Three authors write on WW2 air raids in Forest Gate

Friday, 11 August 2017


This article looks at the way in which World War 11 air raids in Forest Gate have been approached and described from three very different perspectives. They are from the local fire chief of the time, a school boy, recollecting later in life and from the fictional work of an author born in West Ham.

The Fire Chief was Cyril Demarne and we have quoted from his work about Forest Gate before, here. The school boy was actor and film director Bryan Forbes, who spent his childhood in Cranmer Road and the novelist is Mike Hollow, who has authored three books about the Blitz Detective, DI Jago. Full details of the books can be found in the footnotes.

We have covered air raids in Forest Gate in previous articles, here and here, but not directly in the words of victims/witnesses.

Bryan Forbes' autobiography  - Notes for a Life


We covered Bryan Forbes' recollections of Forest Gate life in the 1930's in a previous blog (see here). Part of his childhood recollections focussed on his experiences of air-raids experienced from his Cranmer Road house, in 1940 - before the family moved from the area.

What follows is a graphic and direct quote of recollections of youth, from his first autobiography.

The early nights of the Blitz were not all that frightening. I felt curiously, irrationally secure in the fetid darkness of the small shelter and devolved a method of determining the distance from our own house of the bomb blasts. I would put my cheek against the sweating concrete walls and calculate by the intensity of the vibration carried in the earth.

We listened to Lord Haw Haw in the Anderson, searching the dial of the wireless until that arrogant, rasping voice filled the small enclosure. 'We shan't be dropping bombs on Earlham Grove tonight' he said once, in a reference to the Jewish Quarter of Forest Gate, 'We shall be dropping Keating's Powder.' Keating's was a brand of dustbin disinfectant. In repeating the remark here I am not trying to perpetrate that distant vicious smear, I merely wish to record the absolute amazement and fear I felt at hearing my own locality mentioned by the remote voice of the enemy

On the Saturday afternoon, when the second phase of the Blitz began in earnest I was inside the Odeon, Forest Gate, watching a matinee of Gaslight. Half way through the performance the audience became conscious of what seemed to be a hailstorm beating on the roof. The projector lamp died and the house lights came up. The limp manager, in black tie, came on to the stage and announced that the audience should disperse in the interest of safety.

We trooped without undue haste into the bright sunshine outside and stood in groups on the pavement watching pattern after pattern of sun-silvered Dorniers winging high overhead. Urged on by the police and wardens I ran the length of Woodgrange Road and along Godwin Road straight into the arms of my distraught mother.

We went immediately into the Anderson and except for hurried forays into the house for food and the use of the toilet during the rare lulls in the bombardment, we stayed in the garden shelter for the best part of two whole days and nights. During the night hours the sky was swollen red enough by the monstrous Dockland fires to make the regulation blackouts meaningless.

Sticks of bombs fell across Wanstead Flats, cutting a path through Cranmer Road at the top end, but the Anderson never shifted.

Our experience was nothing out of the ordinary and we were far luckier than most, for when the last bomb with our number on it found its target the Anderson shelter still held, but our life in Cranmer Road was over forever.

Cyril Demarne's Fireman's Tale

This short memoir was published almost 40 years ago. Cyril joined the West Ham Fire Brigade in 1925 and spent the much of the war serving in the district. He was later appointed Chief Fire Officer for West Ham and was made an OBE in 1952.


The book describes life as a fireman in the area during the war. Below we reproduce two extracts about places very familiar to Forest Gaters.
Writing of July 1944, Cyril says he got a radio call:

"V1 explosion in Blake Hall Crescent, Wanstead, sir. Your car has been ordered"

Oh, God: here we go again. What frightful scenes should we encounter this time? We had become accustomed to rows of shattered houses and shops and the back street factory with a dozen girls entombed; to the heart-rendering cries of the bereaved and to children screaming for their parents; to the torn and hideously mangled bodies to be recovered from the debris; and to the little corner shop, a heap of ruins, with customers slashed by flying glass, laying amid bundles of firewood and tins of corned beef.

I asked my driver if she knew where we were going. Yes, she knew, and we were there in a few minutes. All the trees in the vicinity had been defoliated by the explosion and the pungent smell of chlorophyll mingled with the musty odour of mortar and other dusts. Only the stench of blood was missing, something, at least, to be thankful for. A number of houses had been demolished and women and children were being removed from the debris.

As we toiled, several V1's roared across the sky and there came a chorus of "Seig Heil, Seig Heil," from hundreds of German throats in the POW camp a few hundred yards along the road. How I prayed for one to come down smack in the centre of that compound, but my prayer went unanswered and the bombs flew on, to crash in Poplar or Stepney, or points west.

The houses in Blake Hall Crescent lay in a hollow which restricted the area of the blast. Casualties, relatively, were light and we were able to clear up rather more quickly than usual and make our way home. There was no knowing where or when the next buzz-bomb would dive.

The POW camp came near to disaster about a week later, when a flying bomb crashed on the anti-aircraft rocket installation on the opposite side of Woodford Road (ed: near the current Esso garage, on Aldersbrook Road), killing a number of gunners and ATS girls. The blast set fire to dry grass on the site and it was by a narrow margin only that the NFS (National Fires Service) stopped the fire before it reached the magazines, crude corrugated iron sheds, with openings screened with hessian curtains protecting the rockets laid out on racks.

It was a close shave.


