Lucian Freud and Sue Tilley: The story of an unlikely muse

One of Lucian Freud’s more famous paintings depicts a fertility goddess having a nap on her sofa. She is naked and seems to be deep in unguarded sleep (her face is partly squished and she looks like she might be drooling). Despite this, she is majestic; she has curves on her curves, and they phosphoresce gently in shades of brown, pink, and white. How did the artist sneak up on her? Will he survive her wrath when she wakes up?

(Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) broke records when it was sold to Roman Abramovich in 2008 for £17 million ($33.6 million) (Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

No need to worry. For one thing, the goddess isn’t actually asleep: Freud painted her in that pose in sessions spread over many months – he liked to paint from life, and he was fussy, layering and working oil paint until it looks like slathered mud. But for another, the goddess isn’t actually a goddess: she is Sue Tilley, at the time working as a supervisor in a government Jobcentre in London (the title of the painting is Benefits Supervisor Sleeping), and she is as generous on the inside as she is on the outside.


In person, Tilley has a lot of presence, and you realise that Freud’s paintings tap into this. She was in her 30s in the paintings; she is 60 now. She is very kind, dead honest, quick to smile. She has the startling sophistication of someone who has been around the block a few times. And what a block.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley was close friends with the Australian performance artist and club promoter Leigh Bowery – here photographed with his parents Evelyn and Thomas, 1984 (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley led a Technicolor life long before she met Freud: she was close friends with the ‘total’ artist Leigh Bowery and when she wasn’t at her desk in the office she was part of the anarchic clubbing set in London in the 1980s, centring on notorious nights with names like Blitz and Kinky Gerlinky, but especially Bowery’s own creation, Taboo. The latter was one of the wilder and glitzier moments in a decade of egregious moments (polysexual, polysocial, polyeverything), and one of those avant-garde detonations whose effects can still be felt far away in the mainstream.

Wild nights

There is a large literature on the visual genius of Bowery. His exquisitely executed alter egos were nightmarish (in the fecund sense), often powerfully sexualised, sometimes purely beautiful, always resonant. Bowery ignored the boundaries of taste. He was a prodigy in all senses, but perhaps particularly in the old sense of an omen, a shooting star streaking across the night sky. Like so many of the remarkable gay men of that period, he was erased by Aids.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Bowery was also a muse for Lucian Freud; Tilley photographed him (pictured right) with the artist David Holah at her flat in Camden (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley’s Instagram account offers a mood board that includes her 80s adventures: she says she didn’t consider it a good night unless she’d got drunk enough to fall over at some point. Although Tilley was Dorothy in this Land of Oz, her place in posterity really is guaranteed by a series of four nude portraits which Freud did of her in the late phase of his career. All are likely to remain of art-historical significance.

(Credit: Alamy)

Freud paid Tilley a small daily fee but she didn’t receive any money from the sale of paintings she modelled for (Credit: Alamy)

Of those, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) is probably, and deservedly, the most famous. Evening in the Studio (1993), the first of the series, has her sprawled on the floor with a seated girl apparently disinterested and reading a book in the background. The composition is an odd combination of domestic scene and crime scene. (Tilley says she was relieved when Freud bought the sofa because it was painful to lie on the floor for hours.)

All of these paintings are in the hands of extremely rich men, capable of paying tens of millions of dollars for the privilege of gazing on Tilley’s ‘flesh’

Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) depicts Tilley in the corner of the sofa with her head lolling back, as if she’d just swallowed some poison; a position that could not have been comfortable either. Finally, in Sleeping by the Lion Carpet (1996) Tilley is shown sleeping upright in a chair, facing us. I like that painting because the juxtaposition with the lions in the background suggests that Tilley’s grandeur is epic. (Quite true, I’d say.) She hates that painting because she says it makes her look awful.

Freud once revealed: “If I am putting someone in a picture I like to feel that they’ve fallen asleep there or they’ve elbowed their own way in: that way they are there not to make the picture easy on the eye or more pleasant, but they are occupying the space of my picture and I am recording them.” This unflinching gaze produced works that resonate deeply with viewers. “The task of the artist,” Freud said, “is to make the human being uncomfortable, and yet we are drawn to a great work of art by involuntary chemistry, like a hound getting a scent; the dog isn’t free, it can’t do otherwise, it gets the scent and instinct does the rest.”

All of Freud’s paintings of Tilley are in ‘private collections’, ie the hands of extremely rich men, capable of paying tens of millions of pounds for the privilege of gazing on her ‘flesh’ (Freud’s word). For instance, Roman Abramovich set a then-record for the largest amount paid for a painting by a living artist when he bought Benefits Supervisor Sleeping in 2008 for £17 million ($33.6 million at the time). If you want to see it, you might want to become very good friends with him. Be prepared to become a Chelsea supporter, because he owns that football club too.

(Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Freud has been called an “unrivalled interpreter of human flesh in paint”; he painted Sleeping by the Lion Carpet in 1996 (Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Another one, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, is on display as part of the show All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, currently on at Tate Britain in London until the end of August 2018. That painting is on loan from a billionaire who among other things owns Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Catch it before he hangs it back up in his guest toilet.

Benefits Supervisor Resting, meanwhile, has been described as “Freud’s ultimate tour de force, a life-size masterwork in the grand historical tradition of the female nude, painted obsessively with intense scrutiny and abiding truth”; when it was sold at auction in 2015, Christie’s head of post-war art Brett Gorvy said that the painting “is recognised internationally as Freud’s masterpiece and proclaims him as one of the greatest painters of the human form in history alongside Rembrandt and Rubens”. Gorvy described the painting as “a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud’s love of the human body”, commenting on Tilley that Freud “observed every inch of her with an uncritical eye almost daily for more than nine months”.

(Credit: Alamy)

Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) has been described as ‘a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud’s love of the human body’ (Credit: Alamy)

According to Gorvy, Tilley “is calm and confident, relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. She is very much in control, taking on the artist and the viewer. A contemporary take on the Odalisque and the fertility goddess, with her head flung back, she exudes an intriguing ambiguity, implying ecstasy, defiance and the deep exhale of peacefulness.” Benefits Supervisor Resting went on to sell for £35 million ($56 million).

None of the money that has rained down on her representations has made its way to Tilley. When she was posing for Freud he paid her a small daily fee (she told The Guardian that she thought she’d been picked out by Freud as a life model because she represented good value for money – “He got a lot of flesh”).

She liked Freud because he was ‘hilarious’ and loved to gossip with her

Yet, she says, she had the pleasure of his company. She liked him because he was ‘hilarious’ and loved to gossip with her. (Tilley met Freud through Bowery, who was also being painted by him.) She found Freud’s mercurial personality fascinating: she says he could be “mean, extremely generous, grumpy, funny, loud, quiet”; also manipulative, but perhaps in a rather charmingly transparent way. Grumpy seems to have won out, because eventually he dropped her as a friend after taking offence at an offhand remark she made.

(Credit: Tate photography, Joe Humphrys)

Freud’s Sleeping by the Lion Carpet is currently on show as part of All Too Human at Tate Britain (Credit: Tate photography, Joe Humphrys)

Freud gave her some etchings, which she sold years ago because she was short of money, but otherwise she has no mementos. She says he didn’t phone to say thank you after his first painting of her sold for a large sum of money.

She has a £60 printed copy of Freud’s portrait of Leigh Bowery (now in Tate Britain) on the wall of her flat. In 1997 she published Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, which must be his most definitive biography. It also captures the London club subcultures of the Bowery era very vividly.

From muse to maker

Tilley has retired from the Jobcentre and moved from London to a quiet seaside town in East Sussex. But she is not dozing off. She enjoys frequent visits from artists, creatives, and journalists from around the world who want to talk about Freud, Bowery, and Tilley. And the walls of her flat are vibrant with art, some of it by friends, but most by her. She learned how to draw when she was young and then dropped it, but she has recently taken it up again. She is good.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley has been painting for years: this 2016 image shows Trojan, one of the people in Leigh Bowery’s circle in the 1980s (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Through friends and accident, she ended up having a large solo show of paintings and drawings at an east London gallery in 2015. It caught her a little by surprise, but got her working flat out to produce pieces to fill the gallery. Her style is sketchy, maybe a little cartoonish, self-assured. The effect of her anti-aesthetic is charming. She focuses on the personal: portraits of friends, drawings of everyday objects which she sometimes affectionately calls ‘boring’ but which she loves.

Tilley elaborates on this low-key universe in a further step in her artistic career: her collaboration with the S/S18 Fendi Men’s collection, where luxury clothes and bags are decorated with her pictures of desk lamps, bottle openers, banana skins, cups of coffee. Fendi calls this “corporate escapism” and it is undeniably fun; although you would need to be escaping after light-heartedly robbing a bank, since a T-shirt with a drawing of a martini goes for about £480. I suppose one can’t really complain, since a painting of Tilley goes for upwards of 35,000 times that amount. It is long past time that she got a bigger piece of the action.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley describes this image she painted on a plate as The Benefit Supervisor Has Woken Up (Credit: Sue Tilley)

So, onward for Sue Tilley and her remarkable life. At one point she shows me a nude self-portrait that she painted on a plate for a charity auction. The image echoes Benefits Supervisor Resting, except she is sitting upright and alert, her eyes open. She tells me the title is The Benefit Supervisor Has Woken Up. I would say she never went to sleep. Such a pity that Freud isn’t alive to sit for her.

By Cameron Laux 14 May 2018


A guide to Jack the Ripper

An ‘armchair historian’ claims to have identified Jack the Ripper as a 23-year-old Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski. Here, Clive Emsley and Alex Werner reveal the life and times of the Victorian murderer, and tell you everything you need to know about the yet unsolved murder cases

The murders

Within just a few short weeks, the Ripper slashed and mutilated five prostitutes in London’s East End

Shortly before 4am on 31  August 1888, a cart driver found the body of Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols in Buck’s Row, close to Bethnal Green. She was on her back. Her skirt had been pulled up round her waist. Her throat had been slashed so deeply that she had nearly been decapitated, and there were deep cuts to her abdomen. This was the first of the Whitechapel Murders that are commonly attributed to Jack the Ripper.

