Liberating Bergen-Belsen


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Today is Holocaust Memorial Day

My Uncles and my Dad served in the Army idad1942n World War 2, I was brought up on stories of their adventures, like my Dad, Lenny McNeil, lying about his age to follow his brothers into the War.  Dad served in the Infantry, then as a Despatch Rider (a “DR” or “Don Roberts” as they were nicknamed) in France and Belgium, and then as a driver of all types of vehicles, including a Tank Transporter, which he went AWOL with, parking it up in the back streets of Peckham, when he was meant to be driving it to Dover, so that he could see my Mum before he went overseas. A Copper banged on the door of the little terraced house in Vaughan Road, and told him he had to move it as it was blocking the traffic, so my Dad promptly shoved the keys to the enormous vehicle into the Copper’s hand, and said:
“Here’s the keys mate; you f***king move it.”
Then shut the door and left the bemused member of the Constabulary staring at the knocker, mouth agape. Needless to say Dad was back in the Transporter’s cab and off down the Old Kent Road to the Coast a couple of hours later.
But amongst all these stories of cheeky  working class Cockneys with a healthy lack of respect for authority, sometimes leading to spending time in Military Prisons, there was one story that I never heard until the protagonist had died, my Dad’s older half Brother, Uncle Albert. (Top right in the picture above the swastika flag).  That was his story of the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.
Albert was the second oldest Brother, his sunansheadrname was Drew, and he was one of two boys from the marriage of my Grandmother and her first husband, Harry Drew, an Army Deserter and Deal Porter who worked in the Surrey Docks and the Canals of Peckham before World War 1. Deal Porters like Harry carried huge loads of “Deal” or wooden planks, on their shoulders offloaded from barges to be shipped off on horse drawn carts to builders merchants and carpentry shops.  This was a really tricky job requiring skill and massive strength, negotiating narrow walkways between boats, docks, and canals, with a hundred weight of lumber on your right shoulder. Unfortunately Harry missed his footing one day, and was plunged into the filthy water of the Docks and pinned under the weight of lumber he was carrying. He was pulled out alive, but had taken in a lot of the filthy dock water, and he died a few days later from Pneumonia.

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My Nan was left to bring up two sons and a daughter on her own. Things looked up when she met my Grandfather, Arthur Patrick McNeil, a Foreman in a Tin Works, they fell in love and married, he went off to fight in World War 1, and managed to survive, although damaged by gas.  They raised three sons and two daughters, as well as a daughter who died young from a measles outbreak after World War 1.  The boys grew up, and like Arthur, went off to War when World War 2 broke out.

Their adventures formed the background that I grew up with, and each one had their own little twist to their experiences on the battlefield.  Many years later, when I was all grown up, and they were all dead, except for my Uncle Sid, I heard a story from Uncle Sid that had never been mentioned before.  I was speaking with Uncle Sid by phone as he lived in Australia, where he had emigrated to after the War as a “Five Pound Pom”.  Sid lived in a Sidney suburb called Cabramatta, what he called “the wild west” of Sidney because of all the drug gangs and shoot outs there. I mentioned the picture of Uncle Albert on his Tank with the Nazi Flag, and he started telling me the usual funny and exciting stories about Albert fighting his way across France and capturing the Nazi Flag shown in the picture, then appearing on the front page of the Daily Sketch for his efforts. He then dropped a bombshell,  Uncle Sid asked me if I knew that Uncle Albert had helped Liberate Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.
I was quite shocked to hear this, as it had never been mentioned before. The story unfolded that Uncle Albert and his Tank Regiment had been sent to Bergen-Belsen because the Germans had asked for a temporary truce because of an outbreak of Typhus at the Camp. A group of Tanks went fully prepared for a trap (if an officer from HQ told you that it was safe to enter an area, it was always assumed that you were actually going in to the area to see IF it was safe!).  The first Tank took the gates of the camp down by driving straight through them to make sure the Germans inside knew they meant business. They entered what they thought would be some form of Prison, but instead found Hell on Earth.
These were men who were by no means soft. My Uncle had killed at a distance, and close up, they risked their lives every day, he understood that sometimes it was just you or the bloke you were fighting, it wasn’t personal.  Jumping out of their Tanks and forming a perimeter, they were met with heaps of bodies; civilians, men, women, and children, casually stacked like sacks of rags. At first this scene of death was accepted as just a result of disease, but gradually it dawned on the British Soldiers that this was more than that, these people had been starved and worked to death. Still they didn’t quite blame the Germans as there were so many bodies, and it looked as if the German Camp authorities may have just been overwhelmed by the numbers that they couldn’t deal with.
As they moved further into the camp, and saw the arrogance and contempt of the guards for their charges, the Penny dropped, and it became obvious that this was, if not a death camp as such, still a place were the weakest and most defenceless were worked to death, and allowed to die stripped of all human dignity.  The anger in the men began to rise.  Even in battle they had not seen horror on this scale, or with this level of casual sadism.

It is worth saying again that my Uncle and his comrades weren’t soft, they killed for a living, and weren’t particularly bothered by it in the heat of Battle.  They had had a world of compassion knocked out of them by a combination of a hard upbringing in the back streets of South London, and participating in the terror of armed combat, but this was something different.  Such pointless cruelty against people who couldn’t defend themselves was beyond their grasp.

While they were trying to take all this in, shooting was heard, and Albert and his friends found some of the young German guards, many barely more than psychotic teenagers, shooting starving inmates for trying to take Potatoes from a pile behind one of the huts. The damn broke, and Uncle Albert and his friends shot some of the guards, and knocked others out cold with fists and pistol buts. As is always the case with sociopathic bullies, once faced with men who could fight back the Nazi guards suddenly lost their appetite for a fight, and instead bolted to the Camp Kommandant for protection. Luckily for them, some British Officers intervened, and warned the Kommandant that if any more inmates were shot, then the British would line up and shoot the guards on a one to one basis. Despite being flabbergasted that inmates stealing food would be allowed to get away with it, the Kommandant had no option but to agree.
Once the camp was secured, other units came in, and it was deemed sensible to move the Tanks on for good Military reasons, and to make sure Uncle Albert and his mates didn’t risk getting put on a charge for shooting any more Nazis without due process, which was highly likely to happen.  The war was nearly over at this point, but those last few months were pursued by Uncle Albert and his Regiment with renewed ferocity. The young men who had come from the back streets of South London to fight in Europe had been hardened by the experience, but knew that were fighting for the right reasons when they entered Bergen-Belsen.

