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.

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.


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!

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