Monday 1 September 2014

Jimmy Giblets: The Butcher of Old Newcastle

Characters of Old Newcastle Number 25
Andrew 'Jimmy' Gibbons, known to one and all as Jimmy Giblets, was, for many years, the toast of Victorian Newcastle. This Jarrow-born lad rose to the top of his trade as a butcher and his store dominated the Grainger Market for over two decades. His chicken pies were nominated to represent the city in the prestigious Tartes du Monde competition in Paris in 1882 and he was rewarded for his services by receiving the royal stamp of approval when he was made Pie-Maker to the Queen in 1884, after which he revelled in his local nickname, the Butcher of Newcastle.

He was a personable, not to say jovial, man and many people swore by his products. No-one thought anything of his high turn-over of staff, until the morning that young Alice Fentiman, who, it was claimed, had a crush on Mr Giblets, arrived early for work to help him prepare for the day. To her horror, she saw him slipping an eyeball into one of his famous chicken pies. She screamed for help and the rest is history.

In court, when asked to account for 13 missing members of his staff over a period of 22 years, he sought to blame his behaviour on the pressures of the job, but his sort always do, don't they?

Sentenced to death by hanging, he was being transported to Durham Jail when a wheel came off his coach and it crashed into an embankment. In the ensuing melee, Mr Gibbons made clean his escape.

No-one knows for sure what happened to him, but it was rumoured he boarded a packet steamer for Morocco where he threw in his lot with the Barbary Coast pirates.

It is not thought that he ever returned to England, though if you are inclined to believe in the supernatural, the fate of Miss Fentiman might interest you. Shortly after her unfortunate discovery, she had moved out of Newcastle to the countryside around Hexham where she met and married a young farmer, James Henderson, but it would seem she was never able to exorcise those visions of horror that she had witnessed and she took to alcohol and then to the road. On the 13th of  April, 1927, A local rector, walking to church, heard screaming from a field and when he looked up he saw, as he later described it, a black convulsing mass - so black it seemed to absorb daylight - covering the corner of a field. He ran towards it, but his vision was at first obscured by trees and when he entered the field, a ragged clamour of rooks broke in alarm from their scavenging and scattered into the sky. Curious as to what had attracted their attention, the rector, at first hesitantly, edged forward until he came upon the dead body of Alice Fentiman. Despite the undoubted presence of  so many birds, he was careful to observe that the only signs of mutilation were that her eyes had been pecked out...

As late as the 1960s, renowned British folklorist Richard Mercer Dorson recorded young girls singing these words in a skipping rhyme in the Scotswood area:

"One, two, three, four:
Who's that knocking at the door?
It's Giblets Jim, Giblets Jim;
If there's eyes in the pies,
It's got to be him."

Food for thought, indeed...

More news about the murderous Mr Gibbons:

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