Gladstone lived at the top of the Duke of York’s steps, on the right. He had been on his way to Downing Street when the woman accosted him. He claimed to have been pointing out the error of her ways when he was spotted.
Few believed him. The Opposition party had Gladstone followed for months afterwards, in the hope of digging up more dirt that they could use in an election campaign.
Worst of all for Gladstone, he returned to Downing Street that evening to learn of the Phoenix Park murders in Dublin. The newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland and his Permanent Under-Secretary had been stabbed to death by a gang of Irish National Invincibles, forerunners of the IRA. The Chief Secretary was Gladstone’s nephew by marriage.
Villiers Street leads down to the river Thames near Charing Cross. In 1890, a young man lived upstairs at No 43 (wall plaque, left). Newly arrived from India, he was hoping to make his name in London as a writer:
‘My rooms were small, not over-clean or well-kept, but from my desk I could look out of my window through the fan-light of Gatti’s Music-Hall entrance, across the street, almost on to its stage. The Charing Cross trains rumbled through my dreams on one side, the boom of the Strand on another, while, before my windows, Father Thames under the Shot Tower walked up and down with his traffic.’
Like many new arrivals, the young man was not impressed by London’s weather:
‘Once I faced the reflection of my own face in the jet-black mirror of the window-panes for five days. When the fog thinned, I looked out and saw a man standing opposite the pub where the barmaid lived.
‘Of a sudden his breast turned dull red like a robin’s, and he crumpled, having cut his throat. In a few minutes – seconds it seemed – a hand-ambulance arrived and took up the body. A pot-boy with a bucket of steaming water sluiced the blood off into the gutter, and what little crowd had collected went its way.’
LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 56. Name this famous writer who had just witnessed a grisly suicide.
‘Riveting’ – Daily Mail
‘Fascinating’ – The Times
‘Outstanding’ – Midwest Book Review
‘Utterly absorbing’ – Macleans