Come along to celebrate publication day for SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS by picking up your copy in person from me at Hatchards of Piccadilly from 4-6pm this afternoon and I will give you one of our beautiful NIPPERS posters for your wall!
My SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS lecture at Bishopsgate Institute this Tuesday 4th November is sold out. If you have a ticket and are unable to come, please call the Box Office 020 7392 9200 and let them know so that it can be released for someone else.
This book is published with the generous investment of the following readers of Spitalfields Life:
Rose Ades, Alison Anderson (in memory of Christina Docherty), Fiona Atkins, Jill Browne, Beata Bishop, Peter Cameron, David Cantor, Tamara Cartwright-Loebl, Shirley Collier, Mary Clarke, Will Clayton, Peter Dixon, Sandra Esqulant, Hilary Everett, Bob Gladding, Alex Graham & Maeve Haran, Ed Griffiths, Libby Hall, Siri Fischer Hansen & Roger Way, Stella Herbert, Christoph Heyl, Martin Ling & Sophie Sparrow, Michael Keating, Irene Mcfarlane, Julia Meadows, Shirley Moodie, Carl Moss, Colin O’Brien, Jan O’Brien, John Ricketts, Tim Sayer, Benjamin Shapiro, Mark Stephens, Vicky Stewart, David Sweetland, Penelope Thompson, Reginald Webb, Julian Woodford, Zoe Woodward and Erminia Yardley.
In the East End, the following shops are selling copies and giving away free Nippers posters: Brick Lane Bookshop, Brick Lane, Broadway Bookshop, Broadway Market Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen, Commercial St, Labour & Wait, Redchurch St, Leila’s Shop, Calvert Ave, Mason & Painter, Columbia Rd, Newham Bookshop, Barking Rd, & Townhouse, Fournier St.
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Faber Factory Plus part of Faber & Faber are distributing SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS nationwide – so if you are a retailer and would like to sell copies in your shop, please contact email@example.com who deals with trade orders.
Viscountess Boudica is the Queen of Halloween and I could not resist dusting the cobwebs off her spine-chilling tale of the headless horseman to give us all a seasonal thrill on the spookiest night of the year
Viscountess Boudica consults her crystal ball
Halloween is a very important festival for Viscountess Boudica, the trendsetter and wise woman of Bethnal Green. For days now, she has been hanging up her pumpkin decorations, arranging her spooky knick-knacks and organising her witchy outfits in preparation for the big day. “I like it because it is the celebration of the Pagan New Year,” she admitted to me, as one who identifies herself with the Ancient Britons and still adheres to the pre-Julian calendar which contains only ten months.
Yet Viscountess Boudica is also highly sensitive to the significance of Halloween as the time when the spiritual and temporal worlds become permeable. And so, when I visited her this week to take this new series of portraits recording her observation of the rituals and customs of the season, she confided to me this spine-chilling personal account of her first encounter with supernatural forces in the form of a Headless Horseman in Braintree.
“I saw the Headless Horseman for the first time on April 20th 1987 when I lived at Plains Field near Braintree. One night, my friend Ted and I, we walked to the Three Ashes which was down a dark lane full of ditches and hedges and no light. We played darts and there was no-one else there, so I said, ‘It’s getting late and we have to walk back down the lane.’ So we left the pub and walked back in the dark and, after we’d left the lights of the houses behind, this old black iron street lamp appeared in the lane. I said to Ted, ‘Have you heard that Braintee Council was putting lamps up here?’ There was no moon and you could tell this was no normal lamp because it burned with a red flame.
Then we heard the sound of horses’ hooves approaching and, all of a sudden, the clouds parted and it was a full moon and we stood under the lamp as the Horseman appeared, coming closer with his cloak billowing. His big black horse reared up with piercing eyes and foaming at the nostrils. And the rider had no head! But when he lifted his cloak, there was his head with blue eyes and a long grey beard. Then the wind picked up and blew the clouds across the moon, and he took off towards Braintree. I said to Ted, ‘What do you make of that?’ He said, ‘It must be for a film,’ so I said, ‘I didn’t see any cameras.’
I said, ‘What are we going to do? We can’t tell anyone, they wouldn’t believe us.’ Braintree is known for its ghosts and Coggeshall has all the ley lines, so I thought, ‘I’m going to sleep with the lights on,’ and I did for six months.
After five years, in 1992, we decided to go back. Ted said, ‘You’ve got to wear exactly what you wore in 1987,” and we went there on the same day, April 20th, and walked down the lane to the pub but I said to Ted, ‘There’s no chance of seeing him again.’ I took a Polaroid Instamatic camera with me in case I could get a picture. It was five to twelve by the time we returned down the lane and I said to Ted, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen.’
All of a sudden, the lamp appeared burning with the red flame and we heard the sound of hooves approaching. I said to Ted, ‘Your luck’s in.’ The beating of the hooves got louder but the Headless Horseman galloped past and he set off towards Braintree. Then he turned and came back and the great big horse reared over us and the cloak lifted up and I saw it had a red silk lining. The light grew brighter and I realised it was time, so I produced my camera and took a picture. Immediately, the light went out and he rode away, but when we reached the end of the lane the Headless Horseman was there waiting for us, blocking the path. So we turned and walked back the other way to the pub where we met an old lady.
We showed her the photograph, it was pitch black and all you could see was just the shape of the Horseman. Ted said, ‘I’ll take it to see if we can the resolution improved,’ and he said, ‘We’ll go back again in five years,’ but shortly afterwards he died and that was the end of it.”
Keeling the pot
Hanging the lanterns
Preparing the altar
Brandishing her wand
Working the broomstick
Mixing the brew
With her familiars, Keith & Paul
Consulting the Tarot
Cooking up a spell in the kitchen
Seeing the future in her looking glass
Setting out to bewitch Bethnal Green
Viscountess Boudica - “The only ghostly experience I ever had in Bethnal Green was in the Underground – as I was going down the escalator, someone tapped me on the shoulder but when I turned round there was no-one there. I remember talking to a friendly clairvoyant who told me, ‘There was a witch in your family and that’s why these things happen to you.’”
Drawings copyright © Viscountess Boudica
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Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter
and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats
Yesterday I received news of the death of my pal Lenny Hamilton, the Jewel Thief, on October 8th and today I publish my profile of Lenny as a tribute to one of the East End’s most celebrated rogues.
Mid-afternoon on a weekday is a good time for a discreet liaison at The Carpenters Arms – the pub that used to belong to the Krays in Cheshire St – especially if you are meeting a jewel thief. Lenny was initially averse to the location, “What do you want to go to that filthy old place for?” he complained, until I reassured him they had cleaned it up nicely, though when he told me the story of his personal experience of the Kray twins I came to understand why he might harbour an aversion.
“I used to go round to their house in Vallance Rd on and off for three years, until Ronnie burnt me with the pokers, and his mother and Charlie had a go with him over it.” revealed Lennie with a pleasant smile, introducing his testimony, before taking a slug of his double Corvoisier and lemonade. It was a story that started well enough before it all went so horribly wrong.
“I was just six weeks out of the army, doing my National Service (I used to box for the army), when I went back to work in Billingsgate Fish Market at the age of twenty-six. Georgie Cornell looked after me – he was the hardest man I ever saw on the cobbles but he had a heart of gold as well. He gave me five pounds to buy my mother some flowers and said ‘Make sure you give her the fucking change!’ He was a nice fellow. He used to line up all the tramps at the market and give them each half a crown and make sure they got a mug of tea and two slices of dripping toast. Then with the change, he’d say ‘Now go down and buy yourselves a pint.’
Leaving work, I was walking down Maidment St, and on the corner I saw this big fellow wrestling with these two little fellows. So I went to help them, they got away and I got arrested, because the guy I was wrestling with was a police officer. When I got taken down to Arber Sq police station, he said to me, ‘Do you know what you’ve done? Them two young fellows was the Kray twins and now they’ve got away. They’re on the run from the army.’ I apologised and they let me go.
Later, when the Krays got control of a snooker hall, The Regal, I was playing snooker there and they came in and this fellow put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You don’t know who I am do you? I am Reggie Kray – and this is my brother Ronnie.’ I thought I was seeing double, you couldn’t tell them apart. They took me across the road to a pub called The Wentworth to buy me a drink because I did them a favour. They liked me at first. That’s how I came to be going round their house for nearly three years.
One day, I was down the Regency Club working for Harry Abrahams, he had his own “firm” and Albert Donahue was part of it. One of the Krays’ “firm”, Pat Connolly was there and he was drinking with a young couple. Then some fellows arrived from South London and sent us all a drink over. I ordered one for myself and the young fellow, but I didn’t know what the girl was drinking, so I asked her, ‘What do you want, love?’
