Danny Dyer’s Family History Part 1: Proper Poplar Cockneys born and bred


A Proper Cockney

Danny_DyerDanny Dyer landlord of the Queen Victoria Pub in BBC’s Eastenders, isn’t just a professional Cockney, he’s a proper Cockney, and his line is documented back into the 1700s in Poplar, and there is reasonable evidence to take it that his ancestors were plying the Thames at least as early as the 1600s at the time of Cromwell and Charles I, and before that most likely living in the City of London or again Poplar as Dyers.  So he’s London born and bred, and so were his ancestors as far back as it is possible to trace.  Circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate that Danny’s Family were the original Dyer Family in Poplar.

The Dyers as dyers

The Dyer Family name came from the trade in the Middle Ages, dyeing cloth, silk and leather.  A good trade, but a dirty one, both from the Dyers’ staining of their skin and clothes during their work, and their need to use large amounts of urine as part of the process, for both extracting dye from natural materials, and for fixing colours in cloth (old pee, and new pee being used in each process respectively!).  This tended to make the dyers congregate together somewhere between the weavers and tanners.  Ua46acd4bce4264ddac19f6d45737bf36sually near the Thames for access to a constant water supply for the washing process.  Their natural materials to produce the dyes came up the Thames from Kent, where a plant called Weld was produced and shipped by boat to provide all shades of yellow for dyers, in addition to other home grown plants such as Woad and Madder.  The dyers as a trade grouped around Thames Street near the North side of London Bridge, and got their own Royal Livery Company in the 1400s.  Unfortunately they were dyers, not builders, and it wasn’t the most prestigious Trade Company, as reflected in their bad luck with their Company Hall; the first two attempts of which were burned down, and the second two buildings fell down due to jerry building.

However Danny’s Dyer Family had moved from their ancient art, and went over to working on the Thames in other capacities, by the time of the English Civil War in the 1600s, we find Dyers on the Thames acting as Watermen and Lightermen, transporting people and goods, and indeed they would carry on living on the river right up to the present, and the River would in return provide them with a living for generations.

London Bridge is falling down

When Peter Dyer the Shipwright (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather) listened to his wife Eleanor singing to their sons, Peter, a toddler, and Edward a baby, in the summer of 1768, he most likely smiled and got on with hammering at the wooden ship of trade that he worked on in the East India dockyard at Poplar.  Eleanor sang to the boys, held their hands to make an arch that they would run through;

“London Bridge is falling down,

falling down,

falling down,

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair Lady!”

The tune and words had been adapted and formalised a hundred years before, but the song and the playing at arches had roots going back into mediaeval times, and beyond to the Viking period.  For in 1014 Ethelred The Un-Read (un-read = badly advised, rather than “Unready”) hired a mercenary Norwegian Viking force to sail up the Thames and attack London, held at that time by King Cnut’s father Sweyn and his Danish Vikings.  The Norwegians tied ropes around the stanchions of the fortified wooden London Bridge, hurled grappling hooks onto its fortifications, turned their longships around, hoisted sail to catch a westerly breeze, and rowed hard with the downstream tide to wreck the fortified bridge, allowing them to bring their own and Ethelred’s English ships and troops up the Thames and outflank the Danes, forcing and force the Danish garrison to give up control of London and Southwark back to Ethelred and the English.

This was celebrated in a Viking Saga in a poem that went;vikinglondonbridge

“Yet you broke the Bridge of London,

Stout hearted warrior,

You conquered the land

Iron swords made headway

Strongly urged to fight;

ancient shields were broken,

Battle’s fury mounted”

The Rhyme obviously would have scanned better in Old Norse, but it tells the tale, and Grappling hooks and Viking axes and swords have been found in the Thames at the site to reinforce the romance of the story with archaeology.  Now it was this folk memory that gave rise to the nursery rhyme that Eleanor sang to her sons.  The Viking who pulled London Bridge down,  Olaf Haraldsson, later became ruler of Norway, and on his death was hailed as a very popular Saint in England becoming St Olaf, with a Church in Southwark by the side of the rebuilt London Bridge, which you can visit today, now known as St Olave’s.  This was typical of robust British paganism lightly dressed as Christianity, a Norwegian Viking General hailed as a saint by the people of London, for helping to recapture their City.

But 750 years later in 1768, up around the big bend in the river from Poplar, London Bridge wasn’t falling down, and wouldn’t for another 70 years, this was despite the stone bridge already being 600 years old.  It once stood full of brick and stone buildings along its length, some several stories high, a spectacular site in mediaeval times, but these had been demolished in Peter and Eleanor Dyer’s lifetime, in 1762, to improve the flow of foot and horse traffic across the bridge.  London Bridge still presented a hazard to navigation, and even with a widened mid-span was unnavigable for large ships.  This blockage to large ships meant that the building of bigger ships could only be carried on down stream in and around the Poplar area, and this was where the Dyers lived.  So London Bridge inadvertently gave Peter Dyer his trade as a shipwright, as with many aspects of London, the River Thames and its history would decide the trade and future of the lives of its working class inhabitants, including the Dyers.

Claude_de_Jongh_-_View_of_London_Bridge_-_Google_Art_Project_bridge

East Indiamen, Popular in Poplar

Shipwrights in Poplar, made their living in the 1700s at Blackwall, North of the big bend in the Thames, and just upstream on the Thames from the River Lea, making a convenient place for large vessels to moor, with a road to take goods from the shore direct to the City of London, cutting out the navigation of the massive bend in the river around the Isle of Dogs.  it was from here that Captain John Smith and his Virginia Settlers set out to found what would become the first permanent English Settlement in America, perhaps the Dyers as Watermen and shipwrights played their part in transporting the settlers to Blackwall, or making their ships seaworthy.  It was also here that the convenience of Blackwall was hit upon by the ever efficient East India Company, they sponsored the dockyards that grew up in Blackwall between the late 16th century and on into the 1700s just at the time when the records show the Dyers plying their trade there as the painting from the 1780s shows below.BHC1866

Peter Dyer and his son Edward would work as shipwrights in Poplar, a good living, but not a great one, but they would have seen a massive increase in trade with ships pilling into Blackwall from all over the world, numbers growing steadily as the British Empire grew, a result of wars with the Spanish, and French.  By 1789 when Edward Dyer when the next Edward Dyer is born (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Great Grandfather) to Edward and wife Mary, the third generation of Dyers in Poplar, the Empire is burgeoning, and in the year of Edward’s birth, the Blackwall Docks are extended and renamed as the Brunswick Docks.  But with the development of docks and the wealth flowing into the City of London, opportunities were opening up to less skilled trades, like Watermen and Lightermen, who could make easy pickings from River traffic in both people and goods.  In Part 2 of Danny Dyer’s Family Tree we will see how his ancestors took advantage of this.

 

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 3:16 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.

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