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.