Saturday, 8 August 2015

An IRA funeral march and the bomb at Biddy Mulligan’s Pub

This story looks at both sides of the ‘Irish Troubles’ in the 1970s and two major events in Kilburn.

The Victoria Tavern and Alec Keene, prize fighter
About 1862, the Victoria Tavern was built on the south corner of Kilburn High Road and Willesden Lane. Alexander Findlay, better known as champion prize fighter, Alec Keene, took over the license of the Victoria Tavern in 1866 and stayed until 1879.

Alec Keene’s first recorded fight was on 20 June 1848 against ‘Sambo Sutton’ (real name Thomas Welsh). Keene was described as ‘the young and fresh light weight’ while Sutton was called, ‘an old stager who has always conducted himself well’. Keene won the fight in ‘masterly style’ and the 200 sovereigns’ prize money went to his backer Jem Burn, an ex-fighter.

Keene fought successfully through the mid-1850’s but then retired and like many ex-boxers, opened a pub, ‘The Three Tuns’ in Moor Street, Soho. Exhibition matches were held there and he continued to act as a second for other boxers such as his friend and world champion, Tom Sayers. When he moved to Kilburn, Keene held boxing matches at the Victoria Tavern, and its semi-rural position allowed him to promote pigeon shooting competitions which proved popular.

Alec and his partner George Brown also provided mass catering for crowds at race meetings, such as the annual three-day Barnet Fair and Races. They set up a booth, or “canvas hotel” as they called it, for the sale of hot joints of meat, chicken and vegetables. And to wash it down there was: ‘Moet’s champagne, wines and spirits, Bass’s pale ale and Guinness’s stout’ with ‘cigars and the fragrant weed of the very best’ to round off the meal.

Keene moved to another pub in East Mosley for a few years before his death in 1881. His body was returned to Kilburn for burial at Paddington Cemetery in Willesden Lane, just a few hundred yards from the Victoria Tavern.

Origin of the Name Biddy Mulligan
The pub was re-named Biddy Mulligan’s in the 1970s. The name was taken from the best known character of Irish comedian Jimmy O’Dea. Highly popular from the 1930s onwards, O’Dea dressed in drag as Biddy Mulligan, a female Dublin street seller.

To see his act there is a film clip of Biddy on YouTube.

Support for the IRA
In 1971 Michael Gaughan, a member of the IRA Active Service Unit in London, was sentenced to seven years for attempting to rob a bank in Hornsey with two revolvers. In March 1974 he and four other IRA men went on hunger strike in Parkhurst Gaol on the Isle of Wight. They were force fed, a horrible process used earlier on Suffragette prisoners: ‘six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner's neck over the metal rail, force a block between his teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.’ Gaughan’s weight halved, and after a hunger strike that lasted 64 days, he died on 3 June 1974, aged just 24 years old.

The IRA wanted to maximum publicity. Four days later crowds of over 3,000 people lined the streets, as Gaughan’s coffin was taken from The Crown at Cricklewood through Kiburn to the RC Church of the Sacred Heart in Quex Road for a Requiem Mass. The slow procession was led by a piper and an IRA guard of honour wearing berets and dark glasses. The next day his coffin was taken to Dublin for another parade and burial. The eight men who escorted the coffin in Kilburn were charged by the police with unlawfully wearing uniforms. They came from the Birmingham and Manchester areas rather than Ireland or Kilburn, and were each fined £60. 

Michael Gaughan's funeral march in Quex Road, leaving the Sacred Heart Church (Getty Images)
The Biddy Mulligan’s Bomb
In the 1970s Biddy Mulligan’s was a popular drinking place among Irish residents in Kilburn. The writer Zadie Smith talks about going there with her mother when collections were regularly made for the IRA.

On the evening of Sunday 21st December 1975 a young man seemed to be acting suspiciously. He was carrying a holdall but when the manager, John Constantine, challenged him to open the bag, he refused and was asked to leave. The man was described as around 18 years old, slim with fair hair, wearing a blue denim jacket and jeans. About an hour later, the pub was shaken by a large explosion. Luckily, only a few of the 90 people in the bar were hurt and none of them badly. An old lady of 82, who had been a regular for almost 50 years, said there was a very large explosion and a lot of glass splinters went into her hair.

The bomb squad estimated that about three to five pounds of explosive had been left in the holdall outside the pub in the doorway. Scotland Yard said that a phone call had been received by the BBC the previous night from an Irish man claiming to be from the ‘Young Militants’, a splinter group of the Protestant Ulster Defence Association (UDA). He said they were going to carry the War against the IRA onto the mainland. Leaders of Sinn Fein in London said they collected about £17,000 a year in Kilburn and they were concerned about this UDA backlash.

Biddy Mulligans in 1975 (Getty Images)

The following day landlords of the other pubs in Kilburn put guards on the door to check people’s bags as they entered. Locals were very concerned that ‘the Irish Troubles’ had spread to Kilburn.

The police acted very quickly (presumably with accurate intelligence), and arrested six people on the 23 December, a man and woman in London and four men in Glasgow and Renfrewshire. In October 1976 four of the men appeared at the Old Bailey and they were all found guilty. Samuel Carson, 31, a store man of Bangor, was found guilty of organising the plot and was sentenced to 15 years. Alexander Brown, 18, a chef also from Bangor, indentified as the man who planted the holdall, was given 14 years. Noel Moore Boyd, 20, an electrician from Belfast who made the bomb circuit, got 12 years. Archibald McGregor Brown, 40, a lorry driver of Cumbernauld, who stole the gelignite and provided a safe base in Scotland, received 10 years. In sentencing it was said the men were Protestants who were determined that IRA sympathisers should not meet in the pub without retribution. The judge said, ‘It should be clearly understood whatever political, religious or social feelings people may have, a crime of vengeance is not allowed. What is more, the use of explosives, with all the implications of danger to life and limb, is totally unacceptable.’

Later the pub name was shortened to Biddy’s. For a few years it traded as an Aussie sports bar called the Southern K, but in closed about 2009 and today the building is a Ladbrokes betting shop.

The site of Biddy Mulligan's today (Dick Weindling, August 2015)

Singer-songwriter Sean Taylor was born and still lives in Kilburn. He has played at the Glastonbury Festival four times. Sean released seven albums between 2006 and 2015. One of the tracks on his 2013 album ‘Chase the Night’, celebrates ‘Biddy Mulligans’. You can hear it on YouTube:

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

From Forger to Journalist

This intriguing story looks at a young man who travelled round the world, but there is a Kilburn connection.

Queens Arms Hotel
This pub at the end of Maida Vale and the beginning of Kilburn High Road was opened about 1843. It was a major coach stop with stabling at the back for the horses.

The Queens Arms Hotel, about 1900

The original building survived until 1940 when it was hit by a bomb on 26 September and at least 14 people were killed. Left as a bomb site, local children played in the large crater until it was rebuilt in 1958. Today it is managed by singer Rita Ora's Albanian father.

Queens Arms today

Archibald Cole
In May 1861 a young man rented a room for a few days at the Queens Arms Hotel. John Kempshaw, the landlord, said that the man gave him a leather bag to look after which contained 400 to 500 gold sovereigns. He saw the same man at the races with a young woman who was very nicely dressed, and Kempshaw served them with a hamper. The next day Kempshaw went with the man to Oxford Street to buy a portmanteau bag as he said he was going abroad. Kempshaw advised the man to put his money somewhere safe.

The young man was Archibald Hamblin Lillingstone Cole, who was born in Whitchurch, Shropshire in 1841, the eldest son of Reverend William Graham Cole. Archibald worked for four years as a clerk for the long established navy agents Messrs Stilwell and Co, at 22 Arundel Street, the Strand. In 1860 he was given a month’s leave to study for the Civil Service Exam. But Cole suddenly left the company in November 1860 and they did not hear from him until they received a letter in May 1861, saying he was going abroad and asking for a loan of £5 as he was penniless. The company did not pay him the £5. A few days later he went to the bank of Willis and Percival in Lombard Street, where Stilwell’s had their account, and asked for a cheque book. The clerk knew Cole worked for Stillwell’s and gave him the cheque book. On 27 May a cheque for £603 was presented by Cole at the bank, apparently signed by Stilwell’s, and they gave him the money, which he immediately exchanged at the Bank of England for gold sovereigns.

Cole left his home in Upper Portman Street and hired a courier, John Mattos, a black Jamaican, who was known in the West End as ‘Kangaroo’. Cole paid him to accompany him and a young woman to Paris and act as his interpreter. He asked Kangaroo to get cards printed in the name of Livingstone. This was similar to his middle name of Lillingstone and the name of the great explorer.

When they met at the station Cole handed Kangaroo a leather bag which contained gold sovereigns and a cheque book. The party travelled to Paris where they stayed for four days. As they left Cole asked Kangaroo to count the money to see how much remained, which was 330 sovereigns. They had lived luxuriously and he had spent about £200 on food and jewellery for the unnamed young lady. Mattos said he was given £7, with expenses all paid, for his work.

Once they discovered the fraud, Messrs Stilwell’s took out a warrant for Cole’s arrest, but he’d fled to the continent where he was convicted for an offence and jailed for two years. The English warrant was still active and Detective Joseph Huggett spotted Cole as he boarded a steamboat in Rotterdam in October 1863. When they got out to sea Huggett arrested him and he was prosecuted for forgery at the Old Bailey on 26 October. The bank clerks and Stilwell staff told the court that the handwriting on the cheques was that of Cole. Publican John Kempshaw and ‘Kangaroo’ also gave evidence about what they knew about Cole.

He was found guilty by the jury. The judge said that the forgery was for a large amount of money and up until a few years ago Cole would have been hanged. (£603 in 1861 is equivalent today to about £50,000). He was sentenced to ten years and transportation. The 22-year-old was transferred to Portland Prison and onto the convict transport ship ‘Racehorse’ for the long trip to Western Australia. After leaving England on the 19 May the ship berthed at Fremantle on 10 August 1865.

Convict records indicate that Cole was stoutly built, about five feet seven inches tall. His hair was brown and eyes grey. On his left arm there was a tattoo showing the letter “C”. A Charlotte Graham of Camden Town was nominated as his next of kin. Perhaps she was his lady travelling companion on the trip to Paris?

Apart from a couple of minor misdemeanours after his arrival in Western Australia - disobeying orders and drinking with a free man - his conduct was sufficiently good for him to receive a ticket-of-leave in February 1869. For just under a year he was employed as a clerk by Henry Gillman, a storeman in the coastal town of Bunbury. Gillman, also an ex-convict, had flourished in Australia since the expiration of his sentence for housebreaking in 1851.

From January 1870 Cole worked for himself, first as a clerk, then from mid-1870, as a schoolmaster in Bunbury, earning £100 per annum. In June 1871 he was granted a conditional release, effectively making him a free man. By 1872 he was an accountant but in the following year he was employed as a reporter on the Fremantle Herald. Looking for adventure, he sailed to Singapore in December 1873, where he soon found work as a journalist.

Singapore and Japan
Before leaving Western Australia he had met Catherine Briggs. She was born in Calcutta, where her father was a veterinary surgeon attached to the British army. She had come to Australia as a child. Her parents disapproved of her association with the ex-convict Cole, who was eleven years her senior. But love won out and she joined him in Singapore where they married in May 1874. The wanderlust continued to affect Cole. By 1878 the family, now including two daughters, had gone to Japan.

Archibald and Catherine Cole

It was only 25 years since Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy arrived in Japan to begin the process of opening the country up to the West. Yokohama had become a boom town. But foreigners were still a novelty, mainly working as engineers, legal advisers, coastal pilots and teachers. They were required to remain within a 43 kilometre radius of the treaty ports unless they held a special passport.

Merchants of Yohohama (Woodblock by Kuniteru II, 1870)

From August 1878 the Cole family lived in Yokohama, where Archibald worked as a journalist and editor of the Japan Gazette and Japan Mail. Although he went to China as a correspondent for the New York Herald, Cole was based in Yokohama for the next six years, during which time three sons were born.

