Thompson & Bucks Row: Snippets from the Blindside.
Francis Thompson did literally live in the past. He wrote this in a letter to the Meynells, his publishers, in which he said.
‘I do not know but, by myself, I live pretty well as much in the past and future as in the present, which seems a very little patch between the two.'
An interesting feature about Bucks Row is that very near to where the body was found was once a ducking pond. This body of water was used in the 18th century to torture suspected witches and extract confessions from them. The accused woman would be strapped to a wooden chair at the end of long wooden lever and this chair and woman would be ceremonially dunked into the water in front of a crowd of onlookers. This form of water torture often proved fatal through drowning. By 1888 such ideas about witchcraft was a thing of the past to most people, but not to Thompson. Amongst the poems that Thompson sent to the editor of the Catholic literary magazine the ‘Merry England’ in February 1887, was his ‘Nightmare of the Witch Babies’. This poem, that was never published, was about a crusading knight who roams the darkened streets hunting down suspected witches, killing them and ripping open their stomachs to look for their unborn ‘witch children’,
A lusty knight,
Rode upon the land…
What is it sees he?
There he saw a maiden
'Swiftly he followed her
Eagerly he followed her
Lo, she corrupted
Comes there a Death
And its paunch [stomach] was rent
Like a brasted [bursting] drum;
And the blubbered fat
From its belly doth come
It was a stream ran bloodily
Under the wall
O Stream, you cannot run too red…
It was a stream ran bloodily
Under the wall.
With a sickening ooze-Hell made it so!
Two witch babies, Ho! Ho! Ho!'
It is worth noting a bizarre parallel to this poem and the most well known of the Jack the Ripper letters. The ‘Dear Boss’ letter, that gave the name Jack the Ripper to the murderer has this phrase, ‘They say I’m a doctor now Ha Ha” The ha ha was underlined as if it were quoting.
Thompson had trained as a surgeon at Owen’s Medical College in Manchester. For six years he attended classes, dissected cadavers and worked in the hospital infirmary and operating theater. His failure to pass his studies, because he skipped his exams was one of the reasons he fell out with his doctor father, who had paid his tuition fees. Thompson once an aspiring doctor, rejected from a hospital career, was now reduced to rags on London’s streets
Sometime before the August 31 murder of Mary Ann Nichols, Thompson was struggling to make a living. As a last resort to keep from plunging to the status of a beggar he took up newspaper selling. He must have presented a pitiful sight, this once aspiring doctor and priest now reduced to crying out the latest headlines of a broadsheet. His calls from a street corner all but lost in the bustling din of the great city. This clinging to respectability was shattered by the charitable act of a Rothschild’s banker.
The Rothschild's are an old Jewish banking firm. By 1888 Rothschild had become the world’s most powerful bank and was headed in England by the founder's grandson forty-four year old Nathaniel Rothschild. Natty, like others of his family was known for his habit of giving money to beggars but then running off in fear of their thanks. A member of this rich banking family stopped before Thompson and dropped a coin in his hand. The banker walked off and disappeared in the crowds. Thompson looked at the coin and saw that it was a florin.
The paper only cost one penny and the florin was worth twenty. This piece of silver must have only served as a sharp reminder of his plight. (Even as he struggled to tear himself away from the crowds of the destitute with his newspaper selling a shining unwanted kindness let him know that others knew him as simply a beggar. Such an act of charity was a, 'little sweetness making grief complete.
Years later, when Thompson learnt of the death of the banker who tipped him, he expressed anguish that he could never repay him. This Rothschild may have been Ferdinand Rothschild (1839-1898) who was also a member of the House of Commons.
Thompson attempted to pursue the banker to return him his florin becoming vexed when he lost track of him. ' Everard Meynell recorded that it was soon after the episode with the loan of the florin that Francis became delirious. Another English poet, whose works were well known to Thompson, was Lord Byron, who mused on the loans of the Rothschild's.
Is not merely a speculative hint,
But seats a nation or upsets a throne.'
Having lost his mind altogether, a bizarre metamorphism occurred in Thompson where the hungers of food and addiction, and the accompanied anxiousness crumbled as his mind gave way. His biographer and colleague Everard Meynell described this as follows,
“…his weakness has passed and he is drifting along the streets, not wearily but with dreadful ease, with no hope of having resolution to halt.”
The murder on Bucks Row happened almost over the spot of where the Witch pond was. Directly to the south, less than 100 meters was the London Hospital that also received a threatening letter by the writer calling himself Jack the Ripper. Directly to the north, less than 100 meters was the Brady Cemetery, where most of the Rothschild had been traditionally buried including the founder of the Rothschild’s English branch. It is well documented that Thompson was carrying a knife had trained in surgery, had been spurned by a prostitute and was most likely living at the Providence Row night refuge in Whitchapel. If he wanted to strike out at the establishment and prostitutes, Bucks Row could not have been the more perfect place.