From a press release today:
On the 7th December 1811, a young linen draper and his family were cruelly murdered at night in their home at 29 Ratcliffe Highway in Wapping. Twelve days later, a publican and members of his household were slaughtered in similar fashion, just half a mile away.
The slaying of these innocent families created public hysteria amongst Londoners – whipped up by newspapers revelling in the gruesome details of the atrocities. Ill-equipped to investigate, on Christmas Eve the police hastily arrested the first suspect they could find, John Williams, and when he hung himself in prison on Boxing Day, it was taken as confirmation of his guilt.
180,000 people turned out to see Williams’ body paraded through Wapping, before he was buried with a stake through his heart at the crossroads of Cable Street and Cannon Street Road on New Year’s Eve. Yet it is now acknowledged that he was – in all likelihood – an innocent man.
At the birth of the British press, the Ratcliffe Highway Murders case was both the first national crime sensation and an early example of “tabloid justice” – engendering a widespread terror that led subsequently to the formation of the Metropolitan Police.
Between 7th -31st December, East End Culture Blog Spitalfields Life and Faber and Faber are collaborating on a series of events to keep everyone gripped:
MAPPING THE MURDERS
www.spitalfieldslife.com and Faber and Faber have commissioned illustrator, Paul Bommer, to create a map of the murders that will update, revealing key events in the case on the exact anniversaries of their occurrence. This beautiful creation can be downloaded as a screensaver or used as a handy guide to set out through the streets of Wapping yourself.
TELLING THE STORY
An extract from The Maul and the Pear Tree, the definitive account of the murders, by bestselling crime writer P. D. James and her former Home office colleague T. A Critchley, will be published on Faber and Faber’s blog www.thethoughtfox.co.uk, whilst www.spitalfieldslife.com will be reporting these momentous events day by day.
EXAMINING THE CRIME SCENES
Spitalfields Life will be hosting a dusk walk on Wednesday 28th December at 3pm from St Georges in the East, visiting the key locations and telling the bone-chilling story of Britain’s first crime sensation. The walk will take approximately an hour and a half and conclude at the historic riverside pub The Prospect of Whitby. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. Tickets are £10.