Monday, 28 January 2008

William Morris and Jack the Ripper

Dorothy Coles's moving obituary for Dawn Morris (1955-2007) in the latest issue of the Morris Society Journal (XVII, 3, Winter 2007, 10-12) reminds us what a vivid person and devoted Morrisian Dawn was, and how welcome her Sheffield events were as a northern counterbalance to the Society's London focus.

Years ago, after I gave a paper on Morris and Sherlock Holmes at one of her Sheffield conferences, Dawn informed me, to my amazement, that she had heard or read that Morris had once been arrested on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper. I was incredulous, since no such story appears in any of the main Morris biographies, but she was convinced about this and said she would endeavour to track down her source.

Time passed, we both became busy with other things, and we never did go further into this curious Jack the Ripper claim. Certainly Morris was active in the East End as a political activist during the Ripper years, and one could, I suppose, imagine the police, as part of their campaign to harrass socialists, trying to intimidate one of the movement's leaders by arresting him on such grounds. Maybe. But is there any genuine historical evidence out there that he ever actually was arrested as a Ripper suspect? Dawn Morris was convinced that he was, but does anyone else know what her putative source might have been?

2 comments:

Cockaigne said...

I did a quick google search on William Morris and Jack the Ripper and amongst the hits was a Wikipedia entry for a graphic novel by Alan Moore called From Hell which features William Morris giving a speech on the night of one of the murders. Apparently, according to Moore's notes in the Appendix: "he had William Morris appear in London on the night of one of the murders, although historical records show he was out of town that night. Morris, however, does not interact with any of the characters, but is simply seen reading his poem "Love Is Enough", while Gull murders Elizabeth Stride in the alley below."
Of course, this doesn't cast any light on whether Morris was ever questioned in relation to the case.

David Gorman said...

Dawn may have got the story from Fiona MacCarthy's biography of Morris. I remember a comment in MacCarthy to the effect that Morris may have been arrested on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper. I can't remember the exact words she used, and I think she may have prefaced her comment with words to the effect of 'It is even said that Morris was arrested . . . ' or something like that. I don't remember her giving a source for her comment.

I would like to give you a page reference but it is a long time since I read the book and when I checked recently I couldn't find an entry in the index. I think it came up in context of discussion of Morris's political activity in the East End of London. It would be good if Fiona MacCarthy could give a source for this story. I remember talking to Ray Watkinson about this story. He was somewhat sceptical about it to say the least! That said, I'm not sure that Fiona MacCarthy was herself convinced of the truth of the story.