Just over a week later, at about 6am on 8  September, the body of Annie Chapman was discovered in a yard in Hanbury Street. Her injuries were similar to those of Polly Nichols, but some of her internal organs had also been cut away and removed; her small intestines lay by her right shoulder.

On 30  September came ‘the double event’. Elizabeth ‘Long Liz’ Stride was found first, but her injuries were not as severe as those of the earlier victims; the assumption was that the killer had been disturbed during his butchery. And if that was the case he had quickly found a second victim. Catherine Eddowes was killed soon after, and not far from Stride. Her intestines had been ripped out and the killer had taken away her left kidney and uterus.

Saturday 10 November was the day of the Lord Mayor’s Show in London. What should have been one of the highlights of the capital’s social calendar was marred by the revelations of a fifth, even more horrendous murder. Whereas the previous victims had been killed in the street, Mary  Kelly’s  body was found on a bed in a shabby lodging house in Miller’s Court. Indoors, the killer had been able to take his time. Kelly was savagely mutilated and body parts and internal organs were left on a table beside the bed.

Other killings were linked with Jack the Ripper – both at the time and in later years – but these five murders are now generally acknowledged as the sum total of his grisly work. All of them took place in a confined area of London’s East End – much less than a square mile. All of the victims were poor women, and each one of them had worked, or was still working, as a prostitute.

Jack the Ripper was not the first serial killer. He was not the first notorious sexual predator, nor was he the first killer or sexual assailant to cause a panic far beyond his area of activity. But Jack was never caught. And it is this that has probably been central to the fascination that continues to surround him.

Contemporaries of the murders, and people ever since, have filled in the blanks to suit themselves. They’ve used the killings to develop theories about the state of society and the potential for male violence, and even to live out their own personal fantasies of Jack.

The big question: who was Jack?

The finger has been pointed at a succession of possible Jacks, including Joseph Barnett, a Billingsgate porter and former lover of Mary Kelly, and HRH the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s eldest grandson, who died young in 1892 following a life of sexual excess.

The novelist Patricia Cornwell spent considerable sums trying to prove her theory that Jack was the artist Walter Sickert, basing her claims on his paintings of a nude woman and a man in a house in Camden.

Other suspects have included school teacher Montague Druitt, whose body was fished from the Thames shortly after the last murder; Aaron Kosminski, a Polish hairdresser; and Michael Ostrog, a mad Russian doctor. Another doctor, Thomas Neill Cream, has also been accused. Cream committed seven murders on both sides of the Atlantic between 1877 and 1892 and his victims were often seeking abortions or were prostitutes. Cream was executed for murder in England but his instrument of choice was strychnine, not a knife.

Could Jack have been Jill?

Some contemporaries even suggested that the killer was a woman. Jill the Ripper seems unlikely given that such extreme violence has almost always been perpetrated by men. But only 15  years before the Whitechapel Murders, Mary Ann Cotton had been executed in Durham Gaol. She was convicted of poisoning her seven-year-old stepson, though another 20 family members, including her mother and three husbands, also appear to have been her victims.

The Revd Lord Sidney Godolphin Osborne, an earnest, evangelical paternalist, wrote a series of letters to The Times during the period of the murders. He lamented the gulf between rich and poor, and equated Whitechapel with a huge cesspit. He also suggested that “female hands” might be behind the murders, since the unfortunates of the district were well known for their jealousy, their violence, and for possessing the strength necessary for such action.

Was Jack a foreigner?

Others suggested that Jack was a foreigner. They were convinced that no Englishman would do such things. The press conjured with images of Indian thugs (bandit worshippers of the goddess Kali, crushed by the British in the 1830s), of Malays running amok, of North American Pawnees “drunk with blood” and of atrocities from “the wilds of Hungary”. The recent influx of Jews to Britain, fleeing oppression in Eastern Europe, combined with the undercurrent of anti-Semitism in Britain to foster the belief among many that a Jew was the killer. The Star newspaper almost found itself defending a libel suit when it named John ‘leather apron’ Pizer, a Jewish boot maker, as the killer.

The idea that Jack was Jewish received some support from a chalk inscription found on a wall close to part of Catherine Eddowes’s bloodstained apron. There were several versions of what the inscription said, the most syntactically correct being: “The Jews shall not be blamed for nothing”. Sir Charles Warren, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, ordered that it be washed off for fear that it might provoke anti-Semitic disorder.

The murders echoed the false, but popular medieval fears that Jews ritually killed Gentile children. There were also wild stories of Jews who, after sex with Gentile women, needed to purge themselves with the blood of those women.

Such stories sparked panics in other parts of Europe during the 19th century, many in the 1890s. The Berlin-based Association against anti-Semitism counted 79 between 1891 and 1900; about half were in the Austro-Hungarian empire and another fifth in imperial Germany.

Among the best-known is the accusation of the murder of a five-year-old boy levelled at a Jewish butcher, Adolf Buschoff, in the Rhenish town of Xanten. There was little evidence, but the authorities found themselves forced to try him. Buschoff was acquitted but he, and most of the Jews in Xanten, thought it best to quit the town for good.

Did life imitate art?

