Orsam Books

Five of the Best...and Worst


While preparing my Deconstructing Hallie article I naturally re-read the long thread about her book on JTR Forums.  I didn't want to repeat what had been said in there to the extent I could avoid it.

But there were a number of criticisms made of Hallie's book in that thread, almost all of them by the Clanger. Let's look at the five best and the first worst.


No. 1 

Hallie claims that Dawes Court, where Polly Nichols was born in August 1845, was inhabited by 'no fewer than forty-five people'.  Even the Clanger was able to spot that this was information derived from the 1861 census, by which time the Walker family had long since moved out.  In the 1841 census there were 36 people living there while in the 1851 census there were only 17 inhabitants.  I suppose one could say that the building had the capacity for 45 residents and perhaps that was what Hallie was grasping at.  It's curious that she ignored the earlier censuses but in truth the number of people living in Dawes Court in 1841 might have borne no relationship to the number of people living there in 1845.

Hallie seems to have missed a trick in her book when writing about Dawes Court for we find in the Sun of 21 February 1844 that:

'A wretched looking woman, named Smith, residing in Dawes-court, Gunpowder alley, Shoe-lane, complained to the Magistrate that the Clerkenwell authorities had refused to relieve her. She stated that her husband was working in the yard of industry, attached to Clerkenwell Workhouse, but did not always get work there. Some days he earned as much as a shilling, but upon others not more than fourpence.  Herself and their two little children were reduced to the greatest distress. Her husband had obtained a settlement in Clerkenwell parish.  Mr Combe said he would mention her case to the parochial authorities of Clerkenwell as soon as they came before the Court.'

While it might not have been the same for all residents, of course, that does suggest that the inhabitants of Dawes Court were likely in a state of relative poverty at that time.  But with the husband of the wretched Smith not working in the print industry in Fleet Street that might not have been such an attractive story for Rubenhold.

No. 2

Yes, the Clanger is correct to point out (#2511) that Hallie is wrong to say in her book that Dickens, 'worked as a shoe black'.  He worked in the shoe-black industry, pasting labels on pots of blacking.  And, as the Clanger also says, there doesn't seem to be any good reason for Hallie to suggest that Dickens had any familiarity with the area around Dawes Court simply due to him working in a shoe-blacking factory near Charing Cross Station.  However, it should be noted that while the Clanger points out that Dickens worked a 10 hour day, his memoirs reveal that he did have half an hour for tea, when he would visit Covent Garden, and he was also familiar with shops in the Strand.  He would, in addition, pop into a confectioner's shop in Tottenham Court Road in the morning on his way to work.  But it's fair to say that there doesn't seem to have been any obvious reason for him to have explored the area as far east as Fleet Street and he probably wouldn't have had the spare time to do so.  

It is an error, therefore, for Hallie to have represented as a fact that Dickens knew the area around Polly's home 'intimately as a youth while he worked as a shoe black'.

In saying that, Hallie appears to have been excited by the fact that Dickens chose the Saffron Hill area of London ('near Field Lane'), not far from Kirby Street where Polly Nichols and her family briefly lived, as the home of Fagin in Oliver Twist, and assumes that he knew the area as a child.  But he was living not so far away from Saffron Hill in Doughty Street when he wrote Oliver Twist so there's just no need to speculate that he was familiar with the area from his childhood. 

I'm not quite sure incidentally why Hallie says that Polly 'would spend her first years in the same lodgings as the fictional Fagin and his pick-pocketing boys'.  I don't think that can be right because Fagin's lodgings aren't identified to a specific building in the book.

No. 3

When Hallie says that, 'Hardly a man in the publishing world of St Brides could have boasted of unstained fingers, nor would he have wished to' even the Clanger can see that the occupations of the workers living in St Brides were much more varied than just being print workers. 

No. 4

Even the Clanger could spot that seven people were not 'murdered in their beds' in the 1811 Ratcliff Highway murders, as claimed by Haillie.

No. 5. 

Even the Clanger, as noted in #2046, is aware that Buller's lodging house was not on the corner of Bishopsgate-street, as Hallie says it was.

The Clanger notes that Joe Barnett only said that it was at '24, New Street, Bishopsgate', adding that Hallie 'has seemingly narrowed that down to the corner of Bishopsgate-street' causing him to comment sarcastically that he stands in awe of the amount of research Hallie must have done. He says that he assumes that Hallie decided to ignore both the Goad map and Rob Clack's ID of the location of Bullers. 

Well I think Rob Clack's ID of the location of Bullers was only first published, at least online, on 31 December 2018, at which time Hallie's book would have already been completed. 

Hallie probably relied on this Casebook post by Leanne Perry on 12 November 2003.


Perry said that there's a map in Bruce Paley's book pinpointing the location of Mrs Buller's Lodging House as being 'on the corner of Bishopsgate Street and New Street, Spitalfields'

She repeated, in another post on 3 April 2005, that the lodging house was 'on the corner of New Street and Bishopsgate Street' .

I don't think Paley located the lodging house at the corner of New Street.  It's rather vague on his map. I rather think that's Leanne Perry's understanding of what an address of '24, New Street, Bishopsgate Street' means.

In his post, incidentally, the Clanger asks, 'were people still adding the archaic -street bit [to Bishopsgate] in 1888?'.  The answer, as he should know, is yes, they did. See, for just one example, the deposition of Inspector Collard at the Eddowes inquest referring to 'Bishopsgate Street Station'.


No. 1

The Clanger attempts to undermine this sentence of Hallie's, regarding Mary Jane Kelly's time in London before she moved to the East End:

'Considering Mary Jane’s proximity to the Knightsbridge Barracks and the area’s association with regimental mistresses, a number of such men may have been among her clientele, including, perhaps the Henry or ‘Johnto’ she mentioned in the second battalion of the Scot’s Guards.'

To this, the Clanger responded (#1155):

'As far as I’m aware, the Scots Guards weren’t based at the Knightsbridge (Hyde Park) Barracks in the 1880s, although they were at times based at Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk (St James’s Park).' 

But Hallie doesn't actually say the Scots Guards were based at Knightsbridge.  Some soldiers from the 2nd battalion might have been there for other reasons.

On 24 September 1885, the Duke of Cambridge reviewed at Knightsbridge Barracks the three battalions of the Guards recently returned from the Sudan, namely the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadiers, the 1st Battalion of the Coldstreams and the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards. They paraded in the barracks at 8.30am before entering Hyde Park to receive the Duke. The Times of 25 September 1885 reported that, 'The thin red line stretched for over half a mile facing the Knightsbridge Barracks, the total strength being 65 officers and 1,812 men of other ranks.'

Prior to leaving for the Sudan that year, the 2nd Scots weren't just based in Wellington Barracks. This is from the Globe of 9 February 1885:


As can be seen it states:

'The Press Association learns that the battalions of Guards ordered to prepare for service are...the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, quartered at Wellington and Kensington Barracks..'.

Kensington Barracks was located in what is now Lancer Square, a little to the west of Hyde Park, near Kensington Palace. Knightsbridge Barracks were a short walk away, to the south of Hyde Park.  Mind you I don't think the Clanger should have been commenting on this issue in the first place.  Just look at the final paragraph of his post....


Do you see it?

Let me enlarge for you.


Tee hee!  He can't spell can he ladies and gentlemen?

Just to be clear.

Dumbo can't spell 'battalion'.  Should he even be responding on this subject to Hallie who, funnily enough, did manage to spell the word correctly?

When I saw that appalling schoolboy error I literally couldn't continue reading the guy's post. Instead, I had to run away from my computer and vomit into a bucket. 

No. 2

Here's another poor effort from the Clanger (#1841):

'I get the impression that she’s not overly familiar with the topography of London, or it’s history. On page 311, for instance, she says, ‘In the early 1880s, the area between the Strand and Charing Cross Station was still a haunt for street walkers...’ But Charing Cross Station is in the Strand. So she’s saying there were street walkers between the Strand and the Strand???' 

While it's true that the address of Charing Cross Station is 12-30 Strand, does that actually mean that you can't walk from Charing Cross Station to the Strand?

I say you definitely can.  

Let me give you an example.  If you live at 25 Acacia Avenue, would you think of yourself as actually being in Acacia Avenue when you are inside your house?  No, you don't.  If, for example, you wanted to meet someone in Acacia Avenue, or do something in Acacia Avenue, you would leave your house.  Your house and Acacia Avenue would be regarded as separate locations despite the house being in Acacia Avenue.

It's the same with Charing Cross Station.  A normal person (perhaps not the Clanger) would walk from the station to the Strand.  In front of Charing Cross Station is a large forecourt and I wouldn't call standing in the forecourt being in the Strand.  You could quite reasonably call it an area between the station and the Strand.  

A reporter for the The New York newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, of 19 March 1899, writing about the view from Rudyard Kipling's apartment in Villiers Street, stated:

'This table stood near the window, which looked down on the busy life ebbing between the Strand and Charing Cross Station'.

Does the Clanger want to have a laugh at this too?

The passage was actually reproduced in a 1936 publication called 'Britannia & Eve' after Kipling showed the extract to a British journalist shortly before his death.  Hence:


Kipling didn't seem to have any problem with the concept of life ebbing and flowing between the Strand and Charing Cross Station, but the Clanger thinks he knows better.

But then, as Hallie Rubenhold would probably tell us, we are dealing with pretentious pampered twat.


No. 3

According to Barnett (#2516):

'HR seems not to understand the distinction between Holborn and High Holborn. She repeatedly refers to High Holborn in connection with Polly and her family when in fact they lived in the vicinity of Holborn. Holborn is in the City of London, High Holborn, it’s western continuation, is outside of it.' 

He adds that this: 'may come across as a pedantic point, but I doubt that someone steeped in the history of London would make such a mistake.' 

To prove that Holborn is in the City, but High Holborn is not, the Clanger shows a photograph of a street sign of Holborn saying E.C.1 and one for High Holborn saying W.C.1.


This is what can only be described as an arsey point.  Let's have a look at a few real-life examples from the period:

Firstly, from The Pharmaceutical Journal of 20 May 1882:


There we see the address of Samuel Lloyd Stacey being given as 300, High Holborn, E.C.

Here's some subscribers to Guy's Hospital Reports of 1865:


That's George Burt of 27 Ely Place, High Holborn, E.C.

This is from a 1907 edition of Truth:


An office at 104, High Holborn, E.C.

An extract from an 1884 publication entitled 'Fisheries Exhibition Literature'

L. Casella is based at 147 High Holborn, E.C.

This is from the Times of 10 October 1885:


Mr Carr believed he was practicing out of an address at 325, High Holborn, E.C.

This isn't just people getting confused with their addresses, it's an issue with the entire stupid area. 

As you travel east from St Paul's you come to Holborn Viaduct and then at the end of that is Holborn Circus (although, there are, alas, no clowns to be found).  As you cross New Fetter Lane, you reach the STREET called Holborn.  But it is one long street which takes you all the way up to Holborn Station.  At some point, Holborn, the street, simply blends into High Holborn (the same street).  In other words, you start at Holborn and, if going in a straight line, find yourself suddenly but unheralded, and probably without realising it, in High Holborn, before ending up at Holborn (station!!!).  It's a bit ridiculous. 

I say 'without realising it', incidentally, but the absolute reverse is true and you may easily think you are in High Holborn as soon as you cross over New Fetter lane because it is the same physical stretch of tarmac.

Now, High Holborn originally commenced at Brooke Street (per 'Old and New London', volume 2, 1878), a street which still exists. I'd say that means that Holborn, as a street, if we regard it as having started at Holborn Circus, was barely 100 yards and not so much a street, more a corridor. But then that was changed and High Holborn suddenly started from Holborn Bars (not the same 'Holborn Bars' which is the large red brick building existing today, the former head office of the Prudential Assurance Company, but at about the same spot).  At one point, two granite obelisks bearing the City arms apparently marked the boundary. But those don't exist any longer.  Today, High Holborn apparently starts even further west, at the junction with Grays Inn Road, just past Chancery Lane station.  I say apparently because there is no obvious landmark which indicates to anyone walking or driving through that they have moved from Holborn to High Holborn.

There's something similar in Fleet Street where that street suddenly becomes the Strand (or 'Strand' for the clanging pedants amongst us) but that's a bit different because it's right at the end of Fleet Street and its start is marked by the Temple Bar (a large monument or statue in the middle of the road). 

In the case of Holborn, despite the slight extension over the years, it is still extremely short (if we exclude Holborn Viaduct).  And because there is such a short distance between Holborn Circus and Gray's Inn Road, it's natural, as I've already mentioned, to think that when you've cut across New Fetter Lane you are now in High Holborn.  It's basically just this one long road up to Holborn station.  My point is that I would suggest that this marks the psychological beginning of High Holborn even if it is not stated to be as such in official records. 

As I've already said, when you travel up High Holborn you then arrive at Holborn Station, which I think people would regard as being 'Holborn' even though it is technically located at the corner of High Holborn. It is, of course, in the borough of Holborn, not the street! So it is certainly IN Holborn.  I suggest, therefore, that most Londoners would actually think of Holborn as being more to the west than High Holborn!

Maybe it was crazy to name Holborn Station 'Holborn' and it should have been 'High Holborn Station'.

High Holborn and Holborn can get easily confused.  The correct address for Ely Place was actually 'Ely Place, Holborn E.C.' but we can see that George Burt of number 27 Ely Place regarded himself as living off High Holborn and, frankly, I don't blame him.

That's why I say this is a real arsey point. I happen to know the area very well but I didn't find any difficulty understanding Hallie or feel the need to criticize her or correct her on this ridiculously pedantic point. 

I would also add that despite its swanky WC2 postcode, Wikipedia says that 'High Holborn is the highest point in the City of London'.


Now I don't know if that's right or wrong (it's certainly been cited in various publications, including the Sun newspaper), but when you are in High Holborn, at the Holborn Circus end, near Chancery Lane, if I am allowed to call it High Holborn (as I think most do) you very much have the feel of being in the City.  In directories from the 1880s, Chancery Lane has a WC address but is stated to be 'partly in the City'.  Without doubt, where-ever it commences, High Holborn is right on the border of EC/WC and, at that point, FEELS more in the City than the West End whatever the postcodes might suggest.

I can't necessarily say he's clanged it up this time, on this aspect at least, but to me it shows someone nitpicking at points which did not need to be nitpicked. 

But that's not to say he hasn't clanged it up completely.

As we've seen, the Clanger says that Hallie 'repeatedly' (and wrongly) refers to Polly and her family in connection with High Holborn when, in fact, they lived 'in the vicinity of Holborn'.

Well I've done an electronic search of her book and she only mentions 'High Holborn' three times.  The first is when she says that between Fleet Street and High Holborn is a compact network of smaller alleys in which one finds Dawes Court.

Well, if as George Burt did (so it seems to be acceptable), you extend High Holborn back a few yards to Ely Place, and draw a line down from there on a map to Fleet Street, you will intersect Shoe Lane which is where Polly's Family was living.

The second mention of High Holborn in the book is where Hallie says that:

'The Walkers never lived far from either Shoe Lane or High Holborn'

That is a factually accurate statement.  Dawes Court, Dean Street, Robinhood Court and Harp Alley would all have been, what, five or ten minutes walk to Holborn Bars, the start of High Holborn?  It can't be challenged. 

The third mention of High Holborn is the one we started with, in respect of the Clanger's response, where Hallie says that 17 Kirby Street is 'just north of High Holborn'.

Again, factually, Kirby Street IS north of High Holborn, albeit north-east of High Holborn, but who would quibble with someone saying that Newcastle is north of Manchester, even though it is north-east of it? 

So, I just don't see the need to do the correction.  That part of Holborn is colloquially regarded as High Holborn, I would suggest, and I think it's fine.   But the Clanger felt the need to post this to prove it has an E.C.1 postcode and is 'in the Walter Mitty'  (#2519) by which he means 'the City' in rhyming slang: 


I don't know why he does this.  Hallie doesn't say that Kirby Street isn't in the City and I can't see what difference it would make if she had.  The street sign, in any case, says that Kirby Street is in the Borough of Holborn, not the City of London, despite the E.C.1 postcode.

What Hallie does say about Kirby Street is that it was 'situated in the down-at-heel area known as Saffron Hill' and the Clanger corrects her to'the up and coming area of Hatton Garden'.  But Kirby Street is just as close to Saffron Hill as it is to Hatton Garden and in fact closer at the north end.  And Kirby Street is no Hatton Garden. 

Anyway, it's just three mentions of 'High Holborn' in the whole book where at least one and arguably two of those mentions are correct and reasonable.  For the Clanger, therefore, to claim that Hallie 'repeatedly' and wrongly refers to High Holborn in connection with Polly's family isn't true.  It's another clang from the master of them.


No. 4

In a previous 'Lord Orsam Says...' I mocked the Clanger for taking issue with Hallie 'on the really important stuff like the exact address of one of the victims' former employers (no it wasn't 10 Acacia Avenue it was 12 Acacia Avenue)'.  I hadn't realized until I reviewed the Rubenhold thread that the Clanger had responded to me in that thread, but all he's done is say, in effect, that it wasn't just the difference between 10 and 12 Acacia Avenue but the difference between the name of the employer being S. Bloggs as opposed to M. Bloggs!! Big deal.

The issue in question here is the address and identity of Polly Nichols' final employer before her murder.  It has always been assumed that her employer was Sarah Cowdry.  This is actually in Shelden's book which states that a postcard was received at Polly's workhouse 'from her mistress Mrs Sarah Cowdry'. It is also stated on the Casebook page devoted to her that Polly left the workhouse on 12 May 'to take a position as a domestic servant in the house of Samuel and Sarah Cowdry' who lived at 'Ingleside', Rose Hill Road.  I would say that Hallie was entitled to rely on Shelden, and indeed on Casebook, but it turns out that the original source information only shows that Polly's employer was a couple named Cowdry who lived at Ingleside (in Rose Hill Road).  It also turns out that in 1888 there were two couples named Cowdry living in Rose Hill Road, one at number 16 and one at number 18.  From the 1891 census, however, it looked to researchers, such as Shelden, like there was only Francis and Sarah Cowdry living at number 16, which was assumed to be 'Ingleside'. But, it seems, Ingleside was number 18 where Frank and Martha resided.

So the bottom line is this, according to the Clanger:  Polly wasn't working at 16 Rose Hill Road for Mrs S. Cowdry, she was working at 18 Rose Hill for Mrs M. Cowdry.

Big frigging deal!

But here's the thing.  Hallie's book was published in February 2019.  The confusion between the two Cowdrys and the two addresses in Rose Hill Road wasn't spotted until July 2019, five months after the book as published and probably well over a year since it was written.  The  point wasn't even nailed down until February 2020, after months of discussion and online searching. 

It's one thing to criticize an author for mistakes that they should not have made but it's ludicrous to be criticizing Hallie for this.  It's very harsh to expect an author to double check every single minor detail when writing a book at a time when they are fully engaged in trying to write the damn thing. There have to be times when it's acceptable and reasonable to rely on the published research of others.  Like I say, Hallie was entitled to rely on Shelden and on Casebook.

And perhaps others.  For, hold on, what's this book in front of me?  Why, it's Paul Begg's 2003 book, 'Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History'.  What does Mr Begg have to say about the matter:

'Perhaps with help from the workhouse authorities, Mary Ann Nichols secured employment as a servant for Samuel and Sarah Cowdry....'

The Clanger is going to have to inform his best mate and fellow seeker of truth that he screwed up too.

No bloody chance!!! 

In his response to me, the Clanger tries to justify his criticism of Hallie over this issue by saying that an investigation into Frank Cowdry reveals that he went off to the Middle East and was interned during World War 1. But what relevance is that to the victims of Jack the Ripper?  Oh, well at this point the Clanger turns into Hallie Rubenhold by speculating about the atmosphere in Ingleside while Polly was there, based partly on an 'impersonal' letter written by Martha asking after Frank.  But you can't possibly tell anything about the atmosphere in Ingleside in 1888 from this.  I mean, what if the Cowdrys had a fight in 1889?   And we don't even know if they did have a fight.  And it's all irrelevant.

The Clanger's one other point is that Hallie writes of Polly leaving Ingleside by the servants' entrance, and the Clanger doesn't think there was one.  In which case, she left by the bloody front door.  But it doesn't make any actual difference to anything.

So the Clanger's criticism here was unfair but more than that, on top of all the other criticisms, it exaggerated the picture of a poorly researched book.  For criticisms to be effective they need to be fair but the criticism over the difference between 16 and 18 Rose Hill Road and between Sarah or Martha Cowdry wasn't fair, in my opinion. 

No. 5

Christopher T. George dropped down from his lofty heights to chide Hallie for making a claim in her book 'with certitude' that Ripper victim Polly Nichols was the same Mary Ann Nichols arrested in Trafalgar Square in 1887.  Thus, he said in #2164 of the Rubenhold thread:

'Ms. Rubenhold then states that through the scenes she had described "moved two women whose lives and deaths would come to define nineteenth century Britain." One woman was Queen Victoria, the other "a homeless woman called Mary Ann, or 'Polly' Nichols, who was among those encamped at Trafalgar Square in 1887." Now while this statement neatly ties her narrative together, it constitutes a major claim, a leap of faith that a woman arrested in the square during the autumn of 1887 was the same woman who was killed in Durward Street, Whitechapel on August 31, 1888.'

He added that, 'While Ms Rubenhold makes the claim with certitude, the authors of The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z hedge their bets'.

What Mr George didn't know, but even the Clanger did, is that some brilliant research by Debra Arif had conclusively established that Polly Nichols was indeed the same woman arrested at Trafalgar Square.   So Mr George hadn't been following developments carefully, whereas Hallie Rubenhold had.

A positive mark for Hallie, not so good for Chris George but, of course, everyone makes mistakes. 

The surprising thing in this case, however, was that Chris George could barely acknowledge his error and was, in fact, somewhat dismissive of the new finding.  What he said in his next post #2180 was this:

'Good to know that there is a good probability that the Mary Ann Nichols picked up by the police for squatting in Trafalgar Square is the first victim...'

'good probability', lol! No Chris, it's now been conclusively established that it was the same person. 

But here was how he framed his argument:

'From everything I know about Polly Nichols...she [doesn't] come across to me like the woman picked up at Trafalgar Square who was characterized as "the worst woman in the square, and at the police-station was very disorderly'.

From everything he knows about Polly Nichols!!!  I mean, honestly, how pompous are these people?  He says that she was a 'docile happy-go-lucky person'.  Seriously?  And that is based on what, exactly? 

But with this image of her stuck in his head, Mr George said:

'So to me it's not a done deal that the woman rounded up in the square in December 1887 was the Ripper victim of October 31, 1888'.


He does, however, graciously concede that Nichols was described as 'a heavy drinker' and that alcohol can 'alter personalities' as if he actually knows something about Nichols' personality.

He was then schooled by Debra Arif in #2812 to the extent that even the Clanger, yes even the Clanger was compelled to say in #2183 that, 'That's about as good as it gets' and that 'Hallie got it right'

Needless to say there was no acknowledgment from Chris George to this and he moved on to the issue of whether Nichols was in Trafalgar Square on Bloody Sunday in November 1887 along with William Morris, although Hallie hadn't actually said she was.  She only said that, 'Among those who gathered with Polly in the last weeks of October was...William Morris'.  She wasn't speaking about Bloody Sunday.  Of course it can only be speculation that Polly was on the Square in October at any time that William Morris was there (and I'm not sure there is any evidence that he WAS there at any time during October, although he might well have popped along for a bit I suppose).  However, Chris George for some reason stated that 'In all probability she was not there on Bloody Sunday in November 1887'.  No of course she wasn't, she was in the Edmonton Workhouse on that date but Hallie never said anything different. 

It's true that her publisher's card states misleadingly that Polly 'was present in the 1887 riots in Trafalgar Square along with William Morris and Eleanor Marx' but that is not stated in the book where Hallie only mentions 'skirmishes' during October.

The problem is that the Rubenhold thread started to confuse the book with the publisher's card and made Hallie's book seem worse than it actually is.


First published in Lord Orsam Says...Part 9 on 18 July 2020
Republished 14 May 2022

See also:

Deconstructing Hallie 

Being Fair to Fairfield 

Unfair Criticism? 

Ballard of the Clanger 

Pass the Sick Begg, Ally