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Stages in the Creation of a Myth: Kate Eddowes the Balladeer

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  • Stages in the Creation of a Myth: Kate Eddowes the Balladeer


    I just came across this article written by Mike Lockley on the Birmingham Mail website. It is dated 9th Jan, 2016.

    As the following extracts show, Lockley obviously drew heavily on the 1995 Black Country Bugle ‘Kidney Kate’ article, although he couldn’t help adding his own little extra flourishes. ‘Mrs Bojangles’ indeed!

    ‘She and Thomas had hit on a scheme that earned them both good money. They sold cheap books, known as Penny Dreadfuls, on street corners at any event guaranteed to pull in the crowds. Public hangings were particularly lucrative.

    Thomas was also showing prowess as a writer of music hall ballads and his songsheets sold well.

    Catherine didn’t let family loyalties stand in the way of a fast buck. She used the Stafford execution of her own cousin Christopher Robinson – hanged for killing his partner – as a vehicle to sell Thomas’s latest song, On The Fatal Morning. From all accounts, there was quite a clamour for the score.’

    ‘Catherine became something of a Mrs Bojangles figure, spending drunken hours singing on street corners, the lyrics more slurred with each glug of gin.’

    I thought it might be useful to collect some of this kind of material to plot the development of the Ballad Myth from the contemporary press reports which mention Conway selling ‘pamphlets’ and ‘lives’ (but don’t actually mention ballads as far as I’m aware) via the Bugle, The Five etc to the current perception of Eddowes having been a successful composer and performer of ballads - ‘ in the operatic style’

    All contributions will be gratefully received, especially of items that predate The Five and the publicity surrounding the 2019 ENO opera.

  • #2

    Extract from the Black Country Bugle ‘Kidney Kate’ article, January, 1995:

    The arrangement worked well for a time but ended in acrimony when Cathatrine was turned out for becoming romantically involved with an Irish ex-guardsman who earned a precarious living by selling penny ballads in and around public houses in the town. Catharine's aunt did not approve and gave her young charge the choice of finishing the affair or leaving her house. Her niece, young, headstrong and infatuated by the handsome and poetical Irishman, who signed himself Thomas Conway-Quinn, chose the latter and moved with the street ballad writer to Birmingham where her good looks and bubbling personality were definite assets as she helped him sell rhyme sheets around the streets and pubs of the old Hardware capital. Hangings, in particular, made Conway-Quinn's creative juices flow and when executions took place, they often journeyed to Warwick, Worcester or Stafford to make a killing as crowds of people who gathered for executions were willing to pay a penny to obtain a rhyming memento of the occasion.

    Cousin of Kate who committed a crimson crime in 1866:
    On one such trip to Stafford in January 1866 she experienced the trauma of seeing her own cousin, Christopher Robinson, hanged for the murder of his sweetheart at Wolverhampton - and then helping to sell copies of a scaffold ballad about him to the assembled crowd, estimated to number around 4000 persons on the fatal morning. Little did she known that some 20 years on her own name would echo and send a shudder throughout the land in connection with an even gorier murder!
    They returned from Stafford in style, booking inside seats on Wards coach with proceeds from ballad sheet sales. It had been a profitable trip and after leaving the coach at Wolverhampton, the jubilant poet hired a donkey cart and set off with Catharine for Bilston where he ordered another 400 copies from Sam Sellman, the Church Street printer. Her quick wit and repartee had played a major part in selling so many copies of her poetical companion's ballad at Stafford and he rewarded her with the price of a flowered hat from Woolley's in Bilston High Street whilst he waited in the Market Tavern for Sam Sellman to run off the extra order which would be on sale at their regular pitch on the following Monday. Such was their lifestyle, comfortable at that time as they lived as man and wife for a spell in lodgings at Moxley. Conway-Quinn produced impromptu ballads about any event which captured the public interest and made a fair living from rhyming talents which, he considered, would be even more fully appreciated in London - hence their eventual move to the metropolis.


    • #3


      From the Evening Standard of 4th October, 1888:

      ‘When she was about 20 years of age, she ran away to Birmingham, where she became acquainted with an old pensioner, who gained a living by selling pamphlets relating to his own history, and with whom she lived. She travelled with him and assisted him to sell his pamphlets.’


      • #4

        Nothing new here, but this may be the point at which the myth entered the world of Ripperology.

        Thanks to Howard and Nina for the transcription and to Dusty Miller for the image:

        Issue 12, April 1995
        Page 9 ( Queries & Information Received)

        'Mrs. Kate Amy has sent an anonymous article from the Black Country Bugle of January 1995, giving new details about Wolverhampton- born Kate Eddowes-a Ripper victim. Kate Eddowes' portrait in the Penny Illustrated Paper was apparently derived from a miniature which was a present from an aunt in Wolverhampton. She was the daughter of "New Wulfrunian" George Eddowes, Jnr., a Japanner or varnisher, rather than the official description of tin-plate worker, often reproduced.

        Kate Eddowes, in conjunction with her paramour Thomas Conway Quinn, specialized in the production of gallows ballads. On one occasion in January 1866, she hawked such a ballad at the execution of her own cousin, Christopher Robinson, hanged at Stafford.’
        Attached Files


        • #5

          This CB thread was started by Jarrett Kobek, presumably while he was researching his ‘May My End A Warning Be’ article.

          Interestingly it mentions Neal Shelden’s apparent acceptance of the Bugle’s claim that Eddowes and Conway were present at Charles Robinson’s execution:

          "1866 Kate's cousin, Christopher Charles Robinson, 18, was hanged at Stafford gaol for the murder of his fiance Harriet seager in Wolverhampton. Kate and Thomas were two of the 4,000 strong crowd and even sold a gallows ballad. (Story first discovered by Mrs. Kate Amy, mentioned in Ripeprana of 1995. Thanks to David O'Flaherty)."

          I don’t have Shelden’s Eddowes book, so I’m not sure if this was in the body of the text or was a note of some description - or whether Neal challenged the claim.


          • #6

            This article by Jarrett Kobek can be found on Casebook, but presumably it was originally printed in one of the Ripper publications … ?



            • #7

              This article by Dave Frogatt appeared in Ripperologist in June, 1996.


              Dave tells us:

              ‘Catherine and Thomas Conway made their living by selling books written by Conway about famous people and hangings.’

              Again, I believe the source (for the hangings) is the Bugle because they printed a copy of Eddowes’ birth certificate which Dave Frogatt had sent them alongside the reprint of the ‘Kidney Kate’ article in their 1995 annual. He had presumably sent it to them after having read the article in January of that year.


              • #8
                I’ll pause here for now. I know there’s a contemporary press report which speaks of Conway selling ‘books of lives’ or something along those lines. But is there anything else from 1888 that mentions ballads or hangings? If not, there’s a huge gulf between the contemporary stuff and the incredible detail in the Bugle.


                • #9
                  From Sheldon's book.
                  Thanks for your time,
                  dusty miller


                  • #10
                    Next page

                    Thanks for your time,
                    dusty miller


                    • #11
                      Thanks, Dusty!

                      What’s the date of that?

                      I’m amazed that Shelden didn’t seek out the Bugle article himself, being content to repeat the brief précis of it provided by Kate Amy.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
                        Thanks, Dusty!

                        What’s the date of that?

                        I’m amazed that Shelden didn’t seek out the Bugle article himself, being content to repeat the brief précis of it provided by Kate Amy.
                        I don't think Neal Shelden did just repeat Kate Amy's précis as published in Ripperana, as his account contains more details than hers.


                        • #13

                          This is the version of the story from Neal Shelden's last victims book. Kate Amy is not mentioned in this version:

                          Shelden, Neal. Mary Jane Kelly and the Victims of Jack the Ripper: The 125th Anniversary . © Neal Shelden 2013

                          Afterwards, when she returned to Birmingham, she met with an Irish hawker called Thomas Conway who drew a pension from the 1st Battalion of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. She had his initials TC tattooed on her forearm in blue ink, and always told people that they had been legally married, despite the fact that it was not true. They generally spent their time as common-law husband and wife (that is to say they lived as though they were a married couple, with Catherine taking Conway’s surname, without actually going through a wedding ceremony). They went from place to place selling chapbooks; these contained stories but they were cheaply produced and priced booklets, sometimes with crude illustrations from woodcuts. They also sold gallows
                          ballads; these were poems about the soon to be hung sold to those attending hangings. In both cases the contents was written by Conway. Their first child together was named Catherine Ann Conway and born on the 18th April, 1863 at Yarmouth Workhouse in Norfolk. Catherine registered the child on the 13th May giving her own name as Catherine Conway. In 1865, her grandfather died, and only a year later Catherine and Thomas were in the crowds at the execution of her cousin Christopher Charles Robinson at Stafford goal. They mingled in amongst the four thousand strong crowd selling gallows ballads about her cousin’s crime, as the noose tightened round the young man’s neck.


                          • #14


                            ‘The Ballad of Kate Eddowes’ by David Bishop from ‘The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories’.


                            This short story is unashamedly fictional. Bishop claims to have been inspired to write it when he discovered the Charles Robinson ballad in the Wolverhampton archives where he was working at the time. He makes no reference to the Bugle article or Jarrett Kobek’s piece.

                            In his blog, Bishop describes how the idea for the story came to him:

                            ‘I remember the shock of recognition, and two different ideas crashing into each other. Was it possible that Eddowes’ partner Conway had written the ballad about the Robinson-Segar murder, and the subsequent execution? Which then suggested that Conway and Eddowes were present at Stafford in January 1867, when Robinson was hanged – executions always brought a crowd, and what better place to sell a souvenir of one of the region’s most notorious crimes?

                            The idea that a woman who became an irrevocable part of one of the British history’s most infamous murders should have spent her youth selling true crime memorabilia was irresistible to me. The evidence may be tenuous – but surely one of the jobs of fiction (and historical fiction in particular) is to fill these gaps and speculate on the possibilities.’

                            At one point in the story itself, Bishop suggests that Conway and Eddowes may have co-authored the Robinson ballad, but he doesn’t expand on the idea.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Chris Phillips View Post

                              I don't think Neal Shelden did just repeat Kate Amy's précis as published in Ripperana, as his account contains more details than hers.
                              Did he? I can see he added some additional material about the Robinson execution itself, but he tells us nothing additional about Eddowes’ and Conway’s presence there.