The Whitechapel Murders came just two years after Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A stage version, with Richard Mansfield in the roles of the physician and his monstrous alter ego, opened to packed audiences just a few weeks before the murders.

To many, the killings suggested that fiction had become reality and this led to the play being taken off in October – and Mansfield himself has been identified as a possible Jack. Moreover, Stevenson’s book contributed to the idea that Jack was a toff in top hat and silk cape. Perhaps he too was a doctor – for some, the manner in which organs were removed from the victims suggested a knowledge of anatomy. The way in which he, or someone else, played with the police, sending them letters ‘From Hell’, also pointed to a man of ability.

Did Jack write the letters ‘from Hell’?

Hundreds of letters were sent to police and the press purporting to be written by the murderer. The two letters signed by Jack the Ripper are, like almost everything about the killer, shrouded in controversy.

There is evidence to suggest that they were indeed written by Jack – one of them mentioned slicing off part of a future victim’s ear, something that was done to Catherine Eddowes after the letter was sent.

Newspapers printed the letters and the police took them sufficiently seriously to post facsimiles of them in the metropolis. But some senior police officials later suggested that the letters were the work of a journalist keen to add yet more sensation to the story. After all, the killer may have cut off Eddowes’s ear after reading the facsimile letters.

Was Jack an original?

Jack the Ripper is among the most infamous murderers in criminal history. Yet he is far from unique, both as a savage attacker of women and a serial killer – as the following cases prove:

The London monster

“The wound that he made in this young lady’s hip,
Was nine inches long, and near four inches deep;
But before that this monster had made use of force,
He insulted their ears with obscene discourse.”

From March 1788 to June 1790 a ‘Monster’ terrorised London. Some 50 women were abused, cut and stabbed in the street and young Welshman, Rhynwick Williams, an artificial flower maker, was eventually arrested and tried at the Old Bailey for the crimes.

Following a legal dispute about what the offence actually entailed Williams was found guilty and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment – an exceptionally long sentence by the standards of the late 18th century.

The Ratcliffe Highway murders

On the night of 7 December 1811, Timothy Marr, a linen draper, was found battered to death in his shop on the Ratcliffe Highway in East London. Battered and stabbed close by were his wife, their four-month-old baby and the shop-boy. Two weeks later John Williamson, publican of the Kings Arms in New Gravel Lane just off the Ratcliffe Highway, was also murdered with his wife and maidservant.

John Williams, a young seaman, was arrested on suspicion of the murders and allegedly committed suicide in Coldbath Fields Prison. Doubts about his guilt remain, but he was buried at a crossroads with a stake through his heart.

In the 120 years since the Whitechapel Murders, the spectre of Jack the Ripper has returned to haunt the public’s imagination on numerous occasions. No more so than when a hoaxer sent police letters claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper and calling himself ‘Jack.’ Two other cases from the 20th  century are worth noting for their contrasts to the Jack the Ripper murders and for showing how quickly they can be forgotten:

The Halifax slasher

During the early part of the 20th  century there were several instances of men creeping up behind girls and cutting off the long plaits that were the fashion of the day. Once or twice there were also much more serious slashings. The best known occurred in Halifax in 1926 and 1927, and again in 1938.

On the latter occasion the local newspaper, the Courier, offered a £25 reward for the arrest of “The Halifax Slasher”. The community mobilised behind the police: women armed themselves with hat-pins and men with a variety of weapons. The panic was over in a matter of days, however, when several of the victims confessed to self-inflicted wounds.

The blackout ripper

In the second week of February 1942, four women were found strangled and savagely mutilated in their Soho flats. Later that week there were attacks on two other women, but the attacker ran off on the first occasion when he was disturbed and on the second because his victim fought back successfully.

The attacker, Gordon Frederick Cummings, a cadet officer in the RAF, was easily and quickly identified. He was tried for murder at the Old Bailey the following April, found guilty and executed in June.

Did the press sensationalise the murders?

Lurid violence had long been popular with the media. Papers made much of ‘last dying speeches’ at public executions, which invariably came headed with a bloodthirsty image of the felon’s crime.
When newspapers first became popular in England during the 18th  century, editors quickly recognised the value of crime and violence to maintain or boost sales. Victorian papers had a range of titles devoted to sensational stories and ’orrible murders and, from the 1860s, increasingly used bold and eye-catching headlines.

One of the leading practitioners of sensationalist journalism at the time of the murders was WT Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. In 1885 Stead’s reforming zeal, and desire to sell papers, led him to launch a campaign to combat child prostitution. It was a success, but it landed Stead in gaol.

Interestingly, Stead refused to print all the gory details of the mutilations inflicted on the Ripper’s victims; instead he used the case to call for a ‘Court of Conscience’ among the media. But other journalists and newspaper editors took full advantage of the murders to shock and thrill their readers. While Stead urged restraint, they used the coroner’s inquests to push at the boundaries of what was considered decent in the descriptions of both the injuries and the women’s bodies.

At the same time, the press speculated extensively on the identity of the killer and the nature of the city in which he operated. London was the centre of an empire; it was the capital of what the British still liked to think of as the workshop of the world, and of a nation with a legal and constitutional system that was a model for the world. The Whitechapel Murders encouraged Liberal elements in the press to probe the darker corners of this dazzling metropolis and to urge social reform. As explained above, it also encouraged nationalist elements to conclude that only a foreigner could commit such heinous crimes.