Cyril Demarne
And the second extract, describing events a little later that month:

It was during the scalded cat raids, when fast flying aircraft roared over London, dropped a load of bombs and hared away as fast as possible. A number of isolated fires had been started in Manor Park - Forest Gate area - and I found myself in a temporary fire station, manned by part-time fire crew, at midnight. The firewoman on duty reported that her crew had been ordered out to a fire at the Manor Park Cemetery and had been gone for three hours. I could not imagine a fire in a cemetery occupying a crew for anything like that time and I passed the place twice during the evening, observing no sign of fire. However, I had better investigate: it was not unknown for a fire pump to have become engulfed in a bomb crater.

The cemetery gates were wide open and we drove in, following the main drive until it narrowed into a single width road and terminated in a sort of roundabout, with four or five paths leading in different directions.. The glow of the distant fire was the only light we could see as we stopped. I got out and had a look around and there was no sign of a fire or the crew. ...

I was soon out of sight of the car and I started to hear a voice out of the silence of the night.

"I wouldn't go down there", it said, "something has come down" It was the cemetery keeper. I shone my torch ahead and saw a number of shining incendiary bombs, none of which appeared to have fired, lying scattered over graves and paths. I picked up two of the bombs, and walked back towards the car. The keeper told me that firemen  had been in the cemetery some hours ago to deal with a fire in a heap of discarded wreath frames but had left before the second fall of incendiaries. ...

The missing pump turned up, eventually. It was manned by a crew of part-time firemen, who attended for duty one night per week. ...  After dealing with the cemetery fire they chased after another showing a light at Manor Park; then to another, arriving home at their station about 1 a.m., tired out, but happy with their evening's performance."

The Blitz Detective series of novels, a review by Sandra Walker

I found this series enjoyable and very surprisingly, rather compelling. I can happily recommend it to anyone interested in WW2 east end, ‘popular’ social history (especially local Newham people) who likes an ‘easy, undemanding, lightweight’ read. Mike Hollow, the author, was born in West Ham.

Mike Hollow
The stories are full of local interest, with housing and historic building references and descriptions including car journeys along roads that no longer exist - during some of the bombing raids of the Blitz which actually destroyed them. Descriptions, venues and events are based on Mike Hollow’s family oral histories and local and national topical news at the time.  The author successfully conveys a sense of the hardship, stoicism, humour, disruption, trauma, community and ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude with which we have become familiar and associate with the events of the time.

Conscientious objectors, fifth columnists, local council corruption, inequality, early feminism, the evacuation of children, poor quality housing and healthcare, food shortages, harsh living conditions, lack of sleep, trauma of witnessing dead bodies and the impact on local communities as they are disrupted and fractured forever are just a few of the issues the reader is confronted with – this in addition to ‘murder most foul’. Yet this is skilfully woven into stories of day to day life (and murders) which continue in spite of and add to the difficulties and horrors.


I found myself quickly comfortable and easily able to relate to the somewhat familiar stereotype   principal characters of the ‘Old Bill’ of the time. The emotionally repressed bachelor, DI Jago with WW1 baggage who is our principal character is immediately likeable because he is so sensible, rational, fair minded and indeed forward thinking for his time (for example regarding women’s inequality and what the post war future holds for them). 

Jago’s trusty, novice, sidekick DC Cradock is uncomplicated and keen. The awful pompous, bumbling  DC Superintendent  ‘Soper of the yard’ and the faithful old Victorian Cockney Copper Tomkins, hauled out of retirement for desk sergeant duties are all stereotype characters readers  of a certain age will immediately recognise. 

The plots were credible however some of the relationships and links which assisted in discovering clues and gaining information were frankly rather ‘incredible’ or unlikely –very  lucky strikes!


There is, of course, the potential for  romance - provided by attractive, exiting, confident, worldly wise, female American journalist, go getter Dorothy and dependable, maternal, East Ender cafe owner, Rita. Both likeable ladies!
Originality? Well, dare I mention two similar series here; Anthony Horowitz’ Foyle’s War for characters and plots and Barbara Nadel’s local Newham based WW2 amateur sleuthing by troubled undertaker Francis Hancock for local interest?

All said and done, I liked the series and I will certainly be reading the next book scheduled for release in 2018.


Footnote  The books reviewed are The London Blitz - a Fireman's Tale, by Cyril Demarne, now out of print, but originally published by the Newham Parents' Centre (now Newham Bookshop - who may still have copies buried away) in 1980. Bryan Forbes' autobiography Notes for a Life, was published by Collins in 1974. The Three Blitz Detective novels by Mike Hollow are: Direct Hit, Fifth Column and Enemy Action, they are published by Lion Hudson

Forest Gate-born Bryan Forbes recalls his local origins

Monday, 31 July 2017


One of Britain's cinematic greats, Bryan Forbes, was born and brought up in Forest Gate, as this site recalled, when it marked his death in 2013 (see here).

He first hit the entertainment headlines as question master for BBC's Junior Brains Trust in the 1950's, was later head of production at EMI, and founder of a film production company, Beaver Films.

It was however, his role as actor in and writer and director of such films as The League of Gentleman, The Railway Children, Whistle Down The Wind, The Stepford Wives and the L-Shaped Room, that he is best remembered.

