The following intriguing story was pieced together from a descendant of a brilliant woman who lived in Victorian Liverpool.
Years before Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson took up lodgings on Baker Street, there was an amateur detective named Mrs Hamlet, who, with her sidekick Florrie Perkins, tackled many strange and intriguing crime cases. Unlike Conan Doyle's creation, Mrs Gloria Hamlet actually existed - in Victorian Liverpool. She was originally from Cheshire, but came to live in Liverpool, shortly after being widowed at the age of twenty-nine. She had a small chandler's shop on Bold Street in the early 1880s, where she employed a young lady of nineteen named Florence Perkins. 'Florrie' often delivered purchased items to customer's homes on her trusty tricyle, and Mrs Hamlet also rode a three-wheeled bike, which evoked many looks of indignation from those who regarded bicycling to be unladylike.
Mrs Hamlet had a healthy curiosity that led her to investigate many baffling cases and intrigues of her day. For example, in 1882, Florrie Perkins was courted by a young clerk named Sydney Richards. Sydney said his eccentric old Welsh uncle named Robert Madoc-Jones had died in Bootle, leaving nothing but a strange book of maps and pages of nonsensical words. A decade earlier, Mr Madoc-Jones had prospected for gold in Dolgellau in Wales and made a small fortune for himself. Many wondered why he had come to Bootle, and why he had written his notebook in code, as if to cloak his mysterious work. Mrs Hamlet was shown the book and she immediately noted the word ATBASH on the spine of the slim volume. The average person would not have realised the significance of the word, but Mrs Hamlet was very well read, and she knew that Atbash was an ancient Jewish cipher, in which the alphabet was reversed. The last letter of the alphabet became the first, the next to last became the second letter, and so on. Sydney was amazed at Mrs Hamlet's breakthrough, and he watched as she set about decoding the text of his uncle's book. Mrs Hamlet said that Madoc-Jones had mapped several gold mines in Lancashire - including one in Bootle, which seemed nonsensical. Sydney's uncle had also mapped the legendary "Everton Tunnel" - excavated in the reign of King Charles I. Prince Rupert hid gold he confiscated from the defeated Parliamentarians in that tunnel. Gold now valued at £3 million. The tunnel is a mile and a quarter long, and runs from Netherfield Road to the dock road. That seemed plausible enough but a goldmine in Bootle? Mrs Hamlet deduced from Madoc-Jones's book that the mine lay in the vicinity of Monfa Road. Strangely enough, many years ago when the railway embankment was dug up around Bootle's Hawthorne Road, fools gold was uncovered - and some people in the area also found tiny nuggets of real gold there. The gold of the Everton Tunnel still lays undiscovered.
Mrs Hamlet and Florrie Perkins investigated many intriguing cases, and I will feature some of them at a later date.
©Tom Slemen 2003.