Bethnal Green Tales
Updated: Aug 28
In prior blog entries I have written about my family connection to Spitalfields. Equally important in my own family history is its eastern neighbour, Bethnal Green.
Originally, like Spitalfields, a rural village hamlet in the ancient parish of St Dunstan’s, Stepney, both experienced a population explosion following the arrival of thousands of French protestant refugees in the closing decades of the 17th century.
Isaac Le Doux and wife Marie Le Blanc, two such refugees from Tracy-le-haut, Picardy, were the first of my ancestors to settle in Bethnal Green in July 1681. They fled religious persecution in France with their seven children, the youngest just eight weeks old. On arrival in England, Isaac, the son of a master weaver, was in poor health and the entire family were laying on bare boards. Financial assistance from the French Church of London allowed him to recover and reestablish his fortunes in his new homeleand. Within three years he was able to repay all the money given to him.
They were soon followed by others, including Antoine Deverdun, of Buironfosee, Picardy, my 8-x great -grandfather, smuggled out of France as a child in the 1680s, finding refuge first at Haarlem, in Holland, before fleeing again to England in 1702.
My earliest French ancestors settled into a variety of homes in Bethnal Green, at Castle Street, Silver Street and Hare Street, and like most of the refugees living there were employed in the silk weaving trade. Life was tough for them, and they were often forced to rely on the charitable institutions the more affluent members of the refugee community set up to aid their poorer brethren.
Bethnal Green silk weavers at work, late 19th century
One particularly tough time was the ‘Great Frost’ a series of arctic winters which occurred between 1739-41, leaving many of the silk weavers of Bethnal Green and Spitalfields unable to work and facing extreme hardships.
At this time Antoine received charity aid for his youngest son Timothy, who was born profoundly deaf, from 'La Maison Charite', the French Charity House in Corbet’s Court, Spitalfields:
"Deverdun, a child, in pension, aged 9, at the home of Anthoine Deverdun, Living in Turville Street Bethnal Green, has 2 portions a week"
In old age, Antoine was forced by infirmity to again receive assistance, this time from the French charity Hospital La Providence, where he was received as an inmate on 15th December 1759 and remained until his death on 24th August 1762.
His last recorded home was in Bethnal Green ‘by the Sign of St George’. Like most of the hospital’s inmates he was buried in a pauper’s grave at the hospitals expense in the adjacent churchyard, St Luke’s, Old Street.
His wife Judith had been buried six years earlier at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, newly designed and built, between 1743-6, at the end of Silver Street, by architect George Dance, after the decision was made to separate Bethnal Green from Stepney, and create it as a parish in its own right.
St Matthew's Bethnal Green
This led to further urbanisation, growth and economic development for Bethnal Green, attracting many others from outside the refugee community, including my 6x great grandfather, Thomas Ivy, a descendant of the first Protestant high constable of London, who moved his family from Shoreditch onto the Bethnal Green Road, in 1780, to trade as a green grocer, and another 6x great grandfather Edward Clark (1757-1813), an auctioneer and pawn broker of Wheeler Street and Brick Lane, Spitalfields, who purchased the lease to the Gibraltar Row burial Ground in Bethnal Green and twenty-three adjacent houses in Satchwell Rents in 1792. He was a close associate of fellow Brick Lane pawn broker and property baron, Joseph Merceron (1764-1839).
The grandson of Huguenot refugees from the west of France, Merceron manoeuvred himself into an increasing position of power and influence in Bethnal Green in the late 18th century. Notoriously corrupt, he dealt with rivals viscously, and became popularly known as the ‘Boss of Bethnal Green’, virtually ruling the area as his own personal fiefdom, and accumulating great personal wealth by nefarious means, before he was eventually exposed and jailed in 1818.
Julian Woodford's excellent book on the life and career of the notorious Joseph Merceron
Edward Clark had died five years earlier, in 1813, bequeathing a substantial estate, and describing himself in his will as a Gentleman of Church Street, Bethnal Green. Daughter, Hannah Clark, my 5 x great grandmother, was married two years later, in August 1815, at Saint Peter’s, Cornhill, London, to William Clemetson, a Cumberland born Tea Broker, operating from premises at Bow Lane, Cheapside, London. By 1831 the couple were also residing in Bethnal Green, at Elizabeth Street, with William employed there as a weaver.