This article provides a potted biography of him and in particular of his roots in Forest Gate. It relies heavily on his first autobiography: Notes For a Life and his Wikipedia entry (see footnotes for details). He used his autobiography as an aide-memoire to pen an article for the short-lived Forest Gate Times in 2011, which is also quoted, below.


Bryan Forbes' first autobiography,
 upon which much of this
article is based
He was born, John Theobald Clarke on 22 July 1926: "in the sullen aftermath of the General Strike", as he recalled in his autobiography. He had a sister six years his senior and the family lived at 43 Cranmer Road - "destined to be destroyed in the early days of the Blitz" - he told the Forest Gate Times


43 Cranmer Road, today. Forbes
 told the Forest Gate Times that it
 was "destined to be destroyed
 during the Blitz". Hmm ...

His stage name, Bryan Forbes, was chosen at random by the man who gave him his first professional job, as Equity rules at the time required that he could not perform under his birth name, as another actor was already registered under it.

He went to Godwin Elementary School, as it was then called, and later recollected. "That establishment was approached through a long corrugated iron covered way which held more dread than all the tombstones in Wanstead Cemetery (ed: he probably meant Manor Park Cemetery)." 


Godwin school - Forbes' first
After winning a scholarship, he went to the old West Ham Secondary in Tennyson Road, Stratford.

His grandparents lived in Odessa Road, where he went once a week for family tea. Writing of the street and house in the 1930's, he said in Notes for a Life:


This was a dismal thoroughfare, bordering at one end on the London and North Eastern Railway, which ran, below street level behind a blackened wall, topped with jagged bottle glass. ... Pollution being then undiscovered, the belching tank engines were merely an accepted fact of life, menacing every wash-line and delighting only small boys - for to remain fearless on the wooden pedestrian bridge while a train shuddered beneath it was a considered a supreme test. One of the punishments meted out to the bullied (of which he was one) was for the victim's face to be pushed between the wooden floor slats of the bridge while a slow goods train passed jerking and clanging below. Apart from the terror produced by the noise, the sufferer was choked by thick yellow smoke which took minutes to disperse.
He later told the Forest Gate Times, that his grandparents' house was:
A humble house, sandwiched between two other identical houses with front gardens just big enough to take a pram lengthways, separated from the road by a privet hedge, the stems cankered by years of vintage dog pee, the leaves sooted and crisped to the texture of dried holly.
Writing of his own, Forest Gate home during childhood, he said: 
The gentle flow of life in Cranmer Road were seldom disturbed. It was a peaceful neighbourhood with pretensions to what used to be called the 'genteel' : neat, undistinguished but solidly built rows of terraced houses, carefully painted every year on the outside, and the women used to hand striped canvas sun-blinds during the summer months to protect the front doors.
Of Forest Gate, in the 1930's, he wrote:
Forest Gate was a pleasant place to live in those days. Originally a hamlet lying to the north of Upton at the edge of Wanstead Flats, it was as its name denotes, the southern entrance to Epping Forest.
He had this to say about Wanstead Flats:
Cranmer Road bordered on the Flats, the savannah of my formative years which I was forbidden to explore beyond a certain limit and which, in consequence, appeared to me to be as mysterious and boundless as the entire continent.
In reality it was a large area of sparse grassland dotted with irregular plantations of thin trees and some sand hills humped around what I assume must have been a derelict gravel pit.
 It had a pathetic boating lake, like something out of Toy Town, with half a dozen rotting paddle boats for hire, and a small bandstand where, some Sunday evenings, we were taken to hear the music, sitting on hard slatted seats and surrounded by discarded peanut shells. I thought it was one of the most romantic places on earth.
Bandstand on the Flats, a few years
 before Forbes was taken to hear
 music on Sunday evenings
 Running parallel to Cranmer Road", he noted:
were four other roads named after the martyred bishops - Latimer, Lorne, Tylney and Ridley. They were considerably posher than my own, and Lorne was the poshest of the lot.
My dallion days on Wanstead Flats were for the most part totally uncomplicated: it was football in the mud during winter and cricket until the light faded in the summer.
Bryan Forbes had his first - unwanted - sexual encounter on Wanstead Flats, when he was approached by a flasher, who offered him 6 pence if he co-operated. Forbes ran off, cutting his thumb on a broken bottle as he stumbled and later recalled:
The gentleman in the raincoat proved to be an escaped lunatic (it would appear that Forest Gate had more than its fair quota in those days) and apparently, was swiftly apprehended.
The episode was completely erased from my mind until 1969 when I went back to Cranmer Road with a BBC camera team who were shooting a biographical Man Alive programme around me and visiting my childhood haunts to capture celluloid nostalgia. 
Bryan Forbes on a return visit to
 Forest Gate, in the 1950's
I stood again on Wanstead Flats, the limitless vista now reduced to its true scale, shivering in the winter dusk while hoards of turbinated immigrants played hockey in the Giant's Basin - not the canyon I had remembered, but just a slight dip in the arid terrain. It was only then that the memory of the naked man returned, though the physical scar has always whitened the skin beneath my left thumb.
Bryan Forbes recalled fascism in Forest Gate, during the 1930's
Mosley came to Wanstead Flats some Sunday evenings. He came in a sealed truck with a wire cage set into the roof. Surrounded by a black garland of close-cropped, scrubbed and wax-like body guards, he stood within his cage and screeched his British upper-class impersonation of Streicher to an audience that mostly consisted of children, derelicts and policemen.

Oswald Mosley, a visitor to Wanstead
Flats in the '30's - caged in his white van
I remember listening without comprehension (ed: Forbes would have been about 10 at the time). It was merely a strange, but not unwelcome diversion from the sameness of everyday life. I can remember seeing bottles breaking on the white cage close to the thin drawn face of Mosley and hearing his lunatic-amplified voice bouncing back from the houses behind him.
Mounted police waited in the shadows beside the empty bandstand, edging their restless horses forward as the bully boys started on the really important business of the evening. Mosley looked like Mighty Mouse in his mobile cage and departed the scene as battle commenced to spread his gospel to another corner of a foreign field.
His early encounters with the cinema were in Forest Gate
Most of my contemporaries patronised the 'Tuppenny Rush' at the Splendid, alongside Forest Gate railway station. (His Forest Gate Times article embelished this a little: I also haunted the old second hand bookshop close to the cinema. I have no idea how the old bookseller kept his head above water, because he operated on a barter system.) There on a Saturday afternoon, we would rush the doors to tread the threadbare carpets inside that dark and welcoming cave. For three pence you could join the ranks of the elite and sit upstairs in the balcony, a privilege which carried with it the bonus of being able to hurl your ice cream carton on the unruly audience below.
The Splendid cinema - Bryan Forbes'
introduction to his later, illustrious, career
To this day I can recall the agonising delight of those afternoons, the bliss of coming out of the darkness into sunlight and crossing the road to Paterson's (sic) Dolls' Hospital on the bridge, to spend what remained of our pocket-money on a penny bomb. This was a small, but effective device, made of some cheap alloy and shaped like a hand grenade.... There was a satisfying explosion when it fell to earth.

Pattinson's Doll's Hospital, mentioned
 by Bryan Forbes, above - facing Forest
 Gate train station. Note correct spelling
The simplest and most effective ploy at the poor old broken-down Splendid was to raise money to buy one ticket. Once inside, the owner of the ticket would then work his way to the remotest exit, carefully open the door, where his partners in crime would be waiting outside. 
They would dart in like rats and occupy the nearest vacant seats., The aged usherettes were too bored and poorly paid to give chase, but from time to time a new manager (pathetically attired in some second-hand dress suit) would brush the dandruff off his collar and attempt a purge.
But if the Splendid was my village church, the Queen's at the top of Woodgrange Road was my Westminster Abbey. This superior palace, glorifying the Cunnard liner of British cinema architecture, demanded greater respect and the collection started at six pence. It was there on Friday nights, that blissful childhood day of the week, when school can be pushed to the back of your mind, that I became addicted.
The Queen's cinema, Romford Road -
bombed during WW11 - Forbes' "Westminster Abbey"
 His main local enthusiasm, apart from the cinema, seems to have been his membership of the St John's Ambulance cadet force. He wrote:
I joined the St John's Ambulance Cadet Force, since the uniform had more attraction to me than the Boy Scouts. Albert Herbert accompanied me to a series of lectures at Barclay Hall, Green Street ...
On other occasions I did duty with my father at Upton Park. Football crowds seemed just as violent then and I always considered myself lucky to be on the touchline with the police.
An abiding, and unfond, memory of the area, was the railway:
Trains from Forest Gate were appallingly dirty, the third class being little better than upholstered cattle trucks, and it was quite normal to have eight people standing in bleak proximity in each crammed compartment.
His last local connections

He was evacuated for the first time in 1939, but his parents soon brought him home:
It was now, when the war seemed suddenly much closer, that my parents decided I should return to London. I thus went back to Cranmer Road just as the Battle of Britain was beginning, a piece of timing which perhaps perfectly illustrates the most baffling piece of our national character.
My second exodus from London took place in September in September 1940. This time I travelled with the bulk of West Ham Secondary School to Heston in Cornwall.
Bryan Forbes went on to describe life in Cranmer Road during the Blitz. We will draw on these writings in our next article, which will be looking at how three writers described Forest Gate during that period.

And so ended his local association.

Post Forest Gate life


Nanette Newman, Bryan Forbes's
 second wife, who survived him
Bryan Forbes went to Hornchurch Grammar school, after his family left Forest Gate. He then trained, briefly, as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.  He did four years of military service in the Intelligence Corps and Combined Forces Entertainment Unit, 

After completing his military service in 1948, he began to act, appearing on stage and playing numerous supporting roles in British films, in particular An Inspector Calls (1954) and The Colditz Story (1955). 

He received his first credit for Second World War film The Cockleshell Heroes (1955), while other early screenplays include I was Monty's Double (1958),and The League of Gentlemen  (1959), his breakthrough. 

In 1959, he formed a production company, Beaver Films, with his frequent collaborator Richard Attenborough.

Forbes's directorial debut came with Whistle Down the Wind (1961), again produced by Attenborough, a critically acclaimed film about three northern children who conceal a criminal in their barn, believing him to be a reincarnated Jesus Christ.

The L-Shaped Room (1962), his next film as director, with Leslie Caron in the female lead, led to her gaining a nomination for an Oscar, and winning the BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards. 


Bryan Forbes at the height of his fame
Forbes wrote and directed Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), and the same year he wrote the third screen adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel Of Human Bondage

In 1969, he was appointed chief of production and managing director of the film studio Associated British (soon to become EMI Films).

Under Forbes's leadership, the studio produced The Railway Children (1970). His tenure though, was short-lived and marked by financial problems and failed projects. Forbes resigned in 1971. 