Their home was on The Bluff; a residential area overlooking the harbour, favoured by foreign merchants. At the time Yokohama was described as a low swamp, criss-crossed by drainage canals, spanned by rather rickety wooden bridges. The town comprised warehouses, some elegant western shops, one or two good hotels, as well as bonded and free stores, custom-houses, banks, shipping offices, grog shops and money changing premises. There were two churches, pleasant bungalows with attractive gardens, an assortment of lodging-houses, a large railway station and a good shipping anchorage. All this was overlooked by the magnificent Mt Fuji, topped in a snowy cloak for much of the year.

Yokohama from The Bluff. (Very early photograph by Felice Beato,1869)

After living and working successfully in Yokohama, Archibald Cole died there on 18 January 1884. A local newspaper reported:
‘Mr. Cole was pursuing his usual duties yesterday, but in the evening he was seized with a fit of apoplexy, this was succeeded by another this morning, from which he never rallied.’

His descendants believe the fit of apoplexy (which at the time meant a sudden unconsciousness and death), was caused by an overdose of opium, a fittingly dramatic end for such a flamboyant character. He was buried in the foreigners’ cemetery in Yokohama and soon afterwards his widow and children returned to live in Australia. Catherine died there in 1916.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The 1939 IRA Campaign and the Kiburn Social Club

A largely forgotten IRA campaign was carried out in England just before the outbreak of World War II. In April 1938 the IRA in Dublin drew up a document called the ‘S (for Sabotage) Plan’. It was decided, for the sake of correctness, that a formal declaration of War should be presented to the British Government. The ultimatum, which demanded the removal of all British troops from Ireland, was delivered to Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, on 12 January 1939. Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Government unwisely treated this as just another idle threat.

Carrying out the S-Plan
On the 16 January eight bombs exploded simultaneously in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Alnwick in Northumberland. There were further bombs over the next six months. Suspects in known centres of Irish population, such as Kilburn, were subjected to intense questioning and their homes searched by the police and Special Branch. But the IRA was one step ahead, having previously located their Active Service Units outside these areas as sleeper agents. The newspapers vied with each other in estimating how many people were involved, with figures fluctuating wildly from 2,000 to as many as 20,000. In fact the real number was probably only a few hundred, including those who supported the bombers.

The police were fortunate when they discovered a copy of the S-Plan in the Harrow home of Michael O’Shea, a 24 year old labourer. Special Branch was surprised by how detailed and well thought out the plan was. Drawn up by Jim O’Donovan and Sean Russell, the IRA Chief of Staff, the key targets were revealed as public utilities such as transport and gasworks.  There was considerable public concern after the newspapers published the information that March.

A major breakthrough happened by accident, when an inquisitive plumber called Charles Heap from Manchester was on a job in Chorley on Medlock. He saw several bags and other suspicious material in a cupboard. When the police searched the premises, they discovered a large amount of explosives, gelignite and detonators. Four people were arrested. The police also found a receipt from a lorry driver in Old Trafford which said, ‘For going to London and bringing back a cargo of stuff to be used on the 16 January. Paid £6 10 shillings’.

When they contacted him, the driver told the police that he’d been paid to transport what was described as a quantity of beeswax on 31 October 1938. He understood the beeswax was going to be used to polish a dance floor. He couldn’t remember the address he had been given but thought it was in Kilburn. From there an Irishman had directed him through a maze of backstreets to a garage in another part of North London. Detectives took the driver round the area until on the third day, he recognised a garage and house at 75 Fordington Road, East Finchley. The house was owned by John Healy, who had a furniture shop at 332 Hornsey Road and allegedly dealt in beeswax. Jack Healy was nothing like the IRA bombers portrayed in the newspapers. He was forty years old with a wife and two children. In his youth he had played Gaelic football in his native Derry before coming to England twenty years ago and settling down. As well running his business, Healy was also the proprietor of the Kilburn Irish Social Club. When police searched the Club they found two tons of potassium chlorate and a drum of aluminium oxide, which when mixed together could be used to make explosives. Gelignite was hard to come by so the IRA used other explosives such as potassium chlorate mixed with paraffin wax. This was nicknamed ‘Paxo’ after the well-known chicken stuffing mix. Healy argued that he had bought the chlorate from a London chemist to make throat pastilles in Ireland.

Gradually, the police traced and arrested other IRA members. On 29 March 1939, Healy was the oldest of the nine men (the rest were all in their 20s), found guilty and sentenced to a total of over 90 years at the Old Bailey. Healy got ten years for supplying material to make the explosives.

The attacks continued almost weekly and the Government introduced The Prevention of Violence Bill. This gave the police new powers of detention, and required all Irish nationals to register with the police just as other aliens had to do. In July when the Home Secretary introduced the Bill to Parliament, he said there had been 127 terrorist incidents since January 1939. One person had been killed, 55 injured, and 66 people had been arrested.

The most serious attack occurred later at the end of August when an IRA bomb exploded in the centre of Coventry killing five people. The police quickly made arrests and two men were convicted and sentenced to death. But anti-Irish feelings ran high: John Healy and a dozen IRA men in Dartmoor were set upon by fellow prisoners. Healy was badly hurt and developed pneumonia. His situation was critical and he spent five weeks in hospital in Plymouth before recovering and being returned to Dartmoor prison. We do not know what happened to him after he served his sentence.

The Kilburn Club
The ‘Kilburn Irish Social Club’ only lasted a few years and may have just been a front for Healy. It took us considerable research to work out where it was. We eventually found Vale Hall in Bridge Place near the Queen’s Arms pub at the bottom of Kilburn, numbered as 15b Kilburn High Road. Its original name was Kilburn Hall, built by Charles Hurditch as an Evangelical Mission Hall about 1868.

Charles Russell Hurditch was born in Exeter in 1840. Aged 20 he came to London and joined the YMCA. In 1864 he became secretary of Stafford Rooms, a YMCA centre in Tichborne Street, just off the Edgware Road. Here he met William Holmes, a stationer and bookseller, whose family had been involved in one of the mass conversions held at the Stafford Rooms. Charles married Mary Holmes on 11 May 1865 and they moved to 164 Alexandra Road, only a few doors from the Holmes family at 156. Charles left the YMCA and established himself as a preacher. He built or rented halls across London to spread his message to the poor, as well as producing magazines, books and composing hymns.

