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  • 19C London Fairies and Murder November 9, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    london fairies

    Beach has long considered himself duty bound to investigate all references to fairies, however strange and however obscene, and there have been, for a while, two references to London fairies that have irritated him because he can’t track them down: or at least he can follow them only into unattractive cul-de-sacs. First, from Carol Silver’s Strange and Secret People:

    In the ‘West Ham Disappearances’ of the early 1880s, a number of young girls vanished from the London slums. One of them, Eliza Carter, returned briefly before her final disappearance to tell her schools friends that ‘They’ (the fairies) had kidnapped her and now forbade her to go home.

    The West Ham Disappearances are documented events (children went missing), but Beach has been unable to find any other reference to fairies. More worrying Silver’s footnote here is the following:

    This interesting but mysterious anecdote is quoted by K. M. Briggs in her article on ‘Fairies’ for the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology (1:308).

    Beach has looked in the book and the Briggs sentence is not there: in fact, Briggs’ article is not there. Is there another edition? CS is, in Beach’s experience, a little careless with some references, but she is absolutely honest. Then, Katharine Briggs sometimes gets things wrong; or maybe Briggs said that the disappearances recalled fairy myths? A prize possibly new book for anyone who can get a pdf of the pages with a reference to these supposed fairies  to solve this problem once and for all, or an explanation for Carol or Katharine’s confusion: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Next up for London fairies is the murder of Fairy Fay which appears in several Jack the Ripper books. Fay seems though to be a fantasy. Philip Sugden in the Complete History of Jack the Ripper sums up the evidence against Fairy Fay. In the ‘Lines on the Terrible Tragedy in Whitechapel’ there is a reference to a victim killed ‘twelve months ago’ at  a time when the Ripper was not generally believed to be active. No name is given. 10 September 1888 the Daily Telegraph talks of the first killing being at Christmas of 1887. No name is given. From here the early victim is repeated but never named until 1950 in Reynold’s News (29 Oct 1950) where Terrence Robertson, a journalist in an article, ‘Madman Who Murdered Nine Women’, described how one Fairy Fay was killed 24 Dec 1887 near Commercial Road. Sugden is having none of this.

    No such event occurred. There is no reference to it in police records. No mention of it can be found in the local or national press… and a search of registered deaths at St Catherine’s House reveals no woman named Fay or anything like that murdered in Whitechapel during the relevant period.

    ‘Fairy’ is a nineteenth-century term for prostitute, and presumably Robertson invented a credible sounding name, finding the alliterating Fairy Fay irresistible? Note in some books Fay becomes Fey.

    So much for London fairies…

    12 Feb 2017: Andrew writes ‘Regarding your post 19C London Fairies and Murder November 9, 2016, Surely I am unoriginal in positing that, regarding the West Ham Disappearances of the 1880s, either Silver or Briggs has got the wrong end of the stick and the girls in question had, as in the infamous Eliza Armstrong case (how interesting they should have the same Christian name), had been kidnapped into prostitution? As you so rightly allude in the second part of your post, “fairy” was common Victorian slang for a prostitute, and therefore “fairies” might be a synecdochic euphemism for the sex industry of the period as a whole.