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.

Happy New Year to all my Readers!


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

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 2:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 2: Georgian Goldsmith, Jeweller, Dealer, and Chapman


frederickkrayfamily Click to see tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Origins of the name

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

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

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

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

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