From the early 1970s, Forbes divided his energies between cinema, television, theatre and writing. 

Forbes returned to Hollywood to direct The Stepford Wives (1975), it featured his wife Nanette Newman and was to become his best-known film. His final film as a screenwriter was Chaplin in 1992.

In 2004, he was made a CBE for his services to the arts. In May 2007, he was the recipient of a BAFTA tribute, celebrating his "outstanding achievement in filmmaking". 

In 1951 he married Irish actress Constance Smith and the couple travelled to Hollywood in the early 1950s. They divorced in 1955. Forbes went on to marry actress Nanette Newman the same year.

Forbes was diagnosed with MS in 1975, however, he revealed in a 2012 interview that it had been a misdiagnosis. He died at his home in Virginia Water, Surrey, on 8 May 2013 at the age of 86, following a long illness.

Footnotes and sources
1. Notes for a Life - Bryan Forbes , Everest Books 1974
2. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Forbes
3. Bryan Forbes Remembers Forest Gate, from The Forest Gate Times,  2001


Forest Gate and 20th Century Penny Dreadfuls

Thursday, 20 July 2017


This article is the second of two looking at how the Independent Police News covered serious crime in Forest Gate during its existence (1867 - 1938). The paper was a salacious page turner - almost the classic Victorian 'Penny Dreadful' that entranced its readers with its lurid accounts of crimes and sensationalist illustrations of them,  

For a full account of the periodical, see the previous post on the publication, and Forest Gate, including details and illustrations of the first four of 10 cases it covered in illustrative depth, here.

5. Serious attack on a wife and suicide in Forest Gate - 8 April 1905

This is the full report from the IPN from a story which occupied less than half the space of the very graphic illustration accompanying it:
On March 28 a man named Lee, a baker of Oakhurst Road, Forest Gate, attempted to murder his wife and afterwards committed suicide by hanging himself. Mrs Lee was washing up the dinner things, and suddenly felt herself struck heavily on the back of the head and rushed out of the scullery, followed by her husband, who gave her two more blows, before she could get up into the street.
She ran into a neighbour's house with her head streaming with blood. She said that her husband had suddenly attacked her with a chopper and tried to murder her.


Illustration from 8 April 1905
 Illustrated Police News
The police, upon entering the house, found Lee hanging by a clothes line from the banister of the stair-case. He was promptly cut down ... Lee, however was past help, and gave his last breath as the doctor raised his head.
Mr Lee, who was an epileptic, had been in receipt of poor relief, and there is no doubt that want brought on the attack of frenzy in which he attacked his wife with his chopper. He was thirty-one years of age and leaves six children.
The story was accompanied by a grisly and graphic illustration, see above. As with other cases, the IPN reported the drama, with no follow up of the inquest or Coroner's Court proceedings.

6. Ghastly tragedy at Forest Gate: husband returns home to find his daughter murdered and wife injured - 4 February 1911

This story and headline was dramatic enough to produce a centre-fold, double page spread illustration of a story that was only half a column long. It is reproduced in its entirety.
Returning home late in the evening, a Great Eastern Railway employee named Charles Thomson Wilkinson, residing in a self-contained flat of three rooms, at Sherrard Road, Forest Gate, made a tragic discovery.
His suspicion that something untoward had happened were aroused when he found both front and back doors bolted. When, however, he went to the front door a second time, he found to his horror that his wife was lying on a bed in the front room with a wound to her throat.


Illustration from 4 February 1911 Illustrated Police News
In the same room, on another bed was his daughter, Dorothy, who was only sixteen last November. She was the only child, and her mother had always been passionately fond of her. On the distraught husband speaking to his wife, Mary Ann Wilkinson, she replied, so it is alleged: 'Oh, I have killed her.'
Dr Thomson of Romford Road was at once summoned and he found that the skull of the child had been beaten in by the blows of a mallet. The girl was bright and intelligent and rather good looking.
The family had only occupied the house for a few weeks and during part of that time, it is said, Mrs Wilkinson, who was aged fifty-seven, had been away after having been under medical observation at Whipps Cross Infirmary. ...
The wound in the woman's throat was not very serious, and her recovery is probable. She was taken to Whipps Cross Infirmary.
No sounds of blows or any other noise that might have attracted notice was heard by the people living next door on either side.
Much sympathy has been extended to the father who has been an employee of the GER company, as a fitter, for thirty-eight years."
Once more, having given salacious details and provided a gory illustration, the IPN lost interest in the case and did not follow this report up with details of the court case, or its outcome.

7. Forest Gate Horror: man confesses to killing his wife and child - 17 February 1912

Once more, we reproduce the whole of the article that accompanied the illustration.
A double tragedy, the murder by a man of his young wife and little son, was discovered at Forest Gate early on Sunday morning.
Soon after seven o'clock a newsboy, delivering newspapers in Stork Road, a little street not far from Romford Road, saw a man, half dressed, rush from a doorway into the street, screaming for the police and flourishing a hatchet, smeared with blood. Snatching up his papers, the boy took to his heels.
The man was James Limpus, a motor mechanic, thirty-three years old.
Running back to his house in Stork Road, Limpus threw the hatchet from him, and dashed out again, up the road and into the shop of a Mr Fred Pretty, a newsagent of Knox Road, nearby. Here he was detained until the arrival of a constable, who entering the man's house, found lying across the bed, the bodies of Mrs Limpus and her little son, Stanley, aged two and a half years.
Mrs Limpus was unconscious; the little boy was dead. Both were terribly battered about the head, and the woman died before medical help could be obtained.


