Thursday, 30 September 2010

Search for Thomas Briggs leads to murder

Continuing along the Regents Canal as seen through my camera we come to the lovely brick building of Thomas Briggs (London) Limited. My internet searches failed to find out anything about this firm. Was this a factory? Or a warehouse?

One of the first references I came across was in an article in headed "East End Canoe Safari". This is a well-written exhortation by Ed Chipperfield to get yourself an inflatable canoe ("for between £125 and £180 on eBay"), dodge the "dead dogs", and paddle a six mile loop around the East End.

How's this for a cruising guide?


After three locks, the canal ends in Limehouse Basin – a huge marina for yachts and cruising boats, overlooked by the monolithic presence of Canary Wharf. Here’s where the dowdy, grubby canal opens to reveal luxury, money and space, with a perimeter of development that puts the rest of the route to shame. It’s a sharp contrast with Limehouse’s historical reputation. During the 19th century, the docks here were London’s original Chinatown, and thanks to the Imperial trade in narcotics the area was synonymous with opium dens. Putting ashore here looks hopeless – you’ll have to take a sharp left, ignoring the first left-hand fork to a loading bay and instead plough on east up the Limehouse Cut.

And here's the next bit - irresistible!

The Cut

Limehouse Cut was London’s first canal, connecting the Lea River with the Thames. It’s long and very straight – 2 miles– and if the wind is coming from the east, very cold indeed. It cuts a channel through Tower Hamlets, and the banks are peppered with offices and dwellings, between run-down and disused factories and warehouses: the finest is a block emblazoned with ‘Spratt’s Patent Limited’. It’s got a great history: the company began the modern dog food industry single-handed. In 1860, Mr Spratt came upon the idea of taking hard meat biscuits that were normally given to soldiers as rations and selling them to dog-owners.

The reference to Thomas Briggs comes in the passage about the Hertford Union Canal. Apparently Thomas Briggs was the victim of the first "railway murder". There's no suggestion that this TB was the one whose name is engraved in two feet high letters. Here's Mr. Chipperfield again:

As you pass Lock No. 3, you’ll see a pub, the Top of the Morning. It’s where in 1864 the victim of the first ever railway murder died, one Thomas Briggs. He was stabbed and thrown from his train near Hackney, robbed of a gold watch, and his attacker, a Mr Muller, gave birth to a brand new cockney verb: to ‘muller’ a man now sits firmly in the language as a byword for violent assault.

HarperCollins - sign up Ed Chipperfield now to update your Nicholson waterways guides!

I was going to include a mysteriously appearing railway bridge and more canoes in this post ... but that can wait until tomorrow!


Nick Ford said...

Hi. I'm a great-great grandson of Mr. Thomas Briggs, the banker murdered on the North London Railway by Franz Muller. The body, still alive, but unconscious, was found on the tracks between Bow and Hackney Wick (Victoria Park) stations and carried to the Mitford Castle pub (now renamed The Top O' The Morning), while a surgeon was called. Mr Briggs was subsequently carried home to no. 5, Clapton Square, where he died the following day without recovering consciousness. I found your blog whilst looking for a possible family connexion with Thomas Briggs the tentmakers.

Halfie said...

Nick, thank you very much for this extra information. I'm afraid I haven't helped you much in your quest.