The Butcher of Wapping

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 5, 2013

File this one under “I get no respect,” perhaps. A little while ago I picked up a cute little volume at the Lakewood Library titled I Never Knew That About London. (The cover is delightfully restrained.)

Christopher Winn’s geographically organized tour of relatively little-noted features and historical associations of the London landscape includes, among tidbits like “where London’s first nude statue is” and “the house where Handel and Jimi Hendrix both lived,” a small connection to one of the city’s great real-life detectives—kind of.

In strolling through Wapping, Winn notes its connection to the Tichborne Claimant case., which held the British public spellbound for years in the 1870s and which detective Jonathan Whicher played a key role in resolving. (Skeptics of The Claimant to the Tichborne fortune accused him, in time, of being in fact an ordinary butcher originally from Wapping.) In a double-dissing, however, Winn not only makes no mention of Whicher, but also trivializes his achievement itself by suggesting that the Claimant’s alleged imposture was obviously ludicrous the entire time. This verdict is, I will note, considerably at variance with both the case’s proceedings themselves and with most of those who have looked back upon it, since, including recent works such as Kate Summerscale’s.

On the other hand, however, overlooking Whicher is (with occasional exceptions like Ms. Summerscale) much more in keeping with tradition. Neither the link I’ve posted above nor the Wikipedia article on the case include any mention of Mr. Whicher.

Ah well. There is a silver lining, at least: if everyone were already giving the great detectives their due, I would have much less of a story to tell…

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