Illustration from 17 February 1912
Illustrated Police News
Mrs Pretty, in whose shop Limpus gave himself up said that ... her husband had opened the shop 'when suddenly I heard him running upstairs to me saying 'What shall I do?' when the man dressed only in his trousers and shirt and with blood splashes still on his hands, came into the shop, and said to my husband 'I have murdered my wife and boy. Will you come with me?'
He was quite calm; and my husband had little difficulty in coaxing him out of the shop and bolting the door. I tried to blow a police whistle, but my nerve failed me and I could not; so I sent our news boys off in different directions to find policemen. Meanwhile, my son kept watch on the man outside.
Mr Pretty went back into the house with Limpus, and there found the two poor bodies. Besides the little boy was a bag of sweets. ...
When assistance came he (Limpus) submitted without a struggle to being taken to Forest Gate Police Station.
Although a skilled mechanic, Limpus had been out of regular work for some little time. He is believed to have been born in Calcutta, and to have lived some time in India, where most of his relations are.
To neighbours he had often said that if he could get the money to pay his passage back to Calcutta he would be certain of regular work; but his wife had always declined to entertain the idea on account of her child's delicate health.
The bodies of the woman and her boy were taken to Stratford mortuary.
The "drama" of the story merited a whole front page illustration for this relatively brief report. And, once more, there was no follow up in the IPN of the trial or fate of Limpus.

8. West Ham murder: husband's startling confession to a constable - 23 July 1914

Cycling up to West Ham police station, Evan Davies, sixty, a stonemason of Heyworth Road, Forest Gate said to a constable 'Have you heard the news? - you will soon; I have shot my wife!' He produced a magazine pistol and was detailed. Police officers found Mrs Sarah Jane Davies, fifty-eight, lying in the kitchen at her house with a bullet wound in her neck. She was removed to West Ham hospital. X-rays were applied and the bullet located. She died, however, the next day.
When accused came before the magistrates, the evidence showed that the prisoner had been to Canada for some years, and returned in November last.
Lily Janet Davies, his daughter said that when she last visited her parents they were on good terms. Her father had, however, frequently made allegations about his wife. He was a very excitable man.


Illustration from 23 July 1914
Illustrated Police News
Mrs Blanche Dare, the occupier of the lower part of the Davies' house, in evidence, said that after Davies had left his apartment in the morning that she went upstairs and found Mrs Davies lying on the kitchen floor moaning and bleeding from her mouth.
The arresting police constable said that when Davies showed him the pistol, he said 'Be careful, there are some more in there. I meant to pop off four. This has been premeditated for some time.' Davies then appeared to be labouring under great mental stress.
Dr J Youle of West Ham hospital said that the women was admitted in a state of collapse and gradually got worse. At night an operation was performed but the deceased never rallied. The bullet entered the back of her head and cause cerebral hemorrhage, which resulted in death.
Verdict: "Wilful murder". The accused was committed for trial.
Once more, there was no follow up by the IPN, so the outcome of the trial was unknown to its subscribers.

9. Forest Gate crimes - soldier's callous confessions of four hideous murders - 8 May 1919

This is their IPN's account of the Forest Gate murders we have previously covered, here. Their account of them is much more salacious and descriptive than that given in other papers we have seen - and as with all IPN cases, no details were given of the outcome of the trial.


Illustration form 8 May 1919 Illustrated Police News
10. Forest Gate tragedy - domestic quarrel ends in murder and suicide - 18 September 1919

Below we reproduce the entire account from the IPN of this case. It is short, blunt, to the point and  graphic. It has everything a piece of salacious reporting could require, blood, gore, infidelity and painful testimony:

The full story of a double tragedy at Forest Gate was told at West Ham Coroner's Court, when inquests were held on the bodies of William Davey, aged fifty-six, an ex-munitions worker and Lily Allum, aged forty-four. The man and woman were found dead with their throats cut, at a house in Upton Avenue, Forest Gate.
Mr R Davey, brother of the dead man, said that his brother and Mrs Allum lived in rooms in his house. Mrs Allum was a married woman separated from her husband. On Wednesday morning (September 10), when he returned home from work, he, his brother and Mrs Allum and two other lodgers - Mrs Allum's married daughter and son-in-law - sat down together to breakfast.


Illustration from 18 September 1919
 Illustrated Police News

During the meal a slight quarrel occurred between his brother and Mrs Allum and the latter said she was going back to her husband. His brother replied: 'Go, then.' Nothing more was said at the time, but after breakfast, while he was shaving, he heard his brother call out to Mrs Allum to bring him a collar.
She replied: 'All right' and went up to him. A few minutes later he heard a woman cry 'Oh, God'.
'I rushed upstairs' said the witness 'and found my brother kneeling on Mrs Allum on the bed, and I saw that there was a wound in her throat. I carried her downstairs into the hall and ran for a doctor, and when I returned I found my brother lying in the passage with his body towards the door and his throat cut'.
Dr PJ Dufty said that the wounds on Mrs Allum's throat were the results of three separate attacks. On making a post-mortem examination, he found that the covering of the man's brain was adherent, which might indicate some mental malady.
The jury found that Davey murdered Mrs Allum and afterwards committed suicide, whilst temporarily insane.
Conclusion

The Independent Police News, as described in the first part of these two articles, was clearly a publication of its time. It would have played to the Victorian sense of melodrama and survived by lurid accounts and sensationalised images of hideous crimes.

