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All posts for the month January, 2014

Foundry-Header
Just off the Whitechapel Road in the East End lies a small, fairly insignificant looking doorway. It may not look as imposing as other London tourist attractions, but venture beyond and you will find you have stumbled onto Britain’s oldest manufacturing company. Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established during the reign of the Virgin Queen – Queen Elizabeth I in 1570, and has been in continuous business since.

A long procession of Royal visitors have entered the Whitechapel Bell Foundry – unsurprising really, given its 400 years of manufacture and casting – in fact the foundry’s history spans that of twenty seven crowned heads of England, and when the casting took place for two bells for Westminster Abbey, both King George V and Queen Mary visited the buildings.
Whitechapel-Bell-Foundry

The foundry buildings themselves date from four years after the Great Fire of London and it is thought that the original property was burned to the ground in the ensuing firestorm. Some of the current workshops were part of a building that was originally a coaching Inn known as the Artichoke.

One of the most famous bells in the world, Big Ben, which hangs in what is now known as the Elizabeth Tower at the Houses of Parliament, was the biggest bell ever to be cast at Whitechapel. The gauge that was used to make the mould for the bell still hangs on the wall of the foundry moulding shop to this day, and can be seen by visitors on one of the twice monthly tours that the foundry operates.

The Kray Twins
So much has been written about the notoriety of the Kray Twins that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, but the salient points of the lifestyle and rise to fame of the East End ‘Firm’ are detailed below.

Ronnie Kray, together with his twin brother Reggie grew up in the East End during wartime.  The twins had a Romany/Jewish background and their father, Charles, spent most of the time during war years avoiding armed service by keeping on the move. As a result, the twins were raised by their mother, Violet. Violet was so fiercely protective of her ‘wonderful boys’ that she turned the family home in Vallance Road into a safe haven – a place that came to be known as ‘Fort Vallance’.

Krays with Violet and Jimmy Lee
The twins’ grandfathers Cannonball Lee and Jimmy Kray came from a boxing background and were to prove hugely influential upon the twin boys. Ronnie and Reggie, together with their elder brother Charles became accomplished boxers, and as a result of unlicensed bouts against local rivals, the twins’ street reputations became enhanced.

From the very beginning it became apparent that the twins strength was their fierce allegiance to each other – if you picked a fight with Reggie, then you were picking a fight with Ronnie and vice versa. However, it became apparent from an early age that Ron was somewhat slower and less flamboyant than his brother. Ronnie soon began to develop his own fantasy world that centred on a desire for unquestioning leadership.

Their national service was spent mainly in the Military Prison for assaulting NCOs or going AWOL, and they eventually emerged from Shepton Mallet military prison well prepared for a lifetime of challenging any form of authority.

As a result of the many disputes over what they saw as their ‘territory’, the twins decided to stake a claim in a local business. By the time the twins had reached the age of 20, they had taken over a local billiard hall, The Regal, on the Mile End Road and entered a hazy area between security and extortion.

While he was at the billiard hall, Ronnie began to play out the most dominant of his many fantasies, that of being a gangster. It was in 1954 that Ronnie cutlassed members of a Maltese gang that tried to extract protection money from them, and their reputation for violence was established. The twins began to gather a collection of villains around them, with Ronnie dreaming of creating his own empire, a powerful criminal “Firm”, with him and Reggie at the head. Ronnie soon became known to his followers as “the Colonel”.

The Krays soon linked up with Billy Hill, who introduced them to gambling just in time for the legalisation of the industry in 1961. Ronnie and Reggie moved up West – and most of Ron’s fantasies of creating his own crime empire started to come true.

The increasing levels of violence associated with the Krays dealings continued. Whether it was to impose their control over clubland or dealing with recurring feuds between rival gangs, the twins had reputations to protect.

As The Krays bought their way into clubs and gambling establishments in the West and East Ends of London, they started to gain some legitimacy by befriending sportsmen and showbiz personalities, and started to become linked with the 1960’s socialite scene.

the-blind-beggar-pubB&W

The Kray twins had many criminal contacts all over Britain and had worked hard to buy their protection from contacts in many police stations, presenting  an outward appearance of being smart, well-connected – and untouchable. However, it soon became apparent that Ronnie was only able to thrive on conflict, and things were coming to a head. In 1966, Ronnie marched into the Blind Beggar pub saloon bar and shot dead George Cornell, an old enemy in full view of the occupants. Despite every detail of the killing being seen, the twins influence and control over the local population meant that no one would come forward to act as a witness and identify the murderer to the police.

As the Sixties progressed, Ronnie and Reggie became even more convinced of their immunity from any authority. Together, they arranged the escape of Frank “Mad Axeman” Mitchell from Dartmoor Prison (and were later acquitted of his murder). They even contemplated forming an alliance with the Mafia, and looked abroad to expand. But Ronnie’s mental condition was deteriorating and the responsibility for running the firm fell to Reggie, who remained completely devoted to his brother.

