The History of Tanky Smith and James Winstanley..

TANKY SMITH - Was a copper from Leicester with a penchant for disguises the inspiration behind the 19th centurys most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes..? In this extract from his new booklet, Loughborough author John Harrison weighs up the evidence and delves into the murky world of the man the criminals feared - and the aristocracy turned to in times of need. Tanky Smith's most sucessful case was not local, but full of mystery which provided rich rewards. He was asked by the Winstanley family, of Braunstone Hall, a few miles from the centre of Leicester, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of James Beaumont Winstanley, who inherited the Braunstone estate in 1855. Winstanley had just been appointed High Sheriff of Leicestershire and had agreed to be at an investiture meeting as well as an archaeological congress, soon to take place in Leicester. He had travelled to Europe in June 1862, where his family grew concerned and a reward of £10 was offered for anyone solving the mystery of his disappearance. It seem's that Tanky Smith was hired by the family, maybe after a lack of response or clues. He set to work on the case, tracing Winstanley's movements from Folkestone to Calais, Cologne and finally Coblenz in Germany. After discovering that of a body had been found in the River Moselle (some reports say lake).

Tanky travelled to Coblenz, accompanied by a butler from Braunstone Hall. On arrival, they discoved that the body had been buried as that of a person unkown, but Tanky managed to obtain permission to have it exhumed. It was eventually identified as that of Winstanley due to cufflinks and clothing identified by the butler. Tanky discovered that about midnight on June 7 that year, Winstanley had been crossing the Moselle in a ferry boat, when he fell in the water and drowned, aged 31 years. But there was a more sinister theory, that newspapers in England aired. We must presume Tanky knew of this - that foul play was to blame, as two ten pound notes that had been obtained by the deceased in london were presented by a German at the bank after the dead man's disappearance.

It was rumoured Winstanley was a member of a secret continental society and had been kinnapped for violating its rules. Maybe he wised to leave or resign.. but there was only one way out of such a club. It was also suggested that Winstanley may have taken his own life. He, or his murderer, had tried to make identification of the body difficult, cutting out the initals on his clothing, but, strangely, not removing his cufflinks. Tanky received in excess of the £10 reward - one report said £1,000. Were the Winstanley family grieving but grateful? or was it "hush money" to keep Tanky quiet..?

Had he discoved a secret that needed no more publicity? Braunstone Hall, the home of the Winstanley family, was built in 1776, a brick mansion with stone dressings, two and a half storeys high. Its land was sold by the family in 1925 to the Borough of Leicester. In its place came an estate, built to house the growing population of the city but 168 ares were set aside for use as a public park. There is a Winstanley Drive nearby. As for the ill-fated James Beaumont Winstanley, he was the last of the male line of the family to own the estate.

Arthur Conan Doyle was more than just a writer - he was well travelled and a qualified doctor. He claimed that the character of Sherlock Holmes was based on Joseph Bell, a a fellow doctor. But many researchers believe he was evasive about his inspirations. The first mention of Sherlock Holmes appeared in a book by Conan Doyle during April 1886. Tanky, we must remember, retired from the Borough Police Force in 1864 and the Winstanley case ocurred during 1862.

The character of Holmes was a keen observer, deducer, a skilled master of disguise. These included a plumber, a labourer, a groom, an old sailor, an opium addict, a crippled bookseller, a priest and even an old crone. In his literary adventures he was described as over six feet tall, with eyes that were piercingly sharp, a thin aquiline nose, a square chin and a physically powerful frame. I have come across no reference to Conan Doyle visiting Leicester, but he was an avid reader of the newspapers which mentioned the Winstanley case in the national media during 1862. Tanky was one of the first detectives in the country, so it may be that he was noticed by Conan Doyle. However, it seems to me that Sherlock Holmes must have been based on a number of people rather than just one - but only Conan Doyle knew for sure.. Written by


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