But, changes in technology - newspaper photography and perhaps most of all the movies - whether newscasts, such as Pathe News, or fiction and drama would soon be able to out-do the IPN, in terms of sensation and actuality. The surprise is, perhaps, that the paper managed to last so long - until almost the outbreak of World War 11.

As we have mentioned throughout the two articles, the IPN was clearly more interested in the drama than the outcomes of cases, or justice - so it is very rare that verdicts or sentences are given - just lurid court reports, or police statements.

It is impossible to take any sensible conclusions from the outcomes of just 10 cases, covered in a magazine with its own lurid agenda, but it is clear from the cases covered in these blogs that the overwhelming number of murders and suicides were, in modern parlance, "domestics" and most were explained away, in the IPN reports as being connected either with mental breakdowns, or poverty.

Footnote

Access to the entire contents of the Independent Police News can be gained via the British Newspaper Archive website, see here 

It is a subscription service, but invaluable to anyone with a serious interest in researching almost any aspect of modern British history. It is continuously expanding its coverage, but currently covers over 760 publications and has 20 million accessible pages - which can be searched via a very powerful search engine. 

A special bit of pleading to them , in exchange for this plug: Please digitise the entire back catalogue of the Stratford Express, ASAP!

Forest Gate, and Victorian Penny Dreadfuls (1)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


The Illustrated Police News was a strange, weekly, newspaper, which lasted from 1867 until 1938, and for a while was described as "the worst newspaper in England". It was nothing to do with the police, officially, instead, it almost epitomised the Victorian "Penny Dreadful", providing lurid copy to a readership with a thirst for scandal and the salacious. 

Despite its title, it never produced a photograph, but relied entirely on graphic and sensational sketches for its illustrations. Equally, regardless of its claim to cover crime and punishment, it was more interested in quoting lurid witness statements at trials and from police interviews, than informing readers of the outcomes of those trials.

Forest Gate crime featured over 100 times during its 70 years of publication, and in 10 cases the crime was spicy enough to merit an illustration.

Divided, chronologically, over two articles, we look at those cases, reproduce the illustrations and provide quotes from the supporting commentary. By modern standards, far from being "Racy" much of the coverage seems rather quaint - perhaps an illustration of how "tame" Victorian tastes for gore were, compared to those of the modern era.

But first, a rather lengthy description of the IPN from the people who should know more than anyone else - the publishers of the British Newspaper Archive. We are grateful to them for the entire contents of this article.

Details of how to access and subscribe to the archive can be found in the footnote to this article.

British Newspaper Archive description

The British Newspaper Archive is packed with weird and wonderful stories of every description. However, of all the historic titles in this collection, no publication reported the bizarre and shocking in quite the same way as the Illustrated Police News.

A typical front page of the
 Illustrated Police News

The Illustrated Police News was one of Britain’s very first tabloids and one of the first periodicals to tap into the British public’s morbid appetite for crime and sensation. The paper was founded in 1843 and was partly inspired by the success of The Illustrated London News.  It was originally priced at one penny and did remarkably well with a weekly circulation of around 175,000 copies, most sold in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
Gruesome and grisly news stories from around the UK

The Illustrated Police News reporters would scour through vast quantities of newsprint from across the Empire, Europe and the United States in order to bring their readers news of the latest assaults, outrages, tragedies and murders. All of which were delightfully described in lurid detail with vivid illustrations to match.
It was considered a workingman’s newspaper and was frequently condemned for appealing to lowbrow tastes yet it was not the stories printed that attracted the most criticism, it was the lewd and graphic illustrations of blood spurting from wounds, women’s faces twisted in terror as they were attacked by cruel husbands and hosts of scantily clad sleepwalkers who always happened to be attractive young ladies.
In fact, an 1886 article found in our (The British Newspaper Archive) collection of historic newspapers reveals that The Illustrated Police News was once voted the ‘worst newspaper in England’ by readers of the Pall Mall Gazette.
 The proprietor, George Purkis claimed to have half a dozen accomplished artists on his permanent staff in London and somewhere between 70 and 100 free-lance artists spread out across the country who provided “the best portraits published by any journal, not excluding The Illustrated London News and The Graphic“.
Accuracy was of high importance and Purkis described how artists would be deployed to the scene of “terrible murder or extraordinary incident” the second news reached the London office.
Purkis appeared unfazed at being voted the worst newspaper in England and “received the verdict of the jury with great good temper, not to say complacency” and answered the complaints made against him.

Chief amongst these was that The Illustrated Police News was “a bad paper, which encourages the commission of crime, and generally tends to the demoralization of the people into whose hands it falls.”
"I acknowledge it to be a sensational newspaper," said Mr Purkis, but he insisted that: "barring the sensational illustrations, there is nothing in the paper to which objection can reasonably be taken."
He argued that rather than glorifying crime, his paper prevented it by warning of its horrors and terrible consequences. He even argues his paper may act "as an encouragement to a good life" and explained how criminals would go to great lengths to prevent their likeness appearing in its pages.
“I know what people say,” concluded Mr. Purkis, ‘but as I replied to a friend who asked me why I did not produce some other paper than the Police News, ‘We can’t all have Timeses and Telegraphs, and if we can’t have the Telegraph or the Times, we must put up with the Police News.'”
 Purkis died of tuberculosis in 1892 but The IPN continued reporting on the strange and grotesque until 1938.

