Perhaps one of the most intriguing of Walter Sickert's secret untitled sketches.
In the late 19th Century, Special Branch agents reportedly disguised themselves as cabdrivers as a means of disguising Secret Police business in and around London. Chief Inspector Littlechild , head of Covert Operations at Section d Special Branch Scotland Yard recommended it personally, as a good, efficient means of carrying out spy operations. Top SpB agents dressed as cab drivers in order to effectuate spy business in London. According to the current Special Branch Officer Lindsay Clutterbuck's angle on the 1894 Littlechild, expressed in his thesis in 1998:
Back Street rebels often made the most of this efficient, mobile disguise. As did the Stuarts , it seems, as part of a Secret Arrangement in Cleveland Street and Whitechapel.
'In order to minimize the risks of discovery when on surveillance, the use of disguise was employed by detectives. Littlechild states that its use was disapproved of by some of his colleagues, perhaps as a result of the Popay case and its aftermath or for other, more practical reasons. However, he personally found it most useful...he gives several examples of the disguises he used and the reasons behind their selection ; dressing as a curate disarms suspicion, whilst access to premises can be readily gained when disguised as a Serveyer or Sanitory Inspector. A Cabman is a familiar sight throughout London but sometimes something more specialized was required:-
"So I made up by selecting a 'wardrobe cap' and spotted scarf, to be lightly tied round my neck, and the other essentials of the Whitechapel rig-out. My face I left unshaven for a week or two, and in such natural disguise- which you will see does not correspond atall with theatrical ideas upon the subject- I beagn to frequent the street market."
Littlechild, 1894, pp82 '
Above: an example of the classic cab, used to ferry people around central London during the late Victorian era.
And above, one of the more mundane, one horse cabs.
Intriguingly, the artist does seem to be referring to a more sophisticated coach, if we evaluate the driver's position in the sketch.
These secret pictures are a part of my findings. Walter Sickert drew, and hid, these wonderful pictures. I think this is one beautiful artist. What is clear, is that in Sotheby's terms, the discoveries are way beyond priceless. As is this story we love.
No one's evidence is worth more than Walter Sickert's.