1930s map showing the position of the New Vale Hall

From 1904 the Kilburn Hall was used as a cycle works, then for motor cycles and as a motor garage into the 1920s. It was destroyed by fire early one morning in June 1928, watched by hundreds of women and girls, who had to leave their homes in the neighbouring houses dressed only in their night clothes. It was re-built as the New Vale Hall and in the 1930s it was used for whist, dancing and for boxing and wresting matches. Originally run by Max Lerner, it was taken over by entrepreneur and showman Harold Lane in 1936. He had began by organising whist drives, and in the late 1920s he hired Olympia where 16,000 people played cards for a world record £1,000 top prize. He went on to open his Lane’s London Clubs. Number 1 was at 7-9 King Street, Baker Street; Number 2 was at 11a Queen Street, Hammersmith and Number 3 was at The New Vale Hall, Kilburn.

Harold Lane (in the centre) with wrestlers outside his Baker Street Club in the 1930s (Getty Images)

Lane introduced All-in wrestling to England about 1930. This proved very popular but he ran into trouble by organising matches on a Sunday. In 1935 Lane was summonsed under the ancient Sunday Observance Act. A solicitor’s clerk said he paid 2/6 and went to the Hammersmith club on the evening of 6 October where he saw three well-attended contests. Repeated police raids on his clubs forced Lane to close permanently in 1938.

By the 1950s the Hall was being used as a factory to manufacture steel cabinets. Along with nearby bomb damaged properties, it was demolished in the 1960s and today lies under the Tollgate Gardens estate, owned by Westminster Council.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Murder of Tommy ‘Scarface’ Smithson

In this story we enter the sordid world of gangland London in the 1950s and investigate the murder of Tommy ‘Scarface’ Smithson in Carlton Vale, Kilburn.

After the War, the vice and gambling industries in Soho were run by gangs: the main ones were the Maltese Messina Brothers, and the London born Billy Hill and Jack Spot. They controlled their interests by bribing the police, with the threat of a razor attack for anyone who stepped out of line. As one gang member coldly put it:
‘People were paid a pound a stitch, so if you put twenty stitches in a man you got a score. You used to look in the papers next day to see how much you’d earned.’

One person who dared to defy the gangs was Tommy Smithson. Born in Liverpool in 1920, the sixth of eight children, his family moved to the East End of London two years later. Tommy served time for theft in a reform school where he learned self defence and boxing. During the War he joined the merchant navy as a stoker and served on ammunition ships to Australia. He returned to Shoreditch in 1950 and was soon sentenced to 18 months for a robbery. In prison he got to know people who ran the Soho gambling clubs. By 1954 he had his own gang which included the young Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, who looked up to Smithson as a hero.

The Maltese gang members had taken advantage of subsidised passages to England for as little as three pounds to establish a network of gambling and drinking clubs, servicing a string of prostitutes. Smithson decided to target the Maltese. He began by working as a croupier for George Caruana in one of his clubs in Batty Street, Stepney. Caruana and his Maltese colleagues were keen to avoid trouble and when Smithson set up a protection racket he was soon taking a regular share of the takings in all their ‘spielers’. The club owners paid him a shilling in the pound, it doesn’t sound much but Tommy was making up to £500 a night.

Tommy Smithson (Getty Images)
He opened his own clubs, such as the Publishers Club (supposedly for authors – but nobody was fooled!) Then following police raids, he went to Brixton prison until a whip round of his friends paid the fine. He started to seriously annoy people when he set up as a bookmaker in Berwick Street, in competition with Billy Hill and Jack Spot. Then he got into a fight and cut Freddie ‘Slip’ Sullivan in French Henry’s club. Sullivan had a brother in the Hill-Spot gang and retribution was swift.

A week later Smithson was told a peace offering was on the table and that there was no reason the gangs couldn’t get along. He went to meet Spot and Hill behind the Carreras ‘Black Cat’ cigarette factory in Camden Town. He was carrying a gun, but surprisingly handed it over when asked by Billy Hill. The signal for the attack on Tommy was a cigar butt being thrown on the ground. He was slashed in the face, arms, legs and body, then thrown over a wall into Regents Park near Park Village East, to bleed to death. Amazingly, he survived and 47 stitches were put into his face. As a reward for honouring the ‘code of silence’ he was paid £500 from Billy Hill and earned his nickname of ‘Scarface’. Tommy opened clubs and fenced stolen goods for a time but he got another set of stitches when the word spread that he was a ‘grass’. This ended his entry into the big time and he decided it was safer to work as a protector for the Maltese.

Tommy fell in love with Fay Richardson, a mill girl from Stockport who came to London to work as a prostitute. The press described her as a ‘gangster’s moll’ and a ‘femme fatale’. She was certainly dangerous to know; three of her lovers were murdered and others suffered severe beatings. In his memoirs Commander Bert Wickstead of Scotland Yard said: ‘She couldn’t have been described as a beautiful woman by any stretch of the imagination. Yet she did have the most devastating effect on the men in her life, so there must have been something about the lady.’
Newspaper picture of Fay Richardson
The handsome and dapper Smithson appealed to Fay and they began living together. When she was held on remand for buying clothes and records with bad cheques, Tommy raised money for her defence. He collected £50 from his former employer, George Caruana, but complained bitterly that it should have been a £100. On 13 June 1956 Smithson and two other men confronted Caruana and fellow Maltese Philip Ellul (who ran a small prostitute racket) and asked for more money. In the ensuing fight, Caruana was cut on the fingers as he protected his face. Another £30 was produced at gunpoint and in line with standard gangland practice, Ellul was ordered to start a collection book for Fay’s defence.

Tommy had gone too far this time. Just two weeks later on 25 June 1956, he was found dying in a Kilburn gutter. The rundown Number 88 Carlton Vale near the junction with Cambridge Road, was a brothel or ‘boarding house’ owned by Caruana. Smithson thought he’d been sent there to collect protection money. He was in the room of ‘Blonde Mary’ Bates when Philip Ellul, Vic Spampinato and Joe Zammit came in. Ellul shot him in the arm and the neck but the .38 revolver jammed. Smithson crawled down the stairs into the street. Bizarrely, his last words to the people who found him were said to be; ‘Good morning, I’m dying.’ He was a hard man. He was taken to Paddington Hospital but died shortly after he arrived.