Forest Gate reports 


1. Burglar caught in Forest Gate - 9 September 1882

Henry James Brady was charged with:
Burglariously breaking and entering Lawn House, Sidney Road, Forest Gate and stealing a copper coal scuttle and scoop and a tea caddy and canister.
The occupant was disturbed during the night and called the police who: 
Not knowing how many other persons were behind the door, put his left hand through the partly opened door and with his truncheon struck the man on the head, when he fell to the ground. ... The prisoners hands were tied with a rope.


The illustration from 9 September 1882 edition
Brady was taken to the police station and charged, but having got some tasty morsels of scene of crime activity, the Illustrated Police News lost interest and did not report the outcome of the incident.

2. Attempted murder of a sweetheart - 26 January 1884

On Tuesday night at Forest Lane, Forest Gate a young (21 years) fellow named Reginald Slaughter, living at Channelsea Road Stratford fire two shots out of a five-chambered revolver at a young lady named (Kitty) Pole (20 years) and then a chamber at himself.
The parties, it seems, had been keeping company for about three months, but have had significant quarrels now and again and it is stated that Slaughter had threatened Miss Pole.
The incident took place at 9.30 pm in Albert Square, Forest Lane.
After Slaughter had fired the first two shots, The Illustrated Police News reported: 
(Miss Pole) was not struck, but fell into a fit of hysterics ... Slaughter pointed the revolver at himself, but the bullet went into the air, and just as he was about to fire again, a gentleman named Newton .... (of) Maryland Point ... snatched the revolver from his hand. Slaughter fell on the pavement, insensible.


Illustration from 26 January 1884
Illustrated Police News
The police were called, Slaughter was arrested and taken to West Ham police station.

In giving evidence to the police, Kitty Pole's mother, Catherine, told them:
(Slaughter) has been keeping company with my daughter. He has deceived her so often, and told her such a load of falsehoods, that on my advice she refused to go out with him.
She said that at one time she had told Slaughter "I have an umbrella in my hand, if you molest my daughter, I'll lay this about your head".

The arresting officer, PC Lampard said "I found a photograph of (Kitty Pole) on Slaughter, on which was written 'This young woman is mine. R.S. I am her lover.'".

The divisional police surgeon said when called to examine Slaughter at the police station:
I found him lying apparently insensible, in the reserve room. His appearance was that of a person in a genuine fit. In fact he was shamming. I threatened that I would use the galvanic battery (electric shock treatment) and he got up. He was perfectly sober.
Reginald Slaughter (a failed case of nominative determinism?) was charged with attempted murder and attempted suicide. Once more, having provided some salacious copy, The Illustrated Police News lost interest in the case, and did not report the outcome of the trial.

3. Awful calamity at Forest Gate - fire at a school - 11 January 1890

This was the Illustrated Police News' account of the fire at the Industrial school in Forest Lane, which we have previously covered here and here.
The written account of the fire is quite graphic, and like a modern day tabloid report of a catastrophe, focuses on dramatic witness statements, mainly from the children and staff of the school.


Illustration from 11 January 1890
 Illustrated Police News
The front page illustration, above, was suitably action-packed, and doubtless proved a good selling point for that week's edition of the paper.

Unlike other cases reported by the newspaper, it was actually followed up, two weeks later, with coverage of the inquest and the verdict. This, again, provided the paper with plenty of opportunity for colourful reporting.

4. Fearful domestic tragedy at Upton Park - alleged murder of two children and an attempted suicide - 30 April 1904

This case had everything as far as salacious reporting was concerned, and the illustration of the case covered the whole of the front page of the newspaper.

The story was, indeed a tragedy and concerned William Folkard of 214 Queen's Road, who was accused of murdering two of his four children: Grace, aged eight years and Thomas, aged seven months.

The family occupied the top two floors of the house (of three).
In the front room of the first floor slept Folkard and his wife, the back room was used as the kitchen, while the children's bedroom was the attic.
 Twelve months ago Folkard had the misfortune to lose two of his children, one dying two days after the other. Since then he has been afflicted by bouts of depression and has had, it is said, frequent drinking bouts.


Illustration from 30 April 1904
 Illustrated Police News
Folkard had been absent from his home a week before the killings - hop-picking, he said. When he returned, he cut the throats of the two children and then attempted to cut his own. He was found alive and taken to West Ham hospital.

The police found a note on his body:
Will and Freddy (his two surviving children) will be able to keep their mother in ten years' time. Girls are not much good, but Grace has been a good girls. Tommy is so young (the latter two being those he murdered).
Again, like other IPN dramatic case, having reported the gore, the paper did not follow the case up with details of the trial and its outcome.


Footnote

Access to the entire contents of the Independent Police News can be gained via the British Newspaper Archive website, see here


It is a subscription service, but invaluable to anyone with a serious interest in researching almost any aspect of modern British history. It is continuously expanding its coverage, but currently covers over 760 publications and has 20 million accessible pages - which can be searched via a very powerful search engine. 

A special bit of pleading to them , in exchange for this plug: Please digitise the entire back catalogue of the Stratford Express, ASAP!