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The Curious Case of Mrs Colville

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  • The Curious Case of Mrs Colville

    Following the murder of Mary Ann Nichols during the night of Friday 31 August 1888, a number of newspapers reported that a resident of Brady Street had heard a woman screaming during the night as if she was being attacked.

    I have attempted to analyse all the reports of this incident and, in doing so, have established that there were two variants of this story in the newspapers. Variant 1 always begins with the words "A general opinion is now entertained…" or similar, while Variant 2 begins "The people of Brady Street were thrown into a state of excitement…" or similar.

    Variant 1

    Variant 1 can be found in three Saturday morning papers namely, the Daily Chronicle, Morning Post and Daily Telegraph (and was thus, presumably, sourced from a news agency). This variant appears in a slightly different form in all three newspapers, especially concerning the name of the woman who is said to have heard the screams. Each story contains three references to her. The Daily Chronicle, presumably using the original text of the news agency story, calls her "Mrs Colwell" twice and "Mrs Colville" once. The editors of the Morning Post and Daily Telegraph evidently noted the discrepancy but came up with different solutions. The Morning post refers to "Mrs Colwell" on all three occasions while the Daily Telegraph goes the other way and refers only to "Mrs Colville". The story was repeated in differing and abridged forms in a number of the Saturday evening papers (Evening Standard, Evening News, Pall Mall Gazette and the Echo).

    Variant 2

    Variant 2 of the story refers only to "Mrs Colwell" (once) and includes the information, not in Variant 1, that the blood was wet on Friday morning but that the sun had dried it. There are a number of other differences from Variant 1 although the basic structure of the story is the same. This variant can be found in Lloyd’s Weekly News, published on the Sunday morning, which is where I thought it first appeared, and also an abridged version of it in the Weekly Dispatch of the same date, but I now realise it had already appeared in some regional papers on the Saturday. This leads me to believe that this variant must have first been published in a late edition of one of the Friday evening papers, but is lost to posterity.

    It is not clear to me if the reports were written independently by two journalists or both had a common source.

    A further addition to the story appeared on the Sunday in Lloyd’s Weekly News which carried an exclusive quote from the woman’s daughter about the screams – she was said to be called "Charlotte Colville".

    The Colville Myths

    Now, two myths seem to have attached themselves to this story in the literature on the case.

    The first myth is that Mrs Colville’s/Colwell’s first name was Sarah. There is actually an entry for "Sarah Colwell" on this site. Yet none of the newspaper reports provide the woman’s first name. From an internet search, it seems that the myth of Sarah Colwell goes back to at least 2001 when she had an entry in "Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia" by John J. Eddleston. I have no idea where the name "Sarah" came from and wonder if anyone else does. Maybe someone identified her back in the twentieth century although I somehow doubt it.

    The second myth is that Mrs Colville and her daughter lived in Honey’s Mews. This features in a number of summaries of the story in the secondary literature. However, it is clear from the reported accounts that this is not the case. Variants 1 & 2 both refer to Honey’s Mews as being where the bloodstains were first visible (and from where the screams were heard). Variant 1 says "The point at which the stains were first visible is in front of the gateway to Honey's-mews, in Brady-street, about 150 yards from the point where Buck's-row". Variant 2 says "The trail was easily followed down Brady street for 150 yards to Honey’s mews. In front of this gateway there was a large stain, looking as if the bleeding person had fallen against the wall and lain there". Charlotte also said that the screams she heard "seemed a good way down Brady-street to the right, where the marks of bloody hands are" and by this she must have meant Honey’s Mews. So it is clear, firstly, that the supposed blood marks were on the gateway to Honey’s Mews and, secondly, that Mrs Colville lived a fair distance from that gateway.

    We may also note that Variant 1 of the story says that Mrs Colville "lives a short distance from the foot of Buck’s-row", Variant 2 of the story says that Mrs Colwell "lives midway between Buck’s row and the next turning" while the LWN, in quoting Charlotte, says that she "lives about the middle of Brady-street".

    To work out where Mrs Colville lived, therefore, we first need to identify Honey’s Mews. Did such a place exist?

    Honey's Mews and the Three Confirmed Brady Street Mews

    I have located three documented mews in Brady Street at the time but none of them were called Honey’s Mews, at least not officially.

    Mews 1

    The first is Westrup’s Mews, in the south of Brady Street, on the west side, between numbers 9 and 11 Brady Street. I think we can safely assume that this mews was named after George Westrup who, between about 1845 and 1868 (when he died), owned a bakery at 150 Whitechapel Road, the back of which premises adjoined the mews. This mews is listed in the Post Office Directory for 1888.

    Mews 2

    The second is South Mews, further to the north of Brady Street, also on the west side, just before Eastman Street, between numbers 39 and 41 Brady Street. This mews is also listed in the Post Office Directory for 1888.

