Once again this month, London Calling has returned to the ever-popular COLIN BAINBRIDGE for another batch of fascinating stories linked to the amazing history of the UK capital. Enjoy!
THE WAPPING SKELETON
In the autumn of 1891, Elizabeth Risley was returning home in the late hours from her job as a barmaid in Wapping when, out of the mists, an apparition manifested itself in the form of a tall, skeletal man in ragged clothes. For a few seconds, they stared at each other before he pulled out a cut-throat razor, cut off a lock of her hair and disappeared into the night.
Elizabeth Risley had just been accosted by Godfrey Teesdale, otherwise known as the Wapping Skeleton.
Records show that Risley went to the police, who logged the attack, but they didn’t really take it seriously. In the weeks and months that followed, there were similar reports of a strange figure emerging, as if from nowhere, to cut hair from his victims. The majority of these attacks only emerged after Teesdale was caught.
In the spring of 1892, a Miss Connie Gowden was attacked by the skeleton, only on this occasion the cut-throat razor struck her neck and the carotid artery. She tragically bled to death and was found 30 minutes later. The police, with a murder on their hands, now started to take notice.
Other than the description of a tall, pale skeletal figure, the police still had no evidence and were somewhat clueless.
Some five months later, a police officer, William Blenkinsop, was coming to the end of his late-night patrol when he noticed a light on at the St George’s mortuary. Given the lateness of the hour, he decided to take a look. A forced door and a broken lock alerted him to make his way gingerly into the building, and what he saw would stay with him for a very long time.
The gangly and grotesque form of the Wapping Skeleton was engaged in a perverted sexual act on a female cadaver. Blenkinsop tackled the fiend to the ground and subdued him before going for reinforcements.
Godfrey Teesdale’s sick crimes were over.
A search of his lodgings revealed he had been very busy and that most of his crimes had gone unreported. Over 600 clippings of hair were found. Over 1,000 items of ladies’ undergarments. There were over 800 teeth found, some from fresh corpses in mortuaries and some from graves in the West Ham cemetery where Teesdale worked as a grave digger. Although it was unproven, police believe he often made sexual assaults on female corpses as they lay in their coffins, and in their graves, before he filled the grave in.
Teesdale was tried and convicted of murder and hanged in 1893.
THE LEANING TOWER OF WESTMINSTER
Is there a secret government bunker under Big Ben?
Ok, so Big Ben is actually the name of the 13.7-tonne bell. The tower has been called Elizabeth Tower since 2012, renamed to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee (previously it was simply called The Clock Tower).
Completed in 1859 as part of the Palace of Westminster complex, the tower stands 96 metres tall and contains a staircase with 334 steps up to the belfry. It also has 11 floors, each with a small room. The original plan was for these to be used as offices, although they never were.
One room that was used, however, is the prison room! The Serjeant-at-arms, who is responsible for maintaining order in the House of Commons, has the power to make arrests in the house, a role that dates back to 1415.
The last person to spend a night behind bars in Elizabeth Tower was Charles Bradlaugh MP in 1880. Officially, the room could still be used to lock up any modern-day MP who gets out of line.
Around the year 2000, it was discovered that the tower is leaning and will eventually become unstable. During the Jubilee Line extension, Transport for London commissioned a report and found that there is a lean of 0.26 degrees. The tilt is now just about visible if you look long enough. Just stand on Parliament Square and look east towards the river.
There is probably no need to panic just yet though, as experts estimate it will be between 4,000 and 10,000 years before it becomes a problem.
Some of the tilt could be due to the London clay on which the tower was built on, or possibly the excavations for the Jubilee extension in 1999. However, in 2003, there was a significant and mysterious event that caused a single and substantial movement. Officially, no reason could be found. Unofficially, however, the rumours are that this was caused by the construction of a fully-equipped nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) bunker to be used by the Prime Minister and top officials in case of an extreme emergency.
The lights are on and someone’s at home? The Ayrton Light located in the roof above the clock faces is switched on in the evening whenever Parliament is sitting. It is said to have been installed at the request of Queen Victoria in 1885 so she could see from Buckingham Palace when members of the House of Commons or Lords were having a late session. It is named after Liberal politician Acton Smee Ayrton.
London’s deepest tube station
London’s deepest tube station is ‘North End’, also known as ‘Bull and Bush’. You may have been past it, but you won’t have got on or got off there, because it’s one of the tube’s ghost stations. It was never completed and never even opened. It’s on the Northern Line between Hampstead and Golders Green and is 68 metres deep from the surface. If you were to visit, you would have to descend 197 steps, whereupon you would find two partially completed platforms.
It was originally conceived in 1903, but when the nearby proposed housing development was cancelled, it was deemed financially unviable, and work was stopped in 1906 before the lift shafts were sunk and before any surface buildings were constructed.
Services on the line started in 1907, running through the unfinished station. And so, it sat for 50 years until it was chosen as a control room for civil defence aimed at keeping the transport network running should there have been a nuclear attack, and as a floodgate control room.
A surface entrance blockhouse was built where stairs led to a 33-metre shaft that contained a spiral staircase and a lift. Work started in 1954 but was only partially completed once again and stopped in 1955 after someone realised that if a H-bomb did drop on London, there would probably be no transport network left to control.
The floodgate control room, however, was completed and opened in 1956 and was maintained until 1984, after which it became obsolete when the Thames barrier opened, and the site was abandoned once again.
Today, the stairs still have lighting and could be used as an emergency exit from the line. The only evidence of activity is graffiti from vandals and a few footprints in the dust from the occasional urban explorer who has made the rather risky 800m trek down the line from the next station.
Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.