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Epilogue. The Weasel

January 8, 2011
by the gentle author

You recall Detective Inspector Frederick Porter Wensley who played such an important role in the detection of the Houndsditch Murders and the subsequent Siege of Sidney St. Throughout his long and spectacularly successful career, he kept an album now preserved in the archive at Bishopsgate Institute where he pasted all his press reports conscientiously and labelled them with beautiful hand drawn lettering.

It was a labour undertaken with such consideration and care that it must have become an important solace for the great crimefighter to repair to his study with scissors and a pot of glue, and spend countless hours innocently engaged in arranging his cuttings. Many aspire to become the hero of the their own life story, but Wensley read it in the newspapers. It was a story that began in Spitalfields when he joined the police at the time of the Whitechapel Murders in 1887 and ended when he died in the era of the Krays in 1949. Just like a movie star contemplating his rave reviews, Wensley took pleasure in his write-ups, as witnessed by the attention he lavished upon collecting and preserving them, and it fascinates me to turn the pages of his precious album and appreciate something of the enigma of the man they knew as “the weasel.”

A year after the violent shootout on Sidney St, Inspector Frederick Porter Wensley was promoted to Chief Inspector of the Detective Department at Scotland Yard, though crucially he remained in charge of the Whitechapel District where he made his reputation. Prior to the Houndsditch case, Wensley was frustrated that he had not been appointed to the role of detective because it would mean a transfer out of Whitechapel, when his local knowledge proved invaluable to the local constabulary. As well as this promotion, Wensley was awarded a medal by the King and this recognition was the first step in his rise to become the pre-eminent London detective of the day, the man later described by the Sunday Express as, “Sherlock Homes in real life.”

Yet while the papers where quick to celebrate Wensley’s triumphs in crimefighting, they did not quite idealise the man – reading between the lines – as these character descriptions attest,“Frederick Wensley is not a talkative man. He speaks with blunt vigour and stops when he has finished. And his mind works in something of this direct fashion. He goes straight to the heart of the matter. He disregards the non-essentials so completely that I am inclined to think he does not notice them. So far as he is concerned they do not exist. One bludgeon stroke and they are gone.”

“He was a rare physical fighter when criminals showed fight. In his active outdoor days, a fight, if forced upon him, was all in a day’s work.”

“A burglar wrote: ‘Of all the police I have known in my life, he was easily the sternest.’”

In the years following the Houndsditch case, Wensley arrested  the notorious Stinie Morrison who murdered Leo Beron on Clapham Common, and then convicted Voisin the Butcher who murdered Madame Gerard in Bloomsbury. Later, he brought Edith Thompson & Frederick Bywaters to justice, the perpetrators of the Ilford Tragedy, and took charge of the investigation into the case of the poisoned chocolates sent to Sir William Horwood. However the laughs were not all on Wensley’s side, because one night burglars broke into his house in Palmer’s Green whilst he and his wife were sleeping peacefully in their beds and stripped the house of everything of value including his Police Medal presented by the King. Wensley gamely told the press, “Whoever was responsible for the burglary, I am obliged for the sporting way they have behaved.”

Upon retirement, Wensley wrote ‘Detective Days,’ his bestselling biography with accounts of crimes to outstrip any work of fiction. And when the newspapers no longer had new heroic exploits of Wensley to report, he wrote his own for the press, retelling the tales of crimes long ago for a whole new generation, and rounding out his life story nicely.

When I consider Wensley’s involvement in the investigation of the Houndsditch murders, although I grant that he went bravely under gunfire to rescue Sergeant Leeson who had been shot in Sidney St, there is another detail that sticks in my mind. Entering the house in Grove St after the tip-off that a body was there, he was concerned lest gunmen be lying in wait, as his colleagues had discovered to their cost in Houndsditch a few days earlier. Ever the pragmatist, Wensley boasts in his autobiography, how, to remedy this eventuality, he pushed the fat landlady upstairs ahead of him, thus creating a human shield.

As the portrait above suggests, with its strange expression that is simultaneously half-serious and half-smiling, there were different sides to Wensley’s personality. May I remind you of origin of the word ‘”weasel,”  and you can decide upon its suitability or otherwise as a nickname for Wensley?  - because “weasel” derives from the Anglo-Saxon root “weatsop” meaning “a bloodthirsty animal.”

Detective Inspector Wensley disguised as a soldier raids an East End gambling den.

Wensley’s album with  his personal collection of villains’ mugshots that he carried in his wallet.

Images copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You can read the full pitiful story of the Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney St here

Chapter 1. Murder in Houndsditch

Chapter 2. A Body in Grove St

Chapter 3. A Funeral at Christmas

Chapter 4. A Tip Off

Chapter 5. Shootout in Sidney St

17 Responses leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011

    Thank you for posting such a fascinating read! I’ve always adored little historical tidbits. Looking for a copy of Detective Days now as it sounds like it would make a great read. Thanks!!

  2. March 21, 2011

    Thank you for your wonderful site.

    I am interested in the subject of Victorian London, so appriciate all your articles.

  3. Margaret Poole (nee Wensley) permalink
    December 23, 2012

    This was so interesting to read as I am related to Fredrick Wensley. My parents have a copy of his book but I haven’t had the opportunity to read it. Which is now something I now must do.

  4. Lucie Bax permalink
    December 30, 2012

    I completely agree! That’s so interesting, we were also related! My Great-Grandfather Reginald Wensley was his cousin (so-far as my Grandmother knew) I’ve just brought the book! x

  5. stephen Wensley permalink
    January 4, 2013

    I’m another relation, although more a more distant cousin. I also have a copy of the book, and really must get around to reading it, after enjoying browsing through the stories here.

  6. Joe permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Interesting read. I am trying to locate the birth record of Fred’s father George Wensley.

    He lists as being born about 1839 in Monksilver Somerset in various census records but I can find no record of this birth.

    Can you help ?

  7. Tamara Collins (nee Poole) permalink
    August 10, 2013

    My mother is Margaret Poole, who posted on this website and I am currently living in London and would love to meet any distant relatives while I am over here. I have tracked down Jan a website that was done and it should have what you are looking for on http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=pubmembertrees&so=2&pcat=42&rank=0&gsln=Wensley&rg_81004011__date=1865&gss=angs-c

    You have to join and it does cost some money, but if you find out anything I would really love to know for my grandmother back in Australia.

  8. Joyce Graham (Wensley) Queensland Australia. permalink
    August 13, 2013

    I have been so pleased to have read this, it will help me continue my Family Tree. As my sister
    Margaret and niece Tamara Poole have mentioned that my parents have the book, I started to read it years ago but never got to finish it. This has now given me the incentive to finish it. Always wanted to find out more of Fredericks life and this has helped do so.

  9. suzanne hardy permalink
    November 1, 2013

    Always interested to read about ‘the Weasel’

  10. Robyn Cope permalink
    November 25, 2014

    My Grandmother was Lillian Wensley. I am related to Fredrick Wensley as well. I love being able to learn more about him. I too would love to contact my distant relatives.

  11. Claire Aplin (nee Wingfield) permalink
    January 24, 2015

    Fascinating stuff – Federick Wensley was my great great Uncle – would be very interested for any more information or from family!

  12. Ron Wilkes permalink
    April 24, 2015

    Frederick Wensley was my great great uncle. It is fascinating to read of our ancestors.

    Claire Aplin ( previous contributor) I have in my Wensley family tree although we have never communicated it is very interesting to know that we have a common thread through our ancestors.

  13. Claire Aplin permalink
    July 29, 2015

    Hi Ron Wilkes, My great great grandfather was Albert George Wensley who I believe is the brother of Frederick Porter Wensley this my great great uncle. My great grandfather was Albert Wensley, his daughter Winifred Wingfield (nee Wensley) was my grandmother and my father is Michael Wingfield. Would love to know where your connection then descends further down? I. am intrigued about your family tree as Aplin is my married name and as I am only 42 it would have to be extremely current if that was me – very interesting.

  14. October 21, 2015

    The Wensley family moved to 22 Powys Lane, N13 which is still in the Parish of Christ Church Southgate. Frederick (Jr) and Harold are listed on our War Memorial, which records the names of 144 other men of the parish who died during WW1. All are most welcome to visit our church to see the memorial.

    Phillip Dawson, Churchwarden

  15. Ron Wilkes permalink
    March 2, 2016

    Claire Aplin, would like the opportunity to compare family trees
    , is there a way of contacting you.

    Ron Wilkes

  16. Ron Wilkes permalink
    March 2, 2016

    Claire Aplin,

    I believe I have you in my tree, Kathleen o’Toole your mother?

    Ron Wilkes

  17. David Miller permalink
    September 10, 2016

    my grandfather was George Wensley bro of wynne who was my godmother

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