Leicester Chronicler

An informal insight into the cultural and social history of the city of Leicester


Robert James Lees
A journalist, preacher and philanthropist.  Regarded by some as a prophet and a sage, but described by the Metropolitan Police of 1888 as a madman and a fool. Interpreting the writings and actions of Robert James Lees continues to be a challenge.  
Colourised studio photograph of Robert James Lees

Robert James Lees was born in Hinckley and spent his boyhood years in Rugby and Birmingham. After his marriage to Sarah Bishop, whom he met as a boy whilst attending a Sunday School class in the Aston district of Birmingham, he moved to Manchester where he worked for the Manchester Guardian.

In 1874 he and his young family moved to London so that he could take up the position of Advertising Manager for a new monthly magazine. However, within months of commencing his new career, he became the victim of a loan shark and for several years lived in poverty. It is claimed that Lees, as a boy, served as a spiritualist medium for Queen Victoria who was in mourning for the late Prince Albert. 

It is further claimed that later he assisted the police in tracking down Jack the Ripper in the wake of the notorious Whitechapel Murders in the Summer and Autumn of 1888, and that he was also involved in the arrest of several Fenian terrorists who committed a number of bomb attacks on prominent London landmarks in the last decade of the Nineteenth Century.  None of these claims has yet been proven although a considerable weight of supportive evidence has been gathered.


Lees also launched The Peoples' League, a benevolent organisation based in the Peckham district of London, which provided support and activities for the poor and homeless of the area, based on early Socialist principles. He left London in 1895, shortly after an article about his alleged involvement with the Jack the Ripper events was published in a Chicago newspaper. 

He moved to St Ives in Cornwall, and thence, briefly, to Plymouth in Devon, and finally to Ilfracombe.  His wife died there in 1912.

Towards the end of his eventful and often controversial life, Lees returned to Leicester where he lived in Fosse Road, cared for by his devoted daughter Eva.  His death in January 1931 prompted several major newspaper articles, the contents of which are still debated and disputed today.

Find out more about Robert James Lees here at the website managed by one of his Australian descendants.


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STEPHEN BUTT 2005-2015