Did you know that a Belgian was Mayor of London at the time of Jack the Ripper?
Sir Polydore De Keyser was born on 13 December 1832 in the city of Dendermonde, near Ghent, in Belgium.
In 1842, his father, Josse De Keyser, gave up teaching to enter business, and the family moved to London, in the Blackfriars station district. It was at this time that he bought a hotel, which he called De Keyser's Royal Hotel. In 1852, Polydore obtained British citizenship. He ran the family's hotel with his father.
De Keyser's Royal Hotel had around 400 rooms and was mostly used by foreigners visiting London, including Americans, Dutch, French and Belgians (De Keyser himself spoke six languages). The hotel's success depended almost entirely on this international clientele, but it also hosted the city's company guilds for large banquets.
De Keyser was a member of various companies (Spectacle Makers, Farriers, Butchers, Innholders, Poulterers, Gold and Silver Wire Drawers) and was also a governor of Bridewell, Bethlem and St Bartholomew's hospitals. In 1862, he married Louise Piéron, the daughter of another Belgian family who had moved to England. De Keyser, who had trained as a lawyer, served as Sheriff of London and Middlesex (1882-83), a position that more or less corresponds to that of a Belgian Justice of the Peace, and was elected as alderman to represent Farringdon Without (a London borough).
From October 1887 to November 1888, De Keyser was Lord Mayor of London, making him the first Roman Catholic to hold this position since the Reformation, also known as the Anglican schism (16th century). The last months of De Keyser's term of office were marked by the infamous murders carried out by Jack the Ripper, from September 1888 to November 1888.
On 4 December 1888, he was knighted by Queen Victoria. During his visit to Brussels and Dendermonde in 1888, he was honoured with the production of two cantatas by the Belgian composer Peter Benoit. (Welkom der Stad Brussel aan den Hoogachtbaren Heer Polydoor De Keyser, Lord-Major van Londen et Heilgroet aan den Hoogachtbaren Heer Polydoor De Keyser, Lord Major van Londen, in zijn vaderstad Dendermonde). He died in London on 14 January 1898.