B is for Bayham Street in Camden Town. There’s Buckingham Street and Bentinck Street, too – all places where Dickens lived at some time. No wonder Dickens was fascinated by murder – each of these streets is associated with murder. Doctor W.H. Crook was found murdered in a brick field in the Caledonian Road. His address was Bayham Street. His throat was cut and he lay in a pool of blood. And in a touch worthy of Dickens himself, a black and white curly dog was sitting at his feet. It barked at anyone who tried to come near.
And more throat cutting: Dickens lodged in Buckingham Street in 1834. In February, 1837, in Buckingham Street, John Bryant murdered his son, William, and then cut his own throat. John Bryant’s landlord was – very Dickensian – Mr Gosbee. The newspapers described in gory detail the death of John Birkenger who was ‘stretched out on the floor, weltering in his blood, his throat being cut in the most dreadful manner.’ This occurred in Doughty Street in 1829 where Dickens lived from 1837 – 1839, and in the same street the dead body of an infant was found in 1828.
In Bentinck Street where Dickens took lodgings in 1833, a policeman was shot dead in 1848 during the Chartist riots.
In 1832, Dickens had rooms in Cecil Street – another blood-stained thoroughfare. Captain Swyney of the 63rd Regiment fell upon his sword in the Roman fashion, and at number 18, one Thomas Davison hanged himself by fastening a piece of rope to the bedstead – while the balance of his mind was disturbed, so the newspapers reported.
And B is for Bacon
In 1850, Dickens began his periodical Household Words to which there was a supplement entitled The Household Narrative of Current Events in which were recorded, among other news, reports of crime and murder.
Dickens must have had a shock when he read of the murder of Mrs Catherine Bacon at Ordnance Terrace, Chatham in 1855. He had lived there as a boy from 1817 – 1821. Mrs Bacon lived at Ordnance Terrace from 1813 – perhaps he remembered her. Not a name you’d forget. She was murdered in her house. Her servant girl Elizabeth Laws was accused. Her contention was that two unknown men had entered the house and killed her mistress with a cleaver and stabbed Elizabeth in the throat before running away. All suspicion pointed to Miss Laws whose injury was not serious. She was tried, but acquitted, despite the considerable evidence against her.
On the servant girl’s bedside table there were two books: Othello – clearly not suitable to a girl with murderous thoughts, and The Arabian Nights – one of Charles Dickens’s favourite books as a child. I wonder what he thought of that!
Remember the dog that barked in the brick field? The cat’s miaow? Mrs Bacon had a cat for which she had put down a saucer of milk before she was hacked to death. The police found blood in the milk – a somewhat gruesome detail, but that’s the newspapers for you! What happened to the cat, I wonder?