SEVERED HEADS ON LONDON BRIDGE

‘To ensure longevity, the heads were parboiled and coated in pitch.’

At the southern end of London Bridge, there’s a curious looking grey spike sculpture projecting up into the sky. While most people walk past it, the feature has a great deal of historical meaning as it memorialises a dark period of over 300 years when traitors’ heads were put on spikes for all of London to see.

The severed heads served as a warning to anyone thinking of challenging the Crown. And at the same time, the heads became a tourist attraction, drawing visitors from far and wide. To ensure longevity, the heads were parboiled and coated in pitch.

In 1598 a German visitor to London called Paul Hentzner counted over 30 heads on iron spikes at the south end of the bridge. Once put on the spike of London Bridge, they were left to the elements to rot and eventually fell into the Thames.

The rebellious Scot, William Wallace’s head, is thought to be the first to be pinned there in 1305. The Scot was found guilty of leading a campaign against Edward I. After the beheading, his body was torn to pieces. His head was set on London Bridge. His arms and legs were sent to the four corners of Britain as a warning.

In 1450 Jack Cade led a rebel army, but failed to overthrow the government. So, they put his head up on London Bridge for all to see. His attempt was crushed, because he lost the support of the people, after having raped many of the locals in the City.

Later came Thomas Moore, who refused to accept Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church of England. Then Guy Fawkes’ head made the stake after the Gun-Powder plot of 1605. And when the King was restored after Cromwell’s reign, some of those who had signed the death warrant of Charles I also suffered this chilling fate.

The Keeper of the Heads had full managerial control over this section of the Bridge. He impaled newly removed heads on pikes and tossed the old ones into the river. When the original bridge was pulled down, workers found skulls in the mud. They ended the practice in 1678 when the heads of the most important traitors were displayed at Temple Bar instead.

As an author I share a special love for London, both new and old. Basing my literature on London and its unique gritty character.

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THE HEART-RENDING STORY OF THE FOUR-LEGGED WOMAN

Myrtle Corbin was called a monster, but her life was a story of kind-heartedness and warmth.

Mother nature is impossible to understand. It gifts and curses according to its own whims and desires, and we have no say in its matters. We are given a body at birth and we have to live out our days in it. It is neither fair nor justifiable that one person is born with a perfect genetic composition into a rich family, while someone else is born with multiple hereditary diseases into a poor family. That, however, is life, and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Myrtle was born in May 1868. There were complications in her birth since she was born in the breech position. This can often result in complications for both the child and the mother. Both mother and baby survived the birth. Myrtle was born a very healthy baby. There was only one thing odd about her; from the waist down, she had two bodies.

She had four legs, combined with their separate private parts, and a single upper body. Medical researchers tried their best to understand her condition, and each one of them gave it their own complex name. A doctor even used the word ‘monster,’ describing her as a ‘female, belonging to the mono cephalic class of monsters by fusion.’

Myrtle became a performer in a sideshow circuit when she was only 13 years old. She was named ‘The Four-Legged Woman’ and was marketed as ‘gentle of disposition as the summer sunshine and as happy as the day is long.’

What was truly unique about her was the fact that she could do everything a normal person could do, and her two extra legs disabled her in no way whatsoever. Although she could move her two shorter legs in the centre, they were far too weak to carry her weight. However, she could walk perfectly well with her two outer legs.

Myrtle married at nineteen and became pregnant, a year after the marriage. She then became sick. She constantly had fevers and could not stop vomiting. When the foetus was four months old, the doctor suggested she should get an abortion since her life was in danger. After running some tests, the doctors found out that the foetus was in the left uterus. This surprised Myrtle and she said that ‘if it had been on my right side I would come nearer to believing you are correct.’ It was apparent from her comment that she used the right side of her body for sexual intercourse. The abortion was successful, and after her recovery, Myrtle had children with her husband with no complications.

Myrtle was described in the British Medical Journal in 1889, in the following words: ‘She is about five feet high, has fair skin, blue eyes, and curly hair, and is very intelligent. A stranger, to see her in company, would only think her unusually broad across her hips, and with the carriage usual to one with clubbed foot. I have known Mrs. B. since she was a tiny child, as the ‘four-legged girl,’ but never realized the perfect dual development of both external and internal genital organs until she became my patient in case of pregnancy.’

Myrtle was a medical phenomenon that the world had never seen before. She lived a full, normal life, with a loving husband and children, despite the apparent disability she was born with.

She died in May 1928, and her family had to enclose her casket in a concrete box to protect her from grave robbers. Her family was even offered a substantial sum of money for her remains by collectors and scientists. They refused the sum since they believed Myrtle should be allowed to rest in peace like a normal person.

People were initially attracted to her because of the strange nature of her physique, but they stayed around her because of her gentle and loving nature. She was an intelligent woman who lived her best life, even though she was called a freak and a monster by many. She is a symbol of hope for everyone. Her story reminds us that one can overcome any shortcoming if one just has the right outlook on life.

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BRITISH SLAVES

It’s thought the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000 – this is only just over a tenth of the Africans taken as slaves to the Americas from 1500 to 1800, but a considerable figure nevertheless.

‘A mariner from London, Henry Hammon, was on the ship the Long Robert of London. On a voyage when the ship was taken by pirates. He and others were carried to Tunis in Barbary, where he was held in great misery. His ransom was set at £80, which the poor young man and his friends could not raise. His wife and children are likely to have starved in his absence.’

The Barbary pirates attacked and plundered as far north as the English Channel. Rule Britannia proclaims ‘Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never will be slaves. But, there was a time when some Britons had been made slaves. For over 300 years, the coast of the southwest of England was at the mercy of Barbary pirates from the coast of North Africa.

Based in the ports of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. Their number included not only North Africans but also English and Dutch privateers. Their aim was to capture slaves for the Arab slave markets in North Africa. Raiding on land and sea, in August 1625 the pirates raided Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, capturing 60 men, women and children and taking them into slavery. In 1626 boats out of Looe, Penzance, Mousehole and other Cornish ports were boarded, their crews taken captive and the empty ships left to drift. It was feared that there were around 60 Barbary men-of-war prowling the Devon and Cornish coasts, and attacks were now occurring almost daily. After seizing the inhabitants, they sold them off as slaves or for ransom. Some captives were even forced to convert to Islam.

By the early 1600s merchants were regularly complaining of the activities of the pirates, and in 1624 it was reported that over 1500 were held captive by pirates. Many families had difficulty in raising the ransoms and made pleas for help in paying them.

The pirates ventured near to the English coast and attacked the merchant ships, which had begun to sail to Virginia and Newfoundland. In 1625 the Mayor of Poole wrote to the Privy Council demanding that protection be supplied for the ships returning from Newfoundland or they would be lost to the pirates. He reported that ‘Twenty-seven ships and 200 persons had been taken by pirates in ten days.’

The pirates mounted raids on the coastal towns and villages in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and along the west coast of Ireland. Fishing vessels were vulnerable. The King and Parliament tried to organise defence for these areas and to raise money for the ransoms, but the intervening Civil War hindered any meaningful response to the problem. The periods of the Commonwealth and Restoration of Charles II saw an improved British navy and the problem of coastal raiding was stopped.

In the first half of the 1600s, Barbary pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, authorised by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries – ranged all around Britain’s shores. In their lantern-rigged ships, they grabbed ships and sailors, and sold the sailors into slavery. Admiralty records show that during this time the pirates plundered British shipping pretty much at will, taking 466 vessels between 1609 and 1616, and 27 more vessels from near Plymouth in 1625.

Not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements running their craft onto unguarded beaches, and creeping up on villages in the dark to snatch their victims and retreat before the alarm could be sounded. Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631, and other attacks were launched against coastal villages in Devon and Cornwall. Samuel Pepys gives a vivid account of an encounter with two men who’d been taken into slavery, in his diary of 8 February 1661.

White slaves in Barbary were from impoverished families, and had almost as little hope of buying back their freedom as the Africans taken to the Americas: most would end their days as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, disease, or maltreatment.

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Stories of poverty, violence, love and hope. Shocking Tales of London takes you on a walk-through London’s horrifying side with an absorbing collection of curious tales from one of the world’s greatest cities. This captivating book is packed with remarkable things you probably didn’t know about England’s capital city.  https://amzn.to/3qoTx3A

TREASURE BENEATH THE STREETS OF LONDON

For over 300 years, buried treasure lay undisturbed below one of London’s busiest streets. No one knew it was there until builders demolished a timber-framed building in Cheapside near St Paul’s Cathedral, in June 1912. The building had stood on the site since the 17th century, but the cellars were older and lined with brick.

The workmen were using a pickaxe to excavate in a cellar at 30–32 Cheapside in London, on the corner with Friday Street. They were in for a surprise. In a brick-lined cellar under a chalk floor, the workman cleared the debris and saw what appeared to be a decayed wooden box containing a hidden treasure. In the dank, long-forgotten cellar, the gems spilled onto the muddy floor and experienced their first light of day after 300 years of concealment.

The hoard included large amounts of jewellery crafted with gemstones from around the world, including rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. The pieces were intricate and varied—the emerald items alone included a carving of a parrot, bunches of grapes, a lizard, and a completely unique carving of a clock.

There were 500 items, making the collection easily the most significant find of its type. Yet no one knows who it belonged to or why it was left there.

The hoard has been dated to the middle of the 17th century, perhaps during the English Civil War. The area was home to several jewellers and goldsmiths, and it’s entirely possible one of them buried the goods for safekeeping while he went off to fight, then never made it back. It was a dreadful time in England. The outbreak of civil war in 1642 ultimately resulted in an overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

Unrest and political upheaval may have caused the hoard’s owner to hide his prized possessions, as many jewellers took up arms to fight. More uncertainty followed, including the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the return from exile of Charles II, son of the former king. Over the centuries, the bubonic plague had swept through Europe and Britain in waves, culminating in 1665–1666 with the Great Plague of London, which killed about 15% of the population. Those who had the means fled the city to avoid the deadly epidemic.



In 1666, a fire that started in a bakery spread quickly through the city. In less than three days it consumed over 13,000 buildings, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, about a block away from the hoard. The Great Fire of London, as it came to be known, destroyed most of the city’s wooden structures, including those above the site of the treasure. Evidence of fire damage found during the Cheapside excavations led experts to conclude that the jewels were buried no later than 1666. It is unlikely that the owner of the hoard perished in the fire, as very few casualties were actually recorded.

The workers that found the items took them, still covered in mud and dirt, to a jewellery dealer known as Stony Jack. Jack had made it known to the labourers of London that he was more than happy to look at anything they dug up. He bought the pieces for a tidy sum and negotiated in secret to give them to the newly opened London Museum. The treasures continue to be shown today.

Many unanswered questions surround this extraordinary find. Who was the owner? Why did he hide the treasure, and why was it never claimed? 

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Stories of poverty, violence, love and hope. Shocking Tales of London takes you on a walk-through London’s horrifying side with an absorbing collection of curious tales from one of the world’s greatest cities. This captivating book is packed with remarkable things you probably didn’t know about England’s capital city.  https://amzn.to/3qoTx3A

VICTORIAN RULES FOR BEING A GOOD WIFE

‘Your marriage will be happier if you do not have aspirations.’

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

The following pieces are from various guides for married women, published during the Victorian age.

Don’t have sex for pleasure.

