Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ratcliffe Highway Murders Map - Vignette #9

Ratcliffe Highway Murders Map - Vignette #9
'A Shallow Grave'

At the beginning of the month I was asked by the Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life ( and publishers Faber & Faber ( to produce a map marking the bicentinary this month of the horrific Ratcliffe Highway Murders (December 1811), with vignettes indicating the location and dates of the pertinent events as their anniversaries occurred.

The vignettes were inspired by the book investigating the case 'The Maul and the Pear Tree', by P.D.James & T.A.Critchley, first published by Faber in 1971.

The map beneath was an 1811 map of the area, provided for me by the wonderful Stefan Dickers, archivist at the Bishopsgate Institute.

This is the ninth (and penultimate) vignette. After his suicide (or possible murder, according to some) the body of the supposed Ratcliffe Highway murderer John Williams was taken from Coldbath Square Prison in Clerkenwell back to Shadwell where the killings had taken place. His body was placed upon a cart and paraded through the streets of Wapping, Ratcliffe and Shadwell - past the Marr's house at 29 Ratcliffe Highway, the King's Arms where the Williamson family was butchered and the Pear Tree where Williams lodged and was arrested - before being taken to the cross-roads of what is today the junction of Cable St and Cannon Street Road (then more sensibly known as simple Cannon St!). A small and shallow hole was dug - deliberately way too small for his body to lie with any dignity - and his body dumped in. Then, at the bequest of non-other than the Home Secretery, a stake was driven through his heart (using the still blood- and hair-caked maul with which the Marr family were destroyed!), lime thrown in on top and the grave quickly back-filled.

I have shown the moment just before the stake was thrust deep into Williams' heart. I got Nick to pose for this, kneeling on the edge of the sofa with a claw-hammer in one hand and a roll of cellophane (for the stake) in the other. The cart on which Williams' cadaver was displayed stands behind.

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