In 1838 their youngest child, my 4 x great grandmother, Julia Clemetson, married another resident of Bethnal Green, George Bellenger. His grandfather, Julien Francois Jaques Bellenger, had been seperated from his parents and smuggled out of Normandy, France, by an uncle in 1753, at just three years of age.
In the 1770 and 80s the Bellenger family lived at James Street, Bethnal Green, as tenants of Henry Busby, with Joseph Merceron acting as their rent agent, and then as tenants of Merceron himself after he fraudulently appropriated Busby’s lands on his death in 1792.
After Merceron's downfall, more money was available locally for redevelopment, and in 1823, they were able to move into newly built weaver’s houses at Seabright Street, Bethnal green, neighbouring the Clemeston’s then home on South Conduit Street. Eventually the extended Bellenger family would occupy twelve houses on this street, with the last family member not moving out until the mid-1930’s.
A hub of the silk weaving industry for more than a century, most of the street was condemned and demolished in the post-war slum clearances in the 1950s, the land being remodelled as a recreation ground and park renamed Weavers Fields in their honour.
The weaver's houses at Seabright Street, Bethnal Green, 19th century, and the site today.
In the 1850s more new weavers homes were built in Cranbrook Street, Bethnal Green, and it was there Julia and George Bellenger ended their days, Julia sadly falling victim to starvation in her late forties.
For the poorest in the community the Bethnal Green Workhouse was available to provide basic shelter and sustenance, but despite her own reduced circumstances, Julia had declared that she would ‘rather starve’ than enter that grim institution and tragically appears to have stuck firm to this vow. Like many she viewed the Workhouse with horror and disdain, a source of shame, and had objected to her husband visiting his mother, Bathsheba Bellenger, a long term inmate there, throughout their marriage.
By the time of Julia’s tragic death, the silk weaving industry which had supported much of the East End community for nearly two centuries was in terminal collapse and most Bethnal Green residents were existing in dire poverty, the area increasingly awash with crime.
The demise of silk weaving and the sad death of his mother, led my 3x great grandfather William Bellenger to search out alternative employment in the pub trade, his wife’s uncle George Le Heup, a Bethnal Green publican, leaving a bequest which allowed him and his wife Caroline to purchase the license on the Maryland Arms pub in Stratford, in 1875, and the leasehold of a nearby house in Brierley Road. That house remained in the family for more than seventy years, my own mother being born and raised there in the 1950s.
William and Caroline Bellenger, of Bethnal Green, my 3x great grandparents, pictured 1890s
William’s younger brother Eugene Bellenger remained in Bethnal Green, entering the dairy trade as a self-employed milk man. His son Frederick John Bellenger, born at Bishops Road, Bethnal Green, in July 1894, later married the heiress of Germany’s biggest chocolate manufacturer after meeting her during the British military occupation of Cologne, following the first world war. This leap in social status allowed him to enter politics and campaign against the poverty in Bethnal Green, that had claimed the life of his grandmother Julia, and plagued his own childhood.
Despite being a Labour man he was a close personal friend of Winston Churchill. It was reported Churchill once wept openly whilst in conversation with Fred in the Commons, recalling his son Randolph Churchill’s defence of his reputation in the House earlier the same day, confiding in him ‘he is a fine boy indeed’. It was an intimate side to his character often hidden from others less close.
Fred Bellenger, left, at son Raymond's christening in the Crypt of the House of Commons, 1936.
In the 1930s both were vocal opponents of the policy of appeasement towards Hitler. Fred was one of the few politicians to fully recognise the true nature of the man and his regime prior to the outbreak of war, and to openly criticise Chamberlain in the House of Commons for signing the 1938 Munich Pact:
"He told us that he had bought home 'Peace with Honour". I wonder what those thousands of Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Social Democrats, and the numerous occupants of the concentration camps in Germany would say if they could speak freely?"
Highly decorated in both World Wars, as a Captain in the Royal Artillery he organised troop evacuations on the Dunkirk beach head for forty-eight hours solid, without sleep, later telling a newspaper that this was all the while whilst under relentless German aerial bombardment and living on 'just scraps of chocolate and bottles of French wine alone'.
On returning home from Dunkirk he used his experience to pen a weekly column in the Sunday Pictorial Magazine entitled ‘Voice of the Service', subsequently ‘The Soldiers Friend’, and published a guide book to life in the forces for the thousands of new wartime recruits.
