Matilda Clover’s mother died during her birth in 1868, an event her father never forgave her for. The bird-seller and his lame daughter lived in two rooms near the old Jewish burial ground shared with semi-caged finches, larks and nightingales. Matilda had an affinity for birds, teaching several to talk or do tricks that increased their worth and pleased her father. On Friday nights and Saturdays she was paid to undertake tasks for a Jewish family whose faith forbade them to work on their sabbath but whose children taught her to read.
Having trained a jackdaw to select picture cards, Matilda developed a trade making predictions, initially among the Limehouse sailors her father swapped London birds for more exotic species with. After his death, Matilda moved to a single room in Dorset Street taking the smartest birds to train for prophesising at a pitch she had established near Liverpool Street Station.
The dark, narrow streets of Spitalfields forced people to keep their wits about them, especially during the terror the Whitechapel Murders unleashed in 1888. One victim, Mary Kelly, was a neighbour of Matilda and her brutal murder; coupled with another a few months later, badly affected her nerves. Morbid prophecies were shouted at anyone who caught Matilda’s gaze, until she was threatened with confinement at the lunatic asylum.
A police report dated 20 August 1889 provides a witness account of Matilda Clover’s rantings before she leapt into the Thames at London Bridge. When her young body was retrieved and taken to the mortuary at Rotherhithe, an attendant kept the small bundle of prophecy cards he found in her pocket.
(2006) paper, ink, glue & shellac: 24 pieces, each 100 x 50 mm