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Harrison Barber—Horse Slaughterers

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  • Originally posted by Robert Linford View Post
    He even signs himself under enumerator's initials.

    The hewers are not the men....
    And Manchester is 'Mancther'.

    The word hewers could be taken for hewes.


    • Tomkins Summary

      To sum up:

      Three brothers were born near Maiden Lane, Islington, a notoriously polluted area which was the chief seat of the London knackers. They were:

      Henry William Tomkins, b. 1859
      Thomas Enoch Tomkins, b. 1861
      Robert Dancer Tomkins, b. 1870

      Their parents had both been born in Maiden Lane, which formed the western boundary of the area known as Belle Isle. William Tomkins was a manure maker turned horse slaughterer, Sarah Carvell the daughter of a grease maker.

      For most of their time in Belle Isle, the boys lived in Pleasant Grove, a very unpleasant road running East from Maiden Lane. It was home to numerous horse slaughterers and other noxious trades and was at the epicentre of what the press dubbed 'the Belle Isle Nuisance' on account of its polluted atmosphere.

      At some time between the 1871 census (Pleasant Grove) and the birth of the boys' sister Charlotte in 1873 (Newton Heath) the family moved to Manchester, where they remained for the next fifteen or so years. They lived at various addresses in Newton Heath and Miles Platting. Newton Heath was also notorious for its 'nuisances' .

      At the time, the industrial cities of north west England - Manchester in particular - were in the grip of the 'scuttling' craze, large-scale gang warfare between rival groups of youths. The scuttlers armed themselves with anything they could lay their hands on - knives, clubs, iron bars and even, on occasion, swordsticks. There is no evidence that the Tomkins boys were ever directly involved, but they were of an age when the swagger of the scuttlers must surely have made an impression on them.

      While in Manchester, Henry married Eliza Petrie and Thomas married Mary Green. In April, 1888 Robert managed to impregnate Mary's sister Alice, three years his senior. The resulting child, Frederick, was born out of wedlock. Robert's name did not appear on the birth certificate and he did not marry Alice until January, 1890.

      The family, or part of it, had returned to London (Whitechapel) by 1888. The slaughter yards of Belle Isle were by then part of the Harrison, Barber conglomerate which also owned the yard in Winthrop Street.

      In April of that year, three weeks after the murder of Emma Smith, William Tomkins was found dead (or rather in an alcoholic coma from which he didn't recover) in Winthrop Street. The one press report that exists says he was discovered by his son, William. This must be an error as William did not have a son of that name. The address on his death certificate was Northampton Street, which was a few minutes walk from Winthrop Street.

      On 3rd September, 1888, Henry Tomkins appeared at the inquest into the death of Polly Nichols. He gave his address as 12, Coventry Street, a short distance from Winthrop Street and the site of a railway arch out of which Harrison, Barber sold horseflesh. In my opinion, Henry ran rings around the coroner and the jury, refusing to give a straight answer on whether women frequented the yard at night and insisting that he and Charles Britten had been no further than Woods Buildings during their break. He was also adamant that there were two members of the public present in Bucks Row when he arrived. After trying unsuccessfully to shift him on this point, the Coroner, Wynne Baxter, threw in the towel saying he didn't understand Tomkins' slaughterhouse language. James Mumford and Charles Britten who, according to Mumford, were also due to give evidence, don't appear to have been called to testify.

      Henry and his two Winthrop Street colleagues, Mumford and Britten, were interviewed separately by the police about their activities on the night of Nichols' death and apparently gave detailed and corroborating statements. However, three days after the event Mumford was unable to remember how many horses they had killed that night, which calls into question how detailed their statements actually were.

      The local populace had their suspicions about the slaughtermen, describing them as 'queer characters' and chalking 'This is where the murder was done' on the yard gates. Various contemporary press reports also proposed a 'slaughterman theory' of the murders.

      Thomas Tomkins' son Ellis, born in Manchester in October, 1887 and Christened there on 9th November, 1887, was admitted to the London Hospital, Whitechapel on the 28th September, 1888. He died there on 1st October. This was the weekend of the double event. The address given on his death certificate was 26, Lisbon Street, Bethnal Green, very close to Northampton and Coventry Streets and just minutes away from the Winthrop Street yard. The immediate aftermath of Ellis's death coincided with the October hiatus in the Ripper's activities. They recommenced on the 9th November, the first anniversary of Ellis's Christening.

      Henry Tomkins died on 10th February, 1891, three days before the murder of Frances Coles. His address was still 12, Coventry Street.

      The 1891 census (taken on the 5th April) shows Thomas, his wife Mary and son Christopher living in one room at 12, Coventry Street. Henry's wife, Eliza, was living in another room in the same house. Thomas appeared on the 1892 electoral register (compiled late 1891) at the same address. Robert had made an honest women of Alice Green and was living with her in Manchester.

      Thomas had returned to Manchester by October 1893, when his son Thomas was born. The fact that he does not appear on the London electoral register after 1892 suggests he returned to the North West between September, 1891 and December, 1892.

      In November, 1896 Thomas's wife Mary died. He remarried within a matter of weeks.

      Thomas died in Failsworth, Lancashire in 1920.

      In 1896, a Robert Tomkins of Oldham Road was involved in an altercation with another man and was stabbed in the face. In 1915, aged 45, Robert volunteered for the army. Apart from going AWOL a few times and earning himself various field punishments, his military career was unremarkable.

      The 1911 census gives Robert's occupation as a 'Hewer' (coal miner). The census form was most likely completed by Robert himself. If so, he had what might well be described as a 'round schoolboy hand'. He also had a habit of mispelling simple words - 'Joeth' instead of Joseph for example, and ‘Mancther’ rather than Manchester.

      Robert died in Prestwich, Manchester in 1922.


      • Glorious Beer

        Beer seems to have been the fuel that powered the Victorian knackerman. Those at the Winthrop Street yard patronised the Grave Maurice; the Belle Isle men favoured the Fortune of War. (As for the Garratt Lane men, perhaps Polly knew the answer to that one.)

        I'm somewhat sceptical about James Mumford's description of a brief mid-shift break at the Maurice just before it closed. William Tomkins drank so much that he fell into a coma. Henry almost certainly perjured himself to avoid admitting he had been to the pub that evening. And in 1903, Jeremiah Slowe's attack on Martha Hardwick was heavily drink-fuelled and he was able to lure his workmate away from the yard for an illicit gargle.

        Over in Islington, James Greenwood described the blood-stained knackermen quenching their prodigious thirsts at the Fortune of War, and on one occasion the police staked the pub out in an attempt to catch the slaughtermen buying out-of-hours liquor. The prosecution claimed that most of the out-of-hours callers at the pub were HB men and on one occasion (at 10.35 a.m.) a gallon jug of ale had been passed through the pub window to a slaughterman.

        It wouldn't surprise me if the main attraction of the yard to the women of Whitechapel was a ready supply of beer, quite possibly exchanged for their professional services. Some of them would have been more welcome than others. The more bedraggled, less attractive might be viewed by the slaughtermen as 'knackers', creatures of little worth but easily disposed of.


        • 'All sorts and sizes.'

          If the gates of the Winthrop Street yard were always left open all night, and beyond them lay the possibility of a nice cup of tea or a glass of beer and a warm by the copper, I can well imagine it being a tempting stopping-off point for the ladies of the Whitechapel Road.

          They came in all sorts and sizes according to Henry Tomkins. No doubt some, the ones they got on with or took a fancy to, were more welcome than others.

          Given how desperate they may often have been for a bit of warmth and a glass of grog, I imagine the unwelcome ones may well have been a persistent nuisance.

          I doubt a few choice Manc oaths would have had much effect. A raised pole-axe or an unsheathed knife might have been more effective.


