A new book about the Franz Muller case in 1864 has been launched. Mr Briggs’ Hat : A Sensational Account of Britain’s First Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun was recently reviewed by Andrew Martin of The Observer.
Read his review here.
I was quite surprised to see the title of the book for a start, which utterly conforms to the concept of Archive TV’s The Crime Wave which makes the rather obvious point that crime reporting has been, and remains, a “sensationalised” craft, no matter how complex the issues that act as a backdrop to understanding.
So it seemed appropriate to repost my comments on Andrew’s review before writing a full book review from ourselves in a forthcoming post.
“Delighted to see renewed interest in this fascinating mid-Victorian story about a clash of cultures between middle-class suburban commuter life and the aspirations of a robust new German immigrant population in then leafy Hackney. Disappointingly though, the young hard-working German tailor, Franz Muller has been condemned to the true crime history books once again as a passing “sensational” interest in what actually was a haunting premonition of the social complexities of modern inner city youth crime and the media hysteria which inevitably follows.
In my own painstaking research of the Muller/Briggs case, I was more drawn to the complex political, social, cultural and industrial dynamics that fed in to a story that gave the development of police investigative techniques a massive boost in an era where crime detection demanded a great deal more sophistication for the dawning modern age.
The records relating to the case at the local Hackney Archives as well as the National Archives at Kew and the Colindale Newspaper archives, present, eerily, as a “CrimeWatch” type appeal to the masses to hunt down potential suspected “foreigners”. They also heavily reflect the public’s collective shock at the shattering of their previous comforting beliefs of the safety of exciting new train travel, which is played out in the media at the time in a way reminiscent of any modern day high profile murder or, without wishing to cause undue offence, at times it echoes the kinds of fears expressed after the terrifying 7/7 tube and bus bombings.
The Muller case was a watershed for Victorian society in so many ways, and like many subsequent high profile murders, it is more than quite possible and probable, that an innocent man went to the gallows in order to quell any demands for a more challenging critique of how the entire Briggs case was investigated and played out in the press thereafter. It is of note that Muller’s execution was one of the last public hangings in Britain.
The international award winning short film The Crime Wave, featuring the case, stays true to the uncertainties of the real story, and provides a more relevant opportunity to answer questions that this dreadful case actually poses for us today.
The Crime Wave, written by Sharon Holloway and directed by Stuart Everett can be seen at www.archiveproductions.tv.” (8 May 2011)