Thursday 31 August 2017

Jack the Ripper's First Victim

On 31 August 1888, Polly Anne Nichols became the first victim of the notorious Jack the Ripper.

This is an extract from the article Jack the Ripper: The Women.

Mary Anne Walker, better known as Polly, was born in Fleet Street near Whitechapel on 26 August 1845, into a respectable working class family with her father in regular employment as a skilled locksmith.

Aged 19, Polly married a printer by the name of William Nichols by whom she had 5 children and as far as we can tell they were happily married for the best part of sixteen years. However, in 1880, for reasons that are uncertain their marriage broke down and they separated. For a time William continued to provide Polly with a small weekly allowance but this was withdrawn once he learned that she had been living with another man. Not long after this the other man moved out and Polly, who may by this time already have been drinking heavily, was left destitute. She lost her home and for a time returned to live with her father but her drinking put undue strain on their relationship and she was forced to move out.

She was to spend the rest of her life moving from one doss house to another.

Polly kept it secret, certainly from her family at least, that she was from time to time reduced to selling her body to make ends meet; yet despite the drinking and the harsh conditions of her environment having taken its toll at a petite 5'2" with brown eyes and dark hair greying slightly at the temples those who knew her said she still had some prettiness about her and could pass for a woman ten years younger.

By April 1888, she was an inmate at the Lambeth Workhouse who the following month, as was common in those days, procured for her a position as a domestic servant in a well-to-do house. Polly was delighted to have found work and on 12 May wrote to reassure her father:

“I just write to say that you will be glad to know I am settled in my new place, and going alright up to now. My people went out yesterday and have not returned, so I am left in charge. It is a grand place inside, with trees and gardens back and front. All has been newly done up. They are teetotalers and religious so I ought to get on. They are nice people and I have not much to do.”

Her father was relieved to learn that she was at last pulling her life together but it wasn’t to be for in July she was dismissed from her post following an accusation of theft.

Polly was unable to find another job, and by the late summer she was living in the Thrawl Street Lodging House, Spitafields. Unable to pay the rent on the night of 30 August, she told the Lodging House Keeper:

"I'll soon get my doss money - see what a pretty bonnet I have."

At around 11.30 pm she was seen walking the Whitechapel Road. An hour later she left a pub in Brick Lane and returned to the Lodging House in Thrawl Street but was refused admittance because she was still four pence short of her rent. At 2.30 am she met Emily Holland, a fellow prostitute and a woman with whom she had previously shared a room and told her:

“I had my doss money three times today and spent it.”

Emily was later to say that Polly had been very drunk and unsteady on her feet. It was the last time she was seen alive.

At 3.40 am her body was discovered in Bucks Row just 150 yards from the busy London Hospital by Charles Cross, a cart driver who had been working late. He kept his distance and unaware whether she was dead or alive summoned a passing policeman. Upon inspection it became evident that Polly’s throat had been cut. Her dress had also been pulled up and her abdomen mutilated. The policemen present interviewed a number of horse slaughterers who had been working nearby but they reported that they had not seen or heard anything.

She had in her possession just a comb, a pocket handkerchief, and a broken piece of mirror.

Polly Nichols, aged 43, had become Jack the Ripper's first confirmed victim.