A Murder In Deptford
Welcome to our page devoted to everything about A Murder in Deptford. The book is a historical novel closely based on events in Deptford, South-East London during March to May 1905. The prose structure allows multi-character viewpoint, consisting of thought as well as dialogue, and resembles that of a play, although it is to be read rather than performed. The reference notes throughout are an integral part of the novel, as are the appendices, giving important social history background information, especially that of the condition of the British working class during the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods.
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PROSE EXTRACTS FROM “A MURDER IN DEPTFORD”:
Note: non-bold, lower-case text shows characters’ thoughts. Bold, lower-case text is actual conversation.
SATURDAY 18TH FEBRUARY, 1905 [67 KNOTT STREET, DEPTFORD, 4:25 p.m.]
MRS SALLY TEDMAN [WIDOW, AGED 64, STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF HER LODGERS’ ROOM, CASTING A CRITICAL EYE]
Kate’s gone then. I Can’t see Bert staying, seeing as it was her who was paying the rent to me. They weren’t even married. They said they were when they came here, but I knew they weren’t. She didn’t know I knew her husband, and it weren’t Bert. I’ll make out to the neighbours I thought they were married if anything’s said. I run a respectable place I do. She told me she’s going back to her husband, said it as if I knew she weren’t married to that Bert. I Don’t know why he’d want her back after the way she’s been, running off with another bloke and that. Her husband’s a good worker an’ all, hard working and in regular employment, not like that Bert. And her husband didn’t knock her about like a lot of blokes do. That Bert’s only been out of the Navy for a few months from what I’ve heard, and always moving about from place to place. Must be the sailor in him. Or more likely he moves on because he owes rent money. I’ll have to give the room a good clean. It needs it. No, it don’t look like she was overclean, the state she’s left the room in, but at least she’s taken all her stuff – AH – and bundled up Bert’s clothes as well. She knows he won’t be staying; knows he wouldn’t be paying the rent himself. I wonder if it’s only clothes what’s in the bundle. I’ll have a feel. Bit smelly. It’s got a grubby feel to it, it has. It feels like clothes, but seems like there’s something hard in the middle. It seems to weigh a lot. I always wanted to know what Bert was doing going out all night; and I knew he didn’t have a job to go to. I wonder what’s in the bundle to make it hard and heavy? I’ll just make sure the front doors locked and then I’ll untie the string and have a look and – AH – here’s Bert now at the front door! Big; strong young man; lazy, though; moustache makes him look older. I’ll tell him she’s gone – bet he’s not bothered – only bothered about having someone to pay the rent for him.
Bert, you can’t stay here unless you pay the rent. Kate’s gone, went this afternoon while you were out; went back to her husband, she said. You told me you and her were married! She left some stuff of yours here; a bundle of stuff you’d better take.
That’s annoying, him coming back early; I won’t be able to have a look in the bundle. Hope he doesn’t offer to pay the rent; I don’t want him staying here; I can get someone better. Shame about losing the rent money for a while, though.
Alright, Mrs Tedman. Look, I’m in a bit of an hurry right now; I just popped back to see if Kate was still here. I needed to talk to her.
Old Mother Tedman; nosey; small; only two teeth; thousand wrinkles; always got her fucking pinny on; hair in bun. Kate said she’d leave me, and she has. Best to make out I’m in a rush to go somewhere quickly, or she’ll want the rent money right now.
I’ve got to see someone about a job, Mrs Tedman. I’ll be back a bit later.
Sod it; I’ll have to find somewhere else now, and they’ll want rent money in advance. I’ll put off paying Old Mother Tedman her rent; stay here for a couple of more days. That stuff that’s left, that’ll be me clothes, and the silver[ware]. I hope. I hope Kate hasn’t taken it.
Well, today’s the day the rents due, and you know I always have the rent a week in advance, so unless you pay the rent I’m afraid you can’t stay here tonight. I’m old, and the rent money’s all I’ve got to live on.
A job he says! That’ll be a first. I’m glad I always insist on the rent being paid during the week before.
