It was worth the sign-up to Twitter alone for a message that pinged into my box this evening reading ‘Jack the Ripper is n0w following you’. Don’t panic, I’m not being trolled: well, not in the virtual world anyway. No, I’m back on the literary trail of Jack the Ripper because the Whitechapel murders happen to coincide with a period in Savile Row’s history that I find rather fascinating apropos the 1888-1892.
It has always been a puzzle to me why Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, is still spoken of as a suspect in the Ripper murders when countless authors have tried and failed to place him in Whitechapel in 1888. More perplexing is the insistence by the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle that ‘Prince Albert Victor’s files have not survived’.
It has always been my opinion that the only way to cover-up a monumental scandal is to smother the fire not add kindling by presenting another mystery on top of the original one. We know that ‘Prince Eddy’s’ papa and mama Edward VII and Queen Alexandra instructed that their personal letters be burnt on their deaths. Why didn’t the Royal Archive simply say all family letters were burnt rather than an entire file on a senior member of the Royal Family being strangely empty?
Another question that bothers me is that if Prince Albert Victor was such an embarrassment to the Royal Family then why was he given a State Funeral and why did Queen Alexandra commission such a grandiose memorial for him in the St George’s Chapel, Windsor? I visited Prince Eddy’s tomb a couple of years ago – a masterpiece of Art Nouveau marble – and questioned why his was the most elaborate in the entire chapel. Caesar was being praised not buried hugger-mugger.
Of course conspiracy theorists will always find a way through the facts by distorting them. In the past three days I’ve read four books linking Prince Eddy and his Cambridge tutor J. K. Stephen to the Ripper murders. The author who made most sense to me was Deborah McDonald’s The Prince, His Tutor and The Ripper that almost certainly concludes that prime suspects Prince Eddy, Stephen and Montague Druitt had absolutely nothing to do with the Whitechapel Murders.
A more likely scenario is that all three were implicated in the Cleveland Street brothel scandal in the same years as the Ripper’s reign of terror in 1888. I went back to the original newspaper reports (both the respectable thunderers and scandal sheets) and it was evident even in the 1880s/90s that Cleveland Street was a monumental cover-up and Lord Arthur Somerset was something of a patsy for a more important catch.
I recently went walking down Cleveland Street to see if I could find No 19 and sure enough there was the original terraced facade though the houses on the other side of the street had not survived. It looks like No 19 Cleveland Street is under new ownership. I wonder if they know the house is haunted? I was first bewitched by Prince Eddy while researching Savile Row for Thames & Hudson and went on the hunt for his tailor. As it turned out he was a Poole’s customer as a boy and a Davies & Son man.
Without the records in the Royal Archives, I think Prince Albert Victor would be an elusive subject for a book although I was shown his photograph album when I was last at Windsor in the Royal Archives and there are some beauties that are as yet unpublished. There is a scandal concerning sweat shop labour, Davies & Son and the royal family that might merit further snuffling like a truffle pig.
Prince Albert Victor is commemorated all over London if you know where to look for him. His Royal coat of arms is one of three displayed on the facade of St. John’s Gate. The Prince was inducted as a Knight of St. John shortly before his death as he was the Master of the Reading chapter of the Freemasons. His face also looms large on the Edward VII memorial at Temple Bar not that you’d notice now it is stranded on a traffic island.
What’s new on the Rialto? I had lunch with the divine Elisabetta Canali last week at Wiltons. We’ve known each other for over a decade and always had a bi-annual love-in at Pitti Uomo. Anyway, turns out she’d like to commission a series of filmed interviews with gentlemen at the top of their profession who are not only ambassadors for Canali but also world-leaders in their field. Thrilled to be back in front of the cameras as Miss Desmond would say.
On a more prosaic but no less important note, I’m ticking off another of those ‘you know you’ve reached adulthood when’ milestones and have ordered a new bed. It is a Victorian Bedknobs & Broomsticks number reminiscent of one that my grandmother used to have in her old house in Sheffield. Needless to say it cost less than the modern crapola on sale everywhere from John Lewis to Heal’s. The memory foam mattress arrived today and I am crippled with disappointment. It’s as soft as a marshmallow and I fear suffocation.
You know it’s time to end a letter when conversation turns from Victorian brothel scandals to soft furnishings. Until next time…