Doing so led to diseases like cancer, or at least that’s what some Victorian-era experts thought. It’s perfectly fine if pleasure is a side effect of the attempts to procreate. After all, it’s good for your husband’s ego and prowess. But you’re not a prostitute, so you shouldn’t be seeking marital relations for pleasure alone. If you do, you’re going to get cancer. Or something worse.

Having intercourse for carnal reasons alone is like allowing your husband to use you like a prostitute. A full three-fourths of diseases in women are the result of engaging in non-reproductive sex. Bearing children is what women are made for. Having children is an investment. You finance your retirement with mother’s milk. Not only that, by the time your oldest daughter is seven, she’ll be doing a quarter of the housework.

Do not confront your husband if he is cheating with some pretty little thing.

Alexander Walker, in his 1840 book Women, Physiologically Considered, As To Mind, Morals, Marriage, Matrimonial Slavery, Infidelity, and Divorce tells the story of a woman who discovers her husband has a mistress. She found that the girl, who was poor and thus easily seduced, was living in a shabby apartment. So, she arranged to have it nicely decorated, as befitted a woman worthy of her husband’s taste. Ladies, that is what you do with a cheating husband. Men have their foibles. After all, you are the one he has to support. Because he owns you. Besides, it’s pious and godly to understand that men have their needs.

Good wives don’t go out alone.

It makes you look like a streetwalker. We all know what a streetwalker is, right? A streetwalker is any woman walking the streets by herself in the Victorian era. If you go out alone, you are virtually indistinguishable from a beggar or a whore. So, go with him. Or find an old crone to accompany you. Or a bunch of married women. Moral safety in groups.

A good wife understands the importance of a well cooked and timely meal.

Food had to be coaxed from the earth or chased down and killed. You could buy canned food, but there was no FDA, no regulation, and Louis Pasteur didn’t teach the world about bacteria until 1864. Ketchup was tinted with rust to make it redder, and bakers increased the weight of their bread by adding chalk or grit. I wish I was kidding. Also, no refrigeration, and it’s up to you to ensure that your family doesn’t get food poisoning because, honey girl, food poisoning tends to make men very grumpy. A man who partakes of a badly cooked dinner is sure to be dyspeptic, quarrelsome, snappish and unamiable. Take warning, oh ye wives! and look to the dinners of your husbands, and know how dinners ought to be cooked.

Don’t complain about feeling unequal.

You are not equal, and you’re never going to be. You have to do what he says, no matter how absurd, tyrannical or misguided. You will be told what you can and can’t do and what you can and can’t have. And it’s your own fault. Because you have the same chromosomes as Eve, who brought sin into the world. So, there you have it. That’s why men are superior.

Your marriage will be happier if you do not have aspirations.

You may have talents. You sing like a bird, you’re a brilliant writer, a fantastic teacher, but that makes you bad marriage material. So, hide those aspirations. Good wives don’t have careers. That’s an insult to your husband. A very, very grave insult. First, it implies you think he isn’t competent enough to provide. Secondly, it indicates you’re not 100% invested in him and the family you create together. And that’s what you were born for.

So, there you have it, ladies. Aren’t you glad you live now?

If you would like more stories like this.  

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Stories of poverty, violence, love and hope. Shocking Tales of London takes you on a walk-through London’s horrifying side with an absorbing collection of curious tales from one of the world’s greatest cities. This captivating book is packed with remarkable things you probably didn’t know about England’s capital city.  https://amzn.to/3qoTx3A

London Crime Fiction Books by Paul Asling

THESE BOOKS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT.  https://amzn.to/3qoTx3A

THE LONDON MUSEUM WITH A HEART-BREAKING COLLECTION

‘Of babies taken in by the hospital, about two-thirds died.’

When Thomas Coram returned to London in 1704, it was to a city that was a powerhouse of industry, invention, global trade and wealth. It was also noisy, disease-ridden, polluted, and the site of desperate poverty. The situation for children was bleak with soaring mortality rates. Parents unable to care for their babies because of poverty or illegitimacy had few options, and many abandoned them in the street.

