Wapping Murders 1811


In 1811, two horrific murders took place in Wapping- The Ratcliffe Highway Murders (as the Highway was then known).

The first attack took place on December 7th, 1811, at 29 Ratcliffe Highway, in the home behind a linen draper's shop, on the south side of the street, between Cannon Street Road and Artichoke Hill. Ratcliffe Highway is the old name for the road now called The Highway, in the East End of London. The victims of the first murders were Timothy Marr, a 24 year old linen draper and hosier, who had served the East India Company on the Dover Castle from 1808 to 1811, his wife Celia and their 3 year old son, Timothy (who had been born on 29 August 1811); and James Gowan, their shop boy. Margaret Jewell, a servant of the Marrs had been sent to purchase oysters, and escaped. This murder caused the government to offer a reward of 500 guineas for the apprehension of the perpetrator.

Twelve days later, the second incident, on December 19th, was at The Kings Arms in New Gravel Lane (which ran from New Crane Stairs to The Highway - now better known as Garnett Street) the victims of the second murders were John Williamson, a publican, 56 years old, who had been at the Kings Arms for 15 years, Elizabeth, his wife, aged 60 and Bridget Anna Harrington in her late 50's, a servant. Also living at the King's Arms at the time were Catherine (Kitty) Stillwell, 14 year old grand-daughter of the publican, John Williamson, and John Turner. Turner was a lodger and a Journeyman and when he discovered the murders and realised the murderer was still in the house leapt out of an upper window.

The victims' bodies were buried in the cemetery of the local parish church, St George in the East.

A principal suspect in the murders, John Williams (also known as Murphy), was a lodger at the nearby Pear Tree public house in Old Wapping. He was a 27 year old, Scots, or Irish, seaman. He had nursed a grievance against Marr from when they were shipmates, but the subsequent murders at the Kings Arms remain unexplained.

Williams was arrested, but committed suicide by hanging himself, in Cold Bath Fields prison. His corpse was dragged through the streets, in a cart, that paused by the scene of the murders. His body was pitched into a hole and was buried with a stake through his heart at the junction of Commercial Rd and Cannon Street Rd. In August 1886, the skeleton of John Williams (with a stake driven through it) was discovered during the excavation of a trench by a gas company. It was 6 feet below the surface of the road where Cannon Street and Cable Street cross at St George in the East. The landlord of the Crown and Dolphin public house, at the corner of Cannon Street Road, retained the skull as a souvenir.

from Wikipedia & www.thamespolicemuseum.org.uk

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