Above: The shop fronts typical of those that perpetuated Whitechapel and the West End of London of the late 19th c., beloved of the artists James McNeil Whistler and Walter Sickert. Original photograph dated 1880's, prior to the Whitechapel matter. At the centre, a shop-front replicating the one we see in Walter Sickert's sketch of the Cleveland Street commerce, 'Kelly's Library'. Note the typical conglomeration of both errand boys and shopgirls around the shop doors.
Left: a little silver Victorian stamp box, approx 10 cms long. It's apparent emptiness on the counter in a tobacconist store would indicate to any one that letters deposited there were being delivered via unorthodox means rather than passed to the local Post Office.
What has the secret letter arrangement itself, 'Kelly's Library', got to do with the head of Covert Operations, at Special Branch, Scotland Yard?
A brief look at Chief John Littlechild's methods with Post Offices, Postal workers, the London 'underclass' , newspaper personal advertisements and secret letter delivery arrangements, while he was head of covert operations at Scotland Yard.
In his own words, from ' The Reminiscences of Chief Inspector Littlechild.'
Page 13-14, Chapter II, 'An Agony Advertisement in the Morning Paper, and What Came of it'..wherein the Head of Covert Security Operations at Scotland Yard relates his usual procedure of examining the personal columns looking for odd personal advertisements that demonstrate something unusual afoot. He writes:
" Now, as can be guessed, the Agony Column is studied as closely by the detective force as anyone"..
... and goes on to speak of how a particular advertisement in the personals attracted his attention. The Chief Inspector would find that all manner of crooks and swindlers would lure the innocent into commitments via the placing of simple and appealing little ads in the Personal Columns.
" Dear F:- I implore you to give me help in this hour of deepest trial. Friendless and ill, I can look to none but you. ... My last shilling will pay for this advertisement...please address "G.C." care of X., FLEET STREET."
The Chief felt that this ad. was directed to 'enlightening the pockets of an injudicious giver.' He explains how Mr. Howard Vincent, the Chief of Prosecutions permitted covert enquiries into the 'semblance of innocence' and tells of how he rendered himself at a place called 'X' in Fleet Street...
" First I paid a visit to X in Fleet Street. It was simply a place where letters were received- and there I was informed that for some time a young woman had been in the habit of calling for letters. She had received a great many. "Does she come frequently?" I asked. " Pretty well, but I have not seen her for the last two days," said the shopkeeper. " She is a nice looking girl, and appears to be in great trouble." I thought my theory was falling to the ground. However, just to be thorough, I went to the Offices of the Newspapers which had published the advertisement, and was permitted to see a 'copy', or the 'manuscript' of it....."
The Chief Inspector explains how he was 'amazed at the discovery he made, and the fellow's audacity'. (The handwriting upon examination turned out not to b the hand of a girl, but a man he knew too well, a 'rogue' his plain clothes Officers had arrested before. The 'importune' had managed to pay a young servant girl to pretend to be a poor thing. The story is a gem in itself and fully demonstrates a) the extent to which The Head of Secret Security Operations examined the Newspaper Personal Columns / the extent he was prepared to follow them in detail, b) the fact that he was aware of how little private shops served as a base for secret letter delivery arrangements, which organisation was dependant upon Newspaper Personal Columns and c) the manner in which he followed up Newspaper Personals by going into Newspaper Offices and asking to see the original letters, and the authors' original transcripts.
In the late Victorian era many practices now common to relationships were strictly illegal. It devolved on high ranking Police and their detectives to eradicate their practice from society. Many lovers kept their communications secret, avoiding the law at all costs. Chief John Littlechild goes on to relate a number of 'secret correspondence and courier' stories. Clearly, every type of illicit lover, sexual idealist, conspirator, cheapskate, fraud, confederate and low grade criminal was making good use of Personal Columns and 'secret letter delivery arrangements' , using the small commerces as a base for Private Postal Service arrangements .......that extended from the Strand all the way in to Whitechapel. On one occasion, acting undercover, he disguised himself in a Whitechapel rigout complete with cloth cap and bandana scarf and mixed among a 'nest of loan sharks', in order to ascertain their courier's or "runner's" moves. (He was very successful undercover, by no means lacking in the 'tools of the trade'; no small measure of skill, accounting for London's East End in the LVP.) On page 69:
" When this man was released he met his old chums at a special meeting convened in a low public house in Shoreditch, and he placed his scheme before us, for I was one of the party. It was my duty to 'lick it into shape', and the result was so successful that it had not long been started before we were netting £20.00 a piece every week.