Following the cessation of hostilities and the 1945 Labour election victory, his political career reached its zenith when he was appointed to the cabinet as Secretary of State for War in Clement Atlee’s radical Post-War Government. In this role he also served as a Privy Counsellor to King George VI.
Fred proved a popular appointment with army top brass, Field Marshall Montgomery stating of him:
"He was easy to work with and possibly had a better brain than Lawson (his predecessor). I often used to think that he was not very popular within the cabinet, he got rough housed by the Prime-Minister quite a bit, and this had its repercussions for the War Office. But we liked him, he fought our battles in Parliament with considerable success."
Captain Fred Bellenger, pictured left, at the Cenotaph with President Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee, late 1940s
Newspaper report of Fred Bellenger's death in 1968, sharing page space with fellow Bethnal Green residents, the Kray brothers.
Another Bethnal Green street important in my own family history is Eastman Street, home to many of my Tomkins relatives in the first half of the 20th century.
Initially my great grandmother’s grandfather, Ben, occupied no 19a, whilst her aunt Elizabeth and half-sister Sarah, lived at together at No.4a.
When her father Joe Tomkins, a Spitalfields Market Porter, died of Tuberculosis in the Bethnal Green Infirmary in February 1915, her widowed mother also moved into Eastman Street, at no 38, with her four youngest children, Edith, 17, Joe, 15, Jack, 12, and Carrie, 6.
Teenage Edith soon fell in love with the occupant of the house opposite, Stephen Mauldin, and they too subsequently set up home in the street, at no 35, after being married in May 1920 at St Bartholomew’s Church, Bethnal Green.
The Tomkins family in 1924 during the time they lived in Eastman Street, Bethnal Green. Uncle Joe Tomkins holds his daughter Winnie, born there in 1924.
Family photo taken 62 years later, with myself now sat on uncle Joe Tomkin’s knee, and Winnie Tomkins standing behind me with her husband.
By the 1920s four of the houses on Eastman Street were occupied by members of my extended family.
In the same decade notoriety was bought to the street by the activities of the neighbours at No 44, Timmy Hayes, and Jack ’Dodger’ Mullins.
Already well known to my great grandmother, as a class mate from infant school, Mullins, the so-called 'Terror of The East End', was a gangland extortionist operating in Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and at England’s racecourses for much of the period 1919-1939.
As his powers waned with age, he became an associate of the up and coming ‘King of the London Underworld’, Billy Hill, and alongside Billy a friend and mentor of a much younger set of Bethnal Green ‘terrors’, the Kray twins.
An infamous local character, here I intend to tell his story.
Jack ‘Dodger’ Mullins
Born on Tuesday 8th March 1892, at Alma Road, Bethnal Green, Jack’s parents were John Mullins, a sugar boiler and sweet confectioner, and his wife Louisa Giles. An examination of his family tree shows the Mullins were Londoners of several generations standing. Jack’s great-grandfather had been a ship maker, based in Stepney and Mile End, and his grandfather, Uriah Mullins, a blacksmith based in Limehouse. Jack’s father John Mullins, was born and baptised at Limehouse in 1862.
As a child Jack, and his parents and two sisters, lived in a variety of different homes. This localised itinerancy was common at the time, indicative of the social status of the very poorest East End families who lived a hand to mouth existence, finding it difficult to keep up the rent payments on their homes, and being regularly forced to do a debt dodging ‘moonlight flit’, taking alternative lodgings elsewhere, sometimes just a few streets away.
Jack was enrolled in education for the first time, in October 1896, aged four, at Halley Street School, whilst they were living at 5 York Buildings, Bethnal Green. The following year they moved to 31 Hamilton Road, and Jack was switched to Olga Street School. A few months later, in November 1897, the family moved again to Viaduct Street, and Jack was enrolled, for the first time, as a classmate of my great-grandmother Julia at Somerford School. Just four months later Jack and his sisters were transferred yet again, to Turin Street School, when the family took a room above an oil man’s shop at No.240 Brick Lane.
Bethnal Green photographed in the early 20th century from the roof of Somerford School.
The former oil shop at 240 Brick Lane, where the young Dodger Mullins lived in rooms above.
In November 1899 the Mullins family moved yet again to Pereira Street, and Jack, now seven, was re-enrolled at Somerford School. On this occasion they remained for a relatively lengthy period of eighteen months, also appearing at this address on the 1901 census, before moving once more, to Foster Street.
