By November, 1888, the radical press had discovered that it could use the Jack the Ripper murders, and the police’s inability to bring the perpetrator of the atrocities to justice, to heap ignominy upon the head of their old adversary – or, at least their adversary since the debacle of Bloody Sunday the previous November – the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren.
There can be no doubt that the Whitechapel murders had exposed the shortcomings of the police in London, and many newspapers, not to mention many radical politicians, were blaming the fact that the killer was still at large on Warren’s governance of the police force.
Whether the criticism of him was justified or not is a moot point.
The fact is, that, thanks to the constant sniping at him in the pages of the newspapers, he had become extremely unpopular with the populace in general and the people of the East End of London in particular.
GUY FAWKES CELEBRATIONS
The South Wales Echo, in a brief article which was published on Tuesday, 6th November, 1888, demonstrated how the people of London had used the tradition of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes to express their fury at the unknown miscreant who was subjecting the East End to a reign of terror:-
“Some attempt to keep up Guy Fawkes’s Day was made in London, but the original object was completely lost sight of.
Such effigies, as were carried about, were those of persons who have recently made themselves popular or notorious.
Amongst a few political “guys”, there was a large sprinkling of stuffed figures labelled “Jack the Ripper” and “Leather Apron.”
THE QUESTIONABLE HONOUR
Meanwhile, The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, in an article that was published on Friday, 9th November, 1888, added the fact that both Sir Charles Warren and the Home Secretary, Sir Henry Matthews, had also had the honour of being “guyed” thrust upon them:-
“Guy Fawkes’ Day was celebrated in London after the customary fashion.
There usual burning of effigies, accompanied by recital of unintelligible doggrel, and the explosion of fireworks.
Large crowds collected in parts of the City, and it is worthy of remark that, in the East End “Jack the Ripper, “Leather Apron” Sir Charles Warren, Mr Mathews and other characters shared the questionable honours bestowed by the populace upon the author of Gunpowder Plot.
The police made no attempt to interrupt the proceedings.”
A DIFFERENT TAKE
But, if the following article, which appeared in Justice, the weekly newspaper of the Social Democratic Federation, on Saturday, 10th November, 1888 is to be believed, the police were not as forgiving of the insult of their chief being burnt in effigy by the mobs of London.
I say “believed” because Justice absolutely despised Sir Charles Warren, and I can find no reference to the police reaction that the article describes in any other newspapers.
WARREN SAVED FROM THE FLAMES
“The unemployed, who have been meeting in Hyde Park, on Clerkenwell Green, and at other places during the past few weeks, have had some experience of the doings of the London dictator.
So on Monday last, being the anniversary of the famous attempt of Guy Fawkes to elevate the classes, they made a counterfeit presentiment of “I, Charles Warren,” and carried it around the streets of the Metropolis.
CONSIGNED TO THE FLAMES
At night it was their intention to consign the good old guy to the flames on the Green of Clerkenwell.
But unfortunately for their sport, Charles was on his guard. It is not for nothing that he dresses up his bobbies in plain clothes.
They may not be able to find “Jack the Ripper,” but they were able to discover the fell design of the wicked Socialists to burn their great chief – in effigy.
SIR CHARLES PREPARES
Accordingly, Sir Charles was able to prepare.
The army was ordered out and Clerkenwell Green was surrounded. Mounted men were hidden away down dark turnings and foot men were paraded all over the place, while plain-clothes men wandered aimlessly about armed with bludgeons.
At last a detachment of the enemy arrived in the shape of a red flag and a few men who, after being bullied by one of the police inspectors, held a meeting.
Great agitation now prevailed among the forces of “law and order” and repeated rushes were made to the entrances of the Green to meet the coming guy.
At last, he came with a numerous escort, but the large display of force prevented his receiving the intended warm welcome.”