However after his wife, Frances Shea, committed suicide, Reggie went to pieces, and with Ronnie’s encouragement he murdered a troublesome fringe member of the firm. The killing of Jack (“the Hat”) McVitie was to be a turning-point. According to one of their former henchmen, Albert Donoghue, Ronnie egged his brother on to kill Jack “The Hat” McVitie, a small time crook and irritant to the brothers. “I’ve done mine,” Ronnie supposedly told Reggie. “About time you done yours.”

McVitie had been lured to a party in Hackney, where he was accused of damaging the Kray name, and stabbed to death by Reggie. Members of the Firm were left to clean up the mess while the body was disposed of.
Kray Twins

The twins could no longer be ignored, and under pressure The Firm began to crumble. Following a police investigation which took the Krays off the streets (as the result of evidence provided by an informer working for the United States Treasury) witnesses to the killings of both Cornell and McVitie were found.

Many of their own gang of thieves and hard men gave evidence against the twins when they finally appeared at the Old Bailey at what was seen as a show trial in 1969. The sentencing judge, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson passed sentence that they should be jailed for life, with a recommendation that they serve at least 30 years.

Ronnie, was eventually certified a paranoid schizophrenic in 1979 and served out his sentence heavily medicated in Broadmoor.

Docks-Header
The London Docks occupied a total area of about 30 acres (120,000 m²). They consisted of the Western and Eastern docks which were linked by the short Tobacco Dock. In turn, the Western Dock was linked to the River Thames by Hermitage Basin (in the south west) and by Wapping Basin (to the south).

The Eastern Dock joined the River Thames via the Shadwell Basin to the east. The principal designers of these docks were the architects and engineers Daniel Asher Alexander and John Rennie, who had done so much sterling work on the English Canal Network.
Lumber

As a major inland port, situated in the heart of London, the docks were used to land and distribute high-value luxury commodities such as ivory, spices, coffee and cocoa as well as wine, wool and tobacco for which beautiful warehouses and wine cellars were constructed, alongside the wharfs.

In 1864 the London Docks were amalgamated with St Katharine Docks. Strangely the dock system was never connected to the railway network, and therefore the cargos that were handled from all around the world began their journey to the heart of the Empire by road. In common with the rest of the enclosed docks, the London Docks were taken over by the Port of London Authority in 1909.

Slightly further down the River Thames are the site of the West India Docks, a collection of three docks, the Northern most of which was the Import Dock, the middle which was the Export Dock and the lower South Dock . The docks were accessed via Blackwall Reach on the Thames, with boats able to pass through the Isle of Dogs and re-join the Thames at Limehouse Reach.

The Import Dock originally comprised of 30 acres (120,000 m2) of water and was 155 metres long by 152 metres wide, whilst the slightly smaller Export Dock covered 24 acres (97,000 m2) and was 155 metres long by 123 metres wide. By having separate docks for loading and unloading, it was hoped to avoid vessels taking up valuable quay space for long periods of time. Between them, the two docks had a combined capacity to berth over 600 vessels, and locks and basins at either end of the Docks connected them back to the River Thames.
West India Docks

The design of the docks allowed a ship bringing cargo in from the West Indies to unload in the northern dock, sail round to the southern dock and load up with export cargo in a fraction of the time it had previously taken, given the heavily congested and dangerous upper reaches of the Thames.

Initially the docks dealt solely with produce from the West Indies, with the exception of tobacco, and supervised the loading and unloading of vessels as decreed by Parliament.  As a result, West India Docks mainly traded in rum, molasses and sugar. Imported and exported cargoes were wide ranging and included such commodities as Jute, Coir, Oil Spirits & Wine, Shell, Horn, Cork, Indigo, Spices, Baggage, Coffee and Hardwood.

During the 20th century, the docks also handled grain and, as refrigeration became common, meat, fruit and vegetables also became regular commodities.

The docks closed to commercial traffic in 1980 and the Canary Wharf development was built on the site

Ripper-Street-Header
Ripper Street was a BBC Television series set in Leman Street Police Station, Whitechapel in London’s East End in 1889. The initial story takes place just six months after the infamous Jack the Ripper murders.

The principal characters in the series are played by Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn, and Adam Rothenberg. The very first episode was broadcast on 30 December 2012 and it began a run in the United States on BBC America a couple of weeks later. A second series of Ripper Street returned for an eight-episode run which started on 28 October 2013
Ripper Street

The first series began in April 1889, a few months after the last Jack the Ripper killing in October 1888, and the newly formed H Division of the Metropolitan Police is operating out of Leman Street. Tasked with policing over a mile and a quarter of East London, it has to cope in a district with a population of 68,000 destitute and homeless individuals. The policemen of H Division had already spent much time hunting Jack the Ripper, but had failed to find him. When more women begin to turn up on the streets around Whitechapel, in a manner reminiscent of the Ripper killings, the police start to wonder if the killer of the previous autumn has returned.

The Leman Street police station and “The Brown Bear” public house that are featured in the series are still there in Leman Street, and the Jews Orphan Asylum which forms much of the backdrop to series one still exists. The Asylum was renamed and relocated first to Norwood in South London, and then to Stanmore in North London.

Tubby-Isaac-Header

The East End seems forever associated with jellied eels – but why? Well, one of the main reasons was the setting up of a famous jellied eel stall almost 100 years ago. Tubby Isaacs’s famous jellied eel stall stood on the corner of Goulston Street but, regrettably, is no longer there.

The business was founded in 1919 by ‘Tubby’ Isaac Brenner, who soon gained a reputation as the East End supplier of choice for slippery jellied eels to the masses. After almost 20 years of trading, Tubby emigrated just before the outbreak of the Second World War, settling in the USA.  As a result, the business was taken over in 1938 by his assistant Solly Gritzman.

Tubby Isaac Brenner

Solly had begun working with Tubby on the stall from the tender age of 11.  After almost 50 years association with the famous stall, Solly succumbed and died in 1982 at the age of 73. Solly was succeeded by his nephew Ted, and Ted’s son Paul who started working on the stall in 1989. But, all good things come to an end, and as cockney tastes have changed over the years, the stall has finally been closed down.

So, why were jellied eels so popular amongst the poor of the East End? Well, when eels are boiled, the jelly that exudes during the cooking sets to create a natural preservative. As a result, no jelly is added as it effectively creates its own jelly. And that jelly was a crucial factor before refrigeration as a poor East End family could eat from a bowl of jellied eels and then put the dish in a cold pantry where the jelly would reset preserving it for the next day…

Pearly-Header

Many people associate the East End with Pearly Kings & Queens.  The Pearlies developed from the ‘Coster Kings & Queens’, who originated in the 18th century. The ‘Costers’ in turn began life as ‘Costermongers’, London’s street traders, who have been around for over a 1000 years

The Costermongers have been an important feature of London life since the 11th century and for most of that time they were unlicensed and itinerant. Like some market traders of today, they would shout out to attract customers to view their wares – although, in doing so, they would often upset some of London’s better off society. The costermongers began to adopt an innovative method of attracting attention to themselves. Many would have a row of pearl buttons, each the size of a penny, sewn to their outside trouser seams from the ankle to the knee. Other went further with more pearl buttons on the flaps of their waistcoat and coat pockets and the front of their caps.

Pearly

At that time, Victorian London was riddled with social problem. The poor or those too sick to work enjoyed no healthcare provision, and the welfare state was a long way off. For many, the Workhouse was the only way of food or lodgings, but it was considered the last resort among the poor as treatment was harsh and conditions almost as squalid as life on the street.

It was into this environment that Henry Croft enters the story….

Henry Croft was born in 1862 and raised in a Victorian workhouse orphanage in Somers Town Market, Chalton Street, King’s Cross.

Henry decided to go one better and decided to have a suit totally covered in pearl buttons. He then used to wear this to collect pennies and halfpennies to help out the children in the orphanage where he had been raised. He soon became a great attraction, and he was approached by many charitable organizations to help collect money for the poor, or disabled.

Pearly Kings and QueensThe costermongers had always had a tradition of organizing a whip-round for any of their number who had fallen on hard times, and Henry now asked them to help him with his charity work. They adopted the same style of costume, and as a result, the pearly monarchy and its tradition of raising money for charity began.

When Henry died in 1930, 400 pearly kings and queens attended his funeral in their costumes. There are fewer than that now, but the Original Pearly Kings and Queens Association still looks after Henry’s grave – a representation of a top hatted figure of Henry Croft that was originally situated  in the St Pancras & Islington Cemetery – until repeated vandalism caused its replacement…

Jack-the-Ripper-cropped
Jack the Ripper
is a name that will forever be associated with the East End of London. It is a name that has both fascinated and confounded generations of police, the public, and Ripperologists. Even today, over a century since the gruesome East End murders took place, the public’s imagination with this elusive killer persists. Numerous TV programmes and Films featuring Jack the Ripper as their principal subject abound.

So what do we know about the subject? Countless Jack the Ripper books exist for the individual who wants to investigate this subject further, but an outline of the facts is laid out below.

