My research into the extraordinary life and groundbreaking detective work of Jerome Caminada, a real-life Sherlock Holmes, has given me a unique opportunity to re-discover the colourful history of my home city. I grew up in Manchester but left almost 30 years ago to study in London and haven’t quite made it back, so I’ve thoroughly enjoyed wandering exploring places from my past, whilst bringing Detective Caminada’s story back to life.
Jerome Caminada was born in 1844 in Peter Street, opposite the Free Trade Hall, at the time when the original wooden pavilion had just been replaced by a brick structure. (The current building was erected in 1853). His parents were from migrant families who had arrived in the city for work at the turn of the nineteenth century, along with thousands of others, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Jerome’s father, Francis, was a cabinetmaker from Italy, and his mother worked in a textiles factory. Her family was originally from Ireland.
When Jerome was just three years old, his childhood was shattered by the deaths of his older brother and then his father soon afterwards. Along with his mother and three remaining siblings he was forced to move to the other side of Deansgate, into the notorious rookery around Spinningfields. The Caminada family lived in Quay Street, on the site of the Opera House, where poverty was endemic and crime rife. Determined to change his life, in 1868 at the age of 23, Jerome Caminada took the momentous decision to join the Manchester City Police Force.
On the beat
When Jerome joined the police as a constable, he was allocated into A Division, whose headquarters were at Knott Mill Police Station. His beat was the crime-infested neighbourhood in which he had spent his teenage years. The ‘apprenticeship’ that he had served whilst growing up in the labyrinthine alleys of Deansgate gave him an encyclopedic knowledge of the habitual criminals who lived there, which became an effective weapon in his daily work. The young police officer showed such aptitude for detective work that he was soon transferred to the detective department, which was based in Manchester Town Hall. He would spend the rest of his 30-year-long career there, reaching the lofty position of Detective Superintendent.
The landmarks of the developing cityscape of Victorian Manchester feature throughout Detective Caminada’s exceptional career. He regularly caught thieves and pickpockets on the platforms of the city’s railway stations. He infiltrated gambling dens, illegal beer houses and brothels in Manchester’s hotspots. In Ancoats and Angel Meadow, he tackled the infamous gangs of ‘scuttlers’ (street fighters), as well as tracking swindlers and forgers through the fashionable district around King Street. His signature case, the Manchester Cab Mystery, also took place in the heart of the city. In 1889, a wealthy businessman hailed a cab on the steps of Manchester Cathedral with a young friend. A few hours later, the cabman found him dead and his companion had fled. The search for John Fletcher’s killer would test Detective Caminada to the limits and, in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, he solved the crime in record time, using his knowledge of chemicals and of the city’s underworld.
Jerome Caminada’s family life was also rooted in Manchester. After he married Amelia Wainhouse in 1881, in the church of the Holy Name on Oxford Road, the couple settled in the suburbs of Old Trafford. Later, following the tragic deaths of their first three children, they moved to Denmark Road, in Moss Side, where they saw happier times. Their final two children survived to adulthood and the family became very prosperous, owning a number of properties, including their large family home opposite Whitworth Park. When Jerome retired from the police in 1899, he became a private detective and also represented Openshaw on the Manchester City Council. On 10 March 1914, he died at home and was laid to rest in the family grave in Southern Cemetery.
As I explored the city of Manchester and pieced together Detective Caminada’s story, I felt as if I were also re-living my own past and there were some uncanny links between our histories. I grew up in Old Trafford, not far from where the Caminadas had lived, and I went to school in Hulme, where his wife’s family came from. The most amazing coincidence came about when I discovered that my 3x great-grandfather had kept a brothel on PC Caminada’s beat in 1868. I don’t know if they met, but I like to think they did!
The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details, see her blog at victoriansupersleuth.com
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