          • Scuttlers

            Anyone interested in the phenomenon of scuttling should read this excellent book:



            • Wot, no mooshy peas?

              A Maiden Lane chippy. At the time, no doubt, a mushy-pea-free zone.

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              • Great work, Gary. I need to catch up with this thread. Thanks.


                • Originally posted by Debra Arif View Post
                  Great work, Gary. I need to catch up with this thread. Thanks.
                  Thanks, Debs.

                  I suspect people may see the HB thread popping up on a regular basis, think to themselves 'He's off again on his horse sausage crusade' and ignore it.

                  Perhaps the Tomkins boys should have their own thread. However, much of the other background stuff on this thread I think is relevant to an understanding of the environments they grew up in, which may or may not have pushed them towards unspeakable antics in Whitechapel.

                  Or are you talking about the mushy peas?



                  • Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
                    Would you call this a 'good/round schoolboy hand'?

                    And might someone who writes Joeth for Joseph and Heney for Henry write Juwes instead of Jews? (Harriet Emily's relationship to the head of the household was 'daughter', but what is written looks like 'fath'.)

                    I've just noticed that Robert's capital T looks like a J, as does his F and the left vertical of his H. Even the S in son against 'Joeth' looks similar.


                    • Here's the other half of the census page. He also utilises pretty much the same shape shen writing 'P'. Was that common at the time?

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                      • Scuttling

                        So far I haven't found any evidence that any of the Tomkins boys were directly involved in scuttling.

                        However, they lived in two areas controlled by gangs - the Newton Heath gang controlled Newton Heath and the Lime Street gang ran Miles Platting.

                        It would seem gang membership was virtually compulsory, it was certainly risky for a youth not to align himself with the local gang. Although scuttling had begun as a sectarian rivalry - Catholic versus Protestant - it developed into an issue of 'postcode' loyalty and those boys not signed up to their local gang were almost as likely as boys from another area to be set upon in the street.

                        The Tomkins brothers spent their late teens in Manchester and would have had to declare for their local gang or risk being beaten or 'doled' (stabbed).


                        • Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
                          I was just browsing through M. Trow's torso book when I spotted his claim that Harrison Barber acquired premises in Coventry Street.

                          That's new to me. Is he right, or has he got Henry Tomkins' home address muddled with his place of work?
                          He was right. According to the 1887 directory posted by Ed (post 175 below) HB were operating from 216, Railway Arch, Coventry Street, E.

                          I wonder what went on there? (And who had the keys).


                          • A couple of recent Spitalfields Life blogs. The first concerns the railway arches in Three Colts Lane, very close to the Coventry Street arch from which HB operated (it was arch no. 216, the second image on the blog is of a car repair business at nos 207 - 11); the second blog concerns Broadway Market where the Lechmere family had their horseflesh stall.




                            • 1874 Act

                              Extract from The Slaughterhouses &c. (Metropolis) Act, 1874:

                              Absolute prohibition against establishing anew certain businesses

                              If any person establishes anew within the limits of this Act the following businesses or any of them; that is to say, the business of -

                              Blood boiler, or
                              Bone boiler, or
                              Manure manufacturer, or
                              Soap boiler, or
                              Tallow melter, or

                              he shall incur a penalty not exceeding fifty pounds in respect of the establishment thereof, and any person carrying on the same when established shall incur a penalty not exceeding fifty pounds for every day which he so carries on the same.

                              This sounds like the regulation under which Charles Hart was prosecuted in 1878. £50 a day was a vast sum at the time. Hart claimed that he did not slaughter animals at his Bethnal Green premises, but at West Ham where he was licensed to do so. The Metropolitan Board of Works (and the court) did not believe him.

                              The definition of The Metropolis was that laid down by the Metropolis Management Act of 1855 (see link).



                              • Smith

                                From The Nottingham Evening Post of 5 April, 1888:

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                                What a curious term to use. ;-)