The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 7: Mad Jimmy Kray


James William (Jimmy), the Grandfather of the Kray Twins had the chance of a reasonable start in life.  His parents only had two children, although there were three children from his mother’s first marriage, but compared to the hordes of children usually living in one room with their parents, the Krays were not in such a bad position.  Jimmy worked as an Electrical Apprentice at a Cable Maker’s Company, this was a great opportunity for him to lift himself out of the poverty of the East End, Electrical works at this time were a New Technology and a qualification in this area would guarantee him a good life for him and any family he may have in the future, even more so he had been made an Overseer Managing staff at the tender age of 17, an indication of his strength of personality as well as natural ability.  But life can be cruel, and the sweetest of things can lead to the bitterest of outcomes.  In his teens Jimmy fell for  a Docker’s daughter five years his senior, Louisa Eliza Turner, lied about his age, meaning that he didn’t have the blessing for the marriage from his father, and married her at St Anne’s Church Hoxton on 5th May 1901.  The reason isn’t hard to find, at the age of 16 he had made her pregnant, and a month after their marriage, James Frederick John Kray was born to them in Hackney.  So it is without a doubt certain that he would have been under massive pressure, and threats of potential violence from Louisa’s family if he didn’t “do the right thing”.

Things started to get worse for him, he lost his job at the Cable Maker’s, had to move house three times in 1901 with a wife and small child, and another one soon on the way, he worked as a Labourer, then a Porter, both poorly paid unqualified jobs, before finding his way to the street markets of the East end where he became a Hawker of flowers, a job he would do for more or less the next ten years.  Wheeling and dealing using his wits and drive to carve out a living, the family growing with child after child, John George in 1902, Albert Charles in 1904, Charles David (The Kray twins father) in 1907, Alfred  1909, William George in 1911, and Louisa in 1914.  So on the eve of the First World War, he was living in one room in the East End with a wife and seven children.  His prospects looked dreadfully bleak.

With the outbreak of the First World War (The Great War) Jimmy found a means of escape from this grinding poverty with the guarantee of regular money being available for his family.   Jimmy Kray joined the King’s Royal Rifle Company (KRRC) on the 14th September 1914, this tells him a bit about him physically, as the KRRC and other Rifle or Light Infantry Regiments were traditionally recruited from smaller fitter men, expected to march at drill at twice the normal speed and deploy at the jog-trot or run.  It also shows that he was quick to sign up.  Just as quickly he was shipped to Boulogne in France and marched to the front.

While he was in France Jimmy may have heard news from home that one of his second cousins, Clement had died of his wounds whilst serving in the Honourable Artillery Company.  Clement had been doing well for himself before the war, he was a young commercial traveller from Harlesdon, and no doubt enjoyed life and expected great things to develop, that was over now.  The Honourable Artillery Company consisted of both Infantry and Artillery, and his Battalion had fought at the first battle of Ypres, they had charged the German lines after an artillery bombardment, many of them had been cut down by the Germans on the way in, and had taken a terrible revenge on the Germans after they had surrendered, shooting many of them out of hand.  By their own admission many of the men had a blood lust brought on by battle, and such incidence were far from uncommon amongst the hard-bitten British professional soldiers, for example in the same battle 300 German prisoners were said to have been slaughtered after their surrender by the Royal Scots.

Ironically the KRRC fought at the 2nd battle of Ypres,  perhaps this made Jimmy want revenge, and would see him through his dramatic engagement with the Germans.where the Rifles were supporting a Canadian Corps.  The Germans had burst a hole through the french Colonial troops holding part of the front by using poison gas on them, the clouds of yellow gas filling trenches and killing thousands of the unsuspecting french troops.  They used the same tactics against the Canadians, and then launched three of their own corps threatening to overrun the Canadian position making a huge dent in the Allied Line, but the Rifles and Canadians fought a ferocious action against Artillery and Gas attacks, and finally faced three times their number of German Infantry pouring over the top and flooding into the Allied trenches.  The fighting was desperate, but despite initially being pushed back by sheer weight of numbers, the KRRC and the Canadians made a final stand and fought the Germans to a standstill; the line was badly dented, but held.

James was wounded in the fighting , “luckily” receiving a “Blighty Wound” that left him in one piece, but got him shipped back to England and honourably discharged after treatment in 1916.  he was awarded The Silver War Badge to wear, a necessary precaution to show the civilians back at home that he had done his duty and had been shipped out of the army because of his wounds, he wore the Silver War Badge as a mark of distinction; men who were thought to be shirking their duty at the front were in danger in the East End of receiving a beating from returned soldiers and their families, so the badge was a necessary precaution.  Having said this, the chances of many people who knew Jimmy Kray trying it on with him was probably small once they’d been toe to toe with him, the little man’s reputation for violence was formidable, and had no doubt been considerably enhanced by his time fighting hand to hand with beefy Germans outnumbering him three to one, there weren’t many situations that he would worry about after that.

The prevailing sentiment at the time was summed up in the poem In Flanders Fields, written by a Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, having just buried a friend who died at the second Battle of Ypres:

The_Second_Battle_of_Ypresred

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:


The torch; be yours to hold it high.
To you from failing hands we throw

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

This was published in Punch Magazine in December 1915,  it’s not a poem about remorse and hand-wringing guilt, so common after modern conflicts, it was about right and wrong, noble sacrifice and revenge.  The trauma these men suffered was channelled in the public consciousness into pride and action, no thought of surrender, quite the opposite.