It is worth emphasising here that the 19th‑century British press was not unique in the way that it revelled in violent crime. In 1894 a Madrid-based socialist newspaper protested at the way in which the press was less interested in education than in satisfying “gross appetites by providing… spiced up fare”. In France, popular papers such as Le Petit Parisien and Le Petit Journal filled their pages with grisly accounts of offenders like Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, who slaughtered the entire Kinck family of husband, pregnant wife and six children, and Albert Soleilland, who raped and murdered an 11-year old girl.

Papers everywhere were illustrated with drawings of knives flashing, guns blazing and blood splashing. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 20th  century that such graphic accounts began to disappear from European newspapers – either as a result of the carnage of the First World War, or the increasing use of photography.

What was the East End like at the time of the Ripper?

Drunkenness and prostitution were rife in an area characterised by abject poverty, says Alex Werner

The East End was a vast, densely inhabited working-class district. At Aldgate, the eastern extremity of the City of London, the road forked into two highways: Whitechapel Road, dating to Roman times, linked London to Colchester; and the Commercial Road, built in the early 19th  century, connected the docks at Blackwall and Poplar with the City.

Off these two major London thoroughfares, in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, there existed a labyrinth of narrow courts and alleyways with many lodging houses and small workshops. Immigrants had settled here for centuries; in the 17th and 18th  century, Huguenots, the Irish, Jews and Germans had all made the East End their home. During the late 1880s they were joined by thousands of Jews escaping oppression in Central and Eastern Europe, many of whom settled in the vicinity of Middlesex Street (Petticoat Lane) and Wentworth Street.

Even before the brutal murders of 1888, a spotlight had been thrown on the abject poverty of east London. Journalists painted a lurid picture of the area, stressing its criminality and moral degradation. In such a world, drunkenness was common, offering some form of escape and, on the streets and behind doors, it often led to violence. Prostitution was also widespread, as poor women sold their bodies to pay for alcohol, tobacco or a bed for the night.

Charities descended on the area and tried to help those most in need. Slums were cleared and artisans’ dwellings erected. As well as bringing ‘the word of God’, religious organisations like the Salvation Army took ‘practical Christianity’ to the East End. They built night shelters, ran dispensaries and soup kitchens, and visited slum-dwellers in their homes.

Employment in the nearby docks and markets was often casual or seasonal in nature. Thousands of men, women and children toiled away for long hours and for little pay in the sweated trades, ruthlessly exploited by sub-contractors. In fact, the low pay and appalling conditions at Bryant & May’s match factory drove its matchgirls to strike in the summer of 1888. Meanwhile, periods of economic depression, such as in 1886 and 1887, resulted in mass unemployment and the threat of starvation.

Some improvements to Whitechapel and Spitalfields followed Jack the Ripper’s crimes. Slums like Flower and Dean Street were cleared and replaced by model dwellings; common lodging houses declined and with them, prostitution and crime. In the 1890s London County Council began to replace slums with purpose-built council housing. However, poverty and overcrowding persisted, and in 1901 Dorset Street was still widely being described as “The Worst Street in London”, much to the fury of local inhabitants.

Alex Werner is co-curator of the Museum in Docklands exhibition, Jack the Ripper and the East End

Did the police investigate thoroughly?

Sections of the press, particularly the papers linked to Liberal and Radical politics, were highly critical of the police and the “defective detectives” for failing to find Jack. Yet the police probably did all that was possible. Forensic science was still in its infancy, and it was to be over 10 years before fingerprints were used as evidence in court – always assuming that any fingerprints could have been found and identified at any of the murder scenes.

The police presence was increased in the district where the murders occurred, and men in plain clothes circulated both in the hope of collecting information and preventing further attacks.
The police were urged to use bloodhounds to track the killer, yet such experiments were not particularly successful. The advocates of the bloodhounds insisted that they were still the answer, and sections of the press found yet another stick with which to beat the police.

Part of the problem was the reluctance of the police to give information to the media; it was to be another 40 years before a press bureau was established at Scotland Yard. And with no official intelligence to feed on, the press were drawn to the wilder and more sensational theories which, of course, helped to sell newspapers.

General Sir Charles Warren, the relatively new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, did not help matters. Much of the press condemned his decision to remove the graffiti from the wall near the site of Eddowes’s murder on the grounds that he had denied the investigation the only genuine clue left by the killer. Whether this was true, of course, remains an open question.

Warren had a distinguished military career both before and after his time as commissioner. He was also an archaeologist of some significance and, in his final years, he was an eager supporter of Baden Powell’s Boy Scout Movement.

He had been appointed to the police in March 1887 to restore the force’s morale and public confidence in the aftermath of rioting in and around Trafalgar Square following a demonstration against unemployment. When trouble appeared likely again in Trafalgar Square in November 1887, Warren responded with ruthless efficiency deploying troops to back up his police in a violent confrontation that resulted in one fatality and many injured, and that became known as Bloody Sunday. Among Liberals and Radicals, his behaviour revived fears that the police were becoming militarised. He also clashed with the Home Office over the manner in which he should command his police.

