31 October 2017
I almost feel that this should begin in audience-grabbing, click-bait Trinity-Mirror style with the inevitable Five Things You Need To Know about Jimmy Giblets, but we’re better than that, so I’ll tell it straight, definitely no chaser.
Regular readers will be familiar with the story of Jarrow-born Newcastle butcher Andrew ‘Jimmy’ Gibbons – or ‘Jimmy Giblets’ as he came to be known: a popular, mild-mannered, some even say affable, butcher operating in Newcastle’s Grainger Market in the late Victorian period; a nominee for the prestigious Tartes du Monde in Paris in 1882; a recipient of the Royal Stamp of Approval for his services to butchery in 1884; a brutal serial killer who disposed of his victims in the very pies on which he built his reputation.
Andrea Finley, a researcher at Tyne and Wear Archives, made a chilling discovery when compiling a book of photographs of Newcastle in the 1960s. Staring out at her from a black and white photograph of innocently oblivious shoppers looking for a suitable joint for their Sunday roast in the Grainger Market, there was the haunting apparition of ‘Jimmy Giblets’ with arms crossed and smug look etched across his weathered features.
“There’s no doubt about it: it’s him. That’s how people described him in Victorian times. Bloodied, striped apron, slicked back hair and arrogantly posing in front of his store, flexing his muscles to impress the middle class ladies who were waiting to have their pies filled personally. He looks just he does in the existing photos and etchings we have,” said Senior Archivist Trevor Halliwell.
“I was supposed to work late the night Andrea showed me what she found, but the room turned icy cold and I quickly made other plans. This is one photo that won’t make it into the book.”
No-one knows for sure what happened to Gibbons after he made his daring escape en route to Durham Jail following his arrest for murder, though rumours abound that he resurfaced in Whitechapel in 1887 and later stowed away on a steam packet to Morocco where, in a move that inspired Joseph Conrad to write Heart of Darkness, he was adopted by a local warlord, joined the Barbary Coast pirates and was known as Jimmy the Jarra Corsair. The horror, indeed.
In recent years, surviving members of the Gibbons family, who still live in Jarrow, have made claims that he was framed and that the murders were the work of a butcher’s boy from a rival store, a callow youth known only as Kelly.