Posted by: Christine | February 18, 2012

Horrid Murder !!

Sometimes family historians discover information by the most unusual routes. I have been watching a series on television called Whitechapel. It is a present day police drama, but uses historical murder cases to help solve modern crimes. The original series involved a Jack the Ripper copycat murderer, the second was about the Kray twins, but this third series uses a variety of different cases.

In the first episode mention was made of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders – a particularly violent series of deaths in 1811. While watching I remembered that, many years age (in my Jack the Ripper phase!), I had read a book about these murders.

The very next day I was visiting the TNA, and it being the last day of the January Book Sale, I spent some time looking through the bargains. (Who am I kidding? I always spend more time, and money, in the bookshop than I should!) There I found the very same book. The Maul and the Pear Tree, The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811 by P. D. James & T.A. Critchley. (ISBN 978-0-571-25808-6)

On returning home I immediately started (re-)reading the book, to get an insight into the case before the next instalment of the programme. I discovered that the book contains vivid descriptions of life in the East End of London, in particular the docks area of Shadwell. Although there had been a few changes this was essentially the same place where John Madder had lived, a hundred years earlier. I now had some background “colour”.

The first murder, of the Marr family, took place at 29 Ratcliffe Highway (now called The Highway). The second was of the Williamson family of the Kings Arms in New Gravel Lane (now Garnet Street). For more information about the murders see here. I knew that Ratcliffe Highway was mentioned in one of the many documents I have collected in my research into John Madder and eventually found it.

In John Madder’s Will, written in 1702, he leaves everything to his daughter Isabella. She was presumably his only surviving child, however she only survived him by three years, dying in 1708 at the age of 16. She left a Will and, apart from a few bequests, left everything to “my loveing friend, Daniel Shank of London, Citizen & Draper” who was also appointed executor. In 1711 her uncle George Madder, John’s brother, took Daniel Shank to court because the Will had not been proved. These documents are in the London Metropolitan Archives (DL/C/0545/123-124) and on the copy of the Will, someone, presumably the Judge, has written some notes. This gives some addresses.

Will of Isabell Madder LMA DL/C/0545/123-124

Mr Shank, Pawnbroker, in Ratliffe high way a little before you come to Old Gravel Lane.
Mrs Madder next dore to the Griffin Tavern in Ratliffe high way.

 Mrs Madder must refer to Isabella – there was no distinction between Miss for unmarried and Mrs for married women at this time

So not in the immediate vicinity of the later murders but it does pose some interesting questions. Was Isabella so hard up that she had borrowed money, and knowing she was about to die, was forced to leave everything to the pawnbroker? She calls him her loving friend – was she going to marry him?

A quick look at London parish registers (Ancestry) and the very informative Boyd’s Inhabitants of London (Findmypast) shows it was probably the former. Daniel Shank became a Freeman of London in 1674 and his wife Jane died in 1715. Daniel died in 1730 – his will names children and grandchildren. Unless there is another reason for a 16 year old girl to be “loving” friends with a prominent citizen in his sixties!

So this meandering trail has led me from a relaxing evening in front of the television, through murder, geography back to genealogy. Is it just a coincidence or do I have to find a family history connection in everything? The current plot of Whitechapel involves body parts found in the Thames – must be what happened to all those ancestors who seem to just disappear off the face of the earth!


  1. […] locked up there? Unlikely, as she was well enough to write a will shortly before her death (see my previous post). This reference was what has been nagging at […]

  2. […] George Madder took Daniel Shanke to court because he hadn’t proved the will of Isabella. See Horrid Murder ! , A Problem with Wills and Wapping to Bethlehem . I thought I had found all there was to find. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: