‘Doctor’ Crippen, Hanged Today In 1910. Innocent? Or Hanged For The Wrong Murder..?

Most people know the name. Most who know the name, know the story. ‘Doctor’ Hawley Harvey Crippen (actually a salesman of quack remedies) unwittingly became one of criminal history’s most infamous names. His wife Cora disappeared. Her remains were found beneath  the coal cellar of their home, 39 Hilldrop Crescent. Crippen flees to Canada with his mistress, Ethel le Neve. The Transatlantic pursuit of Crippen and his paramour, secretly recognised by Captain Kendall of the SS Montrose, whose radio message made Crippen the first murderer caught by radio. Crippen and le Neve arrested after Scotland Yard’s Walter Dew caught a faster ship (the SS Laurentic) and surprised them. Talk of an abusive, unfaithful, drunken, violent wife whose conduct might have driven him to breaking point. Crippen’s illicit liaisons with his secretary and the final chapter on November 23, 1910, when Crippen walked smiling to the gallows. Ethel, having been cleared of any wrongdoing, disappeared into obscurity for the rest of her life. Well, almost…

But was Crippen hanged for the wrong murder? Was he even guilty? New forensic evidence doesn’t conclusively exonerate him. But it certainly raises questions about the original verdict, particularly the…

Source: ‘Doctor’ Crippen, Hanged Today In 1910. Innocent? Or Hanged For The Wrong Murder..?

18th and 19th Century: Nicolas Steinberg and the Murder of a Georgian Family

Originally posted on 18th and 19th Century.

St. James’s Church in 1806

Forty-year-old John Nicolas (or Nicholas) Steinberg was an optician and also a man considered to possess “inventive genius.” This was demonstrated by the fact that he received a patent for inventing a peculiarly constructed whip. But Steinberg’s peculiar whip would not be what he would become known for, rather he became known as a murderer.

On September 9, 1834, Steinberg ordered his fifteen-year-old servant, a girl named Pearson, to “go and fetch a pint of beer and a quartern of gin.” After delivering it to him, Steinberg suggested she stay the night, but she wanted to go home to her mother’s house, so he instructed her to return at six o’clock in the morning. The following morning Pearson returned as she was told to 17 Southampton Street (now Calshot Street), Pentonville. However, after knocking on the door for some time, she received no answer and left.

Between eleven and twelve o’clock, Pearson and her mother returned. They knocked but again there was no answer. Eventually, Pearson and her mother talked to a neighbor, and the neighbor concluded Steinberg and his family had left clandestinely to avoid paying rent, as Steinberg was six months behind, and, then the neighbor sought out Lewis Cuthbert, the landlord.

Cuthbert considered Steinberg a quiet and respectable “tradesmanlike man,” but now he believed Cuthbert had absconded, and, he and the neighbor returned to Steinberg’s house to further…

via 18th and 19th Century: Nicolas Steinberg and the Murder of a Georgian Family.

Joseph Grimaldi, Clown 1778–1837

A story is told that in 1806 a man goes to visit a doctor who is acclaimed for his ability to treat melancholia. “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep,” says the man. “I feel constantly miserable.  Please help me, doctor.”

“Laughter is the best medicine, my friend,” says the doctor. “Take yourself off to Covent Garden Theatre* where you will find The Great Grimaldi performing in Harlequin and Mother Goose; or the Golden Egg. It is exquisitely funny and will cure you of all your ills without any pills or potions from my cabinet.”

The man looks at the doctor for a moment.  “Ah,” he says. “That won’t help.”

“Why not, sir?”

The man shrugs. “I am Grimaldi.”

Grimaldi in 1819 by J.E.T. Robinson

Grimaldi in 1819 by J.E.T. Robinson

Apocryphal or no, I have little doubt the story’s origins go much further back. It would not surprise me if it was first told in Ancient Greece about an actor performing in one of Aristophanes’ comedies. It is a tale that has been attached to several comedians since, not least Dan Leno, whose depression was also legendary.

Joseph Grimaldi came from a line of Italian dancers and performers but was born and brought up in London. It is he we have to thank for the prominence of clowns in entertainment and for British pantomime existing in the form it does. A master craftsman when it came to performing in Commedia dell’Arte, an Italian style that became popular in the 16th century, Grimaldi’s antics in 19th-century Harlequinades transformed the clowning to such an extent that the clown ended up replacing the character of Harlequin.

The It’s Behind You site says this about his performance in the doctor-recommended Harlequin and Mother Goose:

The lack of great theatrical scenes allowed Grimaldi to project himself to the fore ‘he shone with unimpeded brilliance’ once critic wrote. Another marvelled at his performance ‘whether he robbed a pieman, opened an oyster, rode a giant carthorse, imitated a sweep, grasped a red-hot poker……. in all this he was extravagantly natural!’

Next time you go to a Christmas pantomime and sing along, think back to The Great Grimaldi for it was he whose comic songs were so popular that they became a permanent fixture in pantomime.  And if you’ve ever wondered why clowns are so often called Joey, think again of Grimaldi.

Grimaldi by John Cawse

Grimaldi by John Cawse

Andrew McConnell Stott, who has recently written a biography of Grimaldi — The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian — writes:

The audience was in hysterics. Grimaldi had been their idol since he first came to prominence in 1806, having been thrust into the highest sphere of celebrity with a virtuoso comic performance in the original production of Mother Goose, a show that took record profits and ran for longer than any other pantomime in history. Its success brought him national recognition, enormous fees, and a social circle that included Lord Byron, Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis and the entire Kemble family. The critics Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt sang his praises, the young Charles Dickens edited his Memoirs….”

Having retired in 1823 from ill-health and exhaustion — ‘I have overleaped myself’ — Grimaldi ran out of money in 1828, though he was then helped by a yearly pension of £100 from the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, and various benefit performances were staged to help him.  He spent his remaining years in great pain from a body that he had pushed to the limit.

When he died in 1837, The London Illustrated News despaired that audiences would ever look upon his like again. It’s Behind You quotes from the periodical:

Grimaldi is dead and hath left no peer… We fear with him the spirit of pantomime has disappeared.

Joseph Grimaldi's grave

Joseph Grimaldi’s grave

Joseph Grimaldi is buried in the courtyard of St James’s Chapel in Pentonville and is commemorated every year on the first Sunday in February at the Holy Trinity Church in Dalston, The Clowns’ Church, with the Joseph Grimaldi Memorial Service. Since 1967, clowns have been able to attend the service wearing their costumes.

*Now The Royal Opera House

Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah

Originally published on First Night Design 7th February 2014

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The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian