When I heard that Catharine Arnold would be doing a talk at Westminster Reference Library about Underworld London, it got me thinking about some of the grisly stories we have unearthed in our records at the Archives Centre.
Our collections contain a plethora of curious tales about criminal London. One of the most gruesome stories that sprung to mind was that of the Edgware Road Murder. This story is not for the faint-hearted, but if you are of a strong constitution, read on…
At about 2.00pm on Wednesday 28 December 1836, a commotion broke out near the Pineapple Turnpike on the Edgware Road.
Mr Bond, a labourer, had been walking along the street when he had noticed a large flagstone propped up against a wall.
Behind it was a large package wrapped in sacking. Upon opening the package, Bond was confronted with the most horrific of sights: the mutilated trunk of a dead body. The body was horribly deformed. The head had been roughly sawn off, and both legs removed, cut away at about 3 inches from the socket. There seemed to be little to go on in order to identify the body. However, doctors were able to ascertain that the body had been that of a middle-aged female. A mark on the ring finger suggested that the woman had been married or betrothed. The state of the skin of her hands, and dirt under her fingernails, suggested that she was a working woman.
It was not long before the head turned up, this time in the Regent’s Canal. Until the mystery of the murder could be solved, the head was preserved in spirits, and kept by Mr Girdwood, the district surgeon. The legs were later discovered at Camberwell.
It was not until 20 March 1837 that the body was formerly identified as that of Hannah Brown. She had left her lodgings at Christmas 1836 with the intention of visiting her fiancé, a certain James Greenacre. She had not been seen since.
The police soon closed in on Greenacre. The evidence seemed clear: not only was he the last person with whom Miss Brown had been seen, but he also lived in Camberwell, where the severed legs had been discovered. The sacking used to conceal the body had contained sawdust, and the legs and head had been removed using a saw. This seemed to tally with his occupation as a cabinet-maker.
Greenacre and his cohabiting partner, Sarah Gale, were tried for the murder of Hannah Brown. Both were found guilty. Gale was sentenced to transportation for life; Greenacre was sentenced to death, and hanged on 2 May 1837.
Do your own detective work into the dark sides of Westminster’s history by visiting the Archives Centre, or whet your appetite by coming along to Westminster Reference Library for the Underworld London talk on 4 July.