Oh. I haven’t got enough money on me at the moment. And because I’m going straight away to see about a job I won’t be able to take me stuff away right now. Then tomorrow I’ll be looking for somewhere else to stay – to be nearer me work. I’ll have to come back Monday night for them. Is that alright, Mrs Tedman, leaving me clothes till then?
I’m fed up with this dump anyway; pokey room; asphalt firm smell; grey; right by the river. I’ve got money on me but I won’t tell her. I can let meself in late tonight with the key while she’s asleep and take me stuff. There’s other stuff I’ve left here she don’t know about coz it’s on top of the cupboard. By the morning it’ll be too late for her to do anything. That’ll give me enough time to sort out somewhere else to stay. I’ll get me brother Alf to come here with me, help me get it away all in one go.
Well, I suppose Monday’ll be okay; but no later.
If he’s not coming back till Monday to collect it it’ll give me time to have a good look at it. See what’s in it.
I’ll expect you Monday, then. And I’ll have my key back, if you don’t mind.
Oh, Yeh, I nearly forgot; good job you reminded me.
I bet he thought I’d forget to ask for the key back. I’ll have to get another lodger for that back room. I’ve only got a bit of money coming in from dressmaking, so I can’t afford to lose the money the room brings in, not at my age, or I’ll end up in the workhouse.
See you Monday, then, Mrs Tedman.
I’d better find somewhere to put the stuff before the nosey cow thinks about having a look. So what if she has a look and sees the stuff? Silverware. Should’ve sold it. She can’t do anything about it, anyway. She’d have only have kicked me out of the lodgings, and I’m going anyway. It’ll be alright there till Monday. Who can I kip down with? Charlie Morris; long thin face; always had a job right from school; always smiling; big front teeth like a rabbit. He’s got his own place; Mary Ann’s Buildings; little old place; always in shadow; alley at one end of it; off [Deptford] High Street; two rooms; he’s really lucky to live there; he might let me doss there for a while. He owes me one or two favours. Yuh, I’ll ask him.
Bert hasn’t got the key now, so I don’t have to worry about him suddenly coming back in when I’m having a look at that bundle. Ah, that’s him got rid of. I’ll have a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits now. Then I’ll start on cleaning that room; dare say it’ll need a good cleaning. Then I’ll have a look at what that Bert’s got in the middle of his bundle of clothes. No, I’ll have a quick look now, just in case he changes his mind and comes back early and wants his stuff straight away. Yes, look at the room; filthy; it’ll take me a day to get it clean. Have a look at bundle – undo string – unwrap big coat – smaller clothes beneath – smell – all need a clean – I’ll wash me hands afterwards – sort through to middle – Ah – I knew it – silverware – cups – trays – candlesticks – hallmarked. This stuff’s not his. Thieving bastard.
I hope Charlie let’s me stay at his place. He should do; but if he doesn’t I’ll be seeing Molly down the pub tonight. Might be able to kip at her sister’s place, same as Molly does. Or ask a favour from someone down the pub. I’ll pop round to Alf’s first. Kate said she’d leave me if I didn’t get a job. And she was jealous of me talking to Molly and other women. Never mind; she moaned too much. Moaned about me staying out all night, moaned about I should have a job, moaned about me going to the pub too much. I would’ve thought that Old Mother Tedman would’ve let me keep the room for one or two more nights while I got somewhere to stay. It’s not as if she would’ve rented it out that quickly, so it would’ve been empty anyway. She was just being awkward.
[23 BROOKMILL ROAD, 4:39 p.m.]
Hello, Alf. Kate’s left me. Pissed off back to her old man.
I told you she would, didn’t I. If you’d treated her better she might’ve stayed with you a bit longer.
I’ll let him know he can’t stay here.
Where you going to stay, then? Old Baynesie’s bint the landlady won’t let us have anyone else staying here with us.
If they paid extra money she’d let `em stay. It’s not even her place. Mr Antoni has left her to look after the house while he’s abroad. She fiddles him, making out there’s less people staying here than there is.
Alf talks as if he knows how women should be treated. He can talk, the way he knocks Annie about.
I thought I’d ask Charlie, Charlie Morris. I’m going to see him now; I’m sure he’ll let me sleep on his floor. But I’ll need an hand, you know, getting the stuff from me lodgings.
Hallmarked silver. Jemmy. Chisel.
You alright for Monday, about eightish?
That’ll give me time to sort out staying at Charlie’s. He always goes down The Mechanics of a night, so while he’s out I can get the stuff round to his place and hide it under the floorboards so he don’t know what I’m keeping there. The less he knows the better.
Yuh; Monday at Eight’ll be fine.
I hope Bert gets somewhere to lodge, his own room, rather than staying at Charlie’s. Annie would’ve gone up the wall if I’d let him leave the tools here. She don’t know we still burgle; thinks I get money from football and cricket and gambling. And there’s always that Baynesie’s bint from upstairs coming down, with her hawky eyes, looking round the room, looking for stuff she reckons shouldn’t be here. Baggy face; sour face; always has her mouth and nose screwed up as if she can smell drains. I’ve seen her, flashing her glance all over the place and it lingering when she thinks she’s spotted something she thinks we shouldn’t have, or if she don’t think the bloody place is clean enough. She even stands just at the right place so she can look under the bed. She’d search the room while we’re out if she thought she could get away with it. She acts as if the place belongs to her instead of her just looking after it while Mr Antoni’s away. When he comes back I’ll let him know she fiddles him.
MONDAY 20TH FEBRUARY [67 KNOTT STREET, DEPTFORD, 7:55 p.m.]
Hello, Mrs Tedman. I’ve come to pick up me bundle of clothes, as I said. Me brother Alf’s here to help me.
I wonder if she’s looked in the bundle? Hope she hasn’t. Bet she has.
I’ll let him know he’s inconvenienced me.
I’ve waited for you to get the rest of your stuff so I can give the room a clean, ready for the new lodgers.
His brother’s slimmer; more athletic; better looking.
I can’t afford to leave it empty, not at my age, you know; don’t know how long I’ve got to make the money last.
She’s always going on about how old she is. Waited for me to get me stuff so she can clean the room! It wouldn’t have stopped her cleaning the bloody place. We’ve probably left it cleaner than when we first came here. Filthy windows; curtains needed cleaning; tiny rugs on bare floorboards; mice; bugs.
I think I left a couple of things on top of the cupboard an’all; just a couple of things I sometimes use when I do a little bit of carpentry for a bit of extra money. It’s a bit dark now; I should have got them down while it was still light.
Better to get them down in the dark anyway; then she won’t see properly what they are.
I’ve lit the lamp in the room; I’ll hold it up so you can see to the top of the cupboard. You can use that chair there for getting to the top of the cupboard; I don’t mind you standing on it.
He must’ve stood on the chair to put the stuff on the cupboard in the first place. The sooner he gets his stuff the sooner he’s gone for good. The floor was filthy. Kate couldn’t have cleaned the floor in all the time she was here.
There’s your bundle of stuff on the bed. I moved it coz I was going to turn the mattress over, but it was too heavy for me. I’ve cleaned the floor, so I hope you don’t get it dirty again with your big boots. Heavier than it looks, your bundle of clothes. Here are, here’s the lamp so you can find what you’re getting.
She’s only giving me the lamp so she can see what I’m taking. Old cow.
I don’t know what you’ve got in the bundle and I’m not interested; what you’ve got is your own business. You could pawn whatever you’ve got if it’s worth anything. Save you carting it around with you, and save it getting lost or stolen.
Oh, it’s a few odd things I’m attached to, quite old things that’s been in the family. I wouldn’t get hardly anything off the pawnbrokers for them.
Oh, that’s different then; you should keep them.
Lies! Why don’t you keep it at your mother’s, then?
Here are, Alf, those carpentry tools.
Okay, got them.
I bet Old Mother Tedman has to have a good look. Yeh, she has! I fucking knew it! Bloody nosy cow, wanting to know what Bert had in the bundle! Just coz it was left at her place she thinks she’s got a right to know. Wonder if she had a look? Wouldn’t put it past her. No, from what Bert said she’d have had to have dropped hints that she knew what he had, just to let us know that she knows. She’d have mentioned silver and the price you can get for it, just to see the look on our faces. Nothing better to do, some people.
