July 19, 2011

Across the Road from Jack the Ripper?

My family of Smiths is pretty messed up. My father was orphaned 2 days before Christmas 1936 and none of the multitude of available aunts and uncles took him in. He and his brother Ivan were sent to live in a "Children's Home", an orphanage, while his sisters were raised by their dead father's boss.

Back a further generation and my grandmother was shuffled off to be raised by her aunts while her birth mother and father went on to have more children. The 1901 English Census indicates that she was "deaf". I can only guess this is the reason they didn't keep her.

Not my Great-Grandfarther, but close - his brother Cecil

So my Dad grew up - and I grew up - knowing very little about his side of the family. Over the years I've dug about in Ancestry.com, following rumours and leads and confirming some of them. Smiths marrying Smiths, for example, a widowed daughter-in-law marrying her new step-father-in-law's unmarried son. The mind boggles. I did find out a couple of indisputable facts. My great-grandfather, Walter Alfred Thomas Penny Smith was a London bobby. In 1901 Constable Walter Smith lived at 55 Broadhurst Gardens in London's district of South Hampstead. I don't know how long he lived there, I just know from the 1901 Census that that's where he and his wife and one of my great-uncles lived.

The infamous artist Walter Sickert, prime suspect for the Jack the Ripper murders, once lived across the road at number 54 Broadhurst Gardens with his wife.  From this article it looks as if he and his wife remained at 54 Broadhurst Gardens until they divorced in 1899 and he moved to Dieppe. My great-grandfather may have moved into Broadhurst Gardens after the Sickerts had moved away from the street, but boy oh boy, what a coup that would have been. I wish I could definitively prove that my ancestor, Walter Smith,  twitched the curtains when Sickert walked by.

55 Broadhurst Gardens, found on Picasa, photographer unknown.
Whether Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper or not, I don't know. I know that he did have a penchant, easily found on Google, for painting of bosomy nudes sprawled uncomfortably on iron-frame beds.You're free to make up you own mind.


une femme said...

Fascinating! I always forget that they never caught Jack the Ripper. I've read many stories from the late 19th/early 20th centuries about children being left in orphanages because their parents or relatives just couldn't (or wouldn't) take care of them. Sad.

Nancy said...

Sigh - admission of guilt. I am fascinated by Jack the Ripper so am deeply jealous of your ancestor. Plus Walter Sickert was no mean painter either really. On a side note -- here in Austin we had what's considered the first serial killer in the U.S. and it was somewhat close to the Ripper they thought he might have done it here as well. If you are properly morose sometime look up the Servant Girl Annihilator.

Thanks for the genealogy and the story - it made my day.

Hels said...

Children were often pushed from aunt to aunt, or from orphanage to workhouse. I am not sure which was worse, given late Victorian and Edwardian conditions for many ordinary working families.

Those census sheets are absolutely full of wonderful information. One of my 4 grandparents lived in the East End of London with her parents, her dad's adult brother and the 10 children. They had 3 bedrooms and no inside toilet. If her dad had died young, the children would have had to have been put in an orphanage - the aunts were not in the UK.