Illustrated_Police_News_-_Jack_the_Ripper_21A series of murders took place in the dark and largely unlit streets of London’s East End and these were investigated with increasing urgency by Scotland Yard in the autumn of 1888. The victims were all women, and were linked by a common Modus Operandi – the gruesome disfigurement of their bodies by the murderer, who was never identified. The individual became known as Jack the Ripper principally because of a letter sent to Scotland Yard, apparently signed by the murderer. The identity of Jack the Ripper has been a mystery ever since.  Whilst modern investigation techniques and forensic science have advanced since those days, it is still true that an apparently motiveless murder by a stranger committed in a public place out of the sight of witnesses is still difficult to solve today.  There have been a number of attempts to clearly define those murders attributed to the Ripper, but the five listed below are accepted as being the work of one individual…

Friday 31 August 1888

Mary Ann Nichols

Buck’s Row, Whitechapel,

Saturday 8 September 1888

Annie Chapman

Rear Yard at 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields.

Sunday 30 September 1888

Elizabeth Stride

Yard at side of 40 Berner Street,
St George’s-in-the- East.

Sunday 30 September 1888

Catherine Eddowes

Mitre Square, Aldgate, City of London.

Friday 9 November 1888

Mary Jane Kelly

13 Miller’s Court,
26 Dorset Street Spitalfields.

MaryJaneKelly

The murder of Mary Kelly, in November 1888, was accompanied by mutilation of such ferocity that it beggared description, and, for once, left the press short of words to adequately describe it – a poor quality grainy picture is all that modern Jack the Ripper investigators have to study – and the body is so badly mutilated, it is barely recognisable.

The Suspects
Because of the way in which the victims’ bodies were mutilated with a sharp knife or scalpel, some medical knowledge or skill at wielding a knife (for example, as a butcher) rapidly became one of the principal criteria for suspicion.   The four main suspects can be listed as:

Aaron Kosminski – a poor Polish Jew resident in Whitechapel;

Montague John Druitt- a 31 year old barrister and school teacher who committed suicide in December 1888

Michael Ostrog, a Russian-born thief and confidence trickster (he went by many aliases) who was believed to be 55 years old in 1888, and who had been detained in asylums on several occasions

Dr Francis J. Tumblety – a 56 year old American ‘quack’ doctor, who was arrested in November 1888 for offences of gross indecency, and fled the country later the same month.

Druitt, Ostrog and Tumblety

Druitt, Ostrog and Tumblety

So – why ‘Jack the Ripper?

The name that we have been left with for these crimes, ‘Jack the Ripper’ is easy to explain.   It was written at the end of a letter dated 25 September, 1888 and sent to the Central News Agency on 27 September, 1888. The agency – having had it in their possession for two days, forwarded it to the Metropolitan Police on 29 September.
Dear Boss letter

The letter was written in a florid, loose script and began “Dear Boss……” It went on to talk of “That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits……” (The name ‘Leather Apron’ was attributed to a John Pizer, briefly suspected at the time of the Chapman murder).   “I am down on whores and I shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled…” ­­­and so on in a similar vein.   The signature at the end of the letter, ‘Jack the Ripper’, was then made public fuelling the agitation and hysteria that had now gripped the East End.

The dual murders that subsequently took place on the 30 September 1888 gave the letter even greater importance and as if to underline it, the unknown writer once again committed red ink to a postcard sent on 1 October.  In this communication he referred to himself as ‘Saucy Jacky…‘ and spoke of the “double event…….” He again signed off as Jack the Ripper….

London-Hospital-Header

The London Hospital in the East End was originally founded in September 1740 and went by the name of The London Infirmary. It changed its name to The London Hospital in 1748 and on its 250th anniversary in 1990 changed its name once more, this time becoming the The Royal London Hospital. The first patients were treated at a house in Featherstone Street, Moorfields in November 1740 but by spring 1741, the hospital moved to Prescot Street, and remained there until 1757. It then moved to its current location on the south side of Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, almost directly opposite Whitechapel Tube Station.

Joseph Merrick - The 'Elephant Man'

Joseph Merrick – The ‘Elephant Man’

One of the hospital’s more famous (or perhaps more correctly, infamous) inhabitants was Joseph Merrick, known as the “Elephant Man”.  He was discovered by Frederick Treves, a surgeon at the London Hospital in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Treves found Joseph Merrick being exhibited at a sideshow along the Whitechapel Road and brought him back to the hospital to live. Merrick spent the last few years of life at The Royal London Hospital and his mounted skeleton is currently housed at the Medical School, but is not on public display. However, there is a model of a church in the hospital that was built by Joseph Merrick while living there.

The Royal London has a medical museum which is located in the crypt of a 19th-century church. It reopened in 2002 after extensive refurbishment and is open to the public free of charge. The museum covers the history of the hospital since its foundation in 1740. There is a fascinating forensic medicine section which contains original material on Jack the Ripper, Dr Crippen and the Christie murders. There are also displays on Joseph Merrick (the ‘Elephant Man’) and former Hospital nurse Edith Cavell.