Two and a half years later, on 19th December 1903, Jack's mother Louisa died of Tuberculosis at just 40 years of age. Unable to cope with the loss of his wife and the burden of three young children to care for, his father placed Jack and his sisters in the permanent care of their maternal grandmother, Matilda Giles.
Heart broken and embittered by the premature loss of his mother, and entering his teen years devoid of paternal influence, Jack began to go off the rails earning a reputation locally as a trouble maker. After one particularly bad spot of trouble, he was confined for several years in a Boy’s Reformatory, a move which only served to harden his delinquency and entrench a defiant attitude.
His first newspaper appearance was in November 1910, aged eighteen, in the Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, by which time he had already earned his nickname the ‘Dodger’:
Further reports show the victim fortunately did not go on to lose his sight. Determined to stamp out what he deemed ‘such ruffianism’ the judge sentenced Jack to two months imprisonment.
On release he returned to his grandmother's home at 22 Thoydon Road, Bethnal Green. He is recorded there on the 1911 Census taken four months later. On this record Jack and his two sisters are shown following the trade of their father as confectioners, Jack as a paste maker, his elder sister Louise as a paste cutter, and younger sister Rosina as a sweet packer. His grandmother Matilda described herself as a self-employed tailoress, working from home.
Neighbouring them opposite at number 25 Thoydon Road was thirty-year-old Edward ‘Eddie’ Emanuel. A colleague of my great-great grandfather Joe Tomkins, at Spitalfields Market, where both were employed, Joe as a fruit porter, and Eddie as a fruit salesman, Emanuel was a leading figure in London’s underworld. He had been arrested for malicious wounding as early as 1902, and shot twice in the chest in a gangland dispute at Mile End, in 1908, close to the Tomkins then home at Faith Street. His criminal contemporary, Arthur Harding, described him as the ‘Jewish Al Capone’, the ‘Guvnor’ and the ‘Top Man of the Jews’.
He gained a living chiefly from extortion and illegal gambling dens. He also levied protection on several Jewish run textile sweat shops dotted all along the Whitechapel Road.
Seeking to extend his power further, he would later conscript the services of an already notorious family operating out of Clerkenwell, the Sabinis.
This infamous criminal dynasty was founded by Ottavio Sabini, an Italian ice cream vendor, born on a farm in Parma, Italy, who migrated to England some time prior to 1871. From 1875 onwards, Ottavio and his younger brothers, Giuseppe and Batista, appear repeatedly in English newspaper and court reports as they battled for control of North London’s Italian immigrant enclave, ‘Little Italy’ through violence and intimidation.
On 28th August 1888, just three days before Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim in the East End, a warrant was issued for Ottavio Sabini on a charge of malicious wounding, following a particularly bloody gangland dispute, where he allegedly stabbed a rival repeatedly in the head over the loss of a card game.
Six weeks earlier, a son had been born to him by his English partner, Eliza Handley, at no.4 Little Bath Street, Clerkenwell. Christened for his father as Ottavio Handley, junior, he was later known as Darby Sabini, and would lead the next generation of the Sabini family, consisting of his elder brothers Charles and Fred, younger brothers Joe, George and Harry, and their cousin Vincent Sabini. For much of the 1920s this younger generation of half English/half Italian Sabinis would dominate London’s underworld in criminal partnership with Edward Emanuel.
Ths Sabini brothers of Clerkenwell, with the Cortesis and Papas, early 20th century.
My great grandmother, aged seventeen, and her mother, photographed in 1911 at their place of work, a Jewish owned Sweat Shop in Whitechapel, one of many local textile businesses under the protection of Eddie Emanuel, my great-great grandfather’s shadowy colleague at Spitalfields Market.
The mercurial Emanuel was a formative influence on his young wayward neighbour Jack Mullins, whose talent for violence and intimidation he immediately recognised as a valuable tool to harness and utilise in the pursuit of his own nefarious business affairs.
Following his first teenage conviction and prison sentence, Jack appeared in court a further five times on various charges, before receiving his second short term of imprisonment, in December 1913, aged twenty-one, on a conviction of criminal damage and insulting behaviour.
After eight weeks of freedom, in April 1914, he received another sentence of six months of hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs for malicious wounding on a twenty-five-year-old soldier, Joseph Cooper, a confrontation that occurred as a consequence of Cooper's discovery of Mullins ongoing affair with his wife, Minnie Dore.
