Death of an Outcast

Today’s story dates from 1872 and is an account of a gruesome find in Seven Dials – which was, and is, less than fifteen minutes walk away from Trafalgar Square.

A little girl, by the name of Annie Cook, went down the stairs of her house, at 24 Dudley Street, and discovered the naked body of woman lying under the stairs.

Despite accusations cast on a member of the household by a, seemingly mad, lady named Jane Ross, the conclusion was that the woman had died of cold and exposure; and, although strenuous efforts were made to identify her, her true identity was never discovered.

However, the story does bring to mind the downward spiral that virtually all Jack the Ripper’s victims were later to suffer when, due to a combination of alcoholism and ill-luck, they, like the poor woman found at 24 Dudley Street, lost everything and ended up on the unforgiving streets of the Victorian metropolis.

This is her story as it was reported in Reynold’s Weekly Newspaper on the 6th October 1872:-


“On Monday an inquest was held by Dr. Lankester on the body of a woman unknown, who was found dead in a house in Dudley Street, Seven Dials. The jury having viewed the body, the Coroner asked if it had been identified.

Inspector Usher said that 400 or 500 people had seen the woman, but no one knew who she was.

It was a mistake to say, as reported in some of the morning papers, that it was a woman named Cunningham.


Annie Cook, aged eleven, said she lived with her mother at 24, Dudley-street, Seven-dials, and on the previous Friday morning she was sent downstairs by her mother to fetch the cane to beat her brother, who had absented himself from school, and under the stairs she saw the body of the woman, which looked quite naked, with the exception of a stocking on one foot.


Sarah Cook, the mother of the last witness, stated that her little girl, having been sent downstairs, ran up very much frightened and said there was a naked woman lying under the stairs.

The witness went down and saw the woman, who had nothing on but a small cloak just over her shoulders. She had a stocking and part of an old boot on one foot.

She had not fallen down there.


About a fortnight ago witness found two women sleeping in the same place. Other women had gone there to sleep, and taken their clothes off, and witness had sometimes held a candle over the stairs while they dressed themselves.

The Coroner said that was a sad picture of London life.

Witness: The face of the deceased seemed familiar as that of one who used to come about trying to sell things. The last person who went down there was a sweep on Tuesday night. Later that night she thought she heard someone creeping along the passage. It had been raining all day.


Mr. W. Bennett, F.R.C.S., said he had made a post mortem examination of the body. The only marks of violence were a contusion on the forehead and a slight abrasion on the nose.

The body was barely nourished, and the woman was about thirty-two years of age.

The body was frightfully dirty and covered with vermin. The vermin might have been taken up with a spoon.

She might have been dead since Tuesday night. It was a man’s jacket over her shoulders, and there was an old – a very old – skirt.

The viscera were so shrunken that if the body had been shaken they might have been heard. The stomach was so contracted that she had probably not taken food for weeks but lived on drink.

She had not been murdered and thrown there – judging by the appearance of the body.


George Ward, 3, Earl-street, said he had an impression that the deceased was a woman named Ellen Hannen, who was a waistcoat-maker. She was not an immoral character, but was rather given to drink.

About a week ago he saw her with a man, both very drunk. She was all in rags and the man struck her in the ribs as if he wanted her to go away, but they went into one of the public-houses in the Dials.


Joseph John Slade, living at 8, Great Earl-street, said he thought he recognised the deceased as a drunken dissipated woman who was always about the Dials, and who went by the name of “Curly Polly.”


Inspector Usher said he had seen the body searched, and found a wedding ring and keeper upon it. A Roman Catholic missal and a can were found by her side, There was no name in the book.


On one of the jury proposing to adjourn, the coroner said he thought the case was clear that the woman had died from drink, but ultimately an adjournment till Friday was agreed to.

The Commissioner of Police requests it may be notified that any person who thinks he can identify the woman can see the photograph at the Imperial French Company’s Rooms, 352, Strand.

The coroner ordered the body to be interred in a coffin having a plate of glass in the lid.”