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My Dad and his Brothers all came back alive, probably to a great extent by cannily disobeying orders. They supported Millwall all their lives, Uncle Albert even had a trial for the team before the war, but decided that being a bus driver would be a better career choice.  None of them were afraid to use their fists if necessary to stand their ground in Peckham, and I’ve witnessed the bunch of them bundle a violent criminal gang out of a pub on one New Year’s Eve,  and I watched my Dad take on two burglars single handed who were trying to force entry to our house, as I said they were hard men.  But despite all stories I was frequently told growing up by my Dad and his Brothers, what my Uncle had seen made his story of Bergen-Belsen was too horrific to bring back to mind, even for these hard men, perhaps something about what Uncle Albert had seen was the reason he didn’t smile much in photos after 1945, as you can see in the group photo above. I can fully understand why he wanted to forget it, but equally: We never must.

 

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Published in: on January 27, 2019 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Danny Dyer’s Family Tree Part 3: An Age of Steam


Following me Father’s footsteps, I’m following me dear old Dad…

millwalldocksOf the nine children born to Edward and Mary Dyer over twenty years between 1812 and 1832 only two were boys, both called Edward, and only Edward William, the second boy survived childhood.  Edward William (Danny Dyers’s Great Great Great Grandfather) was born in 1823, when old London Bridge was still standing, and a Waterman could still make a decent living ferry people through the tidal race of its narrow arches.  Unsurprisingly, to paraphrase the song by the cross dressing Victorian music hall songstress Vesta Tilley,  “…he was following in his Father’s foot steps, he followed his dear old Dad”, and indeed he did, he was apprenticed as a Waterman to his Father as a boy, but by early adulthood Edward William had realised that the pickings from this trade would be slim, London Bridge was now easily passable for the smaller steam boats coming up the Thames, and quays were being built out into the stream to allow people to be easily put ashore without the need for Watermen to get them there.Lancashire_boiler-Marsden copy

So Edward William decided that if you can’t beat ’em, you have to join ’em, and moved into an up and coming industry in the ship yards of Poplar as a Boiler Maker.  Boiler making was basic riveting and metal bashing to make the boilers that powered every steam ship on the river, and that carried Great Britain’s trade across the world.  The work was in high demand and ranged from unskilled metal bashing, to semi-skilled riveting.  No strangers to muscular work, Watermen with broad backs and strong arms, and contacts in the Docks found it easy to move from their whereas to take up the hammers in the ship yards to turn metal into works of steam combustion, and the wages were steady, men knew what they would take home, when they would clock on and when they would clock off, they had turned from self employed water taxis to wage earning, industrial artisans.  Boilermakers were skilled, and compared to many of the trades in the Docks, could be creative, and offered an element of autonomy in their work outside of simple muscle power.  The other interesting point is that Edward William moved into this trade immediately after the aptly named, Commercial, or London and Blackwell Railway, was built linking Blackwell and Limehouse to Fenchurch St station.  As we shall see, this pattern of docks and new railways would be a pattern of employment criteria for Edward William for many years.

London was booming, there was work for any able bodied man or woman, or child, who wanted it, provided they would work for fairly low wages.  To this magnet for the poorly off flocked labourers and servants from all over the country, and in the late 1840s whilst labouring in the Docks Edward William met Jane Maria Sparks, a Labourer’s daughter from Cosham near Portsmouth.  Jane Maria had left home to find work in London, and had instead found Edward William, strong, self assured and muscular, a man who’s family had lived in Poplar for more than a hundred years, well known in the area, he was not getting any younger at twenty seven, and liked the look of the fresh faced country girl, of seventeen, so much so that by 1850 she was pregnant, with his first son Edward Thomas James Dyer, but the Boiler maker did the right thing, and married Jane Maria at Christ Church on a sunny day 30th June 1850.

Life was hard in the Docks, but skilled men could still make a good living if they were prepared to travel to the bigger opportunities taking their in demand skills with them, and Edward William with his small family of Jane Maria and their son Edward Thomas James in tow would do just that.  Opportunity first called in Folkestone Kent in the early 1850s, wfolkestone swingbridge1851_edited-1hich had
grown on the back of railways and cross channel travel in steamships, followed by Portsea in 1852 at the burgeoning
Royal Dockyards of Portsmouth, where Jane Maria’s Father worked, and here the couple would have their second son Alfred William.

After Portsea, the Family travelled to Lowestoft in Suffolk in the mid-1850s (pictured below), where ship building and engineering works were booming, once again due to the coming of the railways which had boosted fishing and steamship shipbuilding, very similar to the activity at Folkestone, and given that the railways at both Folkestone and Lowestoft were developed by Sir Samuel Morton Peto, it could be that Edward William was contracted to one of Sir Samuel’s companies, travelling to where need was greatest for boilermakers to work on steam trains and steam ships.

The Family’s stay in Lowestoft was mixed, work was good, and Edward William was in a good place career wise, but in 1856 and 18reid_lowestoft_80058 they would lose two of their children; Esther Maria, who was less than a year old, and Alfred William at six years old.  After the deaths of the children, the Dyers were no doubt happy to put Lowestoft behind them, but reluctant to have to leave their two children in the graveyard at Mutford, but life must go on, and they were back in Poplar in 1859, but within a year, Edward William takes the family to Minster next to Sheerness, a Royal Naval Dockyard on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary.  This was the same year that the Railway arrived in Sheppey, so Edward William was once again specialising in working at ports that were being connected to the Railway System.  Leaving Lowestoft obviously helped the family, as from then on no more children died in childhood.Sheerness1850

