Sunday, 2 January 2011

Kray territory

My pal Tomki and I found ourselves in darkest East London recently on the trail of two of Britain's most notorious killers. They had run an extensive protection racket, terrorised the locals and murdered rival gang members. We were quite sedate about our mission, because the Kray twins, who we were following, have been dead for some time.

The Kray twins' empire was at its height in the 60s and the pair controlled a swathe of the East End. Despite everyone agreeing they were a thoroughly unpleasant duo, they have become folk heroes of sorts and are now embedded in British culture. I suspect they appeal to the bit of our collective psyche that secretly admires ne'er-do-wells. Their exploits are many and varied and can be read about in some detail on Wikipedia here. One of the most interesting aspects was their sometimes flagrant homosexuality, which has only been publicized in recent years.

I had found a little pocket book which described a walk around the Bethnal Green area of London which included many locations of importance in the twins' story. I was excited by this because the area is my own neighborhood and because the inclusion of a map and route appeals to my love of psychogeography. As Tomki and I sniffed out the trail it was readily apparent that the physical landscape has changed a great deal. Nevertheless, one still gets certain feelings about the territory - it strikes one as still being poor, run down and cowed in some way. This is exactly the kind of neighborhood into which the twins were born and for all their efforts and the subsequent media interest, the place has remained unchanged.

The primary school the twins attended. They had a mongrel dog called Lassie who often came to meet the boys when the day was over.

This building used to be the twins' secondary school. One teacher remembered them as being "the salt of the earth. Never the slightest bother if you knew how to handle them." I guess this changed at some point after they left. Probably when they started killing people.

The Carpenter's Arms pub, which the Krays bought and used as a headquarters. They liked it, allegedly, because it only had one point of entry, so they could see who was visiting.

St Matthew's Church was where both twin's funeral services were held. These ceremonies attracted massive amounts of media interest and the place was swamped with paparazzi. The church also hosted the funeral service of the twins' mother, who was a central figure in their lives and key to their story.

The baths and the boxing club were both key locations when the twins were growing up. In those days working class houses often lacked baths (or, indeed, indoor toilets) so it was common for folk to go to a communal building to bathe. The twins took up boxing in their teens and continued their interest into adulthood.

The site of the twins' house, now long demolished. The East End of London was bombed heavily in WWII and many parts remained wasteland well into the last quarter of the 20th century. During the 60s and 70s large swathes were redeveloped and the old terraced houses, like the one the twins grew up in, were torn down.

An example of the architecture that replaced the terraces in East London.

St James The Great Church was where Reggie married his young wife Frances Shea. The marriage was short and unhappy, and Frances committed suicide two years later. Her funeral service was held in this church as well.

A cafe has stood on this site for over 100 years. The twins used while away time here. It was close to a local youth club they attended, and it was in this vicinity that the teenage twins first got on the wrong side of the law. They assaulted a young police man and were later charged.
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