The fellow that was with her went to cut me with a razor! Pat Connolly said ‘You don’t do that to Lenny.’ So, the fellow asked to have a talk with me in the toilet and I thought he wanted to say sorry. As I went into the toilet, walking in front of him, someone said, ‘Watch your back!’ and he went to cut me down the back with his cut-throat razor. I dived down to the cubicle door, and ducked and dived, as he came at me with the razor. Then I got up and smashed him in the face and I didn’t realise that I broke his nose. I also didn’t realise he was Buller Ward’s son, Bonner – and Buller was friends with the Krays.
My pal Andy Paul was living with me at the time because his wife had thrown him out, and he worked with the Krays as a doorman. Once, he came home at one in the morning when I was in bed and said ‘Ronnie wants you on the phone at Esmerelda’s bar. You’d better phone him up because you know what he’s like, he’ll come round and smash the place up.’ So I got a cab all the way to Knightsbridge to Esmerelda’s in Wilton Place and asked the cab driver to wait.
I went in and walked upstairs. All the gambling tables were closed down and there were seven or eight people standing on either side. They told me to go in the kitchen and when I opened the door Ronnie Kray was standing opposite. He said, ‘Nothing to worry about, Lenny.’ He had a big armchair next to the cooker and he invited me to sit down, asking ‘What’s going on Lenny? You caused a bit of trouble in the Regal. We get protection money from them.’ I sat down.
He said, ‘Alright, you can go now.’ I stood up again and, as I turned to leave, I was wondering what was going on, when he said, ‘Get hold of him.’ Two geezers grabbed hold of me and then I saw it. I thought they were pokers but there were steels that are used to sharpen knives, Ronnie had them on the gas and they were white-hot. They had wooden handles and the first one Ronnie picked up he dropped because it was so hot, so he went and got an oven glove. Then he picked one up and came over to me, to frighten me, I imagined. He singed my black curly hair. I pissed myself. I was terrified. Next he started setting fire to my suit that I only had made two weeks before.
Then he went back and got another hot poker, and dabbed it on my cheeks and held it across my eyebrows and burnt my eyebrows off. I’m half-blind in this eye because of it. Then he went back and got another poker and, as he came back, he said, ‘Now I’m going to burn your eyes out.’ and he really meant it. As he came towards me, Limehouse Willy called out from the crowd, ‘No Ron, don’t do that!’ (A nice fellow he was.) Ronnie switched, he turned and walked away.
They let me go and I hurried out, and the cab driver was still waiting outside. When he saw the state of me, he wanted to take me to Scotland Yard but I said, ‘No mate, don’t do that, just take me home.’ Then as we were driving along, he said, ‘I think there’s a car following us,’ and it was one of the Krays’ cars. They were following to see where I as going, so I went round to my friend Harry Abrahams’ house. When he came home with his friend Albert Donahue, he said, ‘There’s only one person who would do that.’ So he and Albert went round the twins home with guns next morning, and the twins told him they did it because I got too flash – too big for my boots.
About two days later, my protector from Billingsgate, Georgie Cornell, came round and gave Harry Abrahams’ wife two hundred pounds with instructions to take care of me, “Look after Lenny, take the expenses out of that.’ A day later, a big surprise, Charlie Kray came round and gave her a hundred pounds and said, ‘Don’t let my brothers know.’ Finally, Dr Blaskar, the Krays’ doctor came round – he liked to drink and gamble – he treated me, gave me stuff for the burns.
But then in 1967, when the police were after the Krays, I was in Wandsworth Prison and they got a message smuggled in to me. I was in a single cell and when I returned from the doctor one day there was an envelope on the table. (It’s in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard now) The note read, ‘If the Old Bill comes round, keep your mouth shut or we are going to shoot your kids.’ My children were six and seven years old and living with their mother in Poplar. I’m not a grass but I couldn’t risk my kids being shot, so I went to see the governor and gave him the letter. Within two hours, the police were round, they said, ‘Look Lenny, if you help us, we’ll help you. We’ll give your children twenty-four hour police protection.’ which they did. They moved me to Eastchurch prison on the Isle of Sheppey and then to Bow St to give evidence against Ronnie Kray. On my evidence, he got committed to the Old Bailey.”
We were all alone in the empty barroom and, when Lenny told the part about the poker, he fixed me eye to eye and, extending a single finger, pushed his fingertip into my face. I was speechless. It was extraordinary to hear a first hand account of the reality of characters that have become mythical. I think it is easier to accept the East End’s history of violence as mere fiction, even when you know the truth. Ironically, Lenny’s volatile experiences fused his emotional story into a powerful narrative with an effective literary structure.