The hit men, who fled to Manchester, were reassured they’d only be charged with manslaughter if they turned themselves in. But it was bad advice, they had been stitched up and they were tried for murder. Spampinato told the court he was only defending himself when Smithson attacked him with a pair of scissors. ‘Blonde Mary’ confirmed the story and he was acquitted. But it later emerged that Blonde Mary was Spampinato’s girlfriend. Ellul was sentenced to death for murder. Then 48 hours before his execution, the sentence was commuted to life, of which he served eleven years in prison.
Philip Elluh (Getty Images)
After he was released, Ellul came to London to collect the money had been promised by the organization. Sixpence was thrown on the floor and he was ordered to pick it up. Then he was taken to Heathrow for a flight to America and warned, ‘Don’t ever come back. If you do we have a pair of concrete boots waiting for you’. He did as he was told and stayed in America.

Smithson’s funeral was an old style gangster one: Rolls Royce hearses, elaborate floral tributes and members of ‘the firm’ attending. Thousands watched as the coffin was taken to St Patrick’s Cemetery in Leytonstone. The young Kray twins were there but Fay was still under arrest and wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral. She sent a wreath saying, ‘Till we meet again, Love Fay’.  She was put on probation that August and ordered to live with her mother in Stockport.

Pathe News has a film clip of the funeral, (but there is no sound). About three and a half minutes into the clip, the hearse has a flat tyre and has to be replaced!

Later, Smithson’s dear old mum who was well respected in the East End, had a large statue of an angel put on the grave. One of the firm said, ‘I had to laugh, a villain like Tommy Smithson with an angel over his grave!’

As crime reporter Duncan Campbell graphically says in his book, ‘The Underworld’, ‘There were almost as many theories as to why Smithson had died as there were scars in his face’. And the background behind Tommy’s killing didn’t become clear until 17 years later. In October 1973 ‘The Old Grey Fox’ Bert Wickstead, one of the Big Five at Scotland Yard, was leading the Serious Crime Squad. He decided to move against the Syndicate who had taken over most of the vice in Soho after the Messina brothers had been deported. Said to be earning as much as £100,000 a week, the organization was run by Bernie Silver (the only non-Maltese member), and 18 stone Big Frank Mifsud.

Just as the police raids were due, Silver and Mifsud had taken off on an ‘extended holiday’ after being tipped off by a member of Wickstead’s team. So Wickstead went through an elaborate pretence of having the warrants withdrawn and leaked a story to the press that he had given up the case. The papers responded with stories along the lines of, ‘The Raid That Never Was’. The ruse worked and members of the Syndicate started to return to London. Bernie Silver was arrested while he was having dinner with his girlfriend at the Park Tower Hotel on 30 December 1973.

Other members of the gang were seized at the Scheherazade Club in Soho. In the early hours of the morning, Wickstead had stepped on stage to announce that everyone was arrested. One person shouted out, ‘What do you think of the cabaret?’ and another wit replied, ‘Not much!’ The guests, staff and even the band, were taken to Limehouse police station where the band continued playing and everyone sang songs. A total of 170 members of the Syndicate were taken into custody but Frank Mifsud had been warned about the raid and fled abroad.

Wickstead said that Silver and Mifsud had ordered the murder of Tommy Smithson. The argument was that when Smithson had demanded money for Fay Richardson’s defence and an increase in his protection rate, it came at a bad time for Silver who was preparing to expand his empire. He couldn’t afford to be seen as a weak man by giving in to a small time crook like Smithson, so he told Ellul and Spampinato to get rid of him.

Wickstead and his team traced Spampinato to Malta. Elluh was run to ground in San Francisco after ‘The Old Grey Fox’ had appeared on an American TV show and a photo of Elluh appeared in the magazine, ‘True Detective’. Both men agreed to return to London and testify against the Syndicate in return for police protection. Spampinato gave useful evidence at the committal proceedings but refused to attend the Old Bailey trial. Elluh did not give any evidence in court. He managed to slip away from the police who were protecting him and returned to America. The grapevine said the price of their silence was at least £35,000 apiece.

Frank Mifsud was extradited from a Swiss clinic after claiming he was mentally unfit. In December 1974 after a long trial, he and Bernie Silver were given six years for living off immoral earnings. Then in July 1975 Silver was sentenced to life imprisonment for Smithson’s murder but a year later the Court of Appeal squashed the conviction, as they said that the case had been built on the evidence of unreliable witnesses.

In 1976 Mifsud was also tried at the Old Bailey for ordering Smithson’s killing. He said he was a property and club owner earning £50,000 a year. He claimed that he was a friend of Smithson and was sorry to hear he had been killed. When asked if he knew that Billy Hill had occasionally employed Smithson as a gangster, Mifsud simply said that Billy Hill was, ‘a kind gentleman who lent money’. Mifsud was acquitted of the murder but sentenced to five years imprisonment for living off immoral earnings. This was overturned by the Court of Appeal the following year.

In January 1977 the Thames TV programme ‘This Week’, broadcast a film called ‘An Exercise in Law’. They had interviewed Elluh and Spampinato who both said they didn’t know Bernie Silver and that he had nothing to do with Smithson’s murder. The programme implied that Commander Wickstead had wanted to destroy the Syndicate and had falsely linked Silver and Mifsud to the Smithson murder.

Friends close to Smithson always maintained that the Maltese had become tired of paying him off and organized his killing. One said the message to British gangsters was, ‘Watch out for the “Epsom Salts” (Malts), they will retaliate.’

But according to Philip Elluh, the motive was far more mundane. After Smithson had attacked him and George Caruana, Elluh heard that Tommy was going to shoot him. So he went looking for him, and when he found Tommy in Carlton Vale he simply shot him first.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Horace Brodzky, Kilburn artist

This famous painter and illustrator lived in Kilburn for much of his life, and the neighbourhood and its people feature in several of his paintings.
Horace Asher Brodzky
Horace Brodzky had many local addresses. In 1926 he was at 22a St George’s Road (later renamed Priory Terrace) having moved to Number 26 by 1928. In 1930 he was in Mowbray Road and a year later, at 102 Brondesbury Villas. After a period in Furness Road in Willesden he returned to Kilburn, to 9 Oxford Road from at least 1939 to 1959, before shifting a few doors down the street to Number 37, where he lived from 1963 to 1965. The last few years of his life were spent at 19 Warwick Crescent W2, where he died in 1969.
Artist's house in Kilburn, Brodzky 1931, (probably 102 Brondesbury Villas)

Horace was born in Melbourne in 1885, into a literary and intellectual family. His Polish father Maurice was a journalist with several Australian newspapers before he founded the magazine, ‘Table Talk’. This was a weekly mixture of politics, finance, literature, arts and social notes, and was highly successful during the 1880s and 90s. But when Maurice became more outspoken about corruption in business and government, he was sued in 1902. He lost the case and the damages forced him into bankruptcy. The family moved to San Francisco in 1904.

Four years later they came to London. It was here that Brodzky’s career as an artist really began. In 1911 he briefly attended the City and Guilds School in Kennington. More important, however, was his meeting with Walter Sickert at the Allied Artists’ Association in July 1908. He regularly attended the ‘Saturday afternoon’ held by Sickert in his Fitzroy Street studio and before long he was part of the artistic and literary set which met in the CafĂ© Royal.

During this time Brodzky travelled to Rome, Naples and Sicily with his friend the American poet John Gould Fletcher. Here he encountering the works of Piero della Francesca who he always said was the greatest influence on his art. Brodzky held his first exhibition in his Chelsea studio, entitled ‘Paintings and Sketches of Italian and Sicilian Scenes’, and one of these was chosen for inclusion in the British representation at the Venice Biennale of 1912.

In 1914, a work by Brodzky was included in the Jewish section in the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s survey of developments in contemporary art. By now he was part of an important group of Jewish artists living in London that included Jacob Kramer, David Bomberg, Alferd Wolmark, Mark Gertler and Jacob Epstein. But his most important friendship was with the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who made a bronze bust of Brodzky in 1913, (now in the Tate collection). Twenty years later Brodzky wrote a major biography of Gaudier-Brzeska.

Horace Brodzky, bronze by Gaudier-Brzeska, 1913 (Tate)

Brodzky worked in three media: painting, draining and printmaking. In addition to woodcuts, Brodzky also used linoleum for his printing blocks and was the first to do so in this country. He produced bold, powerful black and white images.

In 1915 after the death of Gaudier-Brzeska, he moved to New York, with letters of introduction to the lawyer and art patron, John Quinn. The next eight years were stimulating and productive. At Quinn’s request he acted as Clerk of Works to the Vorticist Exhibition held at the Penguin Club in 1917. Brodzky’s portfolio of 21 linoprints was published in New York in 1920.

His work was remarkable for its diversity: caricature (an advertisement for a book on G.B. Shaw), humour (cover designs for the magazines Playboy and The Quill), and stylish designs for book jackets (these included works by some of the leading writers of the day, including Eugene O’Neill, Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair). Nevertheless he was struggling. He worked as a waiter, an artist’s model and journalist to make ends meet, editing the magazines Rainbow and Art Review.

In December 1919 he met and married Bertha Greenfield who was working as a nanny in New York, and they had three sons. They moved to London in 1923 and he was included in the London Group Retrospective in 1928 and in Claude Flight’s ‘First Exhibition of British Linocuts’ in 1929.
Bridge Street Kilburn, by Brodzky 1947

The 1920s and 30s were a particularly difficult time for Brodzky, when for ten years he taught art two nights a week at an L.C.C evening school in Bermondsey. After financial problems contributed to the breakdown of his marriage to Bertha in 1934, Brodzky carried on working and the following year critic and art historian, James Laver, published ‘Forty Drawings by Horace Brodzky’. In 1937 Brodzky shared an exhibition with David Bomberg and Margarete Hamerschlag at the Foyle Gallery.
1946 saw the publication of his book on the painter Jules Pascin and in 1948 he became the art editor of the Antique Dealer and Collector’s Guide, a magazine founded by his brother Vivian. This provided a small but regular income until 1962.
Kilburn Roll-call, 1956 (probably men waiting to be chosen for casual labour)

In 1963 the writer and art collector, Ruth Borchard bought a pen and ink self portrait of Brodzky for 12 guineas.

Self portrait, Brodzky, 1963

He wrote her letters which set out his difficult circumstances:
‘I am living more like a recluse with advancing age’. (He was then seventy-eight). He continued:
‘Since 1911, I have been connected with the London art world and have exhibited at all important exhibitions… and have worked for modern art. … For a long time I have sold none of my work and have had to rely on selling items by other artists that I have collected… This letter is not an angry complaint but just the plain facts that I thought you might like to know.’

Brodzky lived long enough to see a revival of interest in his work and he died on 11 February 1969. The Times published an obituary on the 17th.

Today his work is in many collections around the world, including:
Tate Gallery, London
Victoria and Albert Museum
British Museum, London
Arts Council, London
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Museum of Modern Art, New York Public Library
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and other many regional galleries

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Home for Homeless Infants

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, London streets were home to a variety of small residential institutions: hospitals, schools and orphanages. Some grew and prospered such as Hampstead General Hospital, which began in a single house, later moving to a large site off Haverstock Hill and was absorbed into the Royal Free after WW2. Others were short lived, lasting as long as there were funds or interest in the project. This is the story of one charitable home for children in Kilburn.

143 Carlton Road
143 Carlton Road (later renamed Carlton Vale) was a Victorian villa, built in the late 1850s/early 1860s. It stood close to the junction with Peel Road. This area has been comprehensively redeveloped and most of the old houses, including number 143, have been demolished.

1890s map showing the position of 143 Carlton Road in red

In 1869, a young Hubert von Herkomer who was to become Sir Hubert, a noted painter, engraver and etcher, was lodging with the family of a fellow student at 143 Carlton Road. He exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy, ‘Leisure Hours,’ from this address. It was a portrait of his friend’s sister, in an old fashioned silk dress, looking at a sketch held at arm’s length. Herkomer attended the Royal Academy soiree in a dress suit rented for the evening from a pawnbroker for ten shillings and sixpence. The lodgings didn’t work out and he soon left Carlton Road for new digs in Chelsea.

Herbert Heckomer, self portrait c1880

The 1871 census has a bus driver and his extended family living at number 143. Properties in the south Kilburn area often experienced a regular turnover of tenants, many of whom are untraceable as they don’t appear in either the Rates or the Census.

In 1881, the house stood empty but soon after, it became a ‘House for Homeless Infants’. There’s little surviving information about this establishment; for example, the entry criteria: was the baby abandoned or orphaned? An 1887 report said, ‘babies who have fallen on evil times are received and nursed back into health and strength’, which could reflect either of these possibilities. It continued: ‘This little home is the special care of Lady Stanley and has for six years past been principally dependant upon her for the funds necessary to carry on this good but unpretending work.

Lady Stanley
It seems likely that Lady Stanley set up the Home. Her level of support strongly indicates this was the case: ‘Lady Stanley is at the Home, eleven to one, every Wednesday morning, and is especially pleased to show the Home and its little inmates to all who care to call between these hours.’

Lady Stanley was born Lady Constance Villiers. She married Frederick Arthur Stanley in 1864. He was known as Frederick Stanley until 1886 and as Lord Stanley of Preston between 1886 and 1893, when he succeeded his brother as the 16th Earl of Derby. Constance, described as an ‘able and witty woman,’ was on the first Grand Council of the Ladies Branch of the Primrose League, an organization dedicated to upholding the Conservative cause and spreading its principles. She supported her husband in his political career, in particular as Governor General in Canada. In this age before women’s suffrage, Constance needed her husband’s permission to involve herself in the Home. She was in a strong position to forward its aims: in 1886 the funds received a welcome boost from the proceeds of an evening’s theatrical performance. The following year a fund raising concert was held at the Stanley’s home, 5 Portland Place, a large, double fronted property close to Langham Place.

The 1887 Fundraiser
Several of those on Lady Constance’s concert list also performed and if they didn’t directly support Lady Stanley in her patronage of the Kilburn Home, part of their work involved children. Alfred Scott-Gatty was a composer with a special interest in promoting music for children.

Mrs Henrietta Stannard not only recited, she also sold tickets for the event. Henrietta wrote stories, mainly centred on army life, under the pseudonym of ‘John Strange Winter’. Her reputation was established by ‘Bootle’s Baby’ and ‘Houp-La,’ both of which appeared in The Graphic in 1885. For the Kilburn fund raiser Henrietta read ‘The death of Houp-La’. The setting was the Egyptian campaign of 1882. Houp-la is a poor uneducated boy devoted to his master, who has the difficult task of delivering some important dispatches. Houp-la takes the dispatches and after overcoming many dangers, he delivers them safely and is much praised for his bravery. But on returning to camp, Houp-la is ambushed by the enemy; ‘a search party organised for his relief, find him, but too late. Houp-la returns to die in the arms of his master.’

Such sentimental tales were very popular at the time. In ‘Bootle’s Baby,’ an abandoned baby is eventually reunited with its mother who marries Captain Algernon Ferrars, otherwise the ‘Bootle’ of the title. Two million copies were sold during the ten years following its first publication.

What happened to the Home and Lady Stanley?
The Home had closed by 1891, when number 143 Carlton Road is shown in the census as subdivided and occupied by four families. Its closure is likely to have coincided with Constance’s departure from England in 1888, when her husband took up his post as Governor General of Canada. She continued her charitable work there, founding the  Lady Stanley Institute or Trained Nurses, the first nursing school in Ottawa. The couple returned to the England in 1893 where Constance died in 1922. Her obituary in the Times made no mention of her philanthropic works.

Lord Stanley

What happened to the infant inmates after the Home closed is not known.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Mysterious Doctor Du Brange

During a search of the British Newspaper Archive we found reports of a man with the unusual name of Du Brange who lived in Kilburn. We were intrigued when we discovered that he appeared several times in court.

Indecent Handbills
The first time that he is shown in the newspapers was in October 1869 when Gilbert Du Brange of 99 Seymour Street, Euston Square, (which is now called Eversholt Street), was charged in the Marylebone Police Court with causing indecent handbills to be distributed by Timothy Leonard.

Sergeant Martin, a plain clothes detective of S Division, said they’d been observing Du Brange for some time and that his real name was Charles Tiffin, a native of Scotland. Du Brange said this was a lie. Another detective, John Robertson, said he was in Seymour Street at 8.30pm on the 4th August and he saw Timothy Leonard go into Du Brange’s house. He came out again with a handful of small bills and he gave one to every person he met. He gave two to Detective Robertson who followed him as far as Camden High Street. Here Robertson took Leonard’s name and address, which turned out to be false and he was later apprehended on a warrant. On 20 Oct Detective Robertson went to Du Brange’s house. Eventually Du Brange admitted he had asked Leonard to distribute the bills. He said he also gave out handbills under the railway arch at Camden Town when Du Brange had gone there to lecture about the medicinal properties of his pills. Detective Martin said Tim Leonard had told him he was paid 1s 6d a day to hand out the bills.

Du Brange said he was well known and he had been selling pills in the open air for about two or three year until about nine months ago when his business had increased and he stayed in his shop. When he sold a box of pills he wrapped them in a handbill to advertise his products. When he sold them to a woman he wrapped them in plain paper. He said he sold about three or four gross of pills every day. The magistrate asked if he was a qualified medical man. Du Brange said he was a graduate of medicine from Giessen, Germany. The court clerk explained that anyone could get a diploma there for 10s. The police said that from their enquiries Du Brange was not in any way connected with the medical profession and the case was brought under the Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867, a section of which prohibited the distribution of handbills.  

The magistrate concluded there were no doubts about the case and Du Brange would pay a penalty of 40s and Leonard 10s or they would be imprisoned for 14 days and seven days respectively. Du Brange paid the fines and said the case would be his ruin. 

Following the report in the Times, Dr Wilbrand of the University of Giessen in Germany, wrote a letter to the editor saying they were repeatedly been accused of selling diplomas of medicine. This was not true and neither Charles Tiffin or Gilbert Du Brange was a graduate of the University.

