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The King Britain Never Had
By Andrew Cook
The History PressCopyright © 2011 Andrew Cook
All rights reserved.
The first thirty-eight years of Lord Arthur Somerset's life were perfectly delightful. The third son of the Duke of Beaufort, brought up at Badminton, educated at Eton, he had by 1889 survived military action in the Sudan to become a senior Guards officer, Superintendent of the Stables and Extra Equerry to the Prince of Wales. As a nobleman in the inner circle surrounding the future King of England and Emperor of India, no doors were closed to him. He dined at the best houses and belonged to the best clubs in the biggest and most powerful city in the world. The rich and beautiful of London society were delighted to call him a friend.
At the start of July 1889, all this would change. Some lives are like that; a paralysing accident, the sudden death of a beloved partner, a crash in the value of stock – an unexpected event turns them upside down. And so it was with Lord Arthur Somerset. Worse still, his reaction to this personal disaster would resound for well over a century. It would result first in the shameful dismissal of Prince Albert Victor, the Prince of Wales's heir, from royal history, and eighty-five years later to the final calumny: that the young prince's outrageous misbehaviour was the dark secret behind Jack the Ripper.
Lord Arthur's nemesis arrived in the prosaic surroundings of Post Office headquarters in the City of London, on Thursday 4 July. Happily ignorant of the disaster that would soon overwhelm him, the distinguished soldier was busy a few miles away with the Shah of Persia's visit to Marlborough House in the Mall. The Shah had arrived in London at the start of the week with a retinue of forty, and was staying as the Queen's guest at Buckingham Palace. Persia was strategically important in the rumbling disagreement between Turkey (a British ally) and Russia, and the Queen supported her politicians by flattering the Shah with pomp and ceremony. At sixty years of age, his moustachios as black as ever and his reputation as savage, he cut a fine figure. Cheering crowds lined the streets to welcome him, while the Crown had provided a splendid complement of gilded coaches and attendant cavalrymen, including Prince Albert Victor himself, to accompany the visitors to Windsor, the Guildhall and Covent Garden, as the exhausting week of formalities progressed.
Today, a party of Persian notables would bowl down the Mall to visit the Prince of Wales at Marlborough House. The sixty horses in the Royal Stables, which Wales inspected every morning, would await visitors in a state of gleaming perfection; Lord Arthur Somerset, of the Blues, was an efficient master and would make sure of that.
Meanwhile, three or four miles away in the City's main sorting office at St Martin's Le Grand, a telegraph boy called Charlie Swinscow had been hauled in front of Post Office Constable Luke Hanks to explain himself.
In 1889, money was generally conveyed from person to person not by banks – whose branches were inconveniently located and whose clientele was a small, well-heeled minority – but by postal order or cash, through the mail. The system offered ample opportunity for theft. Post Office delivery boys and men must, therefore, be trustworthy and be seen to be trustworthy. They were prohibited from carrying cash or personal effects of any kind; their own items must be kept in lockers back at headquarters.
So when fifteen-year-old Swinscow was found to have eighteen shillings in his possession – one and a half times his weekly wage – PC Hanks interviewed him at once. The boy denied having stolen the money. He had done some 'private work away from the office', he said. Questioned further, he insisted that this work was nothing to do with his job.
The internal police of the Post Office were an astute body of men. Many had formerly served in the regular Metropolitan service. And PC Hanks, like his colleagues, was persistent. Finally, Charlie Swinscow admitted having earned the money from gentlemen who paid him a guinea for his sexual favours. But not, he insisted, on Post Office premises. These activities had taken place at an address in the seedy Bohemian district of Fitzrovia, two or three miles west. He would pass on his guinea to the landlord, a Mr Hammond, and receive four shillings to keep. He explained that he had originally been seduced (after a fumble in the basement toilets of the Post Office) by another boy at St Martin's Le Grand, appropriately called Newlove. Newlove had introduced him to the house in Fitzrovia, and he was not the only one. Other young employees had been earning four shillings a time at 19, Cleveland Street. It was a regular racket.