Lenny had no patience with those who seek to romanticise the Krays as working class heroes,“They were scum. The lowest of the low. You never robbed or hurt your own people, that was the old East End code. The Krays controlled people through fear. They hurt so many people. I’ve been in a saloon bar when they were there and people would arrive, order a drink, then go out to the toilet and walk straight out the back door to escape.”
After plastic surgery, and many years on the straight and narrow since doing time, Lenny was a different man. Even walking with a stick, he retained a powerful physical presence as a legacy of his boxing years, yet behind this assured facade, I sensed something else, an intensity in his eyes, his “snake eyes” he called them, that indicated a spirit forged in a dark world of violence.
Lenny didn’t pretend to be a saint. “I’m not proud of what I done,” he admitted openly, speaking of his days blowing safes and thieving jewels. “I used to have a friend in Hatton Garden who bought all the gear off me and gave me good deal. I took him a £680,000 job one day and, after he’d melted down the gold and recut the diamonds, I got £100,000. He asked me to push my finger through a card, and then he made me this,” revealed Lenny with relish, displaying the dazzling ring upon his finger with its single glittering diamond. Always keen to emphasise that he only stole from those with insurance, Lenny even managed to make it sound like he was doing a favour for people sometimes. “There was a man whose business was going under. He came to me and said ‘There’s nothing in the safe but if you blow it up, I can claim there was.’ I felt sorry for him so I blew the safe while he was away for the weekend. Then he took the insurance payment and moved to Brighton.”
Lenny could have talked all day but, after three double Corvoisiers and lemonade, I called a taxi to take him on to a pub in the Roman Rd where his pals were waiting to continue the long afternoon of storytelling. When I enquired about some recent scars on his head, he explained that he had been beaten up on the street by muggers, but he shrugged it off lightly. You had to credit Lenny for his resilience, he still possessed undaunted enthusiasm and appetite for life.
Standing up to leave, Lenny caught sight for the first time of the painting of Ronnie and Reggie Kray that hangs on the barroom wall in The Carpenters and brandished his stick in a flash of emotion. For a moment, I was expecting the sound of broken glass, but Lenny quickly relented, turning away with a grin and a wave to me, because the taxi was waiting outside and he had better things to do.
You may also like to read my other interview at The Carpenters’ Arms
Anthony Eyton & His Subject
Anthony Eyton’s new exhibition DRAWING ON HAWKSMOOR opens at Eleven Spitalfields next week, providing the ideal excuse for me to tag along with him yesterday on an afternoon’s drawing trip – as he set his sights upon capturing the epic architecture of Christ Church in pastel upon paper. Those of you who visited Spitalfields Market at the weekend may have seen him there, sitting quietly drawing by the market gates, in the midst of the crowds setting out across Commercial St.
This was our appointed meeting spot and it was from here that I spied Anthony as he emerged from Fournier St, laden with his folding stool and drawing board. A tall grey figure with a white beard walking more slowly than anyone else, he almost appeared to glide along like a spirit from another world. I caught up with him at the coffee stall where downed a shot of expresso that noticeably accelerated his pace across to the market.
Now into his ninth decade, Anthony first came to Spitalfields in 1949, exploring after visiting the Mark Gertler memorial exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery and, since then, he returned regularly over the years, keeping a studio in Hanbury St from 1968 to 1982. Anthony has spent a lifetime painting and drawing London and still sets out fearlessly on the bus from his home in Brixton to work on the streets of the city that is his creative domain.
Once Anthony had set up his stool and placed his board upon his lap, he took a critical look at his work in progress - a pastel drawing, which he began at the weekend – and then raised his gaze to peer at the spire towering over us, almost white against the clear blue October sky. “I prefer it dirty,” he confessed to me, referring to the cleaning of the church that was once sooty black, “it had more substantiality, this is ghostly.”
The declining sun had left the spire, its light obscured by the towers of the City. “That’s easier,” Anthony commented, “now it’s all the same colour,” and he set to work adding further tone to his drawing, especially in the lower half. “It’s tempting to go up,” he admitted to me, “but the church needs to be grounded.”
By now, I was become aware of the attention that Anthony was drawing, of which he was completely oblivious. Passersby craned their heads to observe the work in progress and, observing me standing at Anthony’s side, they placed me as his mediator. Acknowledging my public role, I was asked, “Am I near Brick Lane?” and “Is this the place to pick up the Easy Bus?”
