It could so easily be missed, this little chalkland village, as many miles from Salisbury as it is from Shaftesbury and once an insignificant settlement on the Northern rim of Cranborne Chase. The Ebble Valley road follows a winding westward course from Salisbury between the ancient downland ridges of the Shaston Drove and the Ox Drove, but at Broadchalke a spur sweeps round the church to run even deeper past succulent cressbeds and heron-haunted trout ponds. Here, at Bowerchalke, William Thick was born on November 20th 1845.
Williams first home was at Misselfore Green, Church Street, Bowerchalke and quite close by was the Holy Trinity Church where William’s parents, Charles Thick & Mary Shepperd had married on the 14th January 1841. This was to remain the family home for over the next ten years with William and his two Brothers, Frederick and Robert, and two Sisters, Jane and Ellen, all attending the small Parish school (built in 1844) for a fee of one penny a week each. “Many of the parents in Bowerchalke had received little education themselves and could see no reason why their children should be taken from gainful employment in the fields. This was often reflected in the pupils themselves who were dull and unforthcoming in their responses.”
“When it is fine and the atmosphere clear you can see from parts of the Chase – that remote wooded downland between Bowerchalke and Sixpenny Handley -right across the chequered Dorset countryside to the Solent. For much of the year, however, the south-westerly gales or the biting cold from the north would have made for a hardier breed than the valley people.” On leaving school at 14, William had gained employment as a carter on the bleak & remote West Chase Farm. Adjacent to the farm was Chase Farm Cottages where William and his family now lived. William’s work involved transporting loads of hay & wood by wagon along the steep chalk downs between Chase Farm and Rushmore Down. The work could be extremely hazardous and there are numerous reports of fatalities amongst the Chase farming community at this time. By 1865, another three brothers, Morgan, Charles and George and two sisters, Ann and Alice had arrived. William, now 20 and brother Frederick 18, were both working as a carters with father Charles also working on the farm as an agricultural labourer. Conditions were very harsh with the working day starting at 6.00am and ending at 5.00pm six days per week.
“Around the mid to late 1860’s, farming in Bowerchalke was steadily declining. Poor harvests and foreign competition had a disastrous effect on corn prices. More and more arable land was laid down to grass and further decline was caused by a sharp fall in the price of woo1.” Could this decline in farming be the reason why William escaped the harsh employment of rural Wiltshire and travelled to London? For in 1868, William Thick aged 23 left his family and native Bowerchalke and booked his place where fate would forever link his name with England’s most notorious Victorian murderer .
On the 16th March 1868, William Thick (warrant number 49889) joined the Metropolitan Police at Great Scotland Yard. Straight away he was appointed to ‘H’-Division -Whitechapel in London’s East End. We can only imagine what was going through the young constables mind on his arrival in Whitechapel from his rural Bowerchalke. Home now was a dark huddle of sleazy lodging houses, a cauldron of squalor, degradation & misery. This was indeed “a land of beer and blood.” Over the next four years, William (now living at Leman Street Police Station) would become familiar with the warren of narrow, gaslit alleyways and courts that merged with the drab, mean houses. He would also gain an understanding of the low life criminals and prostitutes who made up this despairing landscape – and all this knowledge would not go to waste in the years ahead.
PARTICULARS OF SERVICE
After joining the police in 1868 and spending four years at ‘H’ division, William was transferred to ‘B’- Division, Chelsea on 4th January 1872. This appointment did not last long and on the 18th September 1872 he was transferred back to ‘H’ division, Whitechapel and sometime between 1872 & 1873 he was promoted to Police Sergeant. On July 8th 1878 he was transferred to ‘P’-Division, Camberwell before returning to his old stamping ground on the 3rd May 1886 when he was again transferred back to ‘H’ division, Whitechapel.
Meanwhile, back at home in Bowerchalke (which is still known as the most haunted village in Wiltshire), William’s family had moved to Woodminton Farm Cottages and this would remain the home of his mother & father until their deaths in the 1890’s. Woodminton Farm Cottages then became the home of Charles & Caroline Kerley. Another twist in this story is the fact that the son of Charles & Caroline, Tom Kerley, drowned on the Titanic! Also, the eldest sister of William Thick married a George Kerly at Bowerchalke. Could William be a relative of a Titanic victim – my researches continue!
On 4th November 1872 William Thick married Hannah Ellison at the parish church, Whitechapel. This was followed, in February 1873, by the birth of William’s first daughter -Alice Hannah Thick. At the time the family were living at 4 Wellclose Square, which is very close to Cable Street. Less than a Month later they had moved to 71 Greenfield Street (now Greenfield Road) Mile End Old Town. (Strangely and according to evidence given at his trial by Wolff Levisohn, Ripper suspect George Chapman also later resided at Greenfield Street. During the Whitechapel Murders it is believed that Chapman was residing at 126 Cable Street.)