One of their member arranged, on some plausible story, for letters to be received at for him at an accommodation address, generally a small shop. Then advertisements were inserted in the Provincial, Scottish and Irish newspapers, offering money to lend on note of hand, interest on 6% and at first, no enquiry fees. Letters in reply poured in, and they were fetched away every morning, directly after delivery, by the "runner", who incurred more risk of arrest than the principal ( the letter sender) but who well knew he was scarcely worth the trouble of prosecuting. He was, however, protected by a confederate or 'middle man', who watched the shop every morning before a runner entered it, and gave the signal for him to fetch the letters, if the coast appeared clear. The middleman followed the first man to receive the letters at some convenient spot, in order that they might be taken by him to the principal, who did the Office work.
The middleman who watched over the runner also cashed the Post Office orders. Thus the work was equally divided between the three, and the risk of detection reduced to a minimum.."..
He goes on to describe trapping the 'runner' who lead him to the 'middleman' or 'lookout', who in turn lead him to the gang leader. Whereupon ( he loves to boast about this move) he flung away his disguise and announced : ' I am Chief Inspector Littlechild of Scotland Yard'...
Right: a little silver coloured Victorian shop bell, such as would be found on the counter or hanging from the ceiling in a small private commerce such as 'Kelly's Library'. ( See Walter Sickert's sketch of no. 21., Cleveland Street.)
The example relevance is evident. The shops being used for secret letter delivery are carefully watched by clients that benefit from the system. A courier or 'runner' such as Catharine 'Kitty' Eddowes or Lizzie Stride, ( two of the Whitechapel victims) or some young lad, ( e.g. an opportunistic Telegraph boy who wants to earn more than sixpence) waits until the coast is clear, discreetly enters the shop, collects a letter and puts it in the hand of the 'lookout' at some distance off at a point mutually convened. The lookout, or 'middleman', then takes the letter to its intended recipient.
This sort of procedure appears to have been happening at 'Kelly's Library' , no. 21 Cleveland Street, (with variation where required). Gentlemen frequenting the area quite often (depending on their status) entered the little tobacconist's alone on the pretext of purchasing some tobacco or suchlike and collected letters that a private courier sent by their lover had left there. ( No need for another courier or runner in that specific case). Women recipients of secret correspondence such as Mary Kelly might well have to wait until a 'runner' collected the letter from the shop , placed it in the hands of a trusted agent or 'middleman' at some distance away, and then upon this middleman's delivering it into her hands directly. There were variations on the process, all with the aim of ensuring that letters were delivered discreetly and detectives or strangers surveying the secret delivery service were confused as to who exactly was the letter's sender and the letter's recipient.
Mary Kelly appears to have entered the little shop at no. 21 Cleveland Street to collect letters addressed to her often enough herself . Under Mary Kelly we look at Florence Pash's witness stories about Mary constantly slipping to the front of the tobacconist's shop queue, under various pretexts, an action which gave her the reputation of a cocky and haughty Madam. We know how her and Albert Edward's letters were intercepted by murderers organised by Special Branch known colloquially as 'Jack the Ripper.'
'Kelly's Library' was supervised by Catharine and John Kelly, in other words, by Catharine Eddowes, known as 'Kitty', and her partner, John. Both these were Special Branch agents, working for the 'Jenkinson Spy ring'.
In 1881, Catharine 'Kitty' Eddowes teamed up with one 'John Kelly', a partner with whom she was to remain throughout the remaining seven years of her life. From 1881 to 1888 they were both living at the heart of Old Whitechapel, in bed-down lodgings at Flower and Dean Street, at the centre of a densely populated area renown for crime and confederate Irish terrorist activity in East London. She was instantly known as 'Catharine Kelly' ; she passed herself off as John Kelly's wife. By the Deputy of the Lodging House at Flower and Dean Street, Brick lane, Spitalfields, at the Eddowes Inquest :" I have known deceased and Kelly for the last seven or eight years, they passed as man and wife.."