The final straw came just after the last of the Whitechapel Murders when Warren published an article outlining his ideas, condemning the press and criticising government action. The permanent under secretary at the Home Office declared him to be “in a state of complete insubordination” and Warren’s resignation followed soon after.

Probably any commissioner would have had difficulty in dealing with the Ripper murders, but a tactless soldier like Warren was not the ideal man for the job.

The continuing fascination

The fascination with Jack and his killings spread far beyond Britain. The late 19th-century French press was obsessed with murders by human “monsters” and “ogres” and ‘Jack l’Eventreur’ remains a well-known figure in France.

Lulu, the femme fatale of the German playwright Frank Wedekind’s Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora’s Box (1904) – as well as of GW Pabst’s film Pandora’s Box and Alban Berg’s opera Lulu – is killed by Jack. George Grosz, the celebrated artist of the seamy and violent side of Weimar Germany, had himself photographed as Jack. And the notion of a stealthy, unknown killer with a knife, preying on the weak and vulnerable – especially young women – has been meat and drink to the cinema ever since it began.

Jack the Ripper was the first celebrity serial killer who appeared to threaten people that were unknown to him. Had he been caught, his notoriety would probably never have been so great. It is the blank of who he really was that adds to the fascination and enables everyone, of every age, to remake him anew.

Notorious pirate Benjamin Hornigold once attacked a merchant ship only to steal the crew’s hats

Featured image

Most depictions of pirates in contemporary popular culture are based on the actions of pirates who operated during the golden age of piracy, which lasted from the beginning of the 1650s until the late 1730s. The period between 1650 and 1680 is known as the “buccaneering period”: during that time, English and French pirates on Jamaica and the famous island of Tortuga attacked Spanish colonies and merchant ships in the Caribbean.

The 1690s were known as the “pirate round”; many pirates from the Caribbean and the Americas ventured to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to attack Muslim merchants and the supply ships of the East India Company. The final wave of booming piracy, which lasted from 1716 to the late 1730s, was triggered by the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. After the war, many English and American sailors were left unemployed and turned to piracy, usually targeting ships in the Caribbean, the North American eastern seaboard, the Indian Ocean, and the coast of West Africa.

Some of the most famous pirates, including Edward Thatch, known as “Blackbeard,” Bartholomew Roberts known as “Black Bart,” “Black Sam” Bellamy, and John “Calico Jack” Rackham, operated in the final years of the golden age.

Another notorious pirate of that period was Benjamin Hornigold, who started his brief yet prolific pirating career in the winter of 1713.

In the beginning of his career, Hornigold was a low-level looter who organized small raids off the coast of New Providence, the most populous island in the Bahamas. He and his gang used sailing canoes and a small ship to attack merchant’s vessels. Hornigold progressed quickly: by 1717 he was in command of a 30-gun sailing ship named “Ranger” that was at the time the most heavily armed in the Bahamas. Also, he gathered a gang of around 350 tough men who were all eager to wreak havoc and pillage merchant ships.

Hornigold was the captain and his second-in-command was none other than Edward Thatch, the notorious pirate who later became known as “Blackbeard.” The two of them organized thoroughly planned raids during which they seized several cargo ships and formed a small pirate fleet that became the scourge of the Bahamas. At one point during 1717, the Governor of South Carolina sent a heavily armed ship to find and capture Hornigold. The pirates attacked the ship so fiercely that she ran aground on the island of North Cat Cay and her crew fled for their lives.

Also in 1717, Hornigold and his crew attacked a merchant ship off the coast of Honduras. As terrified merchants begged for their lives, Hornigold’s crew explained that they had gotten drunk the night before and had thrown their hats into the sea, so they had attacked the merchant ship only to steal the hats of her crew. After they took the merchants’ hats, Hornigold and his crew allowed them to continue with their journey. Some historians believe that this curious endeavor was nothing more than Hornigold’s and Thatch’s wish to display their power.

 Hornigold never attacked British ships and claimed that he defended British economic policies by attacking the ships of the enemies of the British Empire. However, in November of 1717, Hornigold’s crew decided to overthrow him and attack ships sailing under any flag. Since Thatch was in command of his own ship at the time, he wasn’t around to help Hornigold quell the mutiny. Hornigold was overpowered and forced to flee for his life with a small ship and several of his most loyal men.

Several months later, he sailed to Jamaica and received a pardon for his criminal activities from the then governor of Jamaica named Woodes Rogers. In 1717 and 1718, King George I issued proclamations known as the “King’s Pardons,” which granted an official pardon to all pirates who surrendered to any colonial government under the domain of the British Empire. Governor Rogers granted Hornigold’s request for a pardon, but he also recruited him as a pirate hunter.

In his final years, the once powerful and feared Hornigold was forced to try and hunt down his former associates, including Blackbeard. Although he sailed around the Bahamas for 18 months, he never managed to catch any of his former allies. During one particularly severe storm, his ship crashed into an uncharted reef between the Bahamas and New Mexico, and Hornigold and his new pirate-hunting crew were never seen again.

