Published: 00:01, 05 June 2018
Canterbury-born detective Edmund Reid was at the centre of the infamous Jack the Ripper investigation, before moving to Herne Bay where he led an equally fascinating life. Now, after a century resting in a pauper’s grave, a campaign has been launched to give him the permanent headstone he deserves. Jodie Nesling reports...
A blood-curdling scream, the sinister silhouette of a top hat and cape and the sound of footsteps disappearing into the night, Jack the Ripper’s murderous reign has beguiled a generation of sleuths for more than a century.
But it was Canterbury copper Detective Inspector Edmund Reid - popularised by TV show Ripper Street - who got closer than most as he trailed the blood-spattered streets of London’s East End hunting the Victorian serial killer.
After his retirement from the force, he moved to Herne Bay, where life was certainly less macabre but nonetheless enthralling with a record-breaking ascent in a hot air balloon and a house he covered in murals - which later fell into the sea.
He campaigned for a train link from Canterbury to Herne Bay, on sea erosion and lighting to building walls and bridges.
He was also part of the theatre on the pier and a member of the Whitstable Quoit Club.
So it seems unbefitting for a man who lived such a remarkable life that he should rest in a pauper’s grave with no headstone.
Now, Reid historian Amanda Harvey Purse is on a quest to install a permanent stone at his grave and has contacted Herne Bay Cemeterians to replace the temporary sign which can only be displayed on Heritage Open Days.
“I wanted to visit him to pay my last respects to a man I felt I have got to know.
"However, when I went there for the first time, I got upset because he was laying in Herne Bay without a headstone, without a marker to symbolise all he was and had done, all that history was just lost in layers of grass and mud,” she told our sister paper the Kentish Gazette.
Reid was born in 1846 above a Pickford’s Office in Beer Cart Lane, Canterbury where his father worked.
The family then moved to London, but he returned to marry Emily Jane Wilson in 1867 at Canterbury’s Zoar Strict Baptist Chapel.
The father-of-one eventually joined the police force, rising up the ranks before being thrust into the heart of Britain’s most infamous unsolved murder case alongside better known colleague, Inspector Frederick Abberline.
Jack the Ripper is said to have killed and mutilated at least five women, and Ms Harvey Purse says the policeman was at the helm of the probe.
“We cannot get away from the fact that Edmund was one of the key players within the Jack the Ripper investigation of 1888," she said.
"He not only went to the murder scenes. He went to the mortuary and wrote a detailed description of one of the victims, he organised the policemen under his control to investigate the crimes and even organised identity parades."
After the mayhem of Whitechapel, Reid retired from the force, settling in Herne and then Hampton-on-Sea - now known as Hampton - where his daredevil exploits as a balloonist were revealed in the local paper.
He provided a detailed account of a balloon trip to the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, writing candidly about the experience, including descending from the sky near Gravesend: “It was funny to see the children run away from us, I think they thought we were angels.
"Anyhow we had every assistance in packing up the balloon, which goes into the car when empty, but when full is as large as a house.
“What am I when I am down there, nothing, not so much as a grain of sand. I think that if there is anything to take the pride out of anyone it is being up in a balloon.
"It teaches that the world can go on very well without us, and perhaps better,” he wrote poignantly.
Aside from ballooning, Reid was a true community man, naming a wooden kiosk in his garden Hampton-on-Sea Hotel where he sold soft drinks and postcards.
He also campaigned endlessly for the residents whose homes were being eroded by the sea in his inimitable way.
“He was so much more than a hunter of the Ripper,” Ms Harvey Purse explained.
“He was an intelligent, sarcastic, funny, family man who could think on his feet and be quite quirky in his hobbies and decoration of his home.
“Edmund, in his unique style, was a constant writer to the local press and the council with ideas, whether anyone wanted to hear them or not.
"This is where we could get the real sense of the man. He was sometimes sarcastic but never disrespectful, and always forceful in getting his point across.”
The eccentric detective died at the age of 71 in 1916.
It is hoped with the publication of a new book and lectures delivered by the historian that money will be raised to fund the plot from the city council and memorial stone.
Mandy Boxall of the Herne Bay Cemeterians says the plan is to put a simple stone at the plot in line with the family’s wishes.
She said: “We have had his great-great grandson visit from Hertfordshire and he looks just like him.
"He (Reid) should have a memorial stone but we need to buy the plot before we can do anything and raise the funds.”