    Mews 3

    The third, not listed in the Post Office Directory for 1888 or any other year, is North Mews which, I believe, was also on the west side, just before Scott Street, and was between 51 and 53 Brady Street. This information comes from the Bethnal Green Valuation List for 1900 (South Ward) held at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library. Another documentary reference for this mews is in the Commercial Gazette of 24 May 1893 which includes an extract from the Bills of Sale Registry showing a bill of over £399 in favour of Frederick Mathias from: "William Handley, 63 Brady-street and North-mews, Brady Street, Bethnal Green". William Handley, who appears in in the 1891 census at 63 Brady Street, was a corn merchant and hay dealer (while Mathias appears to have been a baker in Cambridge Road, probably a relation of Handley’s wife whose maiden name was Mathias).

    Which one was Honey's?

    Now, I think we can eliminate Westrup’s Mews as being Honey’s Mews because that was far less than 150 yards from Buck’s Row. Using an O/S map as a reference, and assuming, as the papers reported, that it was about 120 yards from the murder site to Brady Street end of Buck’s-row, then Westrup’s Mews was about 45 yards from Buck’s Row. South Mews on the other hand, by the same calculation, was about 165 yards from Buck’s Row which is far closer to the distance of "about 150 yards" reported in the newspapers. North Mews was only about 25 yards to the north – which would make the total distance of this mews from Buck’s row as being about 190 yards, but that too could easily have been described as "about 150 yards" – although, clearly, South Mews is the better candidate.

    Handley's Mews?

    Nevertheless, and I have to guess here – for perhaps the non-existence of Honey’s Mews shows that the entire story is nonsense - but could North Mews have been known locally as Handley’s Mews, after the occupier, William Handley, which was misheard as Honey’s Mews when Mrs Colville was telling her story to the reporter(s)? That is the just about the only solution to puzzle that I have been able to come up with. The other possibility is that someone with the name of Honey was living at South Mews in 1888. The 1881 census tells us that a horse keeper called Benjamin Pegram was living in South Mews at that time but, from that date to 31 August 1888, we simply don’t know who was living there. There were some people called Honey living in the local area and, for example, according to the electoral register, a Robert Honey was the occupier of 32 Rupert Street, Bethnal Green, a neighbour of our friend Robert Paul. But there is simply no available information one way or the other as to who occupied South Mews in 1888.

    But assuming that what was referred to as Honey’s Mews was either South or North Mews (and there was some, now unknown, reason for the local residents calling it as such) then that would place the Colvilles on the east side of Brady Street, at some point to the south of the mews and the north of Buck’s Row. The reason for this is that Charlotte referred to the mews as being "to the right". She then said that the sounds she heard came "up the street towards our house" and then "went on in the direction of Buck’s Row". This indeed suggests, as the reports state, that the Colvilles were living in the middle of Brady Street with the mews to the right of their house and Buck’s Row on the left, which can only be on the opposite side of the street to where Buck’s Row was.

    Can we identify Mrs Colville?

    The clue we have to work with in respect of Mrs C's identify is that her daughter, Charlotte, was 11 years old in 1888, suggesting she was born in 1877. Can we find a Charlotte Colville or Colwell born in that year with some connection with Bethnal Green or Whitechapel? Sort of, yes.

    Charlotte Amelia Coldwell was born on 17 July 1877 at 13 Cumberland Street, Shoreditch, the daughter of John and Caroline Coldwell. However, her birth certificate wrongly states that her father’s name was "John Colwell" (and her mother was said to be "Caroline Charlotte Colwell") so, officially, one could say she was, in fact, Charlotte Colwell. The family was listed as Colwell in the 1881 census. John was a "Commercial Traveller".

    There is no evidence as to where the Coldwells were living on 31 August 1888. We know they were living at 62 Laburnum Street in Shoreditch in March 1884 (when their daughter Caroline was baptised) and were also living in Shoreditch, at "1 Johns Terrace", Shoreditch, in November 1888 when their next child Amelia was born but, of course, this does not necessarily mean they were living there in August/September of that year. John Coldwell was married in Bethnal Green, when he was living in Castle Street, and was also living in Bethnal Green in 1874 and 1879 when his sons John and Albert were born and again in 1891 when he was living at 29 Edward Street and he evidently moved around a lot between Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. Half of Brady Street was in Bethnal Green (with the other half being Whitechapel).

    John changed his profession from commercial traveller during the 1880s as his occupation was stated to be "Carman" on the births and baptism register as at 11 March 1884. On the birth certificate of his daughter Amelia dated 17 December 1888 he is described as a "Barman" (although this is almost certainly an error for "Carman" which is how he is described on the Baptism Register dated 5 Dec 1888). But it is not impossible that he switched occupations between those years, as I will suggest.