 Domagoj Valjak

Crinolinemania: This deadly Victorian fashion garment killed around 3,000 women

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Observed from today’s perspective, crinolines look utterly uncomfortable and unattractive to the point of absurdity. Why would anyone want to wear something that resembles a gigantic whipped-cream cake around their waist? Yet fashion trends have shown that comfort and attractiveness often have little in common, so it can be said that crinolines were just what any fad is–a way to get all eyes on you even if the cost is being a real (fashion) victim.

One of the fashion trends of the 19th century Victorian Era that stirred lady fashionistas was the so-called “Crinolinemania,” a craze that referred to the fashion obsession with the crinoline, a stiffened underskirt made using horsehair and linen or cotton, invented in the early 1840s.

These skirts were the followers of the “panniers” women’s underwear worn in the 17th and 18th centuries that enabled extending of the skirt at the side, thus creating a large side-squared dress that properly displayed the garment’s decorations.

Comic photograph, c.1860.

However, according to some fashion historians, the real predecessor of the crinoline was the 16th-century Spanish “farthingale.” These wide, full skirts were much adored by the Spanish ladies even back in the 15th century. The queen consort of Castile, Joana of Portugal, copied their style and introduced it to court, attracting admiring attention, although court rumor had it that the main reason she wore the style was to hide her illegitimate pregnancy. England became acquainted with the crinoline when Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, wore a Spanish farthingale made of linen and cane sticks.

In the first half of the 1800s, skirts became bigger and adopted a round shape. The ladies created an illusion of a large circle at the bottom part of their attire by wearing numerous layers of petticoats. This layered clothing often disabled the ladies’ movement and comfort, so when the crinoline was finally invented, they felt a relief. Crinolines weighed less and fit more easily to the body.

The name of the fashion fad first appeared in the 1800s in the magazine Punch, which mocked the crinoline craze and published humorous cartoon illustrations about Crinolinemania. The root of the garment’s nickname originates in the French words crin (horsehair) and lin (linen), which describe the materials of which the initial versions of the crinoline were made. The horsehair crinolines supported the weight of the layers of petticoats under the full skirts and provided more convenience.

Inflatable crinolines. Caricature, Punch, January 1857.

One of the most widely known models is the cage crinoline which was first patented in 1856 by R.C. Milliet in Paris. His agent brought it to Britain and it became popular overnight. These crinolines were made of spring steel with lightness providing flexibility and enabled women to walk and sit while wearing them.

Cage crinoline underskirt, the 1860s, MoMu.

 The ladies felt liberated in comparison to their previous layered petticoats and praised their experience in the Lady’s Newspaper in 1863: “So perfect are the wave-like bands that a lady may ascend a steep stair, lean against a table, throw herself into an armchair, pass to her stall at the opera, and occupy a further seat in a carriage, without inconveniencing herself or others, and provoking the rude remarks of observers thus modifying in an important degree, all those peculiarities tending to destroy the modesty of Englishwomen; and lastly, it allows the dress to fall in graceful folds.”

These positive reviews stimulated a massive production of crinolines led by the most successful producer, Douglas & Sherwood’s Hoop Skirt Factory in New York. The mass-production made crinolines affordable to women who stood at different levels on the social ladder. On daily occasions, most of the women wore small crinoline versions while the large bell-shaped models, some up to six feet in diameter, were worn on special occasions such as balls.

Three women showing dresses in blue with black lace and white with red stripes and brown color with queue de Paris

Nevertheless, due to their heaviness and robustness, crinolines had disadvantages that completely outweigh the advantages. Wearing them in the summer meant spending the day in hot, unhygienic conditions. The biggest issue, however, was a fatal one.

The enormous size of the crinolines was often too challenging for the women in specific surroundings, and thus there were thousands of reported cases of ladies being severely injured or burned alive when a candle or a spark from the fireplace would accidentally flame by touching the crinoline. Sometimes the hoops would also get caught in machinery or be run over by carriage wheels, causing serious consequences to the wearer.

 Brad Smithfield

“We want pockets”: The Rational Dress Society and its campaign for practical clothing for women

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Striding along with your hands in your pants pockets is often associated with being carefree–unless you are a woman. Then you might be lucky if your pants even have pockets. And if they do, they are likely to be flimsy and shallow. They seem to be for ornamentation and not much else.

In contrast, men’s garments seem to be full of pockets–secret pockets tucked inside the lapels of their jackets, pockets in their work shirts and T-shirts, sometimes pockets within other pockets. And most of these pockets are sturdy and deep, made for real utility.

There’s a gender divide when it comes to clothing and pockets, and there’s good reason why many women fume –or ought to–about the situation.

Centuries ago–think the 17th century–what passed for “pockets” were actually pouches, tied around the waists of both men and women. The large skirts of that time period meant that women could wear the pouches on the outside or hide them by tying them on their waists under their skirts.

As the Industrial Revolution swept the world, people had more to carry. But while men’s pouches became incorporated into the clothing itself, women’s were not. And with full skirts falling out of fashion, the hidden pouch option became less viable. Women were forced to carry larger external purses, which also meant at least one hand was needed to hold or secure the purse, often while the other struggled with children.

That loss of freedom did not go unnoticed, and pockets of resistance began to emerge.

