Monday, 15 June 2009

How to Walk No. 3

The next in our occasional series… Do it in Private

Meet your guide at the designated station and get walking: what could be simpler? But if you want something a little more unique, you can book your own private tour with London Walks. For a birthday, an office outing or just a plain ol’ sight seeing trip, you can book one of the Award-Winning London Walks guides to be your very own for two hours.

The Abbots Langley Gilbert & Sullivan Society did – as prep for their annual summer production. This year they’re staging a musical version of Jack the Ripper. Here’s Adam the London Walks guide showed them around the Whitechapel.

“Of all the groups I’ve gone around the East End with, The Abbots Langley G&S Society were one of the most memorable. To start with they were a lively bunch – to be expected from thesps, of course. But what was most unique was that the narrative of the tour had a reflection in the people walking it with me. Not only was Mary Kelly brought to life in the words and gory details of the London Walk, but there she was right in front of me in the person of the actress playing the part in the forthcoming ALG&S Society production. As was Sir Charles Warren, Katherine Eddowes and host of others.

In Mitre Square (a crucial location in the walk) it also emerged that one of the group was related to man who may have looked into the face of the killer himself. Brenda Sothorn, who organised the private tour, sent me the following account on behalf of ALG&S Society member Joseph Lawende, whose great-grandfather crops up in the records of the case:

‘On Sunday morning, 30 September, 1888, at a little past 1.30am three men left the Imperial Club on Duke Place in the City. The trio comprised furniture dealer Harry Harris, butcher Joseph Hyam Levy and commercial traveller Joseph Lawende. As they exited the club, the three noticed a couple standing by the entrance to Church Passage. Harris was made uncomfortable by their presence and Levy gave them scant attention, but Lawende took one brief, though good, look at them as he passed. And, as the three men walked away into the night, little did they realize they were soon to enter a place of prominence in JtR lore.

No more than 10 minutes after the three men left the Imperial Club the badly mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes was discovered in nearby Mitre Square. It is widely believed that the couple was actually Eddowes and Jack and that the men who left the club, especially Lawende, had a real look at the face of the Whitechapel murderer.

Joseph remained a happily married cigarette salesman in relative obscurity until the fateful morning at the end of September 1888. Following the discovery of Eddowes' body, the City Police conducted house-to-house inquiries and received a report of a couple that Lawende, Levy and Harris saw. Of the three, Harris said he saw nothing worth repeating, Levy opined the man was about three inches taller than the woman, but Lawende admitted to getting a look, however transitory, of the man’s face. His description of the man, in a memorandum from Chief Inspector Donald Swanson in Home Office records, was: ‘Age 30 ht. 5 ft. 7 or 8 in. comp. fair, fair moustache, medium build, dress pepper & salt colour loose jacket, grey cloth cap with peak of same colour, reddish handkerchief tied in a knot, round neck, appearance of a sailor.’ But, even that identification is in doubt because Lawende was only able to identify Eddowes by her clothes. Moreover, Lawende maintained at the time of his initial interview and throughout his inquest testimony that he would not be able to identify the man he saw with the woman out-side Church Passage. Nonetheless, the police continued to press him for an identification and many in the field believe that Lawende was the witness taken to the ‘Seaside Home’ to view a suspect.’

A memorable walk indeed.

The Abbot’s Langley Gilbert & Sullivan Society is staging its own memorable nights from the 16th – 20th June in the shape of their production of Jack the Ripper (see poster above). Call the box office on 01923 676120.”

To book your own private London Walk get in touch with Mary or Fiona or Noel at for full details.

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