One of Jimmy’s other second cousins, Sergeant George Kray of the Middlesex Regiment, was also discharged from the Army in 1916, and received his Silver War Badge, although he was discharged sick rather than wounded.  The number of men suffering debilitating serious illness in the trenches often outnumbered those wounded.

Sidney James Kray (another second cousin to Jimmy) was the only Kray to see the war out without being killed, wounded or having his health destroyed.  He left the army as a Corporal in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and like the rest of the cousins, served his time in France.

It wasn’t just the Kray men who did their part, Alice Kray (another second cousin) joined up and served as a Nurse having seen what had happened to her brothers and cousins.

Discharged with his scars and medals, Jimmy Kray came back injured from the horror of the tranches, to a single room filled with children, Elizabeth had been born in 1916, and as a sign of the relentless poverty the family found themselves in, she was the only child to die in childhood in 1918.  With no prospects Jimmy went back to trading in the markets, coming to the conclusion that there was money to be made trading secondhand clothes, what was called a Wardrobe Dealer, and he would carry on doing this for the rest of his life.  It wasn’t a great living, but then wasn’t bad either for a man with his wits about him.  According to Reggie Kray, one of the twins, his grandfather Jimmy would scan the local papers for news of a death, then go around to the house, offer his condolences, and also offer to buy any old clothes from the deceased they may want to get rid of.  The logic he used to get the cloths at a knock down price was that it was hard to sell clothes of those who had recently died, so would a few bob suffice?  Most people went along with this, especially if the main bread-winner had died and they needed some immediate money for the funeral and drinks for the wake.

Using his intelligence Jimmy then took to going around the local housing estates that were springing up in the East End after the First World War offering sets of presentable (cheaply bought) china in exchange for decent clothes, the many new housewives and young couples living on the estates would be only too happy to swap clothes for a nice socially aspirant set of china.  He continued doing the buying for the rest of his life, and had the sense to set his son, the Kray twin’s father Charlie, up in  a shop in Brick Lane to sell the clothes that he bargained for.

The trading brought stability to the family and they continued the family tradition of living in Gorsuch Street from the 1920s till Louisa’s death in the 1950s.  However the there was another side to Jimmy, he carved out a good living for his family in the harshest of circumstances, but was a terror around the markets, the little ex-Rifleman was a notorious brawler, just as well, survival would have been difficult with this fire in his blood. However Jimmy took it to another level, and earned the nickname “Mad Jimmy Kray”.  Some of this is most likely down to drink, as in later years he would have a heart condition most likely aggravated by bouts of heavy drinking that would lead to his death.

Drinking would eventually take its toll on Jimmy; he died in 1949 of a heart condition that was possibly aggravated by past heavy drinking.

The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 6: Continued Decline


After John died Elizabeth continued to bring in money for the family by dressing the hair of horses, a strange occupation by today’s standards, but highly in demand an age when horses were everywhere as the only form of transportation.  brewery dray horses were especially well-groomed as a walking advert for the breweries they served, and it seems likely that Elizabeth groomed them, as she ends up living with Joseph Brown a Brewer’s Labourer from Mile End, they settle down together in Henrietta Street Bethnal Green, with the younger Krays who take the Brown surname, as well as her son Frederick Kray, who is an adult and retains the Kray name.  Her daughter Esther follows her mother into the Horse Hair Dressing trade.  But once again Elizabeth is dogged by tragedy as her husband Joseph Brown dies in 1895, and she ends up in Bethnal House, a lunatic asylum from 1901 and she sees out her days there.  Was there a hint here of the psychological strain in the Family that would manifest itself in future generations?

The older children had gone their separate ways years before their father’s death.  John William had left his job, hammering rivets, for the army life at 18 and in 1870 had joined the 65th Regiment of foot, where he spent the next fourteen years serving in the East Indies, India and Aden, and the Soudan (sic).  John was shipped out to India after basic training, where he managed to get six year’s worth of diarrhoea, Malaria and Dysentery.  He deserted for six months in 1879, then voluntarily rejoined in the same year, he was sentenced to a month’s hard labour and stoppages of wages. In 1882 the regiment was on its way home when it was diverted to the Sudan to help fight the Mahdists who were staging a revolt against the Anglo-Egyptian Government of the area.  Here John would see some real action; his regiment being sent to engage with the Mahdists who had previously destroyed an Egyptian force sent against them, and had captured the Egyptian’s modern guns in the process.  1884eltebred

They met the Mahdists at their defended position at El Teb where they overran the position with light casualties, but killed two thousand Mahdists in the process.  The Mahdists were later re-engaged by John’s regiment at the battle of Tomai where for a loss of just over two hundred the British killed four thousand Mahdists.  1884tamai2red

After the actions in the Sudan the regiment is sent home, and in 1889, after nearly twenty years in the Army he goes back to civvie street, where he marries, and settles down in Leeds where he worked as a commissionaire.  The only member of the family at this time to move away from the area of London.  he died in Leeds in 1906.

Frederick, after the death of his step father Joseph Brewer, carried on for the rest of his life making shoes and boots, staying until the first world war in the east London area, then moving a little further out to Hampstead where he died in 1941.

James Kray was already an adult in his twenties when his father died, had moved out of the family home some time before and was working as a cork cutter, a semi-skilled profession that was required for corks for bottles and jars, and the shoemaking and cigarette trades, providing soles for shoes and tips for cigarettes, both of which trades his family were already involved in, his uncle James running a tobacconist and his brother Fred making shoes.

