Ripper Street: The Real Life Edmund Reid

This week the BBC have begun screening the new series of the ficticious police drama Ripper Street, set in late Victorian Whitechapel and a search through our newspaper archives has revealed that the real Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, brilliantly played by Matthew MacFadyen, was quite a remarkable man.

Quite often truth is stranger than fiction and certainly it turns out that Detective Inspector Edmund “Teddy” Reid of Scotland Yard was a man of considerable accomplishment and something of an adventurer.

From the Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper of March 8th 1896 we have the following entry detailing the retirement of Detective Inspector Reid.

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Edmund Reid, who has been for some years Chief Detective-inspector for the district of Whitechapel, has retired from the service.

“Teddy Reid,” originally steward on the Husbands’ boat running to and from Margate, joined the police force, in the P division, on the 4th Nov., 1872.

He distinguished himself almost immediately after he entered the service, and in 1874 was appointed a detective.

In 1878 he was made a serjeant, in 1880 raised to the second-class and in 1881 to the first-class.

Up to 1884 Reid was engaged briefly in the district of Walworth and Camberwell.

That year he was removed to Scotland yard.

Thence, in 1886, he was sent to Bethnal-green, where he formed the first detective staff stationed in the neighbourhood, and was thus the organiser of the J division.

In 1887 he was placed in charge of the difficult district of Whitechapel. He was here during the trying period when the whole of the terrible Ripper murders were committed.

At the time of his retirement he was the oldest Detective Inspector in the service.

Reid holds the bronze and gold medials of the Balloon Association of Great Britain, the latter for having imade the highest ascent on record in his day.

Indeed, Reid has sufficient medals for acts of bravery to cover his breast,

So from this we know that there was much more to Edmund Reid than just a London policeman, but what about those Ripper murders?

This extract from the Eddowe’s Journal from 3rd October 1888 shows that Reid was heavily involved in this horrific story along with the better known Inspector Abberline who was also featured in Ripper Street played by Clive Russell.

This was the Ripper’s fifth victim Elizabeth Stride.

On Monday, at the St. George Vestry Hall, Mr. Baxter, coroner for South-East Middlesex, opened the inquest on the body of Elizabeth Stride, who was found brutally murdered on Sunday morning in a court in Berners street, Commercial road.

Outside the building a large and excited crowd was gathered. Detective- Inspectors Abberline and Helson from Scotland-yard attended to represent the Chief Commissioner of Police, and Detective-Inspector Edmund Reid was also present for the local police.

The following extract is from the Banbury Beacon on 17th November 1888. It was the ‘final’ ripper murder - that of Mary Janet Kelly.

On Monday Dr. Macdonald,’ M.P., the North-East Middlesex coroner, held inquest on the body. Chief Inspectors Aberlino, Nairn, and Chandler appeared to represent Sir Charles Warren, the Chief Commissioner of Police, while Detective-Inspector Edmund Reid represented the local police. Outside the building large crowd assembled and the greatest interest was manifested in the proceedings.

We know that despite the efforts of Reid and his colleagues Jack the Ripper eluded justice. On the 17th February 1891 this account from The Star reveals that Reid thought that he had found his man.

Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, in charge of a large force of police, made on friday a house-to-house search of the district, with no result. The common lodging houses, which abound in the district, coffee shops, hotels, &c, were all searched, but nothing suspicious was discovered.

Mr. Reid will visit the London hospitals in order to discover when the deceased had the old wound on her head attended to, and what name she went under.

The officer has made the following statement:

“In my opinion the crime has been done by the same hand that has perpetrated the other murders. We have as yet no definite clue, but hope soon to lay our hands on the fiend. I was immediately informed of the discovery, and proceeded to the spot, taking care that all approaches were blocked. The passage is well known to the police as a resort of bad women.”

But all this was to no avail.

Reid retired and lived until 1917 when he passed away aged 71 at Herne Bay.

In 1913, four years before his death the Whitstable and Herne Bay Herald printed several extraordinary articles written by Edmund Reid about his record breaking ballooning experiences.

An endeavour completely detached from police work but no less brave.

“Now let us suppose that I am about to make a parachute descent.

The first thing I do is to see that the balloon is ready with the bag of ballast at its side. I may here mention that on the top of the parachute is a wire hook, and that has to be hooked into a ring I told you of inside the canvas tube at the side of the balloon, and having seen that that is all right, and that all the cords attached to the parachute are clear, and not in a tangle, then I attach my basket to my seat which is fastened to the ropes that hold the net over the balloon, in such way that can slip in, and release myself when I want to.

Then I take my place my seat, hold the ropes, and cry “Let go,” and the men standing round holding the balloon down, let go, and the world appears to drop away from me.

When I begin to lose sight of the people on earth, I slip into my basket, and leave the rest to do its work; my weight releases the basket from the seat, the hook in the ring becomes straight and comes out of the tube and the parachute opens like an umbrella.

When the balloon is released of its weight the bag ballast pulls the top down, and the mouth up, and lets the hot air out, and the question is which reaches the ground first, you or the balloon.

That is my style of parachuting, with a basket to stand in. In the case of the balloon you may sometimes pick the place for coming down, but with the parachute you must come down where it likes to drop you.”

Edmund Reid was no normal man. Indeed he was someone who carved out a fantastic career as well as being a Victorian daredevil.

To have him portayed so well on screen is a fitting tribute to him.