After 17 years of campaigning, Thomas Coram finally received a Royal Charter from King George II in 1739, enabling him to establish the Foundling Hospital to care for and educate some of London’s most vulnerable citizens. From 1741, when the first babies were admitted to 1954 when the last pupil was placed in foster care, the Foundling Hospital cared for and educated around 25,000 children.

The Foundling Museum opened in 2004. They constructed the building at 40 Brunswick Square in the 1930s on the site of the Foundling Hospital and incorporates many architectural features from the original eighteenth-century building.

The Foundling Museum preserves ‘tokens’ left by parents who gave up their children because of poverty or the social stigma of illegitimacy.

The Tokens are incredibly emotional because they speak of a moment of separation and loss for the mother and for the child. They are the everyday objects left by the desperate and destitute mothers in the mid-18th century who delivered their babies into the care of the Foundling Hospital.

Hidden stories unfold through scraps of Georgian life that range from coins, keys, buttons, pieces of fabric. The tokens also include a season ticket to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a pass to the King’s Road, which was a private road in the 18th century, a ticket to a public philosophy lecture, a pot of rouge, and a spyglass for the theatre.

The children’s names were changed within about 24 hours of arriving at the Hospital and in the Museum. There is a wall that lists some names they were given. They named some after Governors–so we have a number named Thomas Coram (the founder of the Hospital)–and Eunice Coram, his wife. There are also William Hogarth’s and some historical characters like Geoffrey Chaucer, Julius Caesar and Walter Raleigh.

The tokens are extraordinary because they really speak to the ordinary lives of 18th century people. The most abject token is a nut. Clearly for the mother, this was all she could afford. They are fascinating objects in their own right, but they are also incredibly poignant because they infuse each one with a sense of hope, because a mother wouldn’t leave a token unless she hoped that one day she could come back to claim her child. Until 1760, when the hospital started issuing receipts for children left in its care, they kept no written records of any sort regarding the mothers and fathers who entrusted their children to the hospital.

As so many of the parents were illiterate, they would not have left a note or written statement as an identifier. A number recorded on a written form on which was also identified babies noted the child’s age, sex, clothing, and identifying marks.

The form, along with whatever tokens were left, were then put in a packet, sealed with wax, and stored until a parent returned to make a claim. With no other method by which to identify and match families, the tokens became, for all intents and purposes, the only tether between parent and child. Of babies taken in by the hospital, about two-thirds died.

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TALES OF LONDON’S DARKER HISTORY  

Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.  Priced at £1.99 –  https://amzn.to/3ojzJvR

THE VICTORIAN MATCH GIRLS OF LONDON

‘A shocking expose likened the Bryant & May factory in Bow Road factory to a ‘prison-house’ and described the match girls as white wage slaves, undersized, helpless and oppressed.’

The story of the British matchstick girls who in 1888 took strike action against the world of matchstick making isn’t well known. But these were the women who worked 14 hours a day in the East End of London and who were exposed to deadly phosphorous vapours daily.

Working with white phosphorous, which was added to the matches’ tips, was highly toxic and responsible for the devastating disease known as ‘phossy jaw’. The matchmakers gave this name to the particularly nasty condition’ phosphorous necrosis of the jaw’. The effect was literally causing the jaw bone to rot. Doctors soon began treating the women for the disease–which would often spread to the brain leading to an excruciating and horrific death, unless they removed the jaw. And even then, an extended life was uncertain.

The East End was often seen, and rightly, as among the worst sections of London. Sylvia Pankhurst, some years later, referred to it as ‘that great abyss of poverty.’ The living conditions described, in which many of the match workers lived as, ‘pestilential human rookeries, where tens of thousands are crowded together amidst horrors which call to mind the slave ship. To get into them, you have to penetrate courts reeking with poisonous and malodorous gases arising from accumulations of sewage and refuse scattered in all directions. Where there are beds, they are simply heaps of dirty rags, shavings or straw, but mostly these miserable beings huddle together upon the filthy boards.’