    John the confectioner?

    I note with interest that the Post Office Directory for 1886 and 1887 lists a John Caldwell, confectioner, at 74 Brady Street. We don’t know what Charlotte’s father, John Coldwell, was doing during these years or where he was living. Could this "John Caldwell" be John Coldwell? The interesting thing here is that John’s brother, Henry, was described as a confectioner in the 1881 census when he was living at 44a Duke Street in Bethnal Green. It may be noted that Duke Street was then just off Brady Street according to the 1881 Post Office Directory (and was a continuation of Pereira Street). By April 1883, when his son Charles was born (at 73 Pereira Street), Henry had switched to his father’s profession of a bootmaker and this is how he is described in various official documents thereafter up to the 1891 census. (Nevertheless, when his sons John and William married in 1896 and 1899 respectively they both described their father as a "Confectioner"). Might it be possible that having changed his profession, Henry subsequently (after 1884) passed his confectionery tools of the trade and knowledge on to his brother John who changed his own profession from carman, then took premises at 74 Brady Street?

    The problem with the theory that John Caldwell, confectioner, was also John Coldwell, father of Charlotte, is that the 1888 Post Office Directory, which would have been published in December 1887, no longer lists John Caldwell as being a confectioner at 74 Brady Street but instead lists a confectioner called Thomas Hood at that address. However, if John Caldwell was John Coldwell, my theory here would be that he and his family continued to live at 74 Brady Street for the first nine months of 1888 even though the confectionery business had ended at some point in 1887. In this respect, I note that the 1891 census shows two separate families living at 74 Brady Street, so it’s by no means impossible. John’s brother Henry was still living round the corner from Brady Street, at 73 Pereira Street, as at February 1888 (when his son, George, was born).

    Certainly 74 Brady Street, which was on the east side of the street, a little before Thomas Passage, fits the bill in terms of geographical location when compared to the story told by Mrs Colville and her daughter. It would mean they heard some screams coming from the northern part of the street on the other side of the road – something they obviously connected the following day with what appeared to be a bloodstain on the gate of one of the mews – and then heard the screaming woman walking down towards 74 Brady Street (rustling their shutters) before moving off southwards towards Whitechapel Road. When they heard that a woman was found dead in Buck’s Row the following day they understandably tailored their story a little to say that it was in the direction of Buck’s Row.

    The Twists - part 1

    Anyway, whether I am right or wrong, there is a little twist here because Mrs Coldwell, who we have seen was called Caroline, has an interesting maiden name. She was none other than Miss Caroline Cross. And she appears as such in the 1861 and 1871 censuses, listed as the daughter of a man with the name of Charles Cross! No relation - this guy was a cabinet maker.

    The Twists - part 2

    However, there is a second twist. This Charles Cross, had two surnames!!! Despite being listed as "Cross" in the censuses of 1851, 1861 and 1871, and married in the name of Charles Cross, he was also known as Charles Le Croissette and it was under the name of Caroline Charlotte Le Croissette that Caroline married John Coldwell in 1873 - and she included her father’s name as Charles Le Croissette on the marriage certificate.

    From an internet search it seems the Le Croissettes called themselves Cross in order to Anglicize their name during the French Wars (which would have been some time between 1792 and 1815) but clearly then decided to switch back to the more impressive sounding surname in the latter part of the nineteenth century, thus ending up with two different surnames.

    Weird or what?

    Who would have thought that the search for Mrs Colville would have ended up locating another Mr Charles Cross with two surnames????

  • #2
    Thanks David
    G U T

    There are two ways to be fooled, one is to believe what isn't true, the other is to refuse to believe that which is true.


    • #3
      Oh dear David, what have you done;-)

      Fascinating post, though.
      aka drstrange


      • #4
        Originally posted by David Orsam View Post
        John’s brother Henry was still living round the corner from Brady Street, at 73 Pereira Street, as at February 1888 (when his son, George, was born).
        Just to correct a silly error, John's baby son, George Coldwell, died in February 1888, having been born 7 months earlier.

        (and thanks GUT and drstrange 169 for responses)


        • #5
          A great piece of research, David.


          • #6
            Hi David,

            Well done. Sterling work.


            Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.


            • #7
              Thank you both.


              • #8
                Now David can you link the two CCs?
                G U T

                There are two ways to be fooled, one is to believe what isn't true, the other is to refuse to believe that which is true.


                • #9
                  David, I had a little look in the electoral rolls. In 1887 there is a John Coldwell living at 74 Brady St. But in 1888 and 1889, John Coldwell is living at 72 Brady St!


