A Horsham woman has discovered one of her relatives could have served the first victim of Jack the Ripper her last drink.
Jane Luff, of Bennetts Road, was researching her family history when she learned her great-great-grandfather (William Burch) and his brother-in-law (William Farrow) had been landlords at the Frying Pan pub, on the corner of Brick Lane and Thrawl Street in the 1880s.
The pub was one of the last places Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nicholls was seen alive in the early hours of August 31 1888. She left the pub at 12.30am and her mutilated body was found three hours later.
In an essay about the Burch/Farrow branch of her family, Mrs Luff wrote: “We don’t know if Polly was a regular customer at the pub, but as she had lodged at both Flower and Dean Street and Thrawl Street for the past six weeks, it is quite likely that she was often at the bar of the Frying Pan – one of the closest pubs to her digs.”
William Burch’s eldest daughter, Harriet, emigrated to Australia in 1886 but a letter sent to her sister, Kate, in 1889 showed the Ripper murders had horrified the world.
She wrote: “I have had three newspapers. Were not those murders terrible.”
Mrs Luff wrote: “For me the greatest fascination with the area is not so much Jack but the fact my family were living and working there at the time.
“They would have been there, living in the turmoil of the investigations, heard the news on a daily basis, felt the fear that permeated through the people, listened to the gossip etc from behind the bar. And that Polly Nicholls lived only a few yards away from the pub in Thrawl Street.
“All I can say is that my family certainly lived in a ‘very salubrious area’.
While the fate of the unfortunate Polly Nicholls and the other women who fell foul of the Ripper is well know, the identity of the monster himself has never been proved.
The list of potential suspects ranges from the unlikely to the ridiculous with a few more logical suggestions thrown in for good measure.
One of them - the poet Francis Thompson - was believed to have lived in Southwater in his final days.
In 2007, Horsham Museum spoke to the County Times about a manuscript by Southwater resident Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. In it, he said Thompson had lived with him at his home in Newbuildings in 1907, the year he died.
Thompson is known to have lived as a virtual tramp in the East of London at the time the Ripper murders took place. He had medical knowledge and bought a surgical scalpel to shave with rather than a razor.
In 1889, Thompson wrote a short story called Finis Coronat Opus - The End Crowns the Work - which featured a young poet sacrificing women to pagan gods, seeking hell’s inspiration for his poetry in order to gain the fame he desired.
Given the subject matter, some have taken it to be a description of the Ripper murders. Add that to his belief he was a prophet and his description of himself as the Omen, it’s no wonder people thought him a little odd.
The women of Southwater were unlikely to have been in any danger, though. By the time Thompson lived with Blunt, he was an opium addict, his skeletal frame weighing just 32kg.
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