The socialist Annie Besant joined forces with William Stead to establish the newspaper, The Link. The halfpenny weekly carried on its front page a quotation from Victor Hugo: ‘I will speak for the dumb. I will speak of the small to the great and the feeble to the strong. I will speak for all the despairing silent ones.’ The newspaper campaigned against ‘sweated labour, extortionate landlords, unhealthy workshops, child labour and prostitution.’ 

In 1888, Clementina Black, the English writer, feminist and pioneering trade unionist, gave a speech on Female Labour at a Fabian Society meeting in London. Annie Besant, a member of the audience, was horrified when she heard about the pay and conditions of the women working at the Bryant & May match factory. The next day, she interviewed some people who worked at Bryant & May and discovered the women worked fourteen hours a day for less than five shillings a week. However, they did not always receive their full wage because of a system of fines, ranging from threepence to one shilling, imposed by the Bryant & May management. Offences included talking, dropping matches or going to the toilet without permission. The women worked from 6.30 am in summer (8.00 in winter) to 6.00 pm. If workers were late, they were fined a half-day’s pay. 

Furious by the match girl’s exploitation, Annie Besant investigated conditions at the factory for herself. On 23rd June 1888, after questioning several girls at the factory, she published a shocking expose in The Link, likening the Bow Road factory to a ‘prison-house’ and describing the match girls as white wage slaves, undersized, helpless and oppressed. 

The article, entitled White Slavery in London, complained about how the women at Bryant & May were being treated. The company reacted by attempting to force their workers to sign a statement that they were happy with their working conditions. 

Annie Besant discovered the phosphorus that they used to make the matches had severely affected the women’s health. This caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss and phossy jaw, a form of bone cancer. The whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death. Although phosphorous was banned in Sweden and the USA, the British government had refused to follow their example, arguing that it would be a restraint of free trade. 

Bryant & May employed nearly 5,000 people, most of them female and Irish, or of Irish descent, although the numbers varied with the market’s seasonal fluctuations; by 1895 the figure was 2,000 people, of which between 1,200 and 1,500 were women and girls. By 1888, Bryant and May had become such a powerful monopoly that they could pay wages that were lower than they had been a full 12 years earlier. 

A brief article in The Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery notes: The infamous ‘phossy jaw’ that created an epidemic of exposed bone osteonecrosis exclusively in the jaws began around 1858 and continued until 1906. This epidemic produced pain, swelling, debilitation, and reported mortality of 20% and was linked to ‘yellow phosphorous,’ the key ingredient in strike-anywhere matches. In match-making factories, workers called mixers, dippers and boxers were exposed to heated fumes containing this compound. Related to the duration of exposure, many of these workers developed painful exposed bone in the mouth.

A delegation of women at the factory went to management but were not satisfied by the response, and the entire factory stopped work. That same day about 100 of the women went to see Besant and to ask for her help. It has often been said that Besant started or led the strike, but this is not so. She knew nothing of it until the deputation called to see her and was at first somewhat dismayed by the swift action they had taken and by the number of women who were now out of work with no means of support. 

In 1891, the Salvation Army opened up its own match factory in the Bow district of London, using less toxic red phosphorus and paying better wages. Part of the reason behind this match factory was the desire to improve home workers’ conditions, including children, who dipped white phosphorus-based matches at home. Several children died from eating these matches.

The Bryant and May factory received terrible publicity from these events, and in 1901 they announced that their factory would no longer use white phosphorus. In 1908 the House of Commons passed an Act prohibiting white phosphorus in matches after 31st December 1910. 

TALES OF LONDON’S DARKER HISTORY

Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.         

Priced at £1.99 – https://amzn.to/3ojzJvR

London Crime Thriller Books by Paul:

I share a special love for London, both new and old. If you like London crime books, you will love these gritty thrillers.