Both Kitty Eddowes and John Kelly , known together in Whitechapel as 'Catharine Kelly and John Kelly' were assigned to monitoring Irish rebel activity for the head of Secret Service Under Secretary Edward Jenkinson. Catharine Eddowes aka Catharine Kelly was assigned to assassination detection.
'Catharine Kelly and John Kelly' were evidently placed over the little tobacconist's at no. 21 Cleveland Street, known to its regulars as 'Kelly's Library' by senior security officials. Catharine and John's remit in respect of the little tobacconist's was, evidently, surveying Prince Eddy's correspondence and watching his liaisons. Catharine, whose family and close friends called her 'Kitty' was known to locals as 'Catharine Kelly' , a local Whitechapel lady. Her and John's presence in Cleveland Street and Whitehapel was the efficient security surveillance arrangement Princes Eddy and Georgie would not have been without for a minute after Jenkinson's Secret Service annexe heard about the letter arrangement at 21., Cleveland Street. ( John and Catharine Kelly's 'library')
I think we can safely assume that 'John and Catharine Kelly', Littlechild and Jenkinson's Whitechapel spies, placed in Whitechapel since 1881, were seen by the Special Branch team as ideally placed to effectuate infiltration and control of the Prince's correspondence in Cleveland Street, given Prince Eddy's lover was being sheltered by confederates in Whitechapel. Catharine Eddowes aka 'Catharine Kelly' evidently became a regular feature of the little tobacconist's in Cleveland Street in about 1885.
In 1885, Catharine Eddowes met up with free spirited and artistic, musical acquaintance who enjoyed her company disinterestedly and returned innocent rebellious laughter to her life. She was not merely responding to orders; her life changed. She was enjoying freedom of choice. She had friendship. By 1888, instead of spying for Special Branch Secret Service annexe, she was spying on her employers, exploiting Special Branch information and helping rebel confederates associated to Prince Eddy structure their programme.
The little tobacconists' secret letter delivery arrangement may just as well have been named 'Kelly's Library' after its perhaps most special visitor, 'Mary Kelly', one of Prince Eddy's London lovers- perhaps his favourite. In aristocratic circles, love letter collections were long referred to as their owners' 'Libraries.'
In one respect, the situation resulting in 'The Whitechapel murders' is best interpreted as a 'security disaster' of the kind for which there is strictly no fallback strategem except the last resort. Catharine Kelly's remit, was alongside John, to keep the Prince safe from anyone to whom he was lending his authograph, his signature and his company, who might calculate upon his position and make their move accordingly. She was, it seems, to watch his correspondence and contacts and report these details to Special Branch directly. Catharine and John held a position of responsibility toward Senior Security Police.
Catharine Kelly used her experience as a spy and an agent to turn tables on her Security supervisors. Prince Eddy, who was old enough to decide it, had decided he definitley loved a young Stuart Catholic girl. His disposition validated his firm choice in every way; he was determined to the extent that he insisted that the Political playing field alter itself accordingly. (Prince Eddyie was want to be definite matters in relation to young Catholic women to the extent that his disposition was a genuine security concern, but it is not a relevant point in respect of Kitty Eddowes). He was about to be made Viceroy of Ireland. His father, the Prince of Wales, approved his taste in attractive Catholic Irish women irrespective of their threat to the Hanoverian status. Catharine Kelly, our 'Kitty', commissionned to survey Prince Eddy's liasons in the West and East End of London and report to Special Branch on his every move, decided she preferred to assist him, his inspiring friends and his Political colleagues in furthering his ambitious, somewhat romantic Political dream of uniting Hanoverian and Stuart descendants and bringing about a peaceful solution to the 'Irish Question.' She made use of her sspy position in repsect of the little tobacconists as no. 21 Cleveland Street and organised secret letters between Prince Eddy and his liaisons an connections, ( notably Mary Kelly) in flagrant defiance of the remit handed her by Special Branch section d.
'Catharine Kelly' was in a serious position. She had exchanged her loyalties to her Security supervisors for action expressing the loyalty she felt she owed to the Princes and their entertaining , motivated, resolute companions.
Our Catharine, confederate Stuart name 'KittyK' wasdrawing on all her acquired expertise and insider knowledge of Special Branch practice. Quite apparently. She had set herself the task of delivering letters on behalf of Prince Eddy and the Royal family for the sake of a cause she believed in on behalf of breakaway rebel confederates and young politicians whose claim she considered genuine, whose ways were apparently gentle.