Sunday, 11 November 2007

The Telegraph Boys

The prank 'Jack the Ripper' letters, of which there were clearly seven main authors, ( some experts say five) were written by the Telegraph boys who worked officially for the Cleveland Street post office, and part time for 'Kelly's Library', the informal post office, delivering secret letters for the dandy gents. These also worked for Hammond, at no. 19 Cleveland Street, the famous setting for the Cleveland Street scandal involving the 1888 aristocrats, including Prince Eddy. ( Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward.) The telegraph boys' and their friends' age varies from age seven to age nineteen.

Chief John Littlechild, Special Branch, would get the boys to spy on the gents activities, and betray the aristocrats and their specially chosen informal courriers. The telegraph boys imagined that writing foolish prank letters impersonating the dandy gents might earn them a blackmail fiver from the 'swells' in their to hats and tails... or failing that, make each other laugh...and annoy Inspectors Ried and Abberline. Or indeed, Chief John Littlechild and Commissioner James Monro.

There are one or two more peculiar J t R prank letters, ( the prank letters held in the National Archives) which were written by the Telegraph teenage boys ( the boy's age varies from seven to nineteen) signed 'Mathematicus', which seem to be a mildy amusing attempt to emulate Sickert's concepts, and (as ever) put the late 19th century gents in the frame for the Jack the Ripper murders ....There is a good attempt to emulate Oscar Wilde's writing in one or two of them..P.S. 'Two gone down suers'.....' Yours, truly, Mathematicus'..

......'Signed, Mr. Nobody'.. ( Mr. Nobody, or 'Nemo' was Walter Sickert's stage name. The telegraph boys put this name on the back of a telegraph paper, as a Jack the Ripper prank letter, signed it 'Jack the Ripper', and sent it to Scotland Yard..)


In his sketch reference to 'Kelly's Library' (click and scroll down to have a look at the sketch again), Walter Sickert's evidently suggesting a secondary secret, made apparent by the 'Laundry' reference. Why combine ‘ Informal Post Office’ and ‘Laundry? Why would the ‘Laundry’ aspect to the picture be a secret relevant to Kelly’s Library' (click), the little Informal Post Office?

First, he's concealing the reference to 'Kelly's Library. But the 'Laundry' will be a relevant issue, all the same.

Walter Sickert's love of Charles Dickens is well chronicled. He virtually lived the stories as a young boy. Take the Marjorie Lilly slant on why Sickert would always return to London:

And the city itself drew him; it was still infinitely various. Horses, hansoms (those loveliest of shapes), growlers, gardens, imposing Squares, queer byways, parks, cottages, trees, flowers and grass abounded; there were the endless reminders of Hogarth and Dickens; the cockneys who were bound up with his childhood had not yet vanished from the scene. He revelled in the soft, misty light that he found nowhere else, in the blue and greys and umbers. 'London! Like the evening star, you bring me everything'……’ ..'We must bless the powerful instinct that brought him back to his own country and his particular brand of realism, to the great Storm Dark City which was also the inspiration of his two idols, Hogarth and Dickens’. According to schoolmates, as related to Lilly: ...Walter knew London like the back of his hand, he could tell us endless stories about the little streets and byways as we went along and pointed out pictures that we hadn't seen. It was another world to us.'

Dickensian characters, particularly featuring Oliver, Fagin, Dodger and the boys continually come up in Walter Sickert's secret unpublished sketches. ('I want -some- more!') If Walter Sickert loved an artist, he personalised him, and adopted marks of his identity in various, small ways. Whistler, Degas, Dickens: c'est la meme chose. A pseudonym Walter often adopted for his own letter writing while going about Cleveland Street was 'Nemo', which translates 'Mr. Nobody'. (One of the prank telegraphs the Cleveland Street Telegraph boys sent to Special Branch is signed 'Nemo').

This 'Nemo' is a Dickensian character that featured in Charles' Dicken's wonderful 'Bleak House', recently televised by the BBC. A heartbroken 'anonymous lover', whose early letters to his lady were intercepted by blaggards and retained by a blackmailer and extortioner. Bleak House's key theme revolves around the tragedy that evolves out of Nemo's loveletters falling into the wrong hands, with devastating and widespread consequences.