                  • #10
                    Robert - that's amazing! I did consult the electoral registers for both Whitechapel and Bethnal Green (both online and hardcopy) but didn't manage to find number 74 Brady Street and gave up - but I must have been looking in the wrong place. My bad. Anyway, well, very interesting, that certainly confirms my theory that "John Caldwell" the confectioner was actually John Coldwell but raises a question mark in that my John Coldwell was living in Shoreditch when his daughter was born on 12 November 1888 - and was still living there when she was baptised on 5 December 1888 - so I wouldn't have expected him to be at 72 Brady Street in 1889 but I suppose it's not impossible. Great find though, thank you, and apologies for missing it myself.


                    • #11
                      Hi David

                      I'm now trying to remember what I did, because Ancestry's advanced viewer has gone on the blink and when they offer their basic viewer instead - well, there is no basic viewer. I think in 1889 they list John Coldwell but with the wrong address on the results list - they give the address above his. For 1888 and 1887, they don't list him but I just went to Samuel Lyons who was at 28 Brady St and then clicked backwards to see if Coldwell was among the C's. For 1890, the register is organized by streets and number 74 does not appear. So you may not have missed #74 in 1888 and 1889 since I don't know if it was actually listed. However #72 was.


                      • #12
                        Ah yes, I see what you mean. For 1889 Ancestry lists John Coldwell's address as "7 Hampshire Court" but when you look at the original register it is 72 Brady Street! I may even have seen the Hampshire Court address but assumed it was the wrong person and that my JC had moved to Shoreditch by this time anyway so didn't click through. And the failure of search results to produce a John Coldwell in 1887 and 1888 must have psychologically discouraged me. I spent many hours going through those electoral registers - it took me some time to work out that no. 74 was in Whitechapel not Bethnal Green - and I'm not making excuses but I remember one evening having terrible trouble with Ancestry and it was taking about 20 minutes to turn each page so I guess I foolishly gave up.

                        Anyway, I have now found John Coldwell at 72 Brady Street in 1888 and 1889 like you say - Whitechapel East Ward - but can't locate the entry in 1887 showing 74 Brady Street. The East Ward register seems to be missing most of the pages on Ancestry for me but somehow you must have found it. Well done, it's a great result. I am feeling rather more positive that we might have found the right person although that anomaly of him living in Shoreditch in late 1888 is annoying.


                        • #13
                          Hi David

                          I had that trouble with Ancestry a few years ago, It went on for weeks. Deeply annoying.

                          There must be an explanation for the 1888 anomaly. I think you're on the right track.

                          Here is the 1887 :
                          Attached Files


                          • #14
                            Absolutely brilliant, this forum at its best. Thank you Robert.

                            I guess it would all make sense if the electoral registers were compiled at the end of the year before they are dated, say 1 November every year.

                            So, let's see, the Coldwells move into 74 Brady Street in early 1885, and John starts life as a confectioner, thus "John Caldwell" is included in the 1886 PO Directory. This would have been published in December 1885 but clearly compiled and printed much earlier than this. In fact, the date stated in the introduction of the PO Directory for entries to be received for the commercial section is by 20 October. I note that the 1886 electoral register for Whitechapel is missing from Ancestry so we have to assume that John Coldwell is included in the 1886 register as being at number 74. He remains at 74 during 1886 sufficiently late in the year for inclusion in the 1887 PO Directory but has moved next door to 72 (and abandoned his confectionery business) by 1 November 1886, hence 72 Brady Street is given as his address in the 1887 electoral register. He is still at the same address in November 1887 and this is reflected in the 1888 electoral register (and explains why he is not in the 1888 PO Directory) and remains at number 72 through the "Autumn of Terror" until the end of the first week of November when he moves with his family to Shoreditch (where his daughter is born on 12 November). But, as he was still living at 72 Brady Street on 1 November 1888 he was included in the 1889 register as being there, even though he never lived there in 1889. To me, this makes more sense than him moving from 72 Brady Street out to Shoreditch in Nov 88 and then back to 72 during 1889, although I guess there was nothing to have stopped him from doing this. It all depends on when the electoral registers were actually complied for each year for the East Ward of Whitechapel. Either way, if the famous Mrs Coldwell was John's wife it must mean that it was from number 72 Brady Street that young Charlotte Coldwell reportedly heard the screams in the early hours of 31 August.


                            • #15
                              Yes David I think it's probably as you say : he arrived in St John's Terrace (I'm assuming John meant to put St John's Terrace on the baptism) and found he was too late to register there, and if someone did replace him in Brady St, they in turn were too late to register there.

                              In 1889 there was a Morris Hearne registered at 1 St John's Terrace. In 1890and 91 no one is registered at #1. I have looked at #1 in the 1891 census and it is a three room property occupied by a family of eight, which is roughly the same size as John's family.