In 1884 James marries Jane Sarah Wild in Bethnal Green, they would only have two children James William and Betsy Florence.  The marrage may have been a rushed, as James William is born just three months after the wedding.  The family lived in the Bethnal Green and Shoreditch areas of East London, and this would be the generation that moved into Gorsuch street, Shoreditch, that would provide a haven for them for many years to come.  During this time the family, like all Eastenders, lived in the shadow of the Ripper.  Jack The Ripper killed five prostitutes between August and November 1888, the reality of a few months breeding a myth that has lasted across three centuries.  many other murders were attributed to the Ripper, but only five really are attributable to him.  The horror and worry caused by these murders, whipped up by the press was out of proportion to the reality of the Eastend, where similar, if less flamboyant, sadistic murders were happening constantly, mainly in a domestic setting, or associated with gangs and pimps extorting money from prostitutes and carrying out sadistic punishments when the money wasn’t forthcoming.  But the Ripper murders caused panic and fear, and lead to a paranoia amongst the working classes of the Eastend that would no doubt have been shared by the Krays, making them territorial and very aggressive towards suspicious strangers and foreigners.

But whatever the paranoia of the times, James and his small family had stability, and this stability was reflected in James employment, as he remained in his role of a Cork Cutter for well over 30 years, moving from manual cutting to machine cutting at the turn of the twentieth century, before machines to automate the whole process came in with mass production after the first world war, so just as his father before him had gradually been pushed out of his Lamplighter’s role to become a Gas Fitter, so James was made redundant by mechanisation.  James story was more tragic however, as he falls far down the job scale ending his days as a stoker in the boiler room of the local hospital; back-breaking work for a man in his sixties, where he dies of Cancer at the age of 65.

The Family History of the Kray Twins Part 5: The London Tribe of Lamplighters


John Kray had gone to the house of George and Caroline Goulborn at 25 Coleharbour Street Bethnal Green, after the death of his Father and the collapse of his nuclear family. He shared the rooms with George and Caroline and their two young daughters, and the lower floors were occupied by the Burnett family. The house would have been a plain three story building built in the 1820s, so relatively new.

John being slightly older than his brother was taken by the Goulborn brothers into the Gas Lamp Lighter’s trade. The Lamplighter’s was a respectable trade; gas lighting was widespread throughout London having been around since 1807 making a big change to the feel of the City. The old oil lamps were gone, replaced by thousands of bright gas lamps; London sparkled like a diamond, it shone like no other city in the world. The lamplighters would be out at dusk with a short ladder over their shoulder and a lamp in their hand. You can picture John Kray, twenty one years old, walking his rounds, between lamp posts in Bethnal Green at dusk, the ladder would go up against the lamppost, up he would go with his lamp to turn on the fishtail gas burner, apply his lamp to light it, close the glass, then down and off to the next one till his round was done, the faster he got round, the sooner he could leave work for the evening. A fairly straight forward job if you were careful not to blow yourself off the ladder by allowing too much gas to build up before applying the lamp, but a miserable one in the wind and rain. The next morning he would be up at “Sparrow’s fart” before dawn to do the same round again, this time up the ladder to turn off the gas, the skin on his fingers and thumbs being hard and calloused through contact with the hot metal and glass of the street lamps.

The Lamplighters were a close knit, and hereditary group, this was enabled by the growth of Gas Lights across London in the early 1800s which meant that as their families grew so did the demand for their labours, and the numbers of beats (as they called their routes) and it was a male only profession in Britain, passed from Father to Son, or to other members of the family as in the Krays’ case from their in-laws the Goulbourns.

They would congregate in groups, men working for the same Gas Company keeping company with each other in a local tavern that would be their “headquarters” at the end of their rounds. Here they would smoke their clay pipes, “wet their whistles” with beer, and swap stories of the rounds, and past and present Lamp Lighters, the most experienced, older men leading the group. They formed a “London Tribe” but unlike many they had a reputation for honesty, and acted almost as unofficial night watchmen, lighting up the dark corners and alleyways, banishing the darkness, and those who would skulk in it, by the act of light brining, and indeed their mere presence in the dark out of the way places, they also managed to do away with Link Boys, or “Glym Jacks” who carried lighted lanterns or torches for pedestrians in towns at night for a farthing a trip, however these were not always what they seemed, and could turn out to be “Moon Cursers” who would lead travellers to an ambush by their accomplices on nights when there was no Moon, and therefore when the Glym Jack’s services were much in demand. They died out with the coming of the Lamplighters as a trade.

The various families of Lamplighters would intermarry, according to Dickens betrothing their children in infancy to each other, form precessions at old Lamplighters’ funerals speaking slightly drunken orations, and upheld ceremonies and customs that went back through the generations. The older Lamplighters would have known the oil lamps, whose cotton wicks needed trimming and refilling with Whale Oil by day, then the round in the evening to light them again. They considered it a more skilled trade before the coming of Gas Lamps to Pall Mall and the London Bridges, as the old skills of maintaining the lamps were no longer required, and you couldn’t blow yourself off your ladder with an oil lamp!

Despite the changes in technology, the Lamplighters kept up their traditions and appearances, taking to the streets in white top hats, brown Holland jackets and trousers, the button hole of the jacket stuffed with wall flowers, and blue neckerchiefs. On a new beat they would whistle or sing from the tops of their ladders as they lit the lamps in the evening, so that the residents on the round would take notice and “stand them something to drink” as acknowledgement of their essential role as light bringer in the neighbourhood, the lamplighter’s shadow profiling them each night as familiar and comforting sights looming on bedroom walls.