At age eleven, Charles Dickens lived at the house still marked no. 22, Cleveland Street, (now the little white house), which was never the tobacconists at no. 21 'Kelly's library' . In the 1880's, Kelly's Library, the tobacconists at no. 21 was adjacent to Hammond's 'House of low repute' , and across the road from the modern no. 21 and 22 in the modern photo picture. (There is now a pretty Café-Bar, where the street's Formal Post Office once stood, adjacent to the modern no. 22.)

Cleveland Street hosted a large workhouse on its corner from 1830- 1875... which was later transformed into an asylum, or 'sanatorium'. It still functioned partly as a workhouse throughout the 1880's, and a good part of the street will still have been filled with 'Laundry goings on': In Dickens' 'dodger's day', in the 1850s, the union's Medical Officer was Dr Joseph Rogers, who described the workhouse building as:

...a square four-storied building fronting the street, with two wings of similar elevation projecting eastwards from each corner. The necessary laundry work of the establishment, which never in my time fell below five hundred inmates, was carried on beneath the entrance hall, which was filled with steam and the odours from washing the paupers' linen. On the right side of the main building was a badly paved yard, which led down to the back entrance from Charlotte Street; on each side there was first, a carpenter's shop and a dead house, and secondly, opposite to it, a tinker's shop with a forge and unceiled roof. This communicated with a ward with two beds in it, used for fever and foul cases, only a lath and plaster partition separating it from the tinker's shop.'

Below: Dicken's 'Artful Dodger' in the process of 'sussing' Oliver for his potential for recruitment with Fagin, who deployed the boys for child crime. This, in Victorian London, would mean picking pockets, delivering letters and messages which couldn't go through the post office, running errands for blackmailers and crooks, bob job theft, and being rented out to brothels. ( To name the most prolific.) In 1888, Swinscow, or ''Swinscoe ' approached Algernon Allies, working, as they both were, for the Official Post Office on the corner of Cleveland Street, and asked him if he'd like to work for 'Hammond', at number 19, alongside 'his good self'. Algernon Allies' ( Algernon of the Alleys) was caught in possession of a twenty shilling note in 1889: this was what officially 'sparked off' the 'Cleveland Street Scandal'. Lord Arthur Somerset later (in 1888) 'fixed Allies up' with a position delivering letters for the informal Post Office at 'Kelly's Library'-or, as the barrister at Earnest Parke's trial for allegedly libelling Lord Heuston was to phrase it, ' a position at no. 21 Cleveland Street.'

'I've come to London to seek my fortune.'
'Oh you 'ave, 'ave yer?'

As a young boy
aged eleven years,
Charles Dickens lived at no. 22, Cleveland Street,where he befriended the workhouse boys that he saw sauntering up and down in their rag-tag bob togs and dilapidated titfers (top hats). They clearly made a deep impact on the writer, and paved the way for his priceless 'Oliver twist'. His love for them n never left him. There's room for the suggestion that Charles Dickens saw himself as having been as an 'Oliver' boy befriended by 'the "dodger"' , which is a regular backstreet London-boy name. As with the name "Carrots." It's the note of 'im." Dickens later wrote the timeless classic Bleak House, featuring Nemo, or 'Mr Nobody', whose misdelivered letters are essential to the book's plot. (Dickens' Oliver, we note, was 'nabbed the moment he set foot out the door' while carrying a book up the road with a five pound note hidden inside- letters, too, were often hidden inside books).

According to Walter Sickert's analysis of the evidence, thirty years after Oliver Twist, in Cleveland Street,
'Hammond' (club owner) and 'Vecke', his unofficial deputy, (Fagin and Bill Syke's' counterparts ), got the Cleveland Street Post Office boys into all kinds of child labour, including working for Hammond, who ran a 'House of Ill Repute' at number 19, and working as couriers delivering letters for gents and ladies who used 'Kelly's library', at number 21.

hen the boys weren't charging exorbitant rates for carrying illicit letters for aristocrats that they'd pick up at 'Kelly's Library', they'd blackmail the gentlefolk about their lover’s letters, which they often stealthily pocketed and distributed.

Is this a laundry then, Sir?' Oliver asked Fagin, when introduced. On screen, Ron Moody responded-'Well no my boy, no, a suppose a laundry would be a very nice thing indeed, but our line of business pays a little better…' ("Not arf'".)

