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Chapter 2. A Body in Grove St

December 18, 2010
by the gentle author

After a tip-off, police discovered a body at 59 Grove St in Stepney. It was one of the gang who had staged the attempted robbery in Houndsditch on 16th December, and he had been shot accidentally by one of his fellows during their escape.

Dr Scanlon telephoned Arbour Sq Police Station with the news. He had been awoken at 3:30am by two women with their faces concealed by shawls and who could not speak English. He understood that “A man is very bad at 59 Grove St.” and followed them through the dark streets to the house where, lying in a blood-stained bed, he found a man with a bullet-wound to the chest. The dying man refused Dr Scanlon’s suggestion to transfer him to the Royal London Hospital, and so the doctor could only prescribe medication to ease the pain. When he asked what name to write upon the certificate, Dr Scanlon was told “George Gardstein.” Then one of the women returned with him to collect the medicine and he promised that he would visit later to check upon the casualty.

The report of Dr Scanlon’s call was passed to Inspector Frederick Porter Wensley – known as “the Weasel”- who had joined the force in 1887 at the time of the Whitechapel murders. Originally from Somerset, he had a reputation for ambition and was frustrated that he had been held back from promotion to the role of Detective, because it would mean a transfer when he had become too useful in Whitechapel.

Wensley arrived at Dr Scanlon’s surgey in the company of Detective Inspective Thompson of the City of London Police – acknowledging the importance of this unexpected break in the case. Dr Scanlon was instructed to pay a second call and then return to the surgery, both to avoid raising suspicions and to protect himself as informant. Yet inexplicably, when Dr Scanlon discovered the dead body of George Gardstein, he rang the Coroner at once and the news was leaked to the press. Then he returned to the surgery and informed Wensley and Thompson, who raced in anger to 59 Grove St with news reporters on their heels.

Mindful of what happened in Houndsditch and with characteristic pragmatism, Wensley pushed the obese landlady up the staircase ahead of him as a human shield against any bullet, but in the front bedroom he discovered only Gardstein’s wide-eyed corpse upon the bed and  a small hunchbacked woman hastily burning papers in the grate in the small back room. Her name was Sara Trasjonsky and it was she who summoned Dr Scanlon.

A tweed cap full of bullets lay upon the bedside table, an overcoat with a bullethole in the back hung upon the bedstead and a loaded pistol was discovered concealed under the bloody mattress. A door key from Exchange Buildings was found in the dead man’s pocket and, in his pocket book, a membership card for a Latvian Anarchist Communist group, beside instructions for detonating bombs by electricity. Gardstein was carrying a fake passport in the name of  “Schafshi Khan.”Letters were scattered around the room, mostly correspondence from a man named Fritz in the hard labour section of the Central Prison in Riga and, amongst other papers, there was also a statement of accounts for the Social Revolutionary Party in Baku. It was evident that a criminal gang of Eastern Europeans with political motives were on the loose in the East End, and the City of London Police offered a £500 reward for information leading to to their arrest. “Who are these Fiends in Human Shape?” was the headline in the Daily Mirror, and government policy towards immigrants and political refugees was questioned.

Now that George Gardstein could no longer object, his body was transferred to the Royal London Hospital, where a medical student told a journalist, “We’ve got him. There was very great competition and he’s as handsome as Adonis – a very beautiful corpse!”

You may be assured that further reports of any new developments will be forthcoming in the next week.

59 Grove St – the body was discovered in the upper room.

Grove St, looking North.

Today, Grove St is renamed Golding St and only a fragment remains. In this view, equating to the photograph above, the approximate site of 59 Grove St is now occupied by the garage in the centre right.

The memorial to the dead policemen unveiled in Cutler St, Houndsditch, last Thursday, on the day of the centenary.

Archive images copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Ryan Arwood permalink
    December 18, 2010

    So has London torn down most buildings that existed in this time period?

  2. CornishCockney permalink
    December 18, 2010

    Not torn down Ryan, more likely bombed out in WW2.

    Fascinating story. I love comparing then and now photos of London too.

  3. Ryan Arwood permalink
    December 18, 2010

    Thanks for the reply CornishCockney. I love this blog too.

  4. January 6, 2011

    While I agree it’s fascinating to compare then and now photos, I also find it quite heartbreaking and depressing as the modern day photos are usually bleak and charmless. Modern London streets seem to be characterised by ugly street furniture, parked cars and an absence of human life. Where are all the people?

  5. The People permalink
    April 10, 2011

    We are waiting for you Sue

  6. Ruth permalink
    April 10, 2020

    59 Grove Street is where my Great Grandparents lived and died in the late 1800s. John and Emily Willson and their family. John Willson’s parents also lived on the street in number 61, next door. I have been looking them up on Ancestry after getting my DNA test. So that’s their house in the photos. That may well be them and their children too.

  7. Ms Terry Ashton permalink
    March 10, 2022

    Do you have any photos of 103 Grove Street where my great grandparents, Solomon and Sarah Abrahamovich and their family lived at the turn of the 20th century?

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