The Post Office employed hundreds of boys to deliver urgent messages throughout London. They were aged from thirteen upwards, and made a charming picture in their little blue jackets, smart trousers and caps. But the Post Office could not afford to gain a reputation as an employer to which mothers dare not send their sons, an employer which could not guarantee a reputable job, with prospects. PC Hanks informed his superior, John Phillips. John Phillips told the Postmaster General.
On the Friday, Hanks and Phillips interviewed telegraph boys Wright and Thickbroom (another name not easily forgotten). They confirmed that Newlove, who had since been promoted and was a clerk, had introduced them to Hammond. All four boys were suspended on full pay.
The Post Office was a vitally important department of state and must not be involved in a scandal; but as things stood, at least one of its employees might well be charged under the Labouchère Amendment to the Criminal Law Act. This controversial addition to the law was only four years old, and allowed for penalties of up to two years for committing, or procuring or attempting to procure others to commit, the sexual act with men. It made even consensual non-penetrative sex between men illegal, which is how it became known as the Blackmailers' Charter. A poorly drafted piece of law, it had inspired little Parliamentary scrutiny or objection, because the entire subject of homosexuality was judged too indecent to discuss even in the House of Commons. No decent person, at any level of life, mentioned such things.
The Postmaster General informed Commissioner Monro of Scotland Yard about the boys, the gentlemen clients, and the brothel.
Commissioner Monro agreed that his best men must be employed and the matter cleared up and swept away, immediately. Only one detective would do. Inspector Abberline stood out from the rest, which was why he had been working on the Jack the Ripper murders since they began about ten months ago, and no one was sure that the Ripper's activities had ceased. Nonetheless, Monro told Abberline to step down and direct all his attention to this Cleveland Street affair. It must be stopped before it attracted any publicity.
Abberline acted immediately. He arranged a special Saturday sitting at Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court. Newlove, or someone who had so far evaded contact with the investigators, must have got a message to Hammond, the proprietor of 19, Cleveland Street, that boys had been suspended from the Post Office and the wind was up. Hammond, an old hand at brothel-keeping now in his forties, didn't need to be told twice. On Saturday 6 July, when police forced an entry to the house, they found that he had made a hurried exit from his place of business, with its good furniture, antimacassars and tastefully placed mirrors, having lugged his personal items away in a large portmanteau and abandoned a pile of dirty laundry.
Warrants were issued for the arrest of Hammond and Newlove, on charges of conspiring to incite and procure the named boys to commit buggery.
Hammond may have vaporised, but Newlove was innocently staying with his mother at 38, Bayham Street, Camden Town, and PC Hanks collected him from that address without trouble on Sunday morning, 7 July. Hammond, who was wily and understood that a name dropped in the right place and time could cool the heat, had left a message for Newlove that he must deny everything; Hammond would take control. He knew that at least one of his clients would bring influence to bear, rather than face a potential scandal.
But Henry Newlove was just a boy, and did not understand. He complained bitterly to Hanks that his own seducer at the Post Office, a boy called Hewett, was not being charged. He pursued this grievance as they walked together to the police station. He didn't see why he should get into trouble while there were plenty of people in a high position who had visited Cleveland Street. Lord Euston went there, and Colonel Jervois, and Lord Arthur Somerset. PC Hanks wrote this up in a report when they got to the station.
The Sunday papers rounded up the news of the week. The Prince and Princess of Wales had announced the engagement of their eldest daughter, Louise, to the Duke of Fife; there would be a royal wedding at the end of the month. It was expected, reported Le Courrier de Londres, that the Waleses' elder son, Prince Albert Victor, would soon become betrothed to Princess Victoria, a sister of the young German Emperor.