At Christmas they would don their Sunday best and travel their rounds regaling the inhabitants with Lamplighters songs outlining the trials and tribulations of a Lamplighter’s life in the hope of receiving a “Christmas Box” (the price of a drink) in return.

It must have been a life that suited John Kray as he stayed in it for nearly thirty years, steady work, not highly paid, but with plenty of free time, the downside was that it was a job without prospects for the ordinary man, as long as you were prepared to do the same thing everyday, and proved reliable, you would have employment, but there was little or no chance of bettering yourself within the trade, as the job was owned by the gas companies, you could never build it up as your own business, the age of the wage slave had truly arrived. To John, having seen the effects of his father’s early death on the family only saved from destitution by the charity of the Goulborns, and the fate of his mother, condemned to Charity Shelters, the street and finally the workhouse, the certainty of a regular wage, even if only enough to keep a roof over your head and bread on the table, would have brought its own contentment.

In 1851 John Kray married Elizabeth Nurton, and went on to have nine children. They stayed in Bethnal Green with John going about his business as a Lamplighter, and lived for many years at 3 Providence Place Bethnal Green, the area in which they lived was almost exclusively inhabited by English Cockneys, (as opposed to other ethnic Cockney tribes such as the Irish, Scots, and Jews) virtually everyone in the streets in which they lived were born and bred in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Whitechapel. At this time Bethnal Green had been heavily settled by people who had moved out of from the shadow of the Tower like the Krays, it was a less harsh environment, still working class, still poor, but with a less claustrophobic crowding of people, and without the rampant casual crime that stalked the alleyways nearer to the city centre.

Pubs and music halls started to replace the Gin shops and penny dives, where players on stage would dress in caricature of the moneyed classes, the “Swells”, where caricature Policemen would fight with caricatures of the starving poor of Whitechapel, and poor but honest street girls would be placed in moral, and sometimes mortal peril by the lustful and greedy Swells, to be rescued at the last minute by their burly Costermonger or Soldier sweethearts to the roars of approval from the audience. This was the fantasy world that the working class could escape to, where the poor and “honest” would triumph over the rich and wicked, in complete denial of the truth that they saw around them everyday in the streets.

John died around his 60th year, he had been a very prominent character in the the working class community in Bethnal Green, and was even lauded by the Lord Mayor of London in 1860 at the Guildhall for risking his own life to save a fire victim, when, alongside a Police Constable Crewe of the City Force, John from the Central Gas Company was given a vellum testimonial and a half sovereign each, for: “The prompt and effectual means adopted by them in raising a rope to Thomas Fink, and thereby enabling him to lower himself from the fourth storey of the premises 25, Lime Street, City whilst on fire.”  John’s ladder and climbing skills no doubt to the fore.  After his death he would have left little if any money, a wife, ten children, all adults or very nearly by then, and his vellum scroll as testament to an eventful, and even heroic life in the London Tribe of Lamplighters.

Published in: on January 8, 2011 at 8:59 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Happy New Year to all my Readers!


A Happy, Healthy, and Hearty New Year to all my readers. More Whitechapel murders, mayhem, and mania in in the next instalment in 2011! Part 5 of the Kray Twins’ Family History coming soon.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 2:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 4: Murder and Body Snatching in Whitechapel


Murder in Goodman’s Yard
It was a sunny autumn afternoon in the Charity School where Mary Ann Kray was practising her writing, scratching the small nub of chalk across the grey slate. The sun shone in across her hand and made her fingers feel warm; two clean fingernails shone pink and bright. The quiet of the classroom under the strict watchful eye of her teacher was broken by the door opening unexpectedly, and the clean, hard, uniformed figure of Officer Lea from the local police station stepped smartly in. All the children were surprised, but Mary Ann was caught by the shine of the sunlight on his brass buttons; she didn’t look at his face or hear his exchange with her teacher. The spell was broken as the shine of the buttons moved from Mary Ann to the face of young Ned Cook, Mary Ann’s classmate, friend, and neighbour, Officer Lea took Ned by the collar, and walked with him held gently by firmly, towards the door. Momentarily Ned turned his head to look at Mary Ann, and the sunlight shone from the tear that cut a trail through the grime on his cheek.

The year was 1832, and the place was Regency Whitechapel. The children from Goodman’s Yard in the shadow of the Tower of London were lucky to have a charity school to attend. Mary Ann was eleven years old and the eldest daughter of John and Maria Kray. She had witnessed Ned Cook’s arrest, and this would lead to the unfolding a macabre story of murder, body snatching, and a public hanging.

To understand how a family evolves over time it is necessary to understand the environment in which they evolved; the attitudes, risks, and dreams of the people and their neighbours. With the Kray family there is no better place to start than Regency London and the desperation, temptation, and punishments that the played out with the working classes; this was the fire that would forge the Kray family.

Earlier that year, Ann Buton, the Granddaughter of an old Irish street seller, Caroline Walsh, had turned up at the garret room of 7 Goodmans Yard to look for her missing Grandmother. This was the home of Edward (Ned) Cook, his common law wife Elizabeth Ross (sometimes going by the name of her partner as Mrs Cook), and their son, Mary Ann’s school friend, young Ned Cook. Elizabeth Ross had a reputation for being a highly inquisitive person, and liked a drink, and it was not long before she had persuaded Ann Buton to buy her a drink, or as it turned out, a quartern of Gin, and two pints of beer. As they drank, Ann Buton questioned Elizabeth Ross closely, Ross said that the old lady had stayed the night but had gone out for some errands and would no doubt be back soon, but as the drink took hold, and the questions continued, Ross said:

“You seem to think from what you say, that we have murdered the woman.”

“I hope not Mrs Cook.”

Replied Buton.

Elizabeth Ross continued;

“From what you seem to say, you think we have destroyed her at our place.”

Buton, obviously alarmed retorted;

“Mrs Cook, you put the words into my mouth, but what I think I don’t speak now, but you will know of it hereafter.”

After this strange exchange, Elizabeth Ross tried her hardest to persuade Ann Buton to come back to her garret with her to have something to eat, but Buton refused, instead giving her some money to buy some food that they would eat in Brown’s Pub. Taking the money Elizabeth Ross went off and did not return.

Not to be put off the trail Ann continued to search the workhouses and hospitals for her Grandmother for some days, returning to the Garret where she saw bruises on Elizabeth Ross which she said she received at the hands of her partner Ned Cook, administered she said in punishment for her having gone drinking with Ann Buton and discussing the old lady’s disappearance. Ross’s story became stranger, with talk of rumours of an old Irish women dieing in the local workhouse, and that no doubt Ann would hear if her grandmother was alive or dead in a month or two. Having lost hope of any progress and sure that Ross knew more than she was saying, Ann Buton went to the local Police to make a complaint. The case was not followed up by the Police until the Granddaughters went to a magistrate in October, and it was then that Officer Lea was dispatched to arrest Ross and Ned Cook on suspicion of involvement in the old lady’s disappearance, and because he was required to keep them in custody, he was compelled to take young Ned Cook as well.

This was the turning point in the case, as young Ned, after a visit from his school master, no doubt raked with guilt and fear confessed to Lea that he had returned from school one evening to see old Mrs Walsh in their Garret, where she had drunk some coffee with his mother and father. The old lady had felt tired after this, and had lain down on the bed. He had then said that he had watched his mother approach the bed, put one hand over Mrs Walsh’s face, and the other on her chest, whilst leaning forward with her weight on the old woman. Frightened and looking to his father for help, Ned went over and stood at his side, but his father ignored him, standing with his back to the grim scene leaning out of the garret window. The terrified boy looked back to see Mrs Walsh’s eyes roll back, as his mother smothered the life out of her.
His mother carried the old woman’s body down stairs. He considered running away, but had nowhere to go, and so he curled up in bed hoping to wipe the horror from his mind.

The next morning he went to the basement privy, which was seldom frequented as it was infested with rats, but he had heard that one of the other families in the house had some ducks down there, and he wanted to see them. Feeling his way around in the dark he felt a large sack in the corner, and protruding out of it the top of the black hair of Caroline Walsh! He fled the basement. That night near to midnight he saw his mother carrying the body in the sack along Goodmans Yard, the next day she told him she had taken it to the hospital.

This was the grim tale that unfolded for the Jury at the Old Bailey trial, and the case was sensationalised in the press, with tales of the body not being found because Ross had sold it to surgeons for dissection, hot on the heels of the Burke and Hare grave robbing in Scotland, the press and public were craving more sensational stories of Irish murderers and body snatchers, and the Ross case had all the ingredients; Elizabeth Ross was Irish, a murder had most likely taken place, the old ladies possessions had been sold off for a few shillings after her disappearance by Ross, the body was missing, perhaps she had disposed of the evidence to some anatomists, and she was condemned out of the mouth of her own son!

Elizabeth Ross was found guilty of murder ad condemned to be hanged. Her partner Ned Cook was found not guilty. She was publicly hanged at Newgate, in front of a howling crowd, and her body was given over for dissection to the college of surgeons. Her life had been taken and her body dissected in a grim parody of the crimes she was accused of. To add insult to injury, her partially clothed corpse was sketched for a book of famous murders.

We can only speculate on what this outcome did to the mind of young Ned who had sent her to the gallows, without his evidence, she may have been convicted of handling stolen goods, but of little else. But Regency London was a harsh place, working class people were considered as criminals as a matter of course by many in society, and a child’s testimony would be all that was needed to send you to the gallows to swing for public entertainment, and then to the surgeons, this amounted to being hanged, drawn, and quartered. There was no balance of justice for the working class in Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, there was no reasonable doubt. Conversely a neighbour may have been willing to kill you for the clothes you stood up in, dispose of your body to the anatomists and very likely get away with it if nobody “talked”. Either way, the lessons learned by the Krays would have been that life could end suddenly through the law or against it, violent crime was an everyday occurrence, violent justice would be meted out if you were caught, and you could be caught and hanged by the voice of your own children. The other lesson was that the poor could not expect to be helped by the Police unless, like Ann Buton, you fought hard for it.

Given the cramped conditions the children would have spent as much of their time as possible outside, playing with the six Pattison children from the first floor. No doubt under the watchful eyes of the elderly house owner, a shop keeper, Mrs Hamilton who had the room on the ground floor. Time had moved on from when old Mrs Walsh had gone missing in Goodmans Yard, but parents still frightened their children saying that Mrs Cook the body snatcher would come and put them in a sack to sell to a surgeon if they didn’t behave.

Early Victorian Whitechapel

Whitechapel at this time had a hugely growing populace, mainly from other parts of the home counties, with people desperate to get into “The Smoke” as London became known to country dwellers, businesses were booming, and young people were attracted to the excitement of living in a place packed with people, but where nobody knew you, the village could be claustrophobic because of the familiarity of everything and everyone around you in the square mile of your village Parish, each of London’s square miles teemed with hundreds of thousands of people everyone invisible to the great mass around them. If you had money you were served with every vice imaginable, sex, drink, drugs (in the form of opium dens), in the minds of the fresh faced newcomer foreseen as romance and adventure.

