Miss Whiplash, who lives about five fields away from us, is selling off the macabre memorabilia that she collected while she was working as a dominatrix and madam in London.
I read in the Hereford Times that she intends to flog, so to speak, three letters from Dr Crippen that she bought at Christie's in the mid-1980s. So I called her to find out more.
Without ever having met her, I'm rather fond of Miss Whiplash, also known as Lindi St Clair, although I fancy that too is an alias. She's very jolly on the phone, and I'm also indebted to her for an exchange at our kitchen table when my son Joe overheard my wife Jane, and her friend Jane, talking about dominatrixes.
"What's a dominatrix?" he asked. Jane, my wife, was nonplussed. She didn't know he'd been within earshot. But Jane, our friend, rose resourcefully to the occasion. "It's someone who's very good at dominoes," she said. Joe went away satisfied, although possibly with a nasty shock in store later in life, when he asks someone playing dominoes if she is a dominatrix. Or asks a dominatrix for a game of dominoes.
Anyway, Miss Whiplash told me that one of the Crippen letters was a simple diagnosis of a patient's ailment; one was written from his prison cell and addressed to his lawyers, asking them to dispose of his effects but to keep a particular suit (probably because he wished to be hanged in it); and one was to the Lord Chief Justice purporting to be from his wife, Belle Elmore, who had disappeared in January 1910, saying that she was alive but in hiding. It was later proved to have been forged by Crippen. (In fact, after a party at their home, he had decapitated Belle and hidden her corpse in the cellar.)
Miss Whiplash told me that she bought the letters because she had loads of money back then and nothing better to spend it on. "I had my boat and my Rolls-Royce," she said. "I had property. So I started buying things for my dungeon and torture chamber. People who collect china teapots start with one and build up a collection, and that's what I did. I had a hangman's rope, an execution warrant from Louis XIV, stuff from Newgate Prison, all sorts of things. It was something for my clients to look at while they were on the rack, or in the stocks."
As far as you can tell over the phone, Miss Whiplash kept a straight face while she was telling me this. She has been offered fortunes by the tabloids over the years to reveal her clients' identities, but has not succumbed - and never would. "I liked all my men," she said. "There was one in particular, a Labour politician who's now a Lord. He was the one I liked most. I don't want to ruin his life, upset his family, by revealing his name. I wouldn't enjoy spending the money, anyway."
I told Miss Whiplash that she was a woman of great moral rectitude, and did so without cracking a smile, as far as she could tell over the phone. "Yeah, well, I come from an old East End gangster family," she said. "My mum used to play bingo with Violet Kray. And I was brought up never to grass."
St Clair retired as a madam when she came to live in Herefordshire in 1999, but said that she would cheerfully start up in business again if prostitution was ever legalised. "I've got a four bedroomed-house so I'd have three girls, one of 25, one of 35, and one of 45," she told me.
She's got it all worked out. "You need different ages. I had an escort on my books in London who was 75; very popular, she was. The girls would have a room each, they'd keep half the money themselves and half would go to the house. That's how it works. I'd have a minder to look after us, but it would all be very discreet, out in the country, high hedges and all that. I'll tell you what, there's already more escorts out here than you would ever think. There's one in Ticklemore, you know."
Ticklemore, a pseudonym, is a nearby hamlet consisting of only 50 people, which means that if Miss Whiplash is right, two per cent of sleepy Ticklemore's population works in the sex industry. There's more to the countryside than meets the eye.Reuse content