Anthony relieved me of this responsibility, by drawing my attention back when he declared, “Look at that!”, pointing out a reflected beam of sunlight from the south-west that passed through the portico of the church to create a dramatic shadow of a capital upon the wall to the north. “We’ll probably never see it again,” he announced with a philosophical grin, relishing this new fleeting revelation that had been granted to him in a location he had known for more than sixty years.
Now the sunlight returned, colouring the church with a last golden light and I fell to watching Anthony as he drew. He looked up to the church and made an observation – such as the glow on the eastern horizon, even as the sun was setting in the west – then recording this with a light touch. Anthony’s developing web of spidery lines conjured a shimmering vision of the monolith before us and being party to his method led me to look more closely at what was before us.
“It’s not sitting on anything,” he assured me in dissatisfaction, looking between his drawing and the church, “it’s restless, not firm.” This realisation was the cue for Anthony to lay the paper aside and bring out a tracing of an earlier drawing which outlined just the structure in shadowy lines. “I’m going to have a look at this and se if I can do anything to it,” he said to himself, speaking his thought out loud. He applied pale blue pastel to the sky and smeared it vigorously with a dirty tissue, taking delight in the action. At once, the spire which had appeared inert before seemed to push up into the sky, like the prow of a ship piercing the sea.
“There’s not many people around,” Anthony commented, gazing vaguely up and down Commercial St, “I prefer it on Saturdays and Sundays when it’s crowded.” He began drawing figures into the foreground, including two women in black who stopped to have a conversation on the pavement, and then – to my surprise – he began to add the traffic as we moved towards rush hour.
“I like the contrast of ancient and modern,” he explained as he sketched in cars and vans, “Hawksmoor can take on the transient things.” With this thought, Anthony returned his eyes to the steeple and got lost in awe. “The fragility and the great strength,” he mumbled, “it’s the ultimate Hawksmoor church. He had such ambition, it has the vigorous structure and geometry of Bach – it’s imperious!”
Now the sun had faded from the sky and the lights were coming on. and Anthony discovered that he was happier with this second drawing than he was with the first.“Perhaps I needed to do that one to do this one?” he queried, wrinkling his brow. “I’ve come to the end of the afternoon,” he announced to me with good-humoured rancour, “I’m at the end of my tether.”
“Look at that, we’ll probably never see it again”
Two women idling become part of Anthony’s drawing
Anthony Eyton’s exhibition DRAWING ON HAWKSMOOR runs at Eleven Spitalfields from 7th November – 23rd December. Viewing by appointment 020 7247 1816.
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The Pie (Magpie), issued by David Gill 1671, Aldgate Without
The issuing of currency was the Prerogative of the Monarch until Charles I got his head chopped off in 1649, and anyone was free to mint their own coins. It was practice taken up chiefly by taverns and coffee houses and, occasionally, others as well – such as the trader at the Bear in Aldgate, who was believed to have been a Cheesemonger.
Last week, I showed you the Tavern Tokens from Bishopsgate and these are complemented today by those from Aldgate and Aldersgate – two of the other primary approaches to the City of London, each lined with inns used as points of arrival and departure for travellers.
At first, farthing tokens were issued that were the same size as those formerly issued by the Mint. Yet, by 1656, larger tokens serving as half-pennies began to appear and, by 1663, pennies. After the Restoration of the Monarch in 1661, the Mint began to produce coinage again and in 1672, the issuing of tokens was made illegal by Royal Proclamation of Charles II.
The production of these tiny intricate tokens spans only a few years but, in their lively imagery and dramatic patination, they evoke the life of London in one of its most volatile times, when we experienced a Revolution, a Civil War, a Regicide, a Plague, a Fire and a Restoration – all in one quarter century.
The Queen’s Head, Aldgate - Vintner, Thomas Withers
The Castle, Aldgate – Thos Slightholme, Vintner
Gabriel Harper, 1651 - A pun on the Vintner’s name
The Grapes, Aldgate Without - Was this issued at the Hoop & Grapes, still standing?
The Bell, Aldgate Within
Three Morris Dancer, Aldersgate - Vintner, John Lisle
Crowned Cock & Bottle, Aldersgate St - Mathew White, Vintner
The Mermaid, St Anne’s Lane, Aldersgate -Vintner, John Wickers, 1667
The Fountain, Aldersgate Within - Matthew Hutchinson, Vintner
At The Still, Aldersgate St - Vintner, Michael Symonds
Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute
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