Right, I’ll just pick up the bundle and we’ll be off, Mrs Tedman. That’s all me stuff. Thanks for having me and Kate here.
Okay. Thanks for coming round and collecting it. Did you sort out somewhere to stay near your work?
Oh, yeh, I got a very nice place, thanks. Really nice and clean. Bye.
I won’t tell her I’m staying at Charlie’s; I’ll make her think I’ve got a better lodging than this hole. It smells of bleach and something; don’t know what.
I thought as much! If that silver stuff was his, why was he acting so suspicious about it, making out what’s in the bundle has been in his family. What would someone like him be doing with silver stuff anyway. Asked him what was in the bundle so he’d think I hadn’t looked. I knew it must be a bit dodgy, or he would’ve taken it Saturday. He’s waited till it’s dark. He must think I’m stupid. They’ll get into trouble they will, one day, Bert and his brother. Anyway, now he’s taken his stuff I can finish off cleaning the room; turn the mattress over and give the bed a good airing. Hopefully get a better class of lodger next; a clerk or someone like that. I wonder what they were, those tools? Carpentry tools, he says, but he’s not a carpenter. And carpenters have saws and hammers. And screwdrivers. The only job he’s ever had was in the Navy. And I’ve no idea what his brother does. Bert should have been in a good job by now, like my son who’s got a good job as a boilermaker. He’s away, working over at Chiswick. He works away a lot, but he don’t mind. He says you have to expect to work far away nowadays if you want to get on. I’ll open the window – that’s it – let some air in for half an hour. The curtains need cleaning; don’t Kate ever do any cleaning? Turn over mattress – ooh – it gets heavier it does – hello, what’s these black things under it? Bits and pieces of some old stockings. Odd. Why have they been cut about like that? Funny. And they’ve got strings on them. I’ll throw ’em in the dustbin.
[78 OSCAR STREET, DEPTFORD, 9:20 p.m.]
MRS STRATTON [OPENING FRONT DOOR]
Wonder what he’s after.
Hello, mum. I thought I’d pop round, see how you are.
She’s always doing housework. House spotless. Smells of polish.
Oh, I’m alright. Come in. How’s Kate?
She should be ashamed of herself, leaving her husband. Bert should never have taken up with her.
She never liked Kate. Said she was common.
Gone. I told her to go this morning. She’s gone back to her old man.
Mum’ll be pleased.
So you’re in your lodgings on your own, now?
He won’t stay on his own for long. He don’t like being on his own.
No, I’ve left there. It was Kate who seemed to like it there; that was the only reason we were there. And seeing as the rent was due today I thought if I didn’t like it there I might as well leave.
Where you staying now, then? Carrington House?
No, I’m staying with Charlie Morris. He lives in Mary Ann’s Buildings. Couple of rooms in one of the old places there. He’s often mentioned that it’ll be all right for me to stay at his place for a while. I’ll stay with him till I get a job and be able to get lodgings of me own. You remember Charlie Morris, don’t you?
Course I remember him. I went to school with his mother. He was at Frankham Street School with you, weren’t he? How’s his brother, the boss-eyed one?
George? He’s okay; he lives over on the Isle of Dogs now; works shift-work in one of the factories there.
I’ll go and see him soon.
Both hard-working boys, they are.
I’ll give him a hint.
You haven’t got a job yet, then?
No. I’ve looked all round here, but there’s not much going. I’ll have to look a bit further away. Trouble is, it costs money to get the tram to where there’s work.
Here it comes . . .
Mum, you couldn’t lend me a shilling or two, could you, so I can get the tram to other places, those factories along Woolwich Road, or Woolwich itself maybe, and look for jobs there?
I knew it.
I can only let you have sixpence. I haven’t got much meself.
He must think I’m made of money.
Oh, thanks mum. I’ll get up early in the morning and look for work. I’ll give it back to you in a week or so.
Only a tanner, but it’ll do for tonight. That’s three more pints.
EXTRACTS OF REFERENCES FROM “A MURDER IN DEPTFORD”:
Knott Street: Now Creekside. Charles Booth who with his assistants surveyed London in the years 1889 – 1903 for his seventeen-volume Life and Labour of the People in London, described Knott Street as “On west side are a few 2-storey houses with gardens in front near railway arch, LIGHT BLUE. Creek Road Board School has been extended and has an entrance here, LIGHT BLUE to DARK BLUE. Houses on east side are 2-storey and small like Benmore Street, LIGHT BLUE on west and DARK BLUE on east side. DARK BLUE on map.’ The people living there ranged from `Poor, 18s to 21s a week for a moderate family’ to `Very poor, casual. Chronic want.” Refer to Appendix VIII for other streets in this book covered by Booth’s survey.
Workhouse: London statistics demonstrated that around the 1900 period one in every four adults was destined to die on public charity, either in the workhouse, the infirmary, or the asylum. “The ultimate degradation was commitment to the workhouse. Men and women wore a peculiar uniform which identified their pauper state to all who saw them when they walked abroad. Few workhouses could have been held liable for disregarding the famous charge of the reformers in 1834; conditions within their walls remained, in almost all cases, `less eligible’ than those a working man might hope to encounter outside. In return for `task work’, inmates were fed and housed in a degree of comfort or discomfort commensurate with standards established by the Board.” (A Life Apart, p154).
In 1886, and up to 1893, the percentage of pauperism population was less in London than in all England; but since 1893, and for every succeeding year [until at least 1902], the percentage of pauperism to population has been greater in London than in all England. Yet, from the Registrar-General’s Report for 1886, the following figures are taken:
Out of 81,951 deaths in London (1884):
In workhouses 9,909
In hospitals 6,559
In lunatic asylums 278
Total in public refuge 16,746
(Information from Jack London’s, The People of the Abyss, p101. Reprinted by Pluto Press, 1998. Originally published 1903).
Mary Ann’s Buildings: Now Mary Ann Gardens, situated off High Street, Deptford. Although a cul-de-sac for traffic, an alley at the end connected to Church Street.
Brookmill Road, known previously as Mill Lane, is described in Life and Labour of the People in London: “West side to Friendly Street has been cleared by the LCC [London County Council]. Other side remaining are 4-roomed houses. Prostitutes and bullies [Booth’s term for pimps]. Two houses south of Friendly Street also bad, broken windows. DARK BLUE TO BLACK. BLACK AND PURPLE on map.”
The Mechanics: Mechanics Arms pub, Deptford High Street. The building still exists but is no longer trading as a pub.
Looking under the bed: Alfred and Annie rent a single room.
You have to expect to work far away nowdays: “In the 1900s no less than the 1870s or 1840s, having a foothold in the labour market was for most people a far more powerful determinant of economic viability and social status than any other factor in their lives (far more important than possession of property or access to the vote). (Jose Harris, Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870 – 1914. p 123. Penguin, 1994).
That said, most people probably saw work as merely a means to an end. Dreams of a windfall, an independent income, a chance to have a small business with a regular and comfortable income necessitating only a small exertion was just as common then as today.
Carrington House: A large and impressive five-storey building in the Deptford Broadway end of Brookmill Road. It was built in 1903 by the London County Council (a forerunner of the Greater London Council) as a hostel for single men. It closed in 1991, converted into flats in 1995, and renamed Mereton Mansions (Mereton being an ancient name for Deptford – a place by the marsh).
Oil Shop: Before widespread use of electricity, and despite the already widespread use of gas, there were still many oil shops. As well as oil for heating and lighting, they sold paint and other decorating materials. Although by 1885 there were 2 million gas consumers (and none electric), in 1905 most people still used oil for lighting and cooked on their coal range. Electricity was becoming available to more customers, and as the number of customers grew the efficiency of scale drove down the cost, which was between 4d and 6d per unit in 1902; by 1906 it had been reduced to 2d. By 1920 there were 1 million electricity and 7.5 million gas users.
His other shops: The Chapman family also owned oil shops in Greenwich, Lewisham, Lee, Nunhead, Dulwich, Forest Hill, and Sydenham. As well as oil for lighting and heating, the shops sold paint and painting material.