Above; Another of Walter Sickert's secret sketches.... Hammond walks about in front of the dancing couple from Cleveland Street. Perhaps it's Vecke, Hammond's second in command; abit of a Bill Sykes, except thirty-five years on from 'Oliver Twist'. In 1888, the historic back street element is now starting to focus on West end Clubland; by Walter Sickert, the proprietors of the House at no. 19, Cleveland Street he seem to be keeping a lookout in some way, and protecting their customers. The secret character seems to resemble Vecke, Hammond's assistant.

Below; the Cleveland Street boys, by Walter Sickert. Apparently Alleys and Perkins.
Walter Sickert's drawn them beside a horseman, the little Prince and his Catholic nanny, and Montague Druitt- apparently.
The Cleveland street people.

Annie Crook, depicted by Walter Sickert in the little sketch behind the counter at 'Kelly's Library', no. 21 Cleveland Street, later spent time at the then renovated Cleveland Street workhouse- apparently a long term result of having been arrested by Special Branch in may, 1888, and tortured for information about Kelly's Library, by Sir William Gull.
elevant though her dreadful ongoing placement there must be to Walter Sickert's sketch of the gent in the informal post office, 'Kelly's Library', it doesn’t contribute to the explanation as to why the little tobacconists’ ‘Letter Service’ arrangement is seen combined with a Laundry in the picture, or why the gent and the cabinet full of letters are superimposed on a woman and a washboard.

A suggestion we have that ties in with the rest of Walter Sickert's work is the Lion at the top of the page in the picture above the picture of the little Prince. (shown above). This lion represents the Lion of the House of Stuart, to which lineage Mary Kelly and her little boy with Prince Eddy, the Duke of Clarence, belonged.

Walter Sickert’s probably suggesting that letters handled by couriers who worked for a private/informal Post Office, ‘Kelly’s library’, contain Catholic Stuart correspondence. Bonnie Prince Charlie, in dangerous exile in France, Italy and later, incognito in London in the eighteenth century, used up to thirteen different pseudonyms, and often deployed code terms in his correspondence. The following extract passed through the hands of Bonhams suppliers and dealers Farahar DuprĂ©:

Charles Edward, 1720-1788, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, the Young Pretender. It's a ccharacteristically cryptic autograph letter, unsigned, concerning his financial affairs, in the form of a list headed “1747” and then several indistinct figures ending “S.L. 52 Spent. S[i]r John Lambert”, 1 page 16mo., n.p., 1747:-

“ye T.P. to draw on Waters.

M[emoran]d[um] Di to know from Gordon

ye Post Book, ye Wine

ye silver for 25. Louis

ye servant to be german

ye detail of all yr rents

with ye form used by J.W.

to receive them and the man[n]er

I can make one.

ye affair of Vignion &

ye interest of 5 per C[ent]

all to be put in clier

having ye acquittances

as also ye Ordon[n]ances

to be given im[m]ediately -

for ye amount of 102 T.

ye Linnin that is nott

to be seen how to wash.

If G knows a gentilman”,

The Waters mentioned in the letter is Charles Edward’s Parisian banker. The reference to Vignion presumably indicates Avignon where he spent some of his time in exile. Gordon may be John Gordon, Rector of the Scots College at Paris, to whom the Prince is known to have written at various times. It may be that the reference to ‘ye Linnin’ is in code. It's followed by an extraordinary autograph letter signed with initials "J. D." to the Revd John Gordon, "Principall of ye Scotch Colege at Paris", saying he "cannot but be in a great Concern as to yr State of health Regarding [sic] a Certain gentilman, as I here by different ways, he is declining; Be pleased to let me know what you here on that subject; I wrote you Laste Concerning a Remittance which I hope you received, so Remain yr moste sincere Friend", endorsed by the recipient on the address leaf 'Mr Douglas 20 Decem 1758', 1 side 4to., with autograph conjugate address leaf and seal, n.p., probably Chateau de Carlsbourg, Bouillon, 20th December 1758. The draft is among the Stuart Papers at Windsor - 388/80.

Bonnie Prince Charlie typically derived from the basic reference to ‘laundry’ used by suppressed Catholics throughout England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who used laundry items to communicate hidden messages. Catholic manor houses would display laundry in the garden arranged in a way that constituted a sign to other Catholics that ( for example) a priest was hiding within and it was time for Mass, or typically, (since confederate rebels are less likely to make time for sermons as the historian assumes) that a Jacobite Catholic was within and needed to communicate information. Other villagers would simply see a row of garments fluttering in the wind, and pass by.

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