William was still in contact with his family back in Wiltshire and in 1874, brother Morgan (who had been employed in Bowerchalke as a shepherd) made his way to London. Morgan also joined the Metropolitan Police as PC 161 – ‘D’ Division, Marylebone and lodged with William in the East End. William’s family continued to grow and in 1876, a son William Charles was born followed by another daughter, Rose in 1879. The following year, Morgan Thick resigned from the Met (for improper conduct off-duty) and gained employment as a brewer’s assistant. By 1881 the family had moved to 19 Nottingham Place (now Parfett Street) Mile End Old Town. On July 23 1881, brother Morgan married Susan Burland in Bethnal Green Church. He eventually took over as landlord of The Red Lion public house in Covent Garden, a position he held for six years. For some reason he lost the licence of this pub in 1888 and moved on to Key Street (now Key Close), Bethnal Green. Key Street was in the vicinity of Bucks Row and during the Whitechapel murders, a labourer named John Hummerstone of 11 Key Street was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment for savagely assaulting a woman with whom he was living, striking her with a knife. Morgan was still living in Key Street when he died of pneumonia in 1900 aged just 46.
In 1882, the younger brother of William, Charles Thick aged 20, decided to try his luck in London and on 5th June 1882, he joined the police force as PC 56 -‘N’ Division, Islington -warrant no 66684 (he only remained in the police force for five years resigning on February 1st 1887). Later that same year November 1882, William’s daughter Ellen Mary born in 1881 died of measles. In 1883, another daughter was born and named Amelia. This daughter completed William’s family and must have softened the blow of losing the baby Ellen, named after William’s favourite sister. On the 18th July 1886, George, the youngest of the Thick brothers joined the police force at Vine Street, Warrant no 71266. He was transferred from ‘C’ Division, St. James’s to ‘K’ Division, Stepney and finally to ‘V’ Division, Wandsworth. George completed 25 years service on 13 February 1911 and retired to 17 Grove St. Barnes naming brother, ex Police Sergeant William Thick as his next of kin. The 1891 census gives William’s address as 81 Dempsey Street. He retired to this same address on 24th April 1893 and was granted a pension of £93.10.0 per annum. The 1901 census has William employed as a Railway Police Inspector and still living at 81 Dempsey Street and in 1902, he famously met the Author Jack London at this same address.
Upon the death of his wife Hannah, William moved in with his daughter Alice at Northcote Road in South London. William Thick passed away on December 7th 1930
SERGEANT WILLIAM THICK AND THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS, 1888.
William Thick’s first major involvement in the Whitechapel Murders was during the Annie Chapman inquiry. When Annie was murdered on September 8th 1888, Sergeant Thick examined the body in the mortuary and gave a description of it to Sergeant Edmund Barry. William also took an active part in visiting the common lodging houses around the vicinity of Hanbury Street. Two days later, on September 10th, Sergeant Thick made the arrest of the notorious John Pizer alias ‘Leather Apron.’ The action of Thick arresting Pizer is hardly surprising when you consider that the two of them lived just streets apart (see map on page 10) and had known each other for years. Indeed, with feelings against ‘Leather Apron’ running high and most of London’s police on the lookout for him, it was Thick who knew exactly where to find him and that he was known locally as ‘Leather Apron.’ As it turned out, the police eventually decided there was no case against ‘Leather Apron’ and they released him after two days in custody at Leman Street Police Station. The following day Pizer appeared at the inquest of Annie Chapman – this was seen as his chance to clear his name in public. After giving his evidence, Pizer and Thick chatted together until the adjournment – Sergeant Thick then escorted Pizer home.
William Thick remained active in the hunt for the elusive Whitechapel Murderer and when Jacob Isenschmid was arrested in the early hours of September 12th 1888, Thick examined his clothing for bloodstains. He also interviewed Isenschmid’s wife Mary. When Mary gave evidence that Jacob used Mrs. Gerlingher’s public house in Wentworth Street, Thick promptly interviewed the said Mrs. Gerlingher who denied ever knowing the man. Isenschmid was finally cleared when the murderer struck again whilst he was still confined in Grove Hall Lunatic Asylum.
The next murder, that of Elizabeth Stride on September 30th 1888, must have shaken William Thick to the core. For the murder site of Dutfields Yard, Berner Street was literately a stone’s throw away from his residence at 19 Nottingham Place! Later on the same night, a second victim, Catherine Eddowes was found murdered in Mitre Square, Aldgate.