On Monday 9 July, Newlove, now remanded in custody, repeated his allegations to Inspector Abberline. Lord Arthur Somerset, he said, called himself Mr Brown, but everyone knew who he was.
Hammond, who had until now been hiding at the home of a relation in Gravesend, took the boat for France.
On the Tuesday, PC Hanks got a surprise when he visited Newlove's mother. They were in the middle of a heart-to-heart when a caller arrived. Hanks, concealed in a corridor, saw and heard a man he recognised. His name was Veck; he liked to dress as a parson, and had been sacked from the Post Office at Gravesend years before for interfering with telegraph boys. 'Do you want any money just let me know,' he heard Veck say to Mrs Newlove. 'I'll instruct a solicitor to defend Henry in the morning.'
If Abberline were to make a sound case, deflecting blame from the Post Office and placing it firmly at Cleveland Street, he would need to prove that Hammond, probably with the connivance of Veck and others, had enticed boys to his infamous house; and if the telegraph boys were going to stand up in court and name names, there must be some evidence to corroborate what they said. He asked Monro for men to stand watch round the clock at the vacant house in Cleveland Street.
A PC Sladden, from Tottenham Court Road police station, was on surveillance duty that week and saw dozens of men arrive, and leave disappointed. Many were well dressed, or in military uniform. He followed several. One turned out to be a Member of Parliament and another a member of the National Liberal Club. But he lay in wait for even bigger fish. On Wednesday 10 July, Hammond's sister-in-law Florence and another woman entered the house after lunch. At ten to five, Lord Arthur Somerset came in a hansom, and had a conversation at the door with someone inside. He must have heard some bad news then, but perhaps it was inconclusive. He waited in the street. Twenty minutes later, a corporal of the Second Battalion, the Life Guards, joined him, and the two walked together towards Oxford Street.
On the Thursday and Friday, Veck was at Cleveland Street packing up goods, which were removed by a furniture van; he then left. On the Saturday, at teatime, Lord Arthur Somerset and the corporal once again turned up for an assignation which could not take place. The house was shut.
Henry Newlove, a Post Office clerk third class, earning less than a pound a week, had made a preliminary appearance at Marlborough Street Court. Abberline now became aware that Newlove, and Hammond and Veck should they be caught, were all to be represented by Arthur Newton, at twenty-eight already making a name for himself as a criminal law solicitor. Abberline's suspicions were confirmed. Arthur Newton knew that clients in a case like this would pay anything to be cleared, and he would charge accordingly. His fees must be coming from somewhere; evidently a person of influence had a lot to lose if any of the accused spoke his name in open court.
Lord Arthur Somerset, as a younger son, would inherit no land. He lived on his army pay, in a style commensurate with his status in the royal fast set, and gambled. Newton's legal fees for at least three cases would have stretched his resources considerably. On the other hand, he was among the Upper Ten and so were all his friends. These were the 'upper ten thousand', those English families who at this time still owned eighty per cent of Great Britain's farmland, city streets, docks and mines. They lived largely on rents and income from shares. Somerset's father, the Duke of Beaufort, possessed land, castles, stately homes and Tintern Abbey, possessions judiciously accumulated by the family over 600 years of marriage and investment, and including 50,000 acres of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Monmouthshire, Brecon and Glamorgan. Were Somerset's name to remain honourable, he had every chance of a rosy future.
The Post Office was determined to pursue this case to the limit of the law, regardless of who was implicated. In serious cases, then as now, the police hand over the file to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who conducts the prosecution. In 1889, the DPP was known as the Treasury Solicitor. On 19 July, Monro finally passed the Cleveland Street dossier to Sir Augustus Stephenson at the Treasury. If Lord Arthur Somerset did not yet know he was in serious trouble (and the likelihood is that he had been approached already by Arthur Newton), then he may well have heard now. Stephenson's brother was an equerry to the Prince of Wales.
Lord Arthur Somerset's greatest dread was that his employer, the Prince of Wales, should learn of his involvement in this. Wales stood in relation to him almost as a father figure. He was the leader of fashionable society; the arbiter of male taste; the person who knew most about racehorses and cards. And women. His mistresses were important to the Prince of Wales. In a flamboyantly heterosexual culture, his command of the affections of a string of beauties rendered Wales's virility, real or imagined, the envy of every red-blooded Englishman. Including, the world might think, Arthur Somerset.
Stephenson did not want anything to do with this male brothel dossier. A hotter potato he had never seen. He returned it to Monro, saying that it was 'public policy' not to give undue publicity to such cases and he really felt the police should deal with it. Perhaps Monro should consult the Home Secretary, who was responsible for the Metropolitan force.
Accordingly, Monro forwarded the dossier to Home Secretary Matthews, along with a request for Hammond's extradition; for by now he knew that Hammond, and a boy companion who read and wrote for him, called Bertie Ames, were staying close to the Place de la Pigalle in Paris, where John Phillips, the Post Office investigator, was watching their every move.
Home Secretary Matthews, himself an eminent QC, repeated that he really thought the Treasury Solicitor should handle such a case. However, in his capacity as head of the Metropolitan Police, he wrote to the Foreign Office asking for a warrant for Hammond's extradition. Lord Salisbury, who was at the time both Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, wrote back on 24 July saying that extradition was not called for. This was a clear hint that the whole affair must be played down.
Inspector Abberline must have felt extremely frustrated. Lord Arthur Somerset went about his business. So did Lord Euston, Colonel Jervois, the MP and the member of the National Liberal Club. Hammond wrote regularly to his wife, complaining that he was being watched. As for the telegraph boys, they were still suspended on full pay. Swinscow and Thickbroom were taken to Knightsbridge barracks where they identified Lord Arthur Somerset, a tall fair man with a high-bridged Wellington nose and piggy eyes, as a regular client known to them as Mr Brown.
Stephenson, the Treasury Solicitor, realised that he must handle this case, but his own superior in these matters, the Attorney General, had a large and lucrative titled clientele and was not keen to get involved. Finally, on 25 July, Stephenson took decisive action anyway. All four boys and Veck were re-interviewed. Just a week later, Counsel advised that the Foreign Office had been wrong; Hammond must indeed be extradited. However, there was as yet 'no evidence against Lord Arthur Somerset'.
Nor would there be, as long as Hammond could be kept out of the English courts. The Post Office and Scotland Yard agreed that a warrant for his extradition must be obtained somehow, regardless of Foreign Office opposition. Lord Arthur, mounted on a fine charger, appeared in public on 7 August as part of the state ceremonies in honour of Kaiser Wilhelm II's visit; two police constables came to Knightsbridge Barracks that same day, and interviewed him (the record is lost). Behind the scenes, letters were flying between the offices of the Attorney General, the Treasury Solicitor, and the Home Secretary. None was anxious to assert authority in this case; they had scented trouble, and feared that bold action would give offence and their careers slide gently into oblivion as a result. At this high point of the British Empire, just two years after Victoria's Golden Jubilee, top civil servants, the law, the Church, the aristocracy, the army and many bankers shared a tightly knit social web of nepotism, freemasonry, intermarriage and general social interdependence. At times of crisis, the web tightened in self-defence.
Excerpted from Prince Eddy by Andrew Cook. Copyright © 2011 Andrew Cook. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
1 Scandal 1889,
2 Great Expectations 1864–71,
3 Britannia 1871–79,
4 Bacchante 1879–82,
5 Student Prince 1882–85,
6 Privacy in Public Life 1885–88,
7 Cleveland Street 1889,
8 Under the Carpet 1889–90,
9 Indisposed 1890,
10 Resolution 1890–91,
11 Devastation 1892,
12 Aftershock 1892 to the present,
Abbreviations Used in Notes and Bibliography,
About the Author,