easier. When Harriet's body was found, Thomas had long disappeared. Some believe that Henry, having already lost his reputation, sought to protect his brother's name, taking the blame for her death on himself. But, at the time of sentencing, Henry was reported to have said:

"...standing as I now do upon the brink of eternity, and in the presence of that God before whom I shall shortly appear, I swear that I am not the murderer of the remains found in my possession. I swear that I have never in my life fired a pistol. I swear also that I have not buried these remains, and that I did not exhume or mutilate them has been proved before you by witnesses. I have been guilty of great immorality. I have been guilty of many indiscretions, but as for the crime of which I have been brought in guilty I leave this dock with a calm and quiet conscience. My Lord, I thank you for the patience with which you have listened to me."

Contemporary newspaper reports of the Whitechapel-road Murder can be found in Lee Jackson's excellent website: Victorian London.

The Morgan Arms

And, if - after that - you still find yourself with an appetite and a desire to visit Bow, I recommend  a visit to the Morgan Arms, just to the east of Tredegar Square. The food and atmosphere is very good indeed.

10/12/2009

FROM HELL...



In 1996, the writer Alan Moore, and the illustrator Eddie Campbell combined their abilities to produce the now renowned graphic novel,  From Hell.

This intelligent comic book which is complex and starkly horrific links the series of Ripper murders to the high profile Duke of Clarence. For this, Moore's research was intricate and he provides many footnotes explaining where and how the writing veered from the truth of the 'facts' and descended into fiction - such as a final chapter in which Jack is seen travelling through time, his carnage having given birth to the horrors of war about to unfold within the twentieth century.

Moore wrote this about his work: "It is my belief that if you cut into a thing deeply enough, if your incisions are precise and persistent and conducted methodically, then you reveal not only that thing's inner workings, but also the meaning behind those workings...'From Hell' is a post mortem of a historical occurence, using fiction as a scalpel."


An example of Eddie Campbell's artwork in From Hell


If you prefer a visually stylish, though somewhat watered down version of Moore's compelling story, the VV thoroughly recommends the 2001 film adaptation of From Hell. It stars the actor Johnny Depp - along with his amazing cockney accent - as the laudanum-soaked assistant to Robbie Coltrane's Sergeant Godley.

A trailer for the film is available here.

06/12/2009

ANOTHER RIPPER THEORY...


In her book, Portrait of a Killer, Jack the Ripper: Case Closed, the American author,Patricia Cornwell, claims that Jack the Ripper had been none other than the artist,Walter Sickert: a dominant figure in 19th century British Impressionism.

Having amassed a fortune with her Kay Scarpetta novels, Cornwell spent £2,000,000 buying up several of Sickert's paintings, his letters, and his desk. She hoped to prove the artist's guilt by linking his DNA with that extracted from letters supposedly penned by the Ripper. In her efforts to secure forensic proof she cut up one of Sickert's paintings - an act that resulted in nothing more conclusive than public outrage and derision.

She did succeed in matching the watermark on Sickert's personal stationery with that used by the author of the famous Ripper letters. But, as those letters were considered to be hoaxes, her detective work only proved the fact that Sickert may have been a perverted trickster.

A BBC Omnibus Special was screened in 2002 and covered Cornwell's research into the identity of Jack the Ripper. You can watch it here. Not for the squeamish.

However, Cornwell was not the first to link Sickert to the Whitechapel murders. Others - tipped off by none less than Sickert's illegitimate son, Joseph - suggested that the artist was involved in the slayings as part of an elaborate hoax to protect Queen Victoria's dissolute grandson, 'Eddy', the Duke of Clarence, from the scandal of being involved with a working girl.


Eddy - the Duke of Clarence

Cornwell's theory was more directly inspired by the artist's work. And, it is true that Sickert's depictions of the female nude were bold and provocative images where human flesh could resemble raw meat.

In a series of paintings based on the murder of a Camden prostitute, Cornwell claims that the bodies have eerie similarities to those of the Ripper's victims.



It is certainly true that Sickert developed something of an obsessional interest in the Ripper. Around the time of the murders he rented a studio in East London and claimed that his lodgings had also been used by the Ripper - though how he could have known such a thing when the murderer's identity was never exposed is a mystery. Sickert's representation of that room is dark and sinister- and perhaps the pink slash of paint on the floor is meant to suggest more than simply a shaft of light.


 Jack the Ripper's Bedroom by Walter Richard Sickert

01/12/2009

JACK THE RIPPER STRIKES AGAIN

In my previous post, I mentioned Ian Beck's new novel, Pastworld, in which Victorian London is re-imagined as a theme park where the arch villain, Jack the Ripper, may be intent on more than playing a game.

In fiction, the 'character' of Jack the Ripper turns up regularly. Over the years, many theories have been proposed regarding Jack's true identity, including a member of the royal family, a doctor, and even the artist, Walter Sickert. And, some have suggested that the murderer was a woman.

But, most recently, the historian Mei Trow used modern forensic techniques to deduce that Jack may have been a mortuary attendant who went by the name of Robert Mann.

His theory was made into a documentary by the Discovery Channel, and supports a previous FBI examination of the case in which it was concluded that Jack was a white male from the lower social classes, probably from a broken home and with a menial  job that offered some knowledge of human anatomy.


Mann was from a deprived background, fatherless and spending much of his youth in the workhouse. He worked in the mortuary where the Ripper's victims were taken - including two other stabbed women, not previously linked with the Ripper. Mann was even called as a police witness, before being found undressing one body and admiring the wounds - the handiwork that Mei believes his suspect had inflicted earlier.



The Metropolitan Police's account of events is available here.

And, should you wish to wander the streets of Whitechapel retracing the steps of Jack and his victims, there are many guided walks. Richard Jones's London Walking Tours appears to offer a well-researched outing for those of a less squeamish disposition. If you prefer to go it alone, his website provides a map and instructions that can be printed off. You don't even have to leave your computer as he offers a virtual walk with a step by step account of the crimes, along with many photographs.

PASTWORLD - A NOVEL BY IAN BECK


The VV doesn't tend to read a lot of Young Adult fiction, but Pastworld by Ian Beck is looking very tempting.

In the Financial Times, James Lovegrove said - 'Ian Beck has crafted an exciting Steampunk novel that blends Dickens and Conan Doyle with Michael Crichton and V for Vendetta to good effect.'

If anyone has read the book, I'd love to hear what you think.

You can watch a trailer here.