There are not many details charting Thick’s involvement on the actual night of the ‘Double Event.’ But surely with William living in and around the area of Berner Street for so long, and with the local arrest of Pizer still fresh in his mind, the Stride murder must have taken on an extra significance? A few days later, Superintendent Arnold was still using Pizer’s name to help justify the obliteration of a chalked message left on the night of the ‘Double Event.’ The message, ‘The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing,’ was found in nearby Goulston Street and Superintendent Arnold later stated in a report, “in consequence of a suspicion having fallen upon a Jew named John Pizer alias ‘Leather Apron’ having committed a murder in Hanbury Street a short time previously, a strong feeling existed against the Jews generally, and as the building upon which the writing was found was situated in the midst of a locality inhabited principally by that sect, I was apprehensive that if the writing were left it would be the means of causing a riot and therefore considered it desirable that it should be removed……” As well as the message, the murderer also left a piece of Catherine Eddowes apron – this he used to wipe his hands as he fled Mitre Square. He then headed back towards Whitechapel, to an area already alerted by the earlier Berner Street murder – an area that was perhaps close to home?
The weeks passed by without further incident and then, on November 9th 1888, the killer struck again. Mary Jane Kelly was murdered in the squalid little room she called home – 13 Millers Court, Dorset Street. Within an hour of the discovery Sergeant Thick was at the scene of the crime where he quickly engaged himself in making inquiries. After some delay, the door to Kelly’s room was forced open and the police entered. Mary Jane Kelly was so savagely mutilated that Sergeant William Thick and, indeed, any person who saw what remained of that once attractive young girl must have been affected by it for the rest of their lives.
On November 12th, three days after the Kelly murder, ‘The Times’ newspaper reported on some of the problems being encountered by the police. “Since the murders in Berner Street, St. Georges, and Mitre Square, Aldgate, on September 30th, Detective Inspectors Reid, Moore and Nairn, and Sergeants THICK, Godley, M’Carthy and Pearce have been constantly engaged, under the direction of Inspector Abberline (Scotland Yard), in prosecuting inquiries, but, unfortunately, up to the present time without any practical result. As an instance of the magnitude of their labours, each officer has had, on average, during the last six weeks to make some 30 separate inquiries weekly, and these have had to be made in different portions of the metropolis and suburbs. Since the two above-mentioned murders no fewer than 1,400 letters relating to the tragedies have been received by the police, and although the greater portion of these gratuitous communications were found to be of a trivial and even ridiculous character, still each one was thoroughly investigated. On Saturday (10th November) many more letters were received, and these are now being inquired into.” According to Stewart P. Evans and Nicholas Connell in their book ‘The Man Who Hunted Jack The Ripper,’ Superintendent Arnold and Sergeant William Thick later took up an inquiry into one Pierce John Robinson – named as a strong suspect in the Kelly case by his business partner, Richard Wingate. Arnold and Thick proved however, that Robinson had left his home in the Mile End Road on November 1st 1888 and was in Suffolk on the night of the Kelly murder.
After Mary Jane Kelly, there were other murders deemed to be in the series of that committed by The Whitechapel Murderer. In particular, the murder of Alice McKenzie on July 17th 1889. But, like all the others, this one was also found to be “murder against a person or persons unknown.” Two months later, on September 10th 1889, Police Constable Pennett found a woman’s torso under a railway arch in Pinchin Street and again, this location was close to William Thick’s residence. Perhaps Inspector Reid had this in mind when he directed Sergeant Thick to, ‘make inquiries at sheds, houses and places where barrows are kept or let out for hire also at butchers in the neighbourhood of Pinchin Street with a view to gain any information regarding the matter.’ By remarkable coincidence, on September 10th 1889, the same day as the Pinchin Street Murder (and the anniversary of Thick arresting Leather Apron), a letter was sent to the Home Office from a H.T.Haslewood of Tottenham. It stated ‘I have very good grounds to believe that the person who has committed the Whitechapel Murders is a member of the police force.’ Another letter soon followed and this time the author named the member of the police force that he thought responsible – William Thick!
PUBLIC RECORDS OFFICE, LONDON
FAMILY RECORDS OFFICE, LONDON
COLLINDALE NEWSPAPER ARCHIVES, LONDON
COLLETT’S FARTHING NEWSPAPER (BOWERCHALKE) ~ REX SAWYER
JACK THE RIPPER CASEBOOK
RIPPEROLOGIST NO 37 – 2001
THE MAN WHO HUNTED JACK THE RIPPER – NICHOLAS CONNELL &STEWART P. EVANS
THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF JACK THE RIPPER – PHILIP SUGDEN
THE ULTIMATE JACK THE RIPPER SOURCEBOOK – STEWART P. EVANS & KEITH SKINNER
I WOULD LIKE TO THANK CORAL KELLY FOR HELPING WITH VICTORIAN STREET NAMES AND BERNARD BROWN FOR ADDITIONAL POLICE PARTICULARS INVOLVING MORGAN THICK.
© FROGG MOODY 2006