William Heinmann, 1954.
Adelaide Mary Reeve was a star of the East End stage from an early age. In her 1954 autobiography, Take It For a Fact, Ada included some brief reminiscences of her time in Whitechapel during the Jack the Ripper scare. Of particular interest is the fact that her father, Charles Reeve, was a member of one of the Vigilance Committees set up to capture the murderer.
The relevant extract of Take It For a Fact is reproduced below, along with some illustrations from the same book of Ada and her father, Charles.
My early appearances were usually in the East End halls, such as The Foresters in the Cambridge Heath Road, and The Cambridge in Bishopsgate. These were the days of the 'Chairman'-Mr. E. V. Page at the Cambridge-who used to introduce each turn in his sonorous voice. I shall never forget the thrill of hearing him announce for the first time: "Ladies and Gentlemen-Little Ada Reeve, the talented Child Actress".
I was at the Cambridge at the height of the 'Jack-the-Ripper' scare (a series of particularly brutal murders in the Whitechapel area, by a criminal who eluded capture). My father composed a song for me called `The Golden Ladder', eulogising the police (who had been sharply criticised for their failure to catch the murderer) in the following peculiar lines:
"Night's curtain scarce is drawn,
Yet in the early morn
The cry goes forth which causes hearts to shudder:
'Tis whispered first by few,
God help us, is it true?
And then the people only look and wonder.
In spite of fear or awe,
Here at our very door, As if to mock the very cry of terror,
Before one victim's low,
Another's blood doth flow,
The nation stands aghast with pallid horror...
(I can remember distinctly that before I realised the significance of the last two words I used to render them as `paregoric'!)
"With shame our country rings,
And each one feels the stings:
Our Force their duty do with no hearts gladder.
But if work they would have done,
Place two where they place one,
And that's the way to mount the Golden Ladder".
To this day I have never been able to discover what the Golden Ladder had to do with it, but the finale was always greeted with loud acclamation by the audience, who at least had caught the reference to a stronger police force.
My father was one of the original Vigilance Committee set up to patrol the streets during the time of these murders . . . and how nervous mother used to be when he was out night after night, with only a stick and a whistle as protection. Afterwards, when the series of crimes could be seen as a whole, it was realised that the `Ripper's' victims were all street-walkers, but at the time no one felt safe.
It used to be eleven at night before I got home, walking through the long, winding Hanbury Street, which led from the direction of Bishopsgate past the stage door of the Pavilion. Usually our maid was sent to fetch me, but on the night of September 29th, 1888, she could not come and I had to make the journey alone. I have reason to remember that date-for next morning we heard that not one but two murders had been committed-the first in Berner Street, off the Commercial Road, and the second in Mitre Square, Aldgate. To get from the one place to the other, the `Ripper' must have passed along streets very close to my own route. I still feel cold when I realise that he may have been lurking in the shadows within reach of me that night.