The grim reality was somewhat different. The Alleyways were too cramped to get a carriage through, feral children roamed in packs picking pockets and stealing from market stalls, they grew into surly teenagers who frequented the Penny Dives in the Gin Palaces, the forerunners of the more respectable Music Halls. Here on small raised stages, accompanied by a rickety piano, popular stage acts would belt out bawdy double-entendres to the cheers and cat calls of their audience, nudges and winks going from boy to girl and back again. These were the Whitechapel Loafers, and this is where they would spend their light fingered spoils on Gin, by the pint. They would grow into the local hard man or “bully”, each of whom held sway over a court of ancient houses, rats in the cellars, and sparrows in the eves, sandwiching rooms filled with families, the houses themselves were being gradually shaken to pieces by the new railway engines thundering by them night and day. Whitechapel was a world apart, the Bullies and their Dolls blocking the roads in broad daylight and robbing any who looked prosperous enough and weak enough to provide both little resistance and high reward.

A strong hard working family would rise above all of this, but during the Kray childrens’ teenage years, their father John Kray’s drinking got steadily heavier. Much of his wages would have gone to the Gin Shop and the Beer House, and although he seemed to have a prodigious capacity for drink it was slowly poisoning his central nervous system. Eventually, especially when the money was low and drink hard to get John Kray would become restless during the day and sleepless at night, falling into depression. He started talking incessantly but incoherently, would say that he was going out to deal with some imaginary business, this would develop into visual hallucinations and he would believe that any object or person that was mentioned was physically in front of him. The symptoms got worse with or without a drink, and a fever set in. John was suffering Delirium Tremens, which gave him about a 30% chance of dieing in the 19th century, however if pneumonia set in then it invariably became fatal. He ranted and raved, and was given to violent delusions, capable of hurting himself or those around him, the family tried to help him, but his situation was becoming unmanageable. Eventually the fever laid him low, and his teenaged sons and Maria his wife were forced to carry him to the doors of the London Hospital to seek treatment for him.

For the family this would have been the last resort, as Hospital were viewed with suspicion, and up until the 1840s quite rightly so. The problem was that before the 1840s the qualifications for becoming a nurse were lax to say the least, from the 1820s the severe lack of nurses meant that women who could not read or write were allowed in, Hospital Governors and Doctors at the time said:

“The only points to be settled when engaging a nurse were that she was not Irish and not a confirmed drunkard. We always engage them without a character, as no respectable person would undertake so disagreeable an office. Every vice was rampant among these women, and their aid to the dieing was to remove pillows and bedclothes, and so hasten the end.”

With this in mind the Family handed to feverish and hallucinating John Kray over to the hospital porters. The worst of the offenders among the nurses had gone by now, and were replaced by semi-trained well meaning women, most of whom could read and write, and John was fortunate to be cared for by one such woman, Emma Davies, who may have been an older nurse as the young nurses were not allowed to enter the Mens’ wards, she would also have received an extra £2 per year for looking after the Men’s wards. The nurses were dreadfully overworked having to work both night and day shifts with only a very limited period of rest in between, and it is unlikely that a Doctor would have wasted much time on a middle aged man suffering from the effects of a lifetime of excessive drinking, so when on a hot day in August 1844 John Kray’s fever finally got the better of him, it was Nurse Emma Davies who witnessed the cause of death simply as a “Diseased Brain”.

Faced with this, Maria had stark choices to contend with. She had a house full of kids to look after, with no breadwinner, and not just through the obvious grief of separation of a mother and children from a husband and father, despite his terrible rages towards the end of his life, but now with the prospect of not being able to pay the rent and being cast out on the streets. Whatever happened life would now be grim, and Maria would need to make the most heartbreaking decisions in order to keep her children from harm.

.

The Family Falls Apart

The decision Maria made was to sacrifice herself to save the children. Her eldest daughter Mary Ann had married William Golbourn in 1843, the Golbourns had lived amongst the Huguenot Silk Weavers in Bethnal Green for generations. They were probably descendants of Huguenots themselves, but had moved with the times, the men now working as Gas Lamp Lighters, while the women worked on lighter trades such as shoe and Straw Bonnet making. They survived and multiplied, and had the charity of heart to take in the Kray boys after John Kray’s death. As always in times of trouble the Kray Family came to the rescue of their kin, saving them from the streets or workhouse. No matter how poor and cramped the conditions, it would always be better than that.

However there was only so much charity that was available, and conditions were cramped for the Golbourns although they did what they could. Maria took up work as a Charlady getting up at four in the morning to clean the offices, pubs, and public buildings of the area before the populace turned up to use them, hard, cold, poorly paid work, but it fed her gave enough to afford the tuppence a night in the lowest lodging houses, people separated from each other by simple wood boards stopping just above head height, in spaces just big enough for a bed, and that was when the work was coming in. In the times when it wasn’t Maria was forced first into the Charity Refuges, these were an alternative to the dreaded Workhouses. They were run by charities, and did their best for the local poor, but the demand was overwhelming,

Maria wandered into the courtyard of the refuge, fear of refusal, and a night on the streets in her heart, hands clasped, begging, pleading, trying to hide her Bronchial coughs from the overseers for fear of being turned away through fear of infection. Hemmed in on all sides by waifs and strays, men too old to work, young boys too frail to survive by crime, girls with babes in their arms thrown out of home for giving in to natures instincts, a dejected mass of humanity too fearful of rejection to do more of beg for a place within the refuge, too weak through lack of food to worry about pride. A firm, but not unkind superintendent lets her in, she gives her name, age, occupation, and place of birth, she could cry with relief, but lacks the strength. A hunk of bread is placed in her hand, and after sitting with the other women and girls to eat it, she joins three of them in a room for a bath, and then to bed, and the sweet oblivion of sleep, to the lullaby of the preacher walking up and down the long room reading from the bible.

