All posts tagged Shoreditch

A couple of days before Guy Fawkes night in 1831, 10 year old John King and his 11 year old sister Martha were hanging out the washing to help their invalided mother at their home in Crabtree Road, at the northern end of Bethnal Green. Looking across the road to the Bird Cage public house in Nova Scotia Gardens, they noticed a boy, slightly older than themselves, who waved before uttering something in a foreign language that the two children couldn’t understand. It was the last time they were to see 14 year old Italian Carlo Ferrier alive – The London Burkers had struck again…

Nova Scotia Gardens was an area of the East End, just to the north-east of St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch that had been extensively used to extract clay for brick making. Once the clay field had been exhausted the area begun to be filled in with ‘leystall’ waste, quite literally excrement. Some dwellings, mainly small cottages, were built in the area, but were largely undesirable as, being built on the lower ground of the clay pits, they were prone to flooding. The properties were to attract the lowest, most desperate kind of tenants…


The London Burkers – Bishop, Williams and May

Four such individuals were Thomas Williams, John Bishop, a Covent Garden porter called Michael Shields and an unemployed butcher called James May.

In the 18th century, demand for anatomical cadavers was high – around 500 were needed each year to meet demands, and the bodies of convicted and hanged criminals met that requirement. However, whilst hundreds were executed during the 18th century, the mid 19th century saw just 55 being hanged each year. Demand clearly outstripped supply and it was into this lucrative market that Williams, Bishop, Shields and May were drawn.

Modelling their activities on the notorious Burke and Hare, two grave robbers in Scotland, these ‘London Burkers’, bodysnatchers or so called ‘resurrectionists’ would dig up and sell fresh cadavers to the anatomists and surgeons at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, St Thomas’ Hospital and Kings College. Bishop, in a subsequent confession, admitted to stealing between 500 and 1000 bodies in this manner over a twelve year period. However, the Burkers needed even more bodies…

On Saturday 5th November 1831, May and Bishop delivered the suspiciously fresh body of a young boy to William Hill, the porter of the dissecting room at King’s College, Somerset House and demanded twelve guineas for the corpse. May and Bishop tipped the corpse out of a hamper and pointed out to a startled Hill how fresh the body was. When questioned how the boy had died, both May and Bishop claimed they didn’t know, and that it was ‘no business of theirs’. Hill called Richard Partridge, the Demonstrator of Anatomy at the college to examine to body, and he alerted the Professor of Anatomy, Herbert Mayo. Mayo immediately called the police and the resurrectionists were duly arrested and remanded in custody…


The London Burkers in the Dock

Two weeks later, Joseph Sadler, a Superintendent with F division of the Metropolitan Police searched the cottage at Nova Scotia Gardens. He found numerous items of clothing in the gardens and in a well at the property, all of which suggested multiple murders. Williams and Shields were duly arrested and placed with May and Bishop. Upon questioning, it became apparent that the men had been complicit in the murder of a woman, Frances Pigburn and another boy named Cunningham who they had found sleeping rough in a pig market in Smithfield. Both had been taken back to Nova Scotia Gardens, drugged with a mixture of warm beer, sugar, rum and laudanum. They were then hung upside down and drowned in the well at the property.

The men were tried collectively, but the testimony of Bishop and Williams cleared the remaining two members of the gang, who appeared to have been mere ‘delivery men’ in the affair. Bishop, aged 33 and Williams, aged 26 were found guilty and both were hanged at Newgate on 5th December 1831 in front of a crowd of 30,000 onlookers. Their bodies were subsequently cut down and dispatched to anatomical establishments – for dissection…

Matt Munro
It is often said that you don’t miss something until it is gone. Those words apply so much to one of the East End’s greatest vocal performers – Matt Monro.

Born Terry Edward Parsons in Shoreditch on the first of December 1930, Matt was the youngest of five children. Tragedy hit the family in 1931 when Matt’s father, Fred, died from Tuberculosis. The strain of bringing up five children on her own proved too much for his mother Alice, who had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a sanatorium just two years later.

The young Terry was taken into a foster home, but unsurprisingly, behaved badly. His mother eventually returned to care for him herself, but he continued to create problems for her. He moved from school to school and had his childhood further disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, where he became one of millions of children evacuated from the capital.
Matt Monro

Finally, aged 18, he began a term of National Service, serving as a mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers before becoming a tank driving instructor, and was posted overseas, to Hong Kong.

Gifted with a beautiful singing voice, he started to enter a number of talent contests on the radio in Hong Kong, and won several. He eventually became so successful that the talent show organisers banned him from taking part – but as a result, he was given his own radio show ‘Terry Parsons Sings’.

Upon his return to Britain in 1953, the young Terry tried to repeat his success overseas, but fame eluded him. Instead, he married his girlfriend Iris Jordan (who was pregnant with his son Mitchell) and took a series of driving jobs, initially as a lorry driver and then as a bus driver on the No 27 route from Highgate to Teddington.

Matt Munro

Matt Munro with Winifred Atwell and Alma Cogan

Terry eventually got his break in 1956 when he got a position as the featured vocalist with the BBC Show Band. He made a demo record which was heard by the hugely popular pianist Winifred Atwell, who effectively took him under her wing. Persuading her record label, Decca, to give him an audition, they took him on, and Winifred encouraged him to change his name.  Her father was Monro Atwell, and Matt came from a journalist friend of hers.

Matt Monro was born.

Beatles producer, George Martin asked Matt to perform on a Peter Sellers record (under the much less glamorous name of Fred Flange!) in the style of Frank Sinatra, and realised his potential. George Martin knew he was on to a winner and quickly signed him for the Parlaphone Record label.

Hit followed golden hit with favourites such as Portrait of My Love, Softly as I Leave You, and the James Bond Theme, From Russia with Love.

In 1966, Matt switched labels again, this time to Capitol Records, but his singles (with the notable exception of another film theme, Born Free) were not as successful.

He spent some time in the States, touring the cabaret circuit, before returning to Britain and working at the best nightclubs around – clubs like ‘The Talk of the Town’, and he became a regular on TV shows.

Unfortunately, the public were largely unaware of another, darker side to Matt Monro – he was a heavy social drinker and smoker. His GP noticed that his liver had become swollen and wrote in his own notes that at a conservative estimate, Matt Monro was drinking around half a bottle of whisky a day.  Whilst this seemed to have no effect on his public performances, it began to have a detrimental effect on his health and in 1976 he was admitted into the Priory for rehabilitation. This had little success and it wasn’t until another clinic, Galsworthy House, took on the case that they finally got Matt to give up the bottle.

However, by then the damage had been done – and in 1984 he was diagnosed with liver cancer. A transplant was ruled out when it was discovered that the cancer was too widespread, and Matt Monro said goodbye to the world on February 7th 1985 aged just 54.