In 1891, the Rational Dress Society was founded in London to lobby against corsets and other restrictive clothing and push for more comfortable and utilitarian options for women.

Its self-described mission was this: “The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms. It protests against crinolines or crinolettes of any kind as ugly and deforming….[It] requires all to be dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully, to seek what conduces to birth, comfort and beauty in our dress as a duty to ourselves and each other.”

Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, a member of the Rational Dress Society, managed to get added to the speakers list of the 1889 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. She educated them on the inequities, danger, and discomfort of women’s wear at the time. Her speech, in which she talked about combining grace and beauty with comfort and convenience, was carried by newspapers throughout Britain. Her message was the biggest news to come out of the event.

And in 1905, Charlotte P. Gilman of the New York Times also pointed out the discrepancies: “One supremacy there is in men’s clothing … its adaptation to pockets.”

Some have attempted to make changes. Famed designer Coco Chanel began sewing pockets into her distinctive jackets in the 1920s.

Changing roles also influenced the movement. During World War II, when many women had to take on jobs that were traditionally male, they took on their more practical clothing, as well. They found themselves practically swooning with the freedom offered by pants with pockets.

In the 1960 and 1970s, many women began wearing pants more regularly – adopting the sturdy, multi-pocketed Levis blue jeans that had long been worn by working men. But by the 1980s, even blue jeans were sexualized and corrupted. Tight-fighting, flimsier “designer” models emerged, with pockets a woman could barely put her hands in. Women also were charged a premium price for the lower quality product.

More and better clothing with useful pockets is emerging, but as most women could tell you, these items are the exception. Anthropologists who study the issue put the blame on male dominance in the fashion industry. The designers complain pockets get in the way of a product’s “clean lines,” but some women complain clothing should be more about function, rather than presenting the woman as a form to be appreciated for appearance only. Others say the lack of pockets is a ploy to sell purses.

These days, the argument is spilling into new ground. Much of what passes for women’s workout gear has been pared down to minimal sports bras and yoga pants. And in the outdoor industry, where utilitarian clothing can be matter of life and death, gender differences are still clear.

In general, the fabrics in men’s clothing is of higher quality, and the pants and shirts have bigger, stronger pockets and more of them. With the pace of change moving at a limp, many women are responding in the only way they know how: picking up more practical clothing from the men’s lines.

 Terri Likens

Terri Likens‘ byline has appeared in newspapers around the world through The Associated Press. She has also done work for ABCNews, the BBC, and magazines that include High Country News, American Profile, and Plateau Journal. She lives just east of Nashville, Tenn.

Understanding Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) print by John Smith after Gottfried Kneller, 1662-1742. English mathematician, astronomer and physicist. English scientist and mathematician
Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion were first published in 1687 and continue to give a pretty accurate account of nature (with a few exceptions, like the behavior of things in distant space or inside of atoms). They represent some of humankind’s first great successes at using simple mathematical formulas to describe the natural world and form an elegant and intuitive physical theory that paved the way for later advances in physics. These laws apply to objects in the real world and have allowed us to do things like simulate car collisions, navigate spacecraft, and play billiards really well. Whether we are aware of them or not, Newton’s laws of motion are at play in nearly every physical action of our daily lives.

The First Law

Newton’s first law states that unless a body (such as a rubber ball, car, or planet) is acted upon by some force, a body in motion tends to remain in motion and a body at rest tends to remain at rest. This postulate is known as the law of inertia. What this means, practically speaking, is that a rolling ball or other object only slows down because of forces like gravity and friction. Even more intuitively, a resting ball isn’t going anywhere unless given a nudge or a toss. Given this law, a ball thrown in the vacuum of space would, theoretically, keep traveling at the same speed for as long as it could avoid impacts with celestial bodies and their pulls of gravity!

The Second Law

Newton’s second law is a quantitative description of the changes that a force can produce on the motion of a body. It states that when an external force acts on a body, it produces an acceleration(change in velocity) of the body in the direction of the force. This postulate is most commonly written as F = ma, where F (force) and a (acceleration) are both vector quantities and thus have both magnitude and direction, and m (mass) is constant. Although it may sound a bit dense, Newton’s second law is one of the most important in all of physics and, like the first law, is also pretty intuitive. For example, think of a small rubber ball and a bowling ball. In order to get them to roll together at the same speed, you would need to push harder (apply more force) on the larger, heavier bowling ball because it has greater mass. Similarly, if the two balls are rolling together down a hill, you can predict that the bowling ball will hit a wall with more damaging force than the smaller ball. This is because its force is equal to the product of its mass and acceleration.

The Third Law

Newton’s third law states that when two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. This is commonly referred to as the law of action and reaction (commonly stated as “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”). This idea is clearly seen in the recoil of a gun: the explosion of the bullet leaving the barrel causes the gun to quickly move in the opposite direction. A little less intuitive, but just as true, is the fact that a book resting on a table applies a downward force equal to its weight on the table, and the table applies an equal and opposite force to the book. This force occurs because the weight of the book causes the table to deform slightly so that it pushes back on the book like a coiled spring. If the table were unable to do so, the weight of the book would break it.

WRITTEN BY:  Melissa Petruzzello