There came a point where the risk of not being able to get in to the night shelters were no good, she couldn’t take the risk, as her Bronchitis was getting worse and another night on the cold streets would kill her. So with a heavy heart she knocked on the door of the Whitechapel Poor House, and committed herself to a safe, harsh, and unsympathetic regime that would keep her fed, and alive, but completely controlled by the authorities, her only happiness being her monthly opportunity to leave the walls and visit her family, but failure to return as directed would mean a life on the streets, but that one visit would allow her to get through the next month of grey austerity. The minimum food, and hard regime, kept her weak, and although it gave her several years of life, it did nothing to get rid of her Bronchial state or her weak heart, and on 23rd February 1878, she passed away in the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary in Bakers Row.

Her sons fared better. Mary Ann and William Goulborn had taken in her brother James to live with them at 30 Birdcage Walk Bethnal Green, which with would have been cramped with their own three children, but at least it would have brought an extra income into the house when he was old enough to work as a Cigar Maker.

Published in: on December 28, 2010 at 9:02 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

The Family History of The Kray Twins part 3: Revolution in Regency London



John Kray and Maria Etteridge Tree (Click to Enlarge)

When John Kray was sixteen he heard the news that Napoleon had finally been defeated at Waterloo by the mighty Wellington, it was the dawn of a new age. Great Britain had been fighting France for the whole of John’s life, and for the whole life of his father and his father’s father. Now war was over, and the boom protectionist economy that it had driven was about to descend into the bust economy of peace and competition. No one on the streets of London could see this, and the feeling on the streets was one of elation, chests thrown out, and heads held high. But as high prices, no votes and unemployment in town and country took hold, the countryside started to rise in disorder, and in 1816 this spilled over into London.

On a cold and clear day 2nd December 1816 John Kray laid his file and hammer down to stand at the door of his master’s Brass workshop with the other apprentices to stare on in astonishment at a mass of people surging through the narrow streets. With banners flying, the mob marched on for the Tower of London. These were the “Spenceans” a radical group of what we would probably call communists, the Spenceans were ultra-radical, calling for the destruction of all machinery and the sharing of all property. Many of the unemployed and dispossessed poor had rallied to their assembly, and the hot heads amongst their leaders were leading them to the Tower to win over the garrison, seize the armoury, and light the fire of revolution in the capital.

They surged through the streets around the Tower, calling to the people to join them, one grabbed John Kray by the shoulder:

“Come on boy, join us and live free as a cat!”

“What party do you follow?” John asked.

The man laughed “Whatever the parties you may call, they’re all alike so damn them all!” he laughed louder and sprinted back up the street to join the throng.

John Kray and his fellow apprentices followed “for a laugh” seeing these wild eyed revolutionaries and angry ragged men following them would have been the most exciting thing he had ever seen. They reached the Tower and call upon the garrison to join them. To their dismay and anger, the hardnosed guardsmen, fresh back from fighting the French just laughed in their faces. This was turning into a huge anti-climax, the battle hardened garrison, were easily capable of sweeping the Spenceans away with one bayonet charge, but commonsense prevailed, and the worst the would-be revolutionaries were hit with was derision.

Faced with this one of the younger revolutionary leaders lead a group of them into the City ransacked a gun shop, and shot a customer who remonstrated with him. At this point John and his friends would have decided that they would get back to work before things got completely out of hand, and the numbers of Spenceans started to dwindle, and their resolve to waver, until they were demoralised enough for the Lord Mayor and Militia to disperse them, capturing a number of their ringleaders. Despite the civil unrest they had orchestrated, the four ringleaders walked free because of a problem with the charges brought against them, James Watson, a surgeon and a leader of the more violent faction who had shot the man in the Gunsmith’s shop eluded capture whereas a sailor who had been with him was captured and hanged. The irony would not have been lost on the Krays; if you were a big enough fish, and had the right lawyer you could walk away on a technicality, if you were a foot soldier you would go to the gallows even if you didn’t pull the trigger.

Two years later in1818, at St James Church Clerkenwell, the nineteen year old John Kray married twenty year old Maria Etteridge. They had six children over the next twenty years, three boys and three girls. John the Brass Finisher, although not a highly skilled job, would at least provide a regular income that would keep a family together with a roof over their heads, and food on the table.

They lived in Goodmans Yard within sight of the Tower. Living conditions weren’t great, one room in the roof of the house thirteen feet by eleven feet, with a fire place, and a window. In this space lived John and Maria plus five of their children. Their only furniture was a bed, a couple of chairs and a table, with washing hanging up across the room when it was too wet to dry outside. With no running water, their room lit by candles, and a rat infested privy in the darkened basement without any other form of sanitation, they would have considered themselves lucky compared to the homeless and starving families they could see on the streets. They even had a Charity School around the corner so at least the children would be able to read, write, and do sums.

The Spenceans had one last throw of the dice two years later in 1820, George III died leaving a constitutional crisis concerning the succession of his dissolute sons, and the Government was forced to call an election.  A plot was hatched by a group of Spenceans to riad a Cabinet Dinner with pistols and grenades, kill the entire cabinet, cut off their heads and stick them on spikes on Westminster Bridge, and proclaim a “People’s Parliament”.  Unknown to them the conspirator who thought up the plot was actually a government secret service agent, and led them into a trap.

