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PC49 was ‘ere

Graffiti is part of everyday life it seems. It annoys some and delights others. It can we witty and insightful or plainly banal and pointless. Recently on a trip up to Hadrian’s Wall I marvelled at some graffito dating back to the Roman occupation. One was a disparaging comment about a roman soldier by a colleague who compared his intelligence to that of an Ox. It made me wonder if the local population saw it as an amusing comment made public, or if some saw it as wanton vandalism of the buildings facade. We’ll never know, but whatever it was eighteen hundred year pass and this piece of ephemera is elevated to a much higher status for us to ogle at.

So how long does it take before the everyday scribblings of those who produce this sort of thing find elevated status?

Possibly a clue can be found in a small alleyway near the back of Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Myddelton Passage today runs behind blocks of low rise flats, but back in the 1860s it skirted the filter beds of the New River Head, a large cistern called the Round Pond that stored fresh water.

Myddelton Square

The area around Myddelton Passage was in general quite a well to do area, the passage itself leading into Myddelton Square, a garden square lined with late Georgian houses. However you didn’t have to stray too far before the housing became less grand and the residents a lower social class.

Around the 1860s there started a trend to carve graffiti into the brick walls that lined each side of the passage.

365 Plymouth

TK 1913

FAH 103

The one remaining wall, the other was demolished in the 1950s has dozens of similar inscriptions along it’s length, but what do they mean, and who carved them?

Myddelton Passage

There was a theory many years ago that the walls had been built by prisoners of the Napoleonic wars, who had carved some sort of inscription, and therefore started the trend, but this doesn’t really stack up date wise.

In the early 2000s English Heritage undertook a historical survey of London, photographing and cataloguing thousands of places, one of them being Myddelton Passage. Peter Guillery of English Heritage started to look into these inscriptions and working on an idea teamed up with Margaret Bird of the Metropolitan Police Service historical archives to solve the mystery.

It appears that virtually all of the surviving graffiti was carved by serving Policemen of G Division based nearby in Kings Cross, who walked their beat around the area of the passage. Using the Met’s archive they even managed to collar some of the culprits from the inscription.

365 Plymouth turned out to be Frederick Albert Victor Moore, who joined G Division in 1886. TK 1913 was Thomas Kirkpatrick, a gamekeeper from Dumfries who joined in 1910, and FAH 103 was Frederick Albert Huntley, from Hackney.

Robinson

There is also an inscription that simply reads Robinson. This could be PC John Robinson 50767 who had joined G Division in 1868.

G Division bordered H Division (Whitechapel) the area where some of the Ripper murders were to take place. By then Robinson had risen through promotions to become a Detective Constable (DC) in plain clothes. As the murders started, the force, under pressure from the press started to dress some of their DC’s as women in an effort to lure the killer into attempting to murder them. John Robinson found himself walking the streets on the boundaries of the two divisions dressed as a less than convincing lady of the night and would frequent pubs in order to carry out surveillance on the clientele.

On the 9th October 1888 acting on information received, Robinson followed a man into a public house and watched him strike up a conversation with a young woman who he then proceeded to ply with drinks. Robinson noted that the man was carrying a knife and was also wearing a false beard. The couple adjourned to a nearby alleyway and Robinson followed. In the darkness he strove to get closer to the couple, however he must have given himself away and the woman let out a loud scream causing the man to run off. Robinson, who rose even higher in his career, always stated that he was certain that this man was the Ripper.

There was a climate of fear in the area due to the murders and following the scream a number of people ran to the woman’s assistance. First on the scene were two men James Phillips and William Jarvis who saw the figure of an inebriated woman on the ground with another woman bending over her. They intervened and were a little shocked to find that the second woman was actually a man. They demanded that Robinson explain himself and apparently with a flourish the DC removed his hat and wig proclaiming “I am a police officer“. This seemed to have enraged the two men even more than the prospect of apprehending the “Ripper” and they proceeded to attack Robinson with punches and kicks until Jarvis stabbed the policeman in the face with a stiletto. Robinson appears to have rendered one of his assailants unconscious with his truncheon (it’s unclear how he secreted it on him dressed as a woman) before fellow officers came to his rescue.

Jarvis and Phillips were arrested and stood trial at Middlesex Sessions and were sentenced to six weeks hard labour. Robinson was called to give evidence, but there is no record as to what he wore for the proceedings.

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