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The secret life of Frances Coles

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  • The secret life of Frances Coles

    I do hope we can raise some sort of monument to Frances Coles as suggested on the burial thread. As tnb mentions, this might necessitate the permission of descendants of the Coles family.

    I've been undertaking some genealogical research on Frances Coles and had some surprises. I don't know whether this is the same as Bulldog has already found, so apologise if I am duplicating something already discovered (but America was actually 'discovered' many times over and it's still a jolly spiffing place!)

    To start. We know something about Frances' family from the contemporary press reports and the Inquest. She was aged 26 according to her burial record (presumably therefore born c.1865). Her elderly father James Coles was living in Bermondsey workhouse and she had sisters named Mary Ann and Selina.

    I had no difficulty in finding James Coles, a boot-maker and Somerset man by birth, in the workhouse in the 1891 (and 1881) census. I had my first surprise when I looked for him in 1861. He was living in Horsleydown, Middlesex, with his wife Mary Ann and daughters Mary Ann (9), Selina (4) and Frances (2), born St Johns Southwark. Clearly Frances was older than we were told.

    Sure enough, I found the record of her birth in St Olave in the 4th quarter of 1859. So she was in fact 31 at the date of her death. This is rather odd because it was Mr Coles who identified her body, so why the incorrect age?

    I found the family again in 1871 (with difficulty, their name being mis-spelled Cole) in White Lion Court Bermondsey, and Frances now has a brother, James, aged 8. Mary Ann was unmarried according to the press, but might Selina and/or James have descendants?

    I could not find Frances Coles at all in 1881 and James senior, as I say, was by now in Bermondsey workhouse. According to her victim page on Casebook she was also known as Hawkins, although I am unsure where this information comes from. It occurred that she might have been married.

    I looked for marriages of women named Frances Coles between 1871 and 81. There was a Frances Coles married in Chelsea in the first quarter of 1876 when our Frances would have been 16. If people think I am on the right track here I will send for a copy of the marriage certificate, but if you think I'm off my rocker, please do tell me and I won't waste ten quid; I'll spend it on a pizza instead.

  • #2
    Hi Nell,

    I’d go for the pizza. Frances probably never set foot in Chelsea in her lifetime.

    You are quite correct about her being 31 at the time of her death. She was born on 17 September 1859 at 18 Crucifix Lane in Bermondsey.

    In 1881 she was living at 192 Union Street in Southwark and calling herself Coleman. She worked for Winfield Hora & Co. at 58 Minories Street.

    There’s a lot of information about Frances that isn’t generally known in the new book “Carroty Nell: The Last Victim of Jack the Ripper” by John E. Keefe. It’s available in the States from Amazon.Com.

    Hope this helps,



    • #3
      It looks like a great book Bulldog. What a pity its not on sale in the UK.


      • #4
        Good work Nell. I wonder if White Lion Court, Bermondsey, would be anywhere near Red Lion Court, Borough, where a certain Jack McCarthy once lived. Not that that would mean anything at all, and probably not anyway.

        I will try to get hold of that book Bulldog - by hook or by crook - as it looks like the kind of thing I/we should be keeping up to date with if looking into a serious study of her life and/or some kind of memorial appeal. Even if just to make sure we put the right dates on it!

        Must say I don't like that subtitle though. Here's hoping it's another case of publishers adding on unwanted 'hooks', ie 'the uncensored facts' etc, and that the book itself is a little more balanced.

        If I get hold of it Nell I will be sure to PM you any particularly useful bits - for now keep up the good work! One note of caution with regard to 'also known as' surnames - more often than not at the time these referred to the surname of a current or even former boyfriend ('common law husband') which the women had taken on, and not necessarily any legitimate marriage that would leave a papertrail (see Eddowes, for example). I would second Bulldog in saying that seeing as she was born in what would now be Southwark, then lived in Bermondsey (no real distance at all), and eventually ended up dossing only a mile or so across the river, that it seems unlikely - although obviously possible - that she would have been living in Chelsea inbetween.


        • #5
          Greetings, everyone.
          Just a few lines to say that "Carrotty Nell" by John Keefe was out with a second edition in 2012 and is available on Amazon.
          An interesting book which puts forward some info I saw there for the first time, for instance the deposition of Frances' friend Ellen Calana (if I remember the name properly) at the inquest. The guy who proposed to her and then went away with Frances reminds me of a broad-shouldered fella...

          Best regards,
          Whoooops... I did it again.