The Earl of Sheffield Threatened

From October, 1888, when the authorities released the “Dear Boss, Jack the Ripper” letter, people all over the country – in fact, it is more accurate to say people all over the world – were receiving missives that purported to have been written by the perpetrator of the Whitechapel atrocities.

These Jack the Ripper letters were sent to a wide range of people, including George Lusk, the President of the local Vigilance Committee, who received the notorious “From Hell” letter, and even actresses, such as Maria Montrose, who was the subject of a threatening postcard, which was sent to the theatre she was performing at in November, 1888.


Another person who was threatened by a writer claiming to be the perpetrator of the East End murders was Henry Holroyd, 3rd Earl of Sheffield (1832 – 1909).

According to various newspaper reports, in early November, 1888, Holroyd had been the recipient of several threatening letters throughout the month. But the missive that received the most coverage was one that he received at the end of october, 1888.

A photograph showing the Earl of Sheffield wearing a top hat.
Henry Holroyd, 3rd Earl of Sheffield (1832 – 1909). From The Illustrated London News, May 1st, 1909. Copyright, The Illustrated London News Group and The British Library Board.


The Glasgow Evening Citizen published a brief mention of the threatening letter on Friday, 2nd November, 1888:-

“The Earl of Sheffield, who recently announced his intention of closing Sheffield Park against the public, has received an anonymous letter threatening to murder him. He has offered £250 for the discovery of the author.”


However, on Wednesday 7th November, 1888, The Lancaster Gazette, published the full text of the missive:-

“The following letter, bearing the Uckfield postmark of Oct. 27th, has been received by the Earl of Sheffield:-

“England, Oct. 27th, 1888.

Dear Lord Sheffield

I am sorry, but, feeling it my duty to let you know as I do not think you do or you would not have the Heart to turn an old Tennent like poor old Mrs. Groves out of her home after such a hard struggle to maintain and bring up her family not only that but not allowing anyone to get an honest living there in the Butchering line as they have done for a great number of years, but it seems to me as though you and your faithful Steward want it all, and if you had my wish you wou’d get more than you wanted.

Remember this is a warning to you, but at the same time I should be much obliged to you if you could arrange it for your Steward to sleep under the same roof as yourself on Monday night, Oct. 29th, or else I shall have to bring an assistant.

My knife is nice and sharp. Oh for a gentleman this time, instead of a Lady.

I am sorry for troubling you, but don’t forget the 29th.

I remain, yours truly, Jack the Ripper.”

Lord Sheffield has for some time past been so frequently annoyed by anonymous letter writers that he has resolved to make a special effort upon this occasion to capture his cowardly assailant.

The above letter has therefore been reproduced in facsimile, and his Lordship has offered a reward of £250 for information leading to the arrest of the writer.”


Holroyd was a great patron of cricket, and was considered by all who knew him to be a generous and considerate landlord. Consequently, several newspapers were quick to defend his reputation by pointing out that there was no credence to the accusation that he had heartlessly evicted a poor old woman from his estate.

The Kent and Sussex Courier was one newspaper that defended his reputation in its edition of Wednesday, 7th November, 1888:-

“All residents of Sussex and especially Sussex cricketers will hear with indignation that the Earl of Sheffield last week received an anonymous letter which, for its audacity and outrageous language, goes even beyond the bounds of the offensive letters which induced his lordship to withdraw his patronage from Fletching and the neighbourhood until such time as the writer had been unearthed by those in whose midst he is believed to dwell.

The latest letter, which there is every reason to believe emanates from the same source as the earlier ones, is dated October 27th, and contains a threat of assassination.

Lord Sheffield is charged with evicting a poor old tenant, and the anonymous letter-writer threatens to murder him.

The charge of cruel eviction conveyed in the letter will be credited by nobody acquainted with his lordship, and it is hoped that the whole of the county will assist in bringing to book the author of this and the previous letters.”


The Chichester Observer – revealed a little more about the events that, apparently, lay behind the threats in its edition of Wednesday 7th November 1888:-

“We are informed that there is not the least foundation for the charge of eviction.

Lord Sheffield, indeed, had given instructions that the old woman was to remain in her tenancy as long as she liked, but, for certain reasons, it was deemed advisable to remove her and place her under the control of her friends.

We need hardly state that we hope that the reward offered by his lordship will prove effective in its object.”


By the end of the month, it appears that the reward, coupled with the efforts of the police and the locals, had yielded a result and the author of the letter had been traced and arrested.

The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer carried the following report on Tuesday, 27th November 1888:-

“A labourer named Edward Groves was remanded at Uckfield Petty Sessions yesterday on a charge of inciting several persons to attempt to murder Lord Sheffield.

The prisoner was formerly a butcher in a small way at Fletching, living with his mother.

Lord Sheffield recently gave the mother notice to quit, and this is supposed to have incensed the prisoner against his lordship.

Groves was arrested on Thursday night at East Grinstead, but, obtaining leave to go upstairs for a coat, he let himself out of a bedroom window by means of a blanket, and escaped barefooted across the country to Fletching, where he was rearrested on Sunday.

The prisoner is suspected of having written the threatening letters by which Lord Sheffield has been of late so much annoyed.”