The conspirators were surprised in a loft in Cato Street prior to the attack by a group of Bow Street Runners, who rather than wait for a detachment of Coldstream Guards to arrive to support them, decided to attack and take all the glory for themselves.  Although unprepared, the Spenceans fought with pistol and sword, and although over powered killed one of the Runners with a sword thrust.

Justice was swift and decisive, and it is most likely that John Kray would have taken half an hour out of his day to watch as four of the conspirators were publicly hanged in front of a large crowd, before their bodies were cut down from the gibbet and beheaded, the grisly heads held up to the crowd, with the old shout of “behold the head of a traitor!” Another example to John Kray and the crowd of working men and women of the futility of fighting the government when their spies were everywhere, and their vengeance swift and final.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 2: Georgian Goldsmith, Jeweller, Dealer, and Chapman


frederickkrayfamily Click to see tree

The first Kray we come across in the direct line is Frederick Kray born around 1773 in the City of London or nearby. Frederick is the Kray twins’ Great Great Great Grandgather. He worked as a Goldsmith, Jeweller , Dealer and Chapman, the first two occupations indicate an upmarket trade, but Dealer and Chapman indicate a trader of a lower level, working in the markets and Dealers Shops. A Chapman, indicates someone who barters and strikes deals (Ceap in old English being the root of “cheap” meanng a bargain or a deal). It seems likely that Frederick served his apprenticeship as a Goldsmith, then went into business on his own selling the goods rather than making them for sale. He is never described as a Journeyman or Master of his craft, so he may never have finished his apprenticeship.

In any case he makes some risky decisions in his life, getting young Mary, pregnant at fourteen in 1795 when he was twenty two; not a crime at the time, but showing a lack of judgement. The pair stay together and have three sons between 1796 and 1800; Fredeerick Joseph, John (the Kray twins’ Great Great Great Grandfather), and Richard.

For a while Frederick gets by, managing to bring in enough money to take out a lease on a house, in Stanhope Street, Clare Market. This was an area wdeged in between theatres and divided into “Ladyships” owing to the Madams who ran the brothels and lorded over the area. The rest of the streets and lanes were mainly inhabited by Butchers who ran herds of animals through the narrow lanes for slaughter in the shambles, cheap grocery shops, and stalls selling other goods.

Frederick most likely bought and sold jewellry, a precarious living and by 1806 Fredeick finds that he can’t sustain his business, and is taken into Bankruptcy by his creditors. His debts are eventually discharged by the sale of all his worldly goods at a public auction from his home, strangers, and neighbours, picking through the Krray’s belongings, and buying them amidst cat-calls and jears from the people routing through their belongings, whilst Frederick, Mary and the children can just look on in despair.

Frederick never recovers from the blow, and the family struggles to survive, until in 1815 at the age of fortytwo he dies. What caused his financial ruin and early death is not certain, but relations had not been all they could be between Fredericka nd Mary for some years as no children are born after 1800, despite them both being in their prime. Perhaps the proximity of the whore houses and drinking dens of the Clare Market had proved to be too much of a temptation for Frederick, a man with ready cash in his pocket.

Fortunately for the family the boys had managed to get trades, the eldest Frederick and youngest Richard following their father’s trade as Goldsmiths, the middle son John becoming a less glamourous Brass Founder. This indicates that Frederick may still had had friends amonget the Goldsmiths, getting two of his boys into apprenticeships with them, perhaps John the middle son was less well disposed and therefore went into an allied metal working trade as a Brass founder, requiring less skill but more brawn. Mary and her eldest son Frederick crossed the Thames back to the Surrey side where she was born, and no doubt where her family still lived.

The two elder sons married at the end of their apprenticeships both in 1818, Frederick staying on the Surrey side of the river, and John staying in the City and Whitechapel. The youngest son Richard stayed north of the river and married in 1822.

The Family History of the Kray Twins: Part 1 “Origins of the Name”


Origins of the name

The origin of the Kray Family name is by no means clear, there are several possibilities, including the Old English word “Cray” for a stream, common still in place names in Kent, as in Crayford, St Paul’s Cray, St Mary’s Cray etc (and of course in “Cray-fish”), if this is the name’s derivation then the family would have been initially from Kent before moving to the more industrialised areas surrounding the south eastern flanks of London, or across the river Thames to Essex and from there into London. However is rare for the name to be spelled with a K rather than a C, so the proof that it originated as a Kentish name is not conclusive.

There are two other possibilities for the name. One is that the name could be contraction of McCrae or McKray, dropping the “Mc” and keeping the phonetic sounding “Kray”, as was popular amongst Scots immigrants who wished their names to sound less Scottish in London, especially during the 18th century wars between Scotland and England under Bonnie Prince Charlie. This probably accounts for the instances of the name cropping up around Yorkshire, Durham, and Lancashire, thanks to their sea connections and industrial growth which brought in many Scots and Irish Sailors and industrial workers.

The last possibility is a German origin, as the name Kray is found amongst German immigrants to the UK and USA, and during the 18th century many German immigrants came to London on the back of the Hanoverian Georges becoming Kings of England, and Germans arrived both as craftsmen and as mercenaries to fight in the wars in America and Europe.

Whatever their origins we do know that by the beginning of the end of the 18th century the Kray family were established in the City of London and Middlesex by the Thames, in what would now be called Central London.

Published in: on December 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 78 other followers

%d bloggers like this: