A definition of witness.


Horse Slaughterer Working In Winthrop Street

Henry Tomkins was a horse slaughterer, employed by Barber's Knacker's Yard, which was located one street along from Buck's Row, where the murder of Mary Nichols occurred on August 31st, 1888.

He and his workmates, Charles Brittain and James Mumford, were at work at the time that the murder occurred, and they were, he said, told of the crime by Police Constable Thain at around 4.15am on the morning of August 31st.

His evidence suggests that Thain may have been in the habit of taking a break from his beat at their slaughterhouse, since he stated that Thain actually called at that time to "called for his cape"

The East London Observer published his inquest testimony in its edition of Saturday, 8th September, 1888.-


Henry Tomkins, a rough looking man, was next called.

He was a horse slaughterer, he said, and he lived at 12, Coventry-street, Bethnal Green. He was in the employ of Mr. Barber, and was working in the slaughter-house, Winthorpe street, from between eight and nine o'clock on Thursday night till twenty minutes past four o'clock on Friday morning.

He and his fellow workmen generally went home after ceasing work, but that morning they did not do so. They went to see the dead woman because Police-constable Thain had passed the slaughter-house about a quarter-past four and told them that a woman had been murdered in Buck's-row.

Two other men besides the witness had been working in the slaughterhouse. They were James Mumford and Charles Britten. He and Britten had been out of the slaughterhouse previously that night - namely, from twenty minutes past twelve till one o'clock, but not afterwards till they went to see the body.

The distance from the slaughterhouse to the spot where the deceased was found was not great, Buck's-row being behind Winthrope-street, and both running in the same direction.

The Coroner:- "Is yours noisy work?"

Witness:- "No, sir: very quiet."

The Coroner:- "Was it all quiet on Friday morning - say after two o'clock?"

Witness:- "Yes, sir quite quiet. The gates were open, and we heard no cry."

The Coroner:- "Did any one come to the slaughterhouse that night?"

The witness replied that nobody passed except the policeman.

The Coroner:- "Are there any women about there?"

Witness:- "Oh, I know nothing about them. I don't like 'em."

The Coroner:- "I don't ask whether you like them. I ask whether there were any about that night?"

Witness:- "I did net see any."

The Coroner:- "Not in Whitechapel Road?"

Witness:- "Oh, yes, there, of all sorts and sizes. It's a rough neighbourhood, I can tell you."

The Coroner:- "If anybody had called for assistance from the spot where the deceased was found would you have heard it in the slaughter-house?"

The witness replied that it was too far away.

When he arrived in Buck's-row with the intention of seeing the deceased, the doctor and three or four policemen were there. He believed that two other men that he did not know were there also. He waited till the body was taken away, but that was not long. Ten or a dozen people came up before it was done. He heard no statement as to how the deceased came into Buck's-row

The Coroner:- "Have you made any statement in the newspaper that there were two people besides the police and the doctor in Buck's-row when you arrived?"

Witness:- "I can't read, sir."

The Coroner:- "Then you did not see a soul from one o'clock on Friday morning till a quarter past four, when the policeman passed your slaughterhouse?"

Witness:- "No, sir."

A Juryman:- "Did you hear any vehicle pass the slaughter-house?"

Witness:- "No, sir."

A Juryman:- "Would you have heard it if there had been one?"

Witness:- "No, sir."

The Coroner:- "Where did you go between twenty minutes past twelve and one o'clock?"

Witness:- "Me and my mate went to the front of the road."

A Juryman:- "Is not your usual time of leaving off work six o'clock in the morning, and not four?"

Witness:- "No, it is according to what we have to do. Sometimes we finish at one time; sometimes at another."

The Coroner:- "What made the constable call to tell you about the murder?"

Witness:- "He called for his cape."

Source: The East London Observer, Saturday, 8th September, 1888.


The Croydon Weekly Standard published the following synopsis of his inquest testimony in its edition of Friday, 14th September, 1888:-

Henry Tomkins, a horse-slaughterer, living at 12, Coventry-street, Bethnal-green, stated that he was in the employ of Mr. Barber.

Thursday night and Friday morning he spent in the slaughterhouse in Winthrop Street.

Witness commenced about his usual time, between eight and nine o'clock p.m.

On Friday morning he left off work at 20 minutes past four and went for a walk. It was their rule to go home when they did so, but they did not do so that morning.

A constable told them of the finding of the murdered woman, and they went to look at her. James Mumford, Charles Brittain, and witness worked together.

At twelve o'clock witness and Brittain left the slaughterhouse, and returned about one o'clock. They did not again leave the slaughterhouse until they heard of the murder.

All the gates were open, and witness during the night did not bear any disturbance; the only person who came to the slaughterhouse was the constable.

At times women came to the place, but none came that night,

Had any one called out "Murder" in Buck's-row he might not have heard it.

There were men and women in the Whitechapel-road.

Witness and Mumford first went and saw the deceased, and then Bates followed. At that time a doctor and three or four constables were there, and witness remained there until the body was taken away.

At night he and his mates generally went out to have a drink.

It depended upon what time their work was done when they went home.

The constable was at the slaughterhouse at about a quarter past four, when he called for his cape. It was then that they heard of the murder."

Source: The Croydon Weekly Standard, Friday, 14th September, 1888.