Amongst those who went to see the photograph was an artist from The Illustrated Police News and, in its issue of the 12th of October 1872, the sketch that he had made from the image was reproduced on its front page.

A newspaper sketch of the unknown woman found in Seven Dials.
From The Illustrated Police News, 12th October 1872. Copyright, The British Library Board.


However, the same edition of Reynold’s Weekly Newpaper that carried the above report, also carried news of a woman who had appeared at Marlborough Street Police-court on charges of assaulting a fellow lodger:-


Jane Ross, No 24, Dudley-street, Seven-dials, the house in which tho body of a female without clothing was found under the kitchen stairs a few days ago, was brought before Mr. Newton, on a warrant, charged with assaulting James Merriman, a porter, living in the same house.

James Merriman said that on Saturday night the prisoner came into the shop at 24 Dudley-street, kept by his sister, and abused her, calling her the murderer of the woman found in the cellar.

He told her to go away.

She took the tip of a key, and shook it in his face, and told the people outside that he was the murderer.


She was told by Inspector Usher, E division, who was engaged in investigating the matter, that there was no foundation for the charge, but she persisted in coming to the shop the next day and repeating it.


Mrs Cook, the complainant’s sister, said that the prisoner came to her shop and charged her with having murdered the woman found in the house, getting a large crowd about the place.

On Monday, after the inquest, the prisoner told her she was a murderess, and she would do for her.

She went in fear of the prisoner, as she was known to be a dangerous woman.


Luke Jeffrey, warrant officer, said he took the prisoner into custody in Dudley-street.

On the way to the station she said that she would make a clean breast of it, and that the people at the bottom of the house knew all about it.

The prisoner here said the words that the people at the bottom of the house were more likely to know about the matter than anyone else.


Mr Newton wanted to know what business the prisoner had to go near the complainants.

It led him to suspect that there was more behind the scene than at present appeared.

He should require the prisoner to find one surety to keep the peace, and if she did not keep quiet the amount of the surety, 5 shillings, would be forfeited.


On the 20th October 1872, Reynold’s Weekly Newspaper reported the latest revelations from the resumed inquest

“Dr. Lankester, the coroner for Central Middlesex, resumed, on Friday evening, the adjourned inquest, at the King’s Head Tavern, Broad-street, Bloomsbury, on the body of the woman, name unknown, found under the stairs of 24, Dudley-street, Seven Dials.

The evidence given on the previous occasion, showed that the deceased was supposed to be the wife of a solicitor, who, having given way to habits of intemperance, left her home, and had not since been heard of.

Owing to the case having gone before the public through the press, a great number of people have been to see the body, but have failed to identify it.


Several females are missing – namely, the wife of a solicitor, the daughter of a wealthy county member, and others connected with respectable families.

Mrs. Margaret Daly, 25, Nassau-street, stated that she saw the deceased on Wednesday morning week, and recognised her by her clothing; but although she did not know her by her features, to the best of her ability she recognised her by her teeth, and believed that her husband was a boot-maker, now in Hanwell Asylum.

Her name was Elizabeth Peters, and she resided in Marylebone-lane. She never led an immoral life.

It was stated by the police that there were a number of people missing, and some who had been discovered under suspicious circumstances had been buried without identification; that the photographs of the deceased and other females who had been found under the above circumstances by order of the Chief Commissioner of Police, be viewed at all the metropolitan police stations.


The jury returned the following verdict, “That the deceased expired from cold and exposure, accelerated by habits brought on by destitution.”

And, with that, the gentlemen of the press seem to have lost interest in the plight of the poor, unknown and forgotten woman.

She just joined the depressingly long list of victims of a society that had little sympathy for those who  – through addiction to alcohol or because they were abandoned by fickle spouses or lovers; or had their lives touched by tragedy – ended up on the mean streets of the wealthiest City on earth and to whom death, in many cases, was a welcome release from the hardships and battles of their everyday lives.

May that woman rest in peace, whoever she was.