By 1864 Edward William has moved the family back to London, to Limehouse, where he was working in the docks as plater and Iron Worker building iron Ships.  This was a step down in status from a boiler maker, and more likely related to riveting on large ship builds, rather than the more skilled work he had done previously.  But the family thrived, they would have another seven children in Poplar in the 1860s and 1870s.  Edward William at 48 and his eldest son Edward Thomas became unemployed Iron Shipbuilders in 1871, and would need to work through hard times outside of the family’s control,  The world economy started to go into a long depression caused by speculation in Germany and Austria on the back of massive over ambitious speculation sparked by Germany’s convincing win over France in the Franco-Prussian War, investment poured in and was lost through over-ambition, greed, and fraud, having a knock on effect to economies across the world.  At the same time that this was happening shipbuilding had started to move from Iron to Steel ships, making it harder for skilled muscle power to compete with machine tools, and there had also been a swing in the concentration of shipbuilding from the Thames to Scotland and the North East of England, where there was easier access to coal fields and iron mines to produce steel nearer to shipyards.ThamesIronworks

But life is strange, and when Edward William does find work again it is back in his old skilled trade as a boiler maker, and for the next twenty years Edward William would variously work as a boiler maker, a plater, labourer, and iron ship builder, always in the Docks of Poplar, and turning his hand to whatever paid for the burgeoning family.  edward would continue working in the Docks well into his 60s, and would die in 1896 at the age of 73, his wife Jane Maria would outlive him by 9 years, also dining at 73 years of age in 1905.  Both died in Poplar, surrounded by their extended family.

(If you would like your Family tree uncovered, it costs from £300 to £600 for a full surname line, and makes for a great present, you can contact me on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk )

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.

To see my brief TV interview concerning the Kray Twins’ relationship to the Hamble Peninsula in Hampshire, and their favourite Pub there click here.

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.

To see Part 7 of the Kray Twins’ Family Story click here.

The Foreman Family History Part 3


Herbert Arthur Foreman 1870-1934

and

Emma Watson 1873-1960

Thomas’s death must have had a profound affect on the family, he had struck out on his own after leaving the Navy and started a new life for his family in South London.  But at the age of 63 he was gone. There were cousins north of the river in the east end, but it was the South London in Battersea and Clapham area that the Family grew, and learned to be self sufficient.  They had to be, Thomas and Emily had had seven children on a Blacksmith’s wage, and Herbert and and Emma would have thirteen children on a labourer’s wage.  Times were going to be tough.

Herbert grew up at a time of massive change in Battersea, at the turn of the 1800s the population of Battersea had been a few thousand labourers, market gardeners, and some Gentry, by the time Herbert was born it had risen to about a hundred thousand, the gentry had gone, selling the leases of their land and mansions to speculators and railway men, the railways proliferated, small scale industry followed, and tens of thousands of houses were needed for the workers, rows of small estate houses were thrown up quickly and rented out to the working classes, by the time herbert was a teenager all the market gardens and virtually all the gentry’s houses were were gone, bricks and mortar, iron railways, and cobbled streets had taken over.

Herbert Arthur worked as a Carman, driving carts, a common trade all over London, the equivalent of a van driver today.  He and his family moved frequently, mostly in Battersea, but lived for a while in the early 1890s at Canal Bank in Peckham, literally alongside the Surrey Canal, an interesting, almost rural part of Peckham with a slower pace about it reflected in the leisurely comings and goings of the red sailed Thames barges and long canal boats that plied the quiet back water.  It does make you wonder if Herbert ever told stories to his wife Emma that he had been told by his father and grandfather of the Thames barges and smugglers of the family’s life on Faversham Creek, dodging the revenue men.  Nostalgia aside, Herbert slaved in the local surrey docks and wharfs as a Sawyer in the Deal (Timber) yards.   The family only stayed in Peckham for a year or two, long enough for their first child Ethel Annie to be born, and soon moved back to the family home turf in Battersea, where Herbert gave up the backbreaking sawyer job, and went back to being a Carman.  the family would spend the rest of their days in Battersea.

Between 1894 and 1913 the couple would have a further twelve children in Battersea, which must have been a massive struggle, especially as Herbert worked between 1895 and 1914 as a Labourer, often for a Bricklayer.  This again is hard work, all day in the open lugging bricks and mortar up and down ladders all day, building big hard muscles, and an ability to take care of himself, albeit he must have been dirty and exhausted at every working day.

The family’s poverty was reflected in their constant moves in the streets of Battersea, between lodging houses in the years between 1894 and 1915 no less than ten times that we know of, barely living in the same house for a year at a time.  Battersea became a Metropoltan Borough in 1900, with money and decision making being devolved to the local Council who were quick to start making improvements to the area, building an electricity generating station and updating some of the street lighting from gas to electricity.  They also built a public baths for the many working people in the older houses who had no bathrooms or hot water, and of course well maintained council houses were built.  These improvements would continue during the next decades, a testament to what can be done when decisions and budgets are taken away from central government and devolved to locally accountable decision makers.

Whereas the First World War brought tragedy to many families, for Herbert and his burgeoning brood it was a time of opportunity.  Herbert himself was slightly too old to be conscripted, and fortunately his first four children were all girls, meaning that his sons were just too young to be called up.  Couple this with the fact that most able bodied Labourers were now being blown to bits in France and Flanders, and Herbert, for once in his life would gain some good fortune.

Good fortune is a relative term, he was now working as a Labourer in the Gas Works, a better job than he had had before, but still a tough one, stoking furnaces with coal, and emptying them of of the residue left after the coal gas had been driven off for lighting and heating the homes and Industry of Battersea.  At least he was now working indoors, and would never be cold at work, quite the reverse.  He was also working in an environment composed to a large extent of older men and young able bodied women, who, for the first time were being given roles in what had been male dominated industry.  What Herbert made of this we don’t know.

This new stability is reflected in the family settling at 22 Sheepcote Lane Battersea, where they would stay for decades, living with the active socialism of the various Trades Union men and women living in the same Lane.  The Lane itself was parallel to the omnipresent railway line, and the family would’ve heard the trains rattling by night and day.

For the rest of Herbert’s life from 1919 till 1934, and for at least another generation after this, the family lived on in Sheepcote Lane, a rare degree of stability.  Emma would outlive Herbert by many years dieing in 1960.

Jamie Foreman’s Family Story; Part 1 Origins in Faversham, Kent





Most people will know Jamie from his many film roles as well as his menacing portrayal of Derek Branning in BBC’s Eastenders.  His family history is equally dramatic, and is outlined here.

Origins of the Family

In Faversham Kent

The Foreman name is predominantly an eastern England Coastal name.  From Northumberland in the North to Kent in the South the name spreads down the English coastline, with the notable almost exception of Essex where the name’s history is sparse. Jamie’s ancestors were no exception to this rule. The name is Old English, and most likely derivation is from “foremost” or “leading” man, exactly as the work position of foreman in the building trade denotes a leader of a team of men, the same was true of the first holders of this name, in this case perhaps a leader of a team of shipwrights or carpenters.  The fact that the name distribution corresponds roughly to the areas first settled by the Angles and Jutes, among the sophisticated seagoing communities of the Romano/Belgic British on the east coast of England, may indicate that this was a name applied by the Germanic incomers to leaders of craftsmen from the original inhabitants of the area who were still prized for their abilities in carpentry and metalwork.

On the North Kent Coast a tidal Creek off The Swale in the Thames Estuary had given a safe harbour to boats navigating around the Isle of Sheppey, trading up the Thames and with mainland Europe.  Since at least the Iron Age British Belgic tribesmen had traded with their cousins in Northern France and the Low Countries, well before the Romans invaded, and the Romans, always having an eye for both the strategic and a profit, developed the port on the creek as a stopping off point between London and Gaul, and dredged the Oyster beds that provided tons of food for Roman households.

This trade port was still prized after the Roman Province of Britannia broke up in the Dark Ages and gave a summer residence to the Jutish Kings of Kent.  At this time name of the town developed from a Belgic/Jutish interpretation of the Roman word for a craftsman Faber, into Faefer, so it became Faeferham the village of the craftsman, possibly Iron workers or boat builders from Roman times.  This direct use of loan words from Latin would seem to indicate that Faversham was one of the earliest areas to settle Germanic speakers before the collapse of Roman Brittania, in addition modern research does seem to indicate that the Belgic tribes were speaking a Germanic rather than “Celtic” derived language when they arrived from the continent in the iron age, so the shift to “English” from Belgic/Latin was probably that much easier, and doesn’t need explanation by the forcing out out the original inhabitants by the incoming Jutish settlers amongst an already thriving community.  The other interesting point is that Faversham is unique as a place name in the UK, a fairly rare occurrence seeming to imply that it was shaped by a unique set of circumstances.

The Creek at Faversham held twelve feet of water at a high tide, so could accommodate most trading vessels of the mediaeval period, and an ancient quay called “The Thorn” had been built to make good use of the deeper parts of the channel near shore.  The Isle of Sheppey nearby is derived from Old English “The Isle of Sheep” and the town thrived under the Normans, and reached a Mediaeval peek with the Wool trade that made Britain rich.  The Traders of Faversham although always in the shadow of the bigger port of Chatham, none the less, built a steady trade between London and Europe, and the town slowly grew.

faversham

The boom in building in London from the 18th century made the need for bricks an urgency, and Faversham was ideally placed to ship the yellow Kentish clay bricks up the Thames, straight into the heart of the capital.  Being a busy port the one trade that was guaranteed was that of Boat Building, and from at least the 1700s onwards there was a family in Faversham building the boats of the wool traders, the brick traders and Oyster fishermen.  These were the Foremans.

smugglersred

For at least 200 years from the 1600s into the 1800s smuggling was rife along Faversham Creek, even remarked upon by Daniel Defoe, lamenting the growth of the town on the back of it.  So throughout most of coastal Kent smuggling was accepted and often supported, larger enterprises being financed from London.  Smugglers maintained this position above the law by a mixture of threat, bribery, goodwill, and family connections.  An enterprising family of boatbuilders may have avoided a little tax here and there themselves.

Faversham was ideally placed to support the smugglers, it provided a good port away from the Naval base at Sheerness on Sheppey, and the excise cutters at Whistable.  Surrounded by mud flats, Salt Marshes, with many inlets and creeks, their navigability known only to local men in small boats, and yet the main Faversham Creek deep enough for a large North Sea trading ship.  With the Isle of Sheppey and the swift currents of the Swale providing both cover and means of escape to the smugglers’ fast cutters, and the short passage to France and Flanders reducing the time needed to be at sea, meaning the Faversham Smugglers were not liable to be under the noses of the patrolling revenue cutters for very long.The Gangs, or “Companies” as they liked to style themselves, along the North Kent Coast tended to be smaller than the big organised Gangs of other parts of Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, therefore attracted less attention from the authorities.  For example the smuggler gangs of Deal were so big notorious and well organised that in 1785 1,000 troops were sent in to attack the town and try to capture their boats!  The smugglers of Faversham were more low key, although openly brazen none-the-less, as when in 1821 two smugglers from the North Kent Company were captured by the excise men as part of a Naval Blockade, and marched to the gaol in Faversham, only to be released a few days later when the gang attacked the town gaol.  A £100 reward (equivalent of about £5,000 today) was posted, but the men were never recaptured.  Faversham had the added advantage of the Oyster trade with the Dutch who turned up surprisingly low in the water for boats with empty holds when coming to legally purchase the Faversham Oysters.

Unless the Foremans were the only honest shipwrights in the whole of North Kent, it is almost impossible to imagine, given the general collusion of the populace of Kent with the smugglers, that a family of carpenters and shipwrights working in the heart of an area that had been smuggling territory from the 1600s through to at least the second half of the 1800s, were not up to their eyes in the business.  However, they were no doubt smart enough not to be manning the boats themselves or exchanging fire with the Navy and Revenue Men.  They would have provided a key lynch pin service, building and repairing the fastest boats, that ran the blockade to the continent, and equally the barges that hoisted their red sails and peacefully slipped up the Thames past the looming floating Prison Hulks that held Dicken’s Magwitch, to London where the real profit lay.  It is unlikely that the Foremans ever went short of Rum, Tobacco, or gold sovereigns.
 

Samuel Foreman 1810-1897

and

Ann Transom 1811-1898

The Foreman’s had been documented as shipwrights and carpenters in Faversham from at least the mid 1700s.  Their grandfathers may have been among the “…rabble of seamen and others..” who captured James II on 12th december 1688 during his attempt to flee to France at the end of his fairly disastrous reign.  So Faversham was not a backwater, it was a place with far reaching connections within the Kingdom and the world beyond.

The friction with France during the 18th century was a boon to the Foremans, they were building ships throughout the period of the wars with France into the Napoleonic Wars and the early 19th century; the family prospered during this century of warfare and smuggling.

