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Francis Thompson (1859-1907) Find!

Well, I said there would be more to follow, and here it is...Francis Thompson.jpg


Francis Thompson was born in Preston to devout middle-class Catholic parents.  This religious upbringing was to remain a continuing influence throughout his life and work.  As a child he absorbed himself in the works of Coleridge and Shakespeare, finding solace away from the main house and his siblings on the quiet of the staircase.

It was Thompson's fervent religious beliefs that would play the first part in his adult life.  He made an attempt to enter the Church, studying at Ushaw in the North East, but found himself wholly unsuited to this life.  A second attempt at study, this time following his father into the medical profession, was also unsuccessful. However, this time spent in Manchester was not wasted as it was here that Thompson was to develop his third great love, cricket. He spent much of his time at Old Trafford cricket ground, storing up memories that would later be relived through his verses.

The Lancashire Red Rose, o the Lancashire red Rose!

We love the hue on her cheek that shows:

And it never shall blanch, come the world as foes,

For dipt in our hearts in the Lancashire Red Rose!

(Excerpt from, Sons, who have sucked stern nature forth)


Sadly, in 1879 Thompson fell ill, and it was around this time that he first used laudanum, a combination of opium and ethanol, initially as pain relief but soon after for more recreational purposes.  It was also whilst he was ill that his mother gave him a copy of Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, a text that would prove to be catastrophic in its influence. In a move that paralleled de Quincey's own, Thompson left Manchester and moved to London to pursue a literary career.  In London Thompson spent three years living on the streets as a vagrant and drug addict.  He failed to make money from his writing and was reduced to menial jobs such as selling matches or holding horse reigns for people.  Eventually in 1888 Thompson sent some of his poetry to an editor called Wilfrid Meynell who took a great interest in them.  Sadly Meynell couldn't track Thompson down as he had no fixed address but he published his poems anyway hoping it might attract his attention.  This had the desired effect and Thompson appeared in his office destitute, malnourished, and barefoot.  The friendship that flourished was to ultimately save Thompson and help him to produce his greatest work.  Thompson spent time living with the Meynell's as well as prostitute he had befriended whilst living on the streets, he also stayed in monasteries trying to kick his drug dependency.  Sadly this wasn't to be and a very ill Francis Thompson died of tuberculosis aged just 48.


Catholicism would always remain a driving influence throughout Thompson's life and work and a great many of his poems are filled with religious fervour. His most famous poem 'The Hound of Heaven' sees Thompson being pursued by god who despite his attempts to lose him through drugs and vagrant life still remains a lasting and undeniable influence.  Although the influence Thompson's writing was to be greatly felt by writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert Browning he is largely forgotten in his hometown of Preston, where only an old unkempt plaque marks the house in which he lived.


In recent years Thompson has attracted more interest as a murder suspect.  Thompson has been put forward as a suspect in the infamous Jack the Ripper case of the late 1880's.  He was certainly in the right (or wrong) place at the right time, living as a drug addict and vagrant in Whitechapel at the time of the murders.  He also had a medical background and Jack the Ripper was famous for the surgical removal of his victims' organs.  Other circumstantial evidence has been put forward as a case against Thompson but like so much of this enigmatic character's life it will remain a mystery. 


Francis Thomson: Catholic, poet, cricket enthusiast, drug addict, serial killer?


1 September 2009 from Sophie


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