A series of brutal murders in London’s Whitechapel in 1888 were attributed to an unknown attacker who was given the nickname Jack the Ripper. One of the five women killed has a Windsor connection.
At the time of the murders and ever since this reality of the lives of the women who were killed has been greatly overshadowed by the myths surrounding the killer. Newspapers, books, plays and films have all wallowed in the story. Due to ‘Jack’ never having been caught or even definitively identified, those myths has only grown for over a century.
Behind the myths lies a grim reality of lives lost, often mentioned only in passing by authors who are entranced by the hunt for the character of Jack; a character about whom we know almost nothing.
‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold is one book that seeks to address this imbalance by investigating the untold lives of the five cannonical women killed by the Ripper.
In doing so Rubenhold brings to light a surprising Windsor connection.
In her book which won the Ballie Gifford prize for non-fiction in 2019 the author tells us about the life of Annie Chapman, the second murder victim.
Annie was born in September 1840 in Paddington, London. Chapman’s father George Smith was in the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards and so young Annie Smith spent some of her youth in Windsor as well as in the capital city. Records show the Smith family living in Windsor in 1856.
The family lived at 12 Keppel Terrace.
There was a Keppel Terrace on Peascod St no longer exists but the location is easy to find as it was demolished at the end of the 19th Century to make way for the combined police and Firestation corner of St Leonards Rd and St Marks Road.
However this may not be the correct location of the family home. Some reports talk of the family home being in Clewer. Technically the Keppel Terrace mentioned is in the parish of Clewer so that would cover that discrepancy. However there is a report talking about the fine views of the Thames from the house. That clearly makes no sense as the river is a 20 minute walk away. It may just be a case of sloppy Victorian reporting, or perhaps there was a second Keppel Terrace? More investigation is required.
Incidentally, Frederick Keppel was Dean of Windsor (1765–1777) and the name can be seen frequently around Windsor so the multiple terrace hypothesis does have some merit.
Unlike the rest of her family Annie does not appear on the Windsor Census of 1861. Rubenhold suggests she may have taken work in London as a housemaid; at the time a common occupation for girls of Annie’s age and social class. Two years later a family tradgedy occured when George comitted suicide whilst away in Wrexham.
Young Annie; 5 feet in height with blue eyes and wavy, dark brown hair got married to John Chapman (her distant cousin) and the couple appeared to be doing very well for themselves for a while. Annie was later remembered by an acquaintance as “very civil and industrious when sober”, The couple are listed as living in various locations in London and Windsor, including being in Bray, just upriver from Windsor for the birth of a third child; a son, John Alfred born on 21 November 1880. John Chapman was in service as a Coachman to Josiah Weeks, and the Chapman family lived for a time in the attic rooms of St. Leonard’s Hill Farm Cottage.
However in a foreshadowing of her ultimate fate, things turn bleaker the following year for Annie. Their youngest daughter, Emily, died of meningitis at the age of 12.
Although their marriage failed and Annie moved to London, John provided his estranged wife a regularly paid allowance of 10/ . Rubenhold gives us a portrait of Annie’s subsequent decline without adding the accusations of immorality that so many past Ripper histories have revelled in. This author treats the horrors of Victorian social inequality, child mortality, widespread alcoholism, disease and relentless grinding poverty in a modern way, looking at women such as Annie, quite rightly, as victims of their age as well as victims of an unknown serial killer.
John stayed in Windsor. His residence in 1886 when he died is listed as 1 Richmond Village, Grove Rd, Windsor. Annie ended up in a Lodging House at 35 Dorset Street, Whitechapel.
It is a fascinating read and the many Windsor connections are a revelation, regardless of how much you might know or not know of the Whitechapel murders.