Samuel Foreman is the first that we can trace with a direct line to Jamie Foreman.  He would have known fairly good living conditions, large houses were built on the back of the legal and illegal trades of the town of Faversham, and there was no reason for any man not to be either gainfully employed, or making money by other means on the waterways of the Town.  The attack on the town gaol and the freeing of the two smugglers by the North Kent Company was no doubt witnessed by a ten year old Samuel, whilst the Family took no notice and got on with their work like the rest of the town.  Samuel’s father stopping work to use words like Kiplings for the boy’s benefit:

Five and twenty ponies,
trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie –

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Samuel would have worked as an apprentice for his Father or Uncles for seven years from the age of 12.  During this time he would have worked long hours for no pay, just board and lodging, and would have had strict rules applied to his conduct.  At the end of the apprenticeship, he would have become a qualified Journeyman Carpenter around 1829/1830.He was obviously very skilled as he subsequently qualifies as a Pattern Maker, a highly skilled branch of carpentry, which involved crafting wooden “patterns” or the outline representations of particular difficult joints for shipbuilding, that could then be used by less skilled men to make the actual parts for a ship in a repeatable way without mistakes, their skills could also be used to make moulds out of wooden models for iron parts for ships and machinery.

By the 1830s the world was changing, peace at the end of The Napoleonic Wars meant that trade with the continent was ongoing, reducing the relative benefits of smuggling, and many of the gangs had been finally overwhelmed and either hanged or transported to Van Dieman’s land by the authorities.   An age of inventiveness, of Businessmen rather than Lords, of steam and engineering was being born in Britain.

Samuel moved up the coast to Dartford in Kent,  as there was a demand for skilled men by entrepreneurs like John Hall, originally a Blacksmith and Millwright, who now built steam engines,  and was applying his knowledge of iron working to build the engines for new ships.  John Hall had purchased the government gunpowder works at Faversham so had a connection with the town that would have made him aware of the best craftsmen there.  Samuel would have found good employment in such an environment, and may have met the inventor of the steam engine Richard Trevithick, who had been contracted to come to Dartford by John Hall to build a new type of steam reaction engine for his steamship design.  Unfortunately Trevithick would never complete the project as he died suddenly in the Inn in the town, and was buried by Hall’s directors and workmen, the funeral being financed by the sale of his gold watch.  Samuel may well have witnessed the great man’s funeral, marking the end of the beginning of the age of Steam.

The coming of the age of the new Queen, Victoria, proved good for Samuel in Dartford, and in 1837 he had saved enough money to return to Faversham to marry a girl from the village of Ospringe, Ann Transom.  They returned to Dartford and raised two children in Park Place; Thomas born in 1838 and Sarah born in 1843.In 1849 modernity in the shape of Steam, continued its impact on Samuel with the Steam Railway line coming to dartford.  This opened up a less parochial market for Samuel’s talents, and in the same year the family had uprooted and moved to Shoreditch in London, to 3 Appleby Street, off the Kingsland Road.  The driver was most certainly work for Samuel, as Appleby Street is within walking distance of the Regent’s Canal and particularly the Kingsland Basin where barges and lighters were moored and repaired.  These barges interestingly transported many of the types of commodities that made their way through Faversham to London such as coal from the North East coast, and timber from Scandinavia.

Appleby Street was working class, relatively rough and ready, but nowhere near as bad as many London areas at this time.   Arthur Samuel was born within a year or so of their arrival, and the Foremans shared the small two story terraced house with a Bricklayer and his family.  Most of their neighbours were London Cockneys, with a small scattering of men from Kent, Surrey, and a few other English Counties.The  Family stayed whilst the work lasted into the 1850s, when they would have seen an Italian called Carlo Gatti build ice storage pits by the canal to sell the ice in warmer periods for people to use for simple refrigeration, and also to make ice cream, bringing widespread sales of Italian ice cream to London for the first time, a great treat for the Foreman children.

But the trade on the canal slowly declined, so Samuel and the family once more took the advantage the railway being extended down the Kent coast to Faversham in 1858 and to Faversham Creek in 1860, the foreman’s moved by train back to their roots in Faversham, settling in Abbey Street.  Many of the houses in Abbey Street had been privately owned by individual families, but during the 19th century many of these well to do owners had moved out and the houses were now let to tenants, such as the Foreman’s.  To Samuel and his family memories of Abbey Street would have been good ones, with well to do families in the street, now it was their turn to live in the same houses, a great contrast to Appleby Street in Shoreditch, but no doubt the children missed the Italian man and his ice cream.

Samuel and Ann would stay in Abbey Street for the rest of their lives, down near the waterfront, and a short distance from Ospringe where Ann had been born.  Samuel carried on working as a Carpenter on the boats of the Swale and Thames tidal waters, large scale smuggling was gone and steam boats were moored in small numbers alongside the large numbers of sailing barges and Dutch and scandinavian vessels along the creek.  samuel and Ann would see their days out among friends and family in the place where their roots were, with memories of travel the length of the Thames, of smugglers, and steam engines, of London and ice cream.

Robbie William’s Farrell Family History


Robbie’s maternal Grandfather Jack Farrell was a big influence on his early life, but what is the family story behind the name?  Hopefully this article will help explain some of that in the context of the hard working Irish immigrants in the Collieries and Iron Works of Tunstall area of “The Potteries” around Stoke-On-Trent.

So the story begins with Michael Farrell born around 1785 and living in County Kilkenny in Ireland.  Michael married Mary Bergin around 1808, and they raised a family of two girls and two boys (Mary, Bridget, Pat, and Daniel) at St John’s Green Kilkenny in the early 1800s.  We don’t know much about the family at this time, other than that they were Catholic, and Michael was most likely a Labourer on the surrounding farmland.

kilkennylocals
Kilkenny Town at this time was divided between an “English” and an “Irish” town, which grew up respectively from the stronghold of the occupying Norman/English forces of the Strongbows and the settlement of the Native Irish. So there was a real social divide, but not an insurmountable one at the higher levels of society.
Kilkenny at the time was relatively peaceful and prosperous, although the Farrells coming from Catholic farming stock, were not among the richer end of the community.  Having said this there was investment coming in to the area for Catholic and Protestant alike, indicating a less repressive air towards the Catholic populace than was encountered in many parts of Ireland at this time.  This determination to make the most of the situation between the descendants of the “English” and the descendants of the Native Irish, came from the upper echelons of both communities, and was in no small part due to the collaborative and diplomatic policies two Catholic Bishops, De Burgo and Troy, between 1759 and 1786.In 1761 the City Hall on the High Street was built, and although floods in 1763 swept away the Town’s bridges and hit the local economy hard, more civic investment continued to take place, and in 1782, just before Michael was born, a school specifically for Catholic children was built followed by the founding of Kilkenny College. Having said this it is unlikely that young Michael Farrell had the opportunity to take advantage of an education, as he was needed to work on his Family’s small holding.
The air of growth and prosperity continued into the 1800s, when in 1829 two catholic councilmen took the oath to the king and become councillors, and a year later in 1830 a further 28 Catholic freemen were elected to the corporation after taking the oath of loyalty. In 1832 Councillor Richard Sullivan became an MP, and in 1836 Redmond Read became the first Catholic Mayor in half a century.  So it must have seemed to the Michael Farrell  that times were improving, with plenty of work, and Catholics actively running the town.
The 1840s came in as a time of change. In 1842 the Kilkenny Workhouse was built along with a Presbyterian Church to complement the new Catholic church that had been completed a few years earlier, and in 1843 work was started on St Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny.At that time Irish Nationalist feelings were starting to resurge in the country, in 1842 Daniel O’Connell held a “Monster Meeting” in Kilkenny to demand repeal of the act of union Between Great Britain and Ireland, this must have had an affect locally as following on from this in 1843 all vacant seats on corporation were taken by “Repealers”, and during the same year a second Monster Meeting was held at the race course in Kilkenny.  However It seems that the locals, although interested in greater rights for the Irish in Ireland, were not prepared to take this to radical lengths, as in 1848 when William Smith O’Brien tried to raise support for his Young Ireland Rising, local support failed to materialise, although a former Mayor was imprisoned for joining the rising, only to be re-elected as Mayor a year later.  One unexpected consequence of the failed rising was that a young man called James Stephens joined the rising and went on to found the The Fenian movement
monstermeeting

Despite these political upheavals, an even bigger event to change the lives of the working class locals happened in 1848 when the railway line reached Kilkenny, this would transform journeys that would have previously taken days to a few hours, and open up the travel out of the area to anyone with the price of a train fare in their pocket.

Pat Farrell born 1816

St John’s Green

Kilkenny Ireland

For the Farrells the 1840s were also a time of change and growth;  Michael’s son Pat married Anne Butler on 24th May 1842 in St John’s Church Kilkenny.  In 1843 the family were living in William’s Lane, St John’s.  They had six children between 1843 and 1861 (James, John, Thomas, Patrick, Mary, and Anne) all born in St John’s Green Kilkenny.


The 1840s also heralded the advent of the Great Famine during which so many people in Ireland died or emigrated.  Kilkenny was much luckier than many parts, being propserous with good communications and excellent farmland meaning that the poor were not dependant on Potatoes as their only crop.  However the famine squeezed the whole Irish economy, and it is interesting to see that between 1845 and 1861 there are no children born to Pat and Anne, there could be many reasons for this, but given that they had children regularly on either side of this gap, and there is no sign that Pat had left the area, it seems likely that the family did not have enough to eat during the famine time, and that affected the couple’s fertility for a period of time.  Once the worst of the famine had passed in 1853, the couple moved to 5 Ballybought Street, Pennefather’s Lot, St John’s.

John Farrell 1845 – 1872
and
Sarah Phelan about 1839 – 1907
 
The Move to England
 
John Farrell had grown up in St John’s Green Kilkenny with his elder brother James and his younger siblings Thomas, Patrick, Mary, and Anne.  He was born just before the hard times of the Great Famine, and his early years would most likely have been marked by a degree of poverty and hunger not known to previous generations of the family.
 
But before leaving John married Sarah Phelan in St John’s Church, so Sarah, although originally from Queen’s County, had travelled at some stage to Kilkenny.  Depending on which account of her age we believe, she was between 4 and 7 years older than John, he was about 18 when they married, Sarah between 22 and 25.  This was relatively unusual as, although there was a shortage of men due to the emigrations, there were many more younger women in the community, so there must have been quite an attraction.
For the next few years they settled in Michael’s Lane, Kilkenny where first Elizabeth in 1864, and then twins Patrick and Thomas in 1866.  John was most likely a Labourer.
stjohnskilkenny
Having seen the perilous state of the living in Ireland John was one of a new generation of young men who decided to set their sights on a new life in England.  Unlike the original mass of migrants  who left to avoid starvation at the lower end of the social scale, and financial ruin in the middle classes as a result of the loss of their labour force, John’s generation were not starving and not facing immediate ruin.  His generation faced stagnation in a  community knocked flat by the effects of the famine and the emigration of a mass of the population, tipping the economy into what seemed like a perpetual recession.  By the 1860s there was an easy way out by train and steam ship across to Liverpool, and then on to the burgeoning industrial heartlands of England which were booming in the 1860s on the back of the growth of empire and an explosion of steam driven technology.
British Industrialists were always on the look out for cheap labour to work in their collieries and foundries, and stories would soon circulate back from England of the opportunities for work in such places.  John was the first member of his family to make the move to England, with three small children and a wife to provide for, and work with anything like a living wage being hard to find at home, the answer would have been clear; John, Sarah, and children Elizabeth, Patrick, and Thomas, would have taken the train then the Steam Packet to Liverpool, this may have taken them less than two days, and from there by train onto Goldenhill Staffordshire, just outside Tunstall, near the railway and industrial hub of Stoke-On-Trent.  The family made their move between 1866 and 1869, and  would not have been an accidental decision, effectively John would have known that there was work waiting for him through the network of fellow Irish workers who had already made the journey, and it is even possible that an employer had already signed him up.  And the family was just one of many, the number of Irish born people in the Goldenhill area rose from about 850 in 1851 to about 1,350 in 1861 more than a 50% increase, so although away from home, their environment in the home, at work, and in the streets and pubs would have been very Irish.
 
They settled in quickly, the family moved into 37 High Street Goldenhill.John getting a job labouring in a local Forge, physically very demanding, working with hot iron in high temperatures.   The family grew, with Mary and John coming into the world in 1869 and 1872 respectively.  Their neighbours in the high Street at Goldenhill were typical of the area, large Catholic families, parents from Ireland, children a mix of those born locally and those who were born in Ireland and came over with the parents, plus a few lodgers in each house, often itinerant labourers, to bring a few more shillings in rent money into the household, plus a smattering of labouring locals from the Staffordshire area and further afield.  In John and Sarah’s case in 1871, they had two lodgers living with them and their children four children, Patrick Gibbon and Thomas Murphy, middle-aged Navies (Railway Workers) from County Mayo in Ireland.  It must have made the house very cramped but this was normal for the area; little privacy, and masses of children with a mix of Irish and Anglo-Irish accents running in and out of each other’s houses, and playing in the streets.
This close living was a breeding ground for disease, and by the early June 1872 John starting to get flu like symptoms with a sore throat and an aching back.  Within a week he was running a massive fever, being sick and was bed ridden, his skin starting to break out in small white spots.  The doctor was called, but it was too late, John had Smallpox and would be dead by the end of the month.  He was only 27 years old.
 
An epidemic of Smallpox was recurring during the 1870s due to the insanitary conditions, overcrowding of accommodation, and the numbers of unvaccinated Irish immigrants.  However it seems likely that Sarah and the children did get vaccinated, probably while in England, as they all survive John’s death.
 
 
A Woman Alone
 
The only thing on Sarah’s mind now was survival for her and her children, he five of them aged from 1 to 11.  During the 1870s Sarah and the children stayed in the house in The Square at Goldenhill, and Sarah started to take in washing to help earn enough to feed the children, she may also have sought relief from the Parish and the Church.  
 
washerwoman
The last thing Sarah needed was another mouth to feed, but in 1875 that’s what she got with the birth of Martin, three years after her husband died.  The last thing Sarah needed was another mouth to feed, but in 1875 that’s what she got with the birth of Martin, three years after her husband died.  But who was Martin’s father?  Sarah certainly didn’t remarry after John’s death, so it would seem that the birth was unintentional; a widow having a child out of wedlock in a Catholic community of the 1870s would have suffered greatly for her mistake.  The only certainty is that Martin’s father definitely wasn’t Sarah’s dead husband John.
There are a few candidates among the single male lodgers who lived in the same house, and indeed in every other house in the street, mostly Irishmen, who may have offered comfort and some degree of protection for Sarah and her children for a short time at least, but there is no sign of a longer term relationship, and the fact is that we will probably never know for certain who Martin’s father was.  
 
During the 1880s Sarah moved the family to 36 New Buildings Goldenhill, perhaps away from some of the wagging tongues.  She carried on washing laundry  As soon as the children were old enough they helped with the family income, Elizabeth and Mary were working in the Potteries as soon as they could leave school, in their case at 12,  Thomas was a Puddler in an Ironworks, pouring the white hot liquid iron into moulds, a hard and dangerous job, his brother Patrick was also working as a Labourer in Ironworks.  Having the children working would have made the difference between paying the rent and eating, or starvation and the workhouse.
 
By 1891 all the children except for her eldest daughter Elizabeth and her youngest son Martin had left home.  Elizabeth was a Potter’s Jollier, and young Martin a Potter’s Presser.  Elizabeth as a Jollier would have worked clay in a rotating mould with a shaping tool to get the finished product, Martin performed the simpler function of pressing the clay into a mould to get it into shape for the finished product.
 
John and Thomas had joined the Army reserves in the North Staffordshire Regiment, it also seems that John fails to report for muster in 1892, this is because in 1891 it appears that he was in Stafford Prison at the tender age of 19.  He had been working as a Forgeman with his brother Thomas, but after his turn in Prison took up a job as a Coal Hewer in a pit, where few questions would be asked about a man’s background.  Thomas for his part was lodging in new Buildings, and later in 1897 would mary Mary Cordon and move to Bilston, still working in the Iron and Steel Industry.
 
ironpudler
Patrick was working as a Puddler in an Ironworks and had married, he was still living in New Buildings in Goldenhill with his wife Mary (formerly Doonegan), she was a Potter’s Sponger.
 
Mary had moved out and was lodging in Lyndhurst street, working as a Sponger in the Potteries.
 
 
By 1901 Sarah was living at 15 Victoria Street Goldenhill, and her eldest son Patrick the Iron Forge Puddler, along with his wife, 5 children, his wife’s sister and her daughter, a total of 7 people living in 4 rooms, it must have been cramped to say the least.  Sarah would die six years later in 1907 in her late sixties.
 
Martin Farrell 1875 – 1942
and
Mary Kelly 1880 – 1962
 
The Potteries tended to employ women and children for many jobs, for two reasons, firstly that their hands tended to be smaller and more nimble than men, and secondly because they could be paid less than men, so, once he got into his teens, Martin would have been sacked from the Potteries and would have had to find a job that traditionally went to men.  He found it at Whitfield Colliery, Hewing Coal like his elder half brother John.
whitfieldcolliery
He grew up quickly in the mines, up until 1915 men had to hew the coal from the seams by hand with pickaxes, mechanisation didn’t come in till 1915, being hauled to the surface by ponies.
 
Martin soon moved out from his Mother’s household, married, in St Joseph’s Catholic Chapel to Mary Kelly, and set up home nearby to his Mother and brother Patrick in Victoria Street Brindley Ford.
There was a tradition among the Farrelll boys of joing the North Staffordshire Militia from the 1880s onwards, Patrick, Thomas, and John had all joined, and we find Martin serving in the 2nd Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment in South Africa between 1900 and 1901, for which he received the Queen’s South Africa Medal. He served in Cape Colony, Orange Free State, and the Transvaal before being invalided home from this, but reenlisted in the Militia of the 3rd Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment reserves, interestingly he states his year of birth as 1873, which given he was already in his twenties and therefore legally old enough to join the Militia.
 
In 1901/1902 The North Staffs Regt Militia is in South Africa again, being drawn largely from Miners, provided men for the Mines Defence Force which Martin joined and was shipped out on 16th January 1902.  
 
In 1903 Martin is listed as 5′ 7″ tall, weighed 138lbs, he had Hazel eyes a pale complexion and dark brown hair.  He had a scar above his left eye, and “blue scars” (discoloured with coal dust) on the back of his right shoulder, from minor injuries sustained in the coal mines.  Interestingly all of his brothers are listed as having grey eyes, and brown or light brown hair, Martin was also slightly taller and thicker set than his brothers, all signs of his different father.  Martin was discharged from the Militia after serving out his time in 1907.  He received the King’s South Africa medal with clasps for 1901 and 1902.
 
Coming back to the mines after the Boer War, the most exciting event for Goldenhill would have been the visit of King George V in 1913, for which the locals put out the bunting on the local pub and put on their Sunday Best to greet him.
1913goldenhillGerorgeVvisit
When War broke out in 1914, Martin reenlisted in 1915, at the age of 39 a married man with  six children working in a coal mine, all of which would have lessened the chances of him be called up into to services, but with the tide of war reaching a stalemate by 1915 and pressure growing on men to join, he volunteered for the 4th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, and because of his experience in the Boer War was made acting lance Corporal, this reserve Battalion was shipped to garrison duties in Guernsey, so Martin’s age would not have been a problem in such a duty.  The Battalion was shipped back to England in 1916, once the likelihood of a German invasion had receded, and also to bolster the homefront as part of the North Staffordshire regiment had been shipped out to Ireland to suppress the 1916 rising.  Staying in England while there was a war on in Europe didn’t suit Martin, so he took the only posting he could get in order to get back to the action, but, probably because of his age and possibly because he would have been used to looking after ponies in the coal mines, he was transferred to the Army Veterinary Corps in 1917.  He saw out the rest of the war in this service, and left the army in 1919.
 
On his return from the war Martin went back to the pits, to find some improvement in conditions, electrically driven coal cutters had been brought in, and some conveyors had replaced some of the Ponies, although they wouldn’t go completely until the 1930s.  Also during the depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s life became very hard for Martin’s family, hundreds of miners were laid off, and the mines themselves worked to a quota system which meant that when the quota of coal was reached, the miners were sent home and would receive no more pay that week.
 
From the later 1930s, things looked up for the Whitfield Mine, demand increased, over 4,000 men were employed, and it became in 1937 the first mine in Britain to reached a million tons of coal in a year, it equalled this total again in the the following year 1938.  So towards the end of his life Martin would have seen the fortunes of the mine pick up and the welfare of the community increase in line with this boom.  
 
No wonder that his son John “Jack” Farrell followed him into the pits during the boom of the 1930s.  Jack would become Robbie William’s Grandfather.
 
Martin’s end came suddenly on 8th December 1942, after some deterioration in his general fitness caused by a viral infection, the virus had weakened his heart, and Martin finally died of a massive heart attack, at 578 Newcastle Road, The City General Hospital, colloquially known as “London Road”.
 
John “Jack” Farrell the only boy amongst a family of sisters would continue the  Family name.  He would have two daughters, one of whom would become the mother of Robbie Williams, and would pass away in 1979.
Published in: on September 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

See part 4 of the Kray Twins’ Family Story here.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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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 Grandfather. 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; Frederick 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 wedged 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 jewelry, a precarious living and by 1806 Frederick 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 Kray’s belongings, and buying them amidst cat-calls and jeers from the people rooting 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 forty-two he dies. What caused his financial ruin and early death is not certain, but relations had not been all they could be between Frederick and 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  glamouros Brass Founder. This indicates that Frederick may still have had friends amongst 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.

See Part 3 of the Kray Twins’ Story here.

Carol McGiffin and Mr Bumble the Workhouse Master


Having worked on various lines of Carol McGiffin’s Family Tree (Carol is probably best known for ITV’s award winning “Loose Women” programme) I recently was lucky enough to turn up a new twist to her ancestry when I found her Great Great Grandfather McGiffin’s wedding certificate, naming (and shaming) his father as “The Master of a Workhouse” or Mr Bumble as Carol likes to call him.

Normally this fact on its own would be interesting but not mysterious, the difference here is that the McGiffins when we first find them living in the slums of Lambeth are on the breadline, not where you would expect to find the family of a well to do Workhouse Master.

The Masters of Irish Workhouses were often ex-Army or ex-Constabulary NCOs. It was a very good solid middle class position to hold in an area, providing a good wage, lodgings, food, employment for members of their family, a place on the Parish Council, local power and respect, and ample opportunity to make money on the side from embezzlement of the pauper’s allowances (by cutting the quality/quantity of their rations), the hiring out of paupers as “free” (effectively slave) labour to your friends on the Parish Committee, and of course the opportunity to take advantage of any young women unfortunate enough to be an inmate.

Not all Masters of Workhouses were this vile, but you only have to read Oliver Twist to see how they were viewed by the public at the time. So it seems that he was a Master of a Workhouse before the Great Famine in Ireland (as the three McGiffin boys were born between 1834 and 1840) Margaret was probably not legally his wife, for if she was it is very unlikely that she would have ended up in a slum in Lambeth with three children in the 1850s.

It is much more likely that she was an inmate of the Workhouse in the 1830s who became pregnant by the Master of the Workhouse bearing him three sons at a time when the workhouses were not overloaded, and a girl would be prepared to be quiet about the situation in return for better treatment for her and her children. However, at the end of the 1840s the Potato Famine hit Ireland, and the workhouses were flooded with several times the number of starving inmates that they were built to hold, the system broke down, and it seems that it was in this period that Margaret came to London with her three boys. Perhaps the Workhouse Master was worried that his indiscretions would be exposed, perhaps Margaret forced his hand?

London as a destination is odd for people from Northern Ireland during the famine, as by far the majority of refugees from the famine who fled to the mainland UK from Northern Ireland went either to Liverpool, Glasgow, or Bristol (in that order), London was just about the farthest part of England that someone from NI could travel to (for example, the McGiffin name is not uncommon in NI, but during the whole of the 19th century there were only one or two families with the name in London who weren’t direct relatives). This implies that Carol’s ancestors were sent as far away as was possible, reinforcing the idea that the Workhouse Master may have paid for a passage to London, rather than one of the nearer UK ports. London was far enough away to ensure that an inconvenient woman and three children would not be coming back in a hurry, but was far cheaper than the fare to Canada or the USA.

So a small family mystery from the early 19th century was revealed by a diligent piece of research. Carol seemed thrilled by the revelation as it brings yet another piece of the jigsaw of her family history past into place. Thanks to http://www.timedetectives.co.uk.

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