Selling pills
It’s clear that the bad publicity didn’t stop Du Brange from peddling his pills. In March 1871 he was summoned at the Marlborough Street court with unlawfully representing himself as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He had now moved his business to 36 Gilbert Street, off Oxford Street and he was living at ‘Salisbury House Kilburn’. He saw patients in Gilbert Street and in Kilburn. Police Sergeant Micklejohn said he went to 36 Gilbert Street and it had the appearance of a doctor’s shop. A diploma in the name of Dr Peskett was displayed in the window while ‘Du Brange’ was on the door. He had observed Peskett go into the shop numerous times and he witnessed Du Brange making up medicines and selling them. He also saw what he called ‘several disgusting medical representations’ in the shop. Micklejohn returned with the summoning officer Costigan, who asked Du Brange if he was the doctor. Du Brange replied that he was. The secretary of the Royal College of Surgeons gave evidence in court and said Du Brange was not on the register.

In summing up the magistrate said unqualified practitioners were ‘common pests in large towns’ and he imposed a full fine of £20 with costs, saying he wished it could be more. The next edition of the Lancet congratulated the Royal College of Surgeons for successfully bringing the prosecution against Du Brange and ‘having at last awoken to a sense of its duty’. 

Medical quacks had been common for years and Du Brange’s name appeared on a list of 26 quacks ‘practising’ in London in a book called ‘Revelations of Quacks and Quackery’ by Francis Burdett Courtenay. Punch in their review of the book said:
The vile practices, the monstrous impudence, the cruel rapacity, and the enormous gains of the obscene tribe of quacks, the mischief they do, the ruin they work, even to the causation of suicide, are fully set forth in "Revelations of Quacks and Quackery."

The Quack Doctor, by FOC. Darley from 'Every Saturday' a Boston Magazine, 1871

Despite his fines Du Brange remained undeterred and was summoned for the distribution of handbills in August 1874 and again in June 1875. His address was now given as the ‘Medical Institute’ 36 Gilbert Street. At the 1875 hearing Du Brange, behaving in a very excited manner, said the bills had been previously judged by Sir Thomas Henry (the chief magistrate at Bow Street), not to be obscene and there was no case to answer. The magistrate told him his manner was offensive and ungentlemanly and to conduct himself better. The case was proved and Du Brange was fined 10s. 

The indecent bills were most likely adverts for medicines claimed to cure the pox, other sexual diseases (usually called ‘secret diseases’ by the quacks), impotence, and abortion remedies for women, but we haven’t been able to find descriptions of Du Brange’s potions and pills.

Who was Gilbert Du Brange?
Obviously, he was a man operating on the edge and it proved difficult to find out who he really was. The only time he appears in official documents is on the 1871 census which shows a Gilbert Du Brange, at 19 Salusbury Road, Kilburn. He is 32 years old, a ‘medical botanist’, born in Carlisle. His wife is shown as Sarah Du Brange, 44, a skirt maker, born in Benson, Oxfordshire. Four children are listed: Robert Francis Greenwood, son, 18, a shopman to a medical botanist (presumably Gilbert), born in Islington; Alice Greenwood, daughter, 14, born in Islington and Clara Greenwood, daughter, 11, born in St Pancras. There is also a one year and nine month old son, Gilbert Du Brange, born in St Pancras; which indicates they had only recently moved to Kilburn.

The older children were Sarah’s. She was previously the wife of Robert Greenwood, a ‘chemist’ who made ‘laundry blue’ used to wash and whiten clothes, of Upper Seymour Street in Somers Town. On 17 January 1861 they baptised five children who had been born between 1850 and 1857 but they only got married in Lambeth on 6 March 1859. Robert Greenwood died in April 1866 and Sarah and her children later moved in with Gilbert Du Brange. There is no record of them marrying. Du Brange may have met Robert Greenwood through the manufacture of his pills.

In April 1875 Robert Francis Greenwood, Sarah’s eldest son, married Ellenor Tiffin in Manchester. Her father was Joseph Tiffin a blacksmith born in Penrith Cumberland. This set us thinking. During the first court case the police had claimed Gilbert Du Brange was really Charles Tiffin. As Tiffin is rather an usual name, this seemed too much of a coincidence. We believe that Tiffin came to London and began selling pox medicines under the name of Gilbert Du Brange. A linking fact was that a Gilbert Tiffin was born in 1869 in St Pancras, surely the boy called Gilbert Du Brange in the 1871 census. We sent off for his birth certificate which showed that Gilbert Tiffin was born on 11 August 1869 at 99 Seymour Street, Euston Square. His father is shown as William Tiffin, ‘herbalist master’. His mother is Sarah Tiffin, late Greenwood, formerly Warner (her maiden name). So it is clear that Gilbert Du Brange was really William Tiffin.

Dr William Richardson and the Greenwoods
There is an unusual newspaper report from May 1873, when surgeon William Richardson of 24 Southampton Street, Strand was charged with indecent behaviour to two girls in Hyde Park. In the Marlborough Street court, Clara Greenwood aged 13 of 36 Gilbert Street said her father was a doctor. She gave evidence that the previous afternoon she was in Hyde Park with her younger brother (probably Gilbert but not named), and an eight year old friend called Caroline Plante. They were sitting on a seat when the prisoner came and sat beside them. It was raining but he told them not to go as the rain would soon be over. Clara said that when she attempted to leave he grabbed hold of her jacket and indecently assaulted her. He did the same to Caroline who confirmed the story. PC Berry who was on duty in the Park, saw the incident and immediately arrested Richardson. Despite evidence of Richardson’s good character, the magistrate said the case should go to trial and he released Dr Richardson on bail of £500 and two sureties of £200 each.

Unlike William Tiffin alias Gilbert Du Grange, William Richardson had qualified as a doctor in 1859 and was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. In the 1871 census he was a GP, born in York and living at 13 New Bridge Street, Bridewell in the City with his wife Louisa. In 1873 his practice was at 24 Southampton Street, Strand as he said in court. But we couldn’t find a record of his subsequent trial and perhaps he came to a financial agreement with Du Brange/Tiffin and the case was dropped? Dr Richardson continued to practice as a GP and live with his wife until he died in 1890 aged 54. He left Louisa £94, worth about £8,500 today. 

After 1875
Despite our best efforts, it is frustrating that we were unable to track Gilbert Du Brange or William Tiffin beyond 1875, but he probably changed his name again and continued selling potions.

For an interesting book about the subject see, ‘The Quack Doctor’ by Caroline Rance, The History Press, 2013. Caroline also writes a regular blog;