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From 1822, when the Dickens family settled in Camden, to 1860 when the author took permanent residence at his Kent home of Gad’s Hill Place, London was his home.

Emma Jolly, in the article Dickens and London

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Book Review and Interview: Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

    Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

    This book is short but surprising. Angela tells this true crime story with a steady pace, which left me unprepared for the astonishing twists and turns. The case initially seemed straightforward but by close examination of the late 19th century Manchester underworld alongside an increasingly-advanced police force transformed the book into a page-turner. By the end, I could not put it down. The tension is heightened particularly by the fact that the story is true and I had begun to invest emotionally in the real people who became the characters in this book.

    How did you encounter the Constable Cock case?

    When I first became interested in crime history through researching my family tree, I began reading about true crime cases in my home city of Manchester. I was shocked to learn that a police officer had been killed just near my childhood home a century before I grew up there.

    At first, I thought the story was going to be straightforward. I was pretty startled when the book took a dramatic turn with Charlie Peace’s confession. Peace was an extraordinary character. What were your thoughts on him?

    Initially, I thought that Charlie Peace was a burglar who turned to violence to get him out of a tight spot, but my opinion of him changed completely when I read his confession at the National Archives. I now think that he was a man who was constantly on the lookout for trouble – he deliberately targeted his former lover and her husband and, although he claimed that he shot Arthur Dyson in self-defence, he showed no remorse and placed the blame firmly on the victim. It was the same for Constable Cock – Peace explained how it was the officer’s fault for not stepping away. His confession revealed a man who was defiant, unapologetic and possibly paranoid.

    You grew up in Manchester, where this book is set. Your popular police biography, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada (Pen and Sword, 2014) is also set in the city. What draws you to explore the historic underworld of your hometown?

    It’s funny because I had no real idea of Manchester’s history when I was growing up there, probably because we didn’t learn about it at school. It wasn’t until I researched my family’s roots in the city that I really began to see what it would have been like living there in the 19th century.  Through my own family history, I was drawn into the city’s dark Victorian underworld and it has hooked me ever since. It was such a multilayered and fascinating place in Victorian times and there is always so much more to discover. I moved away from Manchester years ago, but my work has given me a real sense of my own personal history and background.

    One aspect of the story that stood out for me – and something that appeared to complicate the progress of the case – was the prevailing social attitude toward Irish immigrants. Today we would describe this as racism. Is this something that you have encountered elsewhere in your historical research, either for your own family or for your writing? 

    I was obviously aware of racial tensions and prejudice in Manchester when I was growing up there in the 1970s and 80s, but I didn’t realise that hostile attitudes towards immigrants had been prevalent for so long. My own family was from Italy and I was quite shocked to discover the prejudice they faced when they arrived in Manchester in the 1880s and especially how the Italian community was treated during the Second World War, when many of the older generation, including members of my family, were interned. My research into the history of the Irish community for Who Killed Constable Cock? was particularly distressing. As a Catholic, I went to school with many Irish families and I had no idea that they had suffered so much deprivation and abuse.

    You have researched extensively in police records and museums. What has stood out for you in the history of policing and methods of detection?

    I’m particularly interested in the police detectives and how they developed their sleuthing skills. As there was no formal training in the 19th century, they learnt on the job and had to keep their wits about them as they faced the challenges of fighting crime in some of the most notorious rookeries in Victorian England. I am fascinated by their pioneering work and I love reading about their adventures.

    What are you currently working on?

    I’ve started researching another real-life Victorian murder for a possible book project and this time I’m investigating the work of the early Scotland Yard detectives. I’d also like to take my study of Victorian police detectives further and I’m hoping to research ‘the art of sleuthing’ for a PhD.

    Angela Buckley is a true crime writer and author. Her work has featured in many national newspapers and magazines.  Who Killed Constable Cock?  is available in ebook and paperback. You can find out more about Angela’s work on her website, www.angelabuckleywriter.com and on her Facebook page Victorian Supersleuth.

     

     

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Member of The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in ArchivesGraduate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies CanterburyMember of the Society of Genealogists