All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


This week we have our last  Salon for the City of the year at Westminster Library. We will be hearing all about Limehouse - the literary Limehouse and the literal Limehouse. Opium dens, criminal masterminds, the Yellow Peril and Edwardian Bogeymen.  It is a strange area and almost lost now as Thom Bolton, one of the speakers will relate. It was also one of the last known sites of another object on the London Arcana Hunters list. I have written about various of these before. There are currently ten - The Vestris Hams and Joanna Southcott's box  being another two.

The object in question is the skull of the serial killer John Williams.

It was unearthed during excavations in 1862 by a gas company at the point where Cannon Street Road and Cable Street cross near Hawksmoor's St George's in the East.  The landlord of The Crown and Dolphin a local public house, fished it out as a souvenir and kept it displayed behind the bar. The pub has since become derelict and the whereabouts of the skull are unknown but it is thought that it was stolen or bought from the landlord a couple of years before by an occultist as John Williams was thought to be a vampire.

He had been buried at the crossroads as it was commonly held that such a location would confuse an evil ghost arising from the grave. In addition, and to ensure he could not rejoin the Limehouse living, a stake was driven though his heart.   His crime was the alleged infamous brutal spree killing of two local families - seven vicious and apparently motiveless crimes involving decapitation, mauling and dismemberment. I say 'alleged' because it is not completely certain that Williams perpetrated the crimes.  But is likely that even if he did not, the authorities wanted him out of the way as he was thought to be part of a wider vampiric cabal which included various members of the aristocracy

Some believe that the removal of the skull allowed William's spirit to escape, move north to Whitechapel to become the force behind the later more famous Jack the Ripper murders. Who knows? But Limehouse itself continued to have a reputation for wrong doings, depravity and evil deeds - flowering in the exotic persona of the oriental villain  Doctor Fu Manchu who had his headquarters in  Lmehsoue opium den. Now of course it is the home and workplace of various city bankers..

Go figure.

On a lighter note, here are Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremner
dancing to a dream of Limehouse Blues



There has been a lot in the papers recently about how much food we waste.  Vast quantities are dumped daily by supermarkets, food chains and restaurants and apparently the average family (whatever that is) regularly discards up to six meals a week, throwing away around £700 a year.  

You can make an album for £700.

I am a culprit myself although if absorbed in work, I don't leave the house for days and end up eating absolutely everything - including those weird pickled cherries that aunts give you at Christmas.

But it wasn't always this way.  During the war years it was illegal to waste food.  I was reading the other day about a woman in Barnet who was arrested and  prosecuted for putting out bread crumbs for the birds in her gardenCrumbs.  

The men from the ministry could come and inspect your bins - and your kitchen cupboards, checking for black market contraband.  Mind you, given what you were allowed to eat under rationing, probably not much was voluntarily wasted anyway and it is perhaps understandable that people would do whatever they could to get a bit extra.  For an adult: 4 ounces of bacon, 2 ounces of butter, 2 ounces of tea, 2 ounces of cheese etc. per week. Per week! (I probably absent-mindedly just ate 2 ounces of cheese whilst reading the paper).  There was no ice-cream.

It must have been an extraordinarily tough time - but quite nice in some ways: there were pigs and sheep grazing in Hyde Park and Green Park, allotments everywhere.  You were allowed, even encouraged, to keep chickens.  Even the king and queen had ration books ("Any pate de foie gras this week?" "No Ma'am, sorry").   The Upper Norwood Rabbit Club" held talks on which breed were most suitable for 'the production of flesh and fur'..

But loo paper was in very short supply.

Right, what's for lunch?