MY NOVELS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT.

The Carter’s: Wars in West London

Bagley’s Lane: Blood On The Streets

Love You Till I Die

SWEET FANNY ADAMS

There are few Brits who aren’t familiar with the phrase ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’. Over the years it has become common phraseology for ‘nothing’ or something that is worthless. But where did it come from?

Fanny Adams was an eight-year-old English girl who was murdered by solicitor’s clerk Frederick Baker on 24 August 1867. If she were alive today Fanny Adams would be shocked her name has been so depressingly embedded in English slang. The question is, what did Fanny do to deserve to be immortalised in this way? The answer, ironically, is nothing. Fanny Adams was simply an innocent child who was cruelly murdered in a crime so barbaric that it shook Victorian England to its very core.

Fanny Adams’ last day on Earth had started as a happy one. Not rich, Fanny’s life as the daughter of an agricultural worker was simple, but she was fed, clothed and loved. On that dreadful day three little girls went out to play together, not knowing their innocent lives would change forever and one girl would not return home alive.

Baker offered Little Minnie three halfpence if she would take herself and Fanny’s sister Lizzie away somewhere else to play. He offered Fanny a halfpenny to go with him to ‘The Hollow’, which led to the village of Shalden. But when he gave her the money, she refused to accompany him. Annoyed, Baker picked her up and carried her off into a hop field and out of sight.

Several hours later Minnie returned home without Fanny and told their mother about the meeting with the man in the black coat. Worried, Mrs Adams went to look for Fanny with the help of her neighbour.

Whilst searching they spotted a man in a black coat walking back to the village from the direction of The Hollow. They accosted him and demanded to know what he had done with Fanny. The man shrugged them off claiming ‘nothing, I gave the girl’s money, but only to buy sweets which I often do to children.’ The two women remained unconvinced, but then the man told them he was the clerk to a local solicitor. Deciding him to be respectable, the women let him walk away.

A search party was created, and they swiftly came across Fanny’s remains. They found her head stuck up on two poles; the eyes missing. It would take several days to find the rest of the body which the killer dismembered and scattered nearby, her eyes were later found in a nearby river.

That same night an investigation into the murder was launched and the prime suspect Frederick Baker, Clerk to William Clement, was arrested. Baker claimed his innocence, despite his clothes being bloodstained and being found carrying two bloody knives. Evidence mounted. The entry in Baker’s diary for the 24th August read: ‘killed a young girl.’

Police feared the local community would attempt to lynch Baker and his initial hearing and trial were carried out at top speed, with his trial starting on Thursday 29th August, just days after the murder. The judge urged the jury to consider Baker’s poor mental health and consider Baker irresponsible for his action through reason of insanity, but the jury took just 15 minutes to convict him guilty. The judge had no choice but to give a sentence of death.

In 1869 the British Navy introduced a new ration, mutton in a tin. The food stuff was hardly mouth-watering, and sailors started a running joke that the mutton was actually the remains of ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’. These jokes continued and soon the contents of the tin became to be known as ‘sweet FA’ This trickled into popular phraseology and still is today. Although it wasn’t until later that ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ came to mean ‘nothing’. The term ‘f*** all’ has long been with us with that meaning. Although how long isn’t clear as politeness caused it not to be recorded in print until the 20th century.

TALES OF LONDON’S DARKER HISTORY  

Paul Asling takes us on a captivating journey around London, to discover some dark tales that have shaped the city’s compelling and turbulent past.  – Priced at £1.99 – https://amzn.to/3ojzJvR

London Crime Thriller Books by Paul:

I share a special love for London, both new and old. If you like London crime books, you will love these gritty thrillers.

MY NOVELS WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, AND HAVE YOU GRIPPED THROUGHOUT.

The Carter’s: Wars in West London

Bagley’s Lane: Blood On The Streets

Love You Till I Die

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