It’s always interesting to delve into the newspaper archives and uncover articles that show the area we explore on our nightly Jack the Ripper guided walking tour as it was in the past.
Today’s article takes us back to a case of bodysnatching that occurred in the East End of London in December 1828, and which featured one of the true local landmarks, the wonderful Ten Bells Pub, which can still be visited today.
AN INTRIGUING ARTICLE
Although several newspapers carried the report, the one published below appeared in Pierce Egan’s Weekly Courier on Sunday the 18th of January 1829.
It is an intriguing story for several reasons.
Firstly, it gives us an insight into the way in which the bodysnatchers worked; and, secondly, the events described in the article actually began in the Ten Bells pub, which is still going strong on Commercial Street, in Spitalfields 189 years after the events occurred.
The headline read:-
RESURRECTIONISTS – WHOLESALE DEALERS
The subsequent article read:-
“William Parrott and John North were placed at the bar, on an indictment charging them with having, on the 16th of December last, opened a grave in the churchyard of St George’s, Middlesex, and taken therefrom the body of a female child, of about nine years of age, with intent to dispose of the same for their lucre and gain; and the indictment charged them in a second count with having unlawfully entered the said churchyard, with intent to steal therefrom fourteen dead bodies.
Mr Alley, who attended for the prosecution, having stated the case to the jury, called Benjamin King, Watchman of St. George’s Parish, who deposed:-
REFRESHMENTS IN THE TEN BELLS
On 15th December last, two of my companions, and myself, went into the Ten Bells public house at Spitalfields, to get some refreshment.
While we were there, four men, two of whom were the prisoners, came into the room in which we were sitting, and after a short time they commenced a conversation, in the course of which they learned that we were watchmen.
WOULD THEY LIKE TO EARN SOME MONEY?
After we had sat together for about two hours, North asked us if we did not find ours a very unprofitable business and attended with much trouble?
I replied that it certainly was rather a troublesome sort of occupation.
The prisoners then said, if we had any wish to better our situation they could put us in a way of doing it, and even that night, if we thought proper, they would enable us to realise 70 or 80 shillings.
We enquired how?
And they then proposed that we should admit them, after midnight, into the churchyard, and permit them to carry away some of the bodies interred therein.
We consented for the purpose of entrapping them.
FOURTEEN BODIES WANTED
North said, “I’m d—–d if we won’t make a good thing of it tonight, for I’m determined to have at least fourteen of them.”
One of his comrades said, “Don’t be covetous Jack, if we get eight or ten of them, we may be very well satisfied.”
North replied, “I shan’t be satisfied with eight or ten though: I’m determined to have a good swag while I am about it – I’ll not have one less than fourteen, and if the watchmen only stick to us they shall have 3 shillings for each subject, and there will be 70 shillings smack for them in one night.”
“We appeared,” continued the witness, “to acquiesce in all they said, and it was ultimately agreed upon but they were to come to the churchyard between one and two o’clock on the following morning.
TIPPED OFF THE PARISH OFFICERS
In the meantime I disclosed all that had occurred to some of the officers of the parish, and the plan was arranged for the apprehension of the gang.
TOO FAR GONE
At the hour appointed the party arrived at the churchyard, having brought with them a cart for the removal of the bodies; by means of ladders they contrived to scale a very high wall, and after they had got on the inside I joined them, and they immediately proceeded to work.
They opened three or four graves with most extraordinary expedition, but complained that the subjects contained in them were too far gone for their purpose.
THE ARREST IS MADE
They at length came to a newly made grave, which having opened, they disinterred from it the body of a girl, of about nine years of age; they took the body out of the coffin, and laid it under a tree whilst they went to search for others; they were in the act of disinterring two other bodies, when I gave a signal (previously agreed upon) to the officers, who instantly ran up and secured myself and the two prisoners at the bar, but two of the party made their escape.
I was taken into custody, in order that the resurrectionists might not suspect that I was the person who had informed against them.
Three other watchmen and the parish officer corroborated the statement made by the last witness.
A VILE TRADE
The chairman briefly summed up the evidence, and expressed in strong terms is abhorrence of the vile trade, which is every day increasing.
The jury, after twenty minutes deliberation, returned a verdict of – Guilty.
The prisoners were sentenced to nine months imprisonment, and ordered to be kept to hard labour.”