by Natasha Fenner, Assistant Curator
Each year in February our attention is turned towards love, with the occurrence of Saint Valentine’s Day. This year in our temporary Show Space display we have featured objects and an oral history that tell the love stories of four London couples.
The objects, all quite new acquisitions to the museum’s collection, relate to pivotal moments in the couples’ relationships. They have been kept and treasured over many years, symbolic of the personal and unique ways in which love is expressed.
One of the items on display is an icing model of a liquid waste disposal truck that adorned the wedding cake of Eileen Rice and Reg Flavell. Married on 11 July 1937 at St Barnabas Church, East Dulwich the couple celebrated their reception at Pritchard’s Restaurant on Oxford Street.
The bride, reported as wearing crepe and silver, chose a wedding cake to match her colour scheme. The three-tier cake was decorated with delicate white and silver flowers and supported on an ornate silver base. It was topped with the finely detailed white and silver icing model of a gully emptier truck. These trucks, later known as ‘sludge gulpers’, were used to clean drains and suck up industrial and domestic waste, making the model a unique way for the couple to crown their cake. Their choice was a nod to the place they met; the Mechanical Cleansing Service in Burbage Road, Dulwich. Eileen worked in the office as a secretary and met Reg when he joined the business as an accountant.
The company, founded by Eileen’s father Alfred Rice in 1927, specialised in the removal and disposal of a wide range of liquid waste products for industrial, government, local authority and domestic clients. This included the clearing of household cesspits for which the advertising slogan ‘your business is our business’ was used! At its peak, the Mechanical Cleansing Service had a fleet of over 120 vehicles.
The model on top of Eileen and Reg’s wedding cake depicted the pride of their fleet, an Albion petrol gully emptier. After the wedding the model was preserved under a glass dome which sat on a filing cabinet in Reg’s office. He went on to become Managing Director of the company, a position he filled until his retirement in 1972. The couple’s son, Den, recalls that after his father’s retirement the icing cake topper was moved to their family home and took pride of place in the dining room.
Now a part of the museum’s collection it is an enduring symbol of their love and of the importance of the family business in their lives. It also reveals a lighter side to the necessary work of cleaning the dirt from the metropolis of London!
See the wedding cake topper and other romantic objects in Love Stories, in the Show Space display area.
Free to visit. Closes 17 March 2016.
Tell us what you think by tweeting your thoughts including #LoveStories and #ShowSpace.
By Jackie Keily, curator of The Crime Museum Uncovered
This sketch by the courtroom artist William Hartley links us to a particularly cold-blooded murder on a train, but also to a story of amazing bravery. The sketch shows 23-year-old George Parker, also known as George Henry Hill, in the dock at Westminster Police Court where he was charged on 18 January 1901 with the murder of William Pearson and the attempted murder of Mrs Rhoda King. The latter, a 54 year old mother of two, was a witness to the incident and was injured during it.
On Thursday 17 January 1901 all three were passengers in the same third class railway carriage on the 11.20am London and South-Western train from Southampton to Waterloo. King got on first, in Southampton, and sat in the then empty carriage. Her husband was a printer in Southampton and she was on her way to London to visit a sick relation. Parker got on at Eastleigh and Pearson, a well-to-do farmer in his 40s, boarded the train when it stopped at Winchester. Near Surbiton, Parker went into the lavatory, which was situated towards the back of the compartment. By this time Pearson was sleeping and King stood up to look out of the window. She was startled to hear gun-shots and felt blood on her face. She had been shot in the cheek and the bullet was lodge below her jaw. Pearson had been shot in the head and appeared to be dying. She asked Parker what he had done and he replied: ‘I did it for the money. I want some money. Have you got any?’ She gave him a shilling from her purse, which he took. Her face was bleeding heavily and she used two handkerchiefs to wipe the blood. Seeing this, Parker gave her one of his. Parker searched Pearson’s pockets and removed a cigar case and a purse, offering King a sovereign from Pearson’s purse, which she refused. She urged him to cover Pearson’s face with a handkerchief, which he did. King pleaded with him for her life and tried to calm him by talking to him and he told her that he was going to Liverpool and from there to South Africa. He then began wondering what he should do with his gun, saying he might place it in Pearson’s hand to try to make it look as if Pearson had killed himself. King suggested he throw the gun out of the window, which eventually he did. As the train approached Vauxhall, Parker climbed out and jumped onto the platform, telling King to remain quiet. Once the train had stopped, and on the verge of collapsing, she opened the door and shouted to some railwaymen to follow Parker as he had killed someone. He had already got through the ticket barrier as he had taken Pearson’s ticket to use. He was pursued and eventually cornered in the South Metropolitan Gas Company’s gas works nearby. He was taken to Larkhall Lane Police Station, where he stated, referring to Rhoda King: ‘I wish I had killed the woman, and then I should have got away had I have killed her.’
King was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital for treatment where she remained for eight days. Pearson was pronounced dead, he had been shot through the left eye from close range. The railway line was searched and the murder weapon recovered. When Parker was searched at the police station, items belonging to Pearson, including the purse, were found on him. He was then charged with the murder of Pearson and the attempted murder of Rhoda King.
Parker, originally from Birmingham, was an ex-soldier and a heavy drinker. He had started a relationship with a woman, Elizabeth Rowland (whom, unbeknownst to him, was married to a soldier serving in India) in Portsmouth. Before going to London in January 1901 he had purchased a revolver. He later claimed that on his return to Portsmouth he was going to kill Elizabeth and himself. He also claimed that Pearson was someone who held a grudge against him from his army days, but no evidence was found to suggest that the two men had ever met. Parker was in need of money and indeed did not have sufficient on him to pay the full fare to London (which is why he took Pearson’s ticket in order to make his escape at Vauxhall).
On Friday 1 March, Parker appeared at the Central Criminal Court. He pleaded not guilty, his barrister pleading that his client was insane due to alcoholism. He was found guilty and was executed at Wandsworth Prison on 19 March. The Evening Express reported that he rose at 7am on the morning of his execution and ‘betrayed no fear at his approaching doom’. He was executed by James Billington, assisted by his son, Thomas Billington.
The remarkable and brave Rhoda King, who gave evidence at the trial, lived to the age of 89, dying in Southampton on 1 June 1935.
For more information on this case, see:
See more court sketches by William Hartley in The Crime Museum Uncovered, at the Museum of London until 10 April 2016.
The museum’s upcoming exhibition, Tattoo London, will reveal four contemporary tattoo studios in the capital, as well as offering some insight into the history of professional tattooing in London. Over the next few weeks we will be introducing four tattooists from the studios featured in the exhibition. Today we introduce Lal Hardy of New Wave Tattoo.