Then twenty three years of age, Minnie was a stout figure, already formidable in her own right. Later described as a ‘terrifying Amazon’, Hackney born Minnie had lived a hard life, spending much of her childhood as an inmate at the parish Workhouse and in the harsh regime of an industrial training school.
Though she described herself on official records as a ‘Flower Seller’, Minnie's criminal career was well established by adulthood, with repeated convictions for shop lifting on her record. As early as 1907 the sixteen-year-old Minnie appears in newspaper reports as an ‘Artful Thief’, having been arrested in a police sting alongside her ‘similarly gifted’ mother and sister.
At nineteen Minnie fell pregnant to Joseph Cooper, marrying him a year later, in 1911, celebrating their nuptials by tattooing ‘I Love Joe Cooper’ on her arm.
As a consequence of his military service, Joe was often away for extended periods, and in those absences, through contact in criminal circles, Dodger had firmly established himself as a rival for Minnie’s affections.
By the time Dodger was released from the Scrubs for his assault on Cooper, in September 1914, the First World War had broken out, and Joe was again absent from home in service. The couple quickly resumed their illicit affair, Dodger moving in with Minnie, and her children, in her marital home.
Whilst Joe Cooper defended his country, Dodger Mullins continued to busy its courts and police officers. Three weeks before the British Military suffered its worst ever losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, Dodger appears again in press reports, this time in The Illustrated Police News:
Later the same month, May 1916, the Military Service Bill extended conscription to all men aged eighteen to forty-one, married or single, and on release Dodger found he too was required to serve.
Initially Jack attempted to avoid conscription by adopting the alias John Doreman, his father’s forename, which he had often used since childhood, combined with a tongue in cheek play on Minnie’s maiden name Dore, (i.e he was ‘Dore’s man’).
He was perhaps too well known locally for this ploy to work for long, and he soon found himself captured and put in uniform. Nevertheless he repeatedly escaped from barracks and deserted, each time melting back into the criminal underworld. The following report of him is from March 1919.
Meanwhile his affair with Minnie continued. The couple often rowed, with Dodger frequently hiding out at his sister’s marital home after lover’s quarrels. When asked if Dodger was on the run again from the police or the army, his sister would often reply no ‘from Minnie’.
The domestic violence in their tempestuous relationship was no laughing matter though, and escalated darkly the following summer, as detailed in this report from the 10th June 1920 edition of the Illustrated Police News:
Arthur Harding later appeared to recall the same incident to the Kray Twins biographer John Pearson in the 1960s, and puts Dodger’s visible injuries in court down to a certain Metropolitan Police Sergeant, Rainer, who decided to dish out summary justice for this act of domestic violence against a woman:
‘[Dodger] was a brute, but then it was a brutal world. Once when he was drunk he threw the woman he lived with from an upstairs window. The police issued a warrant for his arrest and caught him at Epsom Races. They saw no point in sending him to prison, so they took him to the police station underneath the grandstand, and one of the coppers, a big bloke called sergeant Rainer, took a knuckle duster and sploshed him on the face. It broke his nose, and didn’t do anything to improve his looks, but Dodger didn’t take the blindest bit of notice’.
Dodger’s broken nose never did heal, and is noted on all of his police and prison records afterwards confirming Harding’s account in that detail.
Contrary to the above account, he was in fact jailed, though the lenient sentence, of six months, was surprising in the circumstances, when he could easily have received a life sentence for attempted murder, had the prosecution been more vociferous, and Minnie less forgiving. It was an obvious source of great relief to Dodger himself, as the following news report shows:
Whilst Dodger served this sentence the remainder of his gang the ‘flash mob’ continued to terrorise southern racecourses.
In August 1920, five of them, Bobby Jacobs of Canning Town, Billy Hatton of Islington, and brothers Walter, Neddy and Belcher Lee, were also sentenced to hard labour. They were described in court as an ‘organised gang, practically highway robbers, who frequent the outside of racecourses, to get money one way or another, mostly by means of hold ups’.
Walter ‘Wally’ Lee, one of three Romany brothers in Mullins gang
The Lee brothers were great-grandsons of Beyberianna 'Barbara' Lee, described as 'Queen of the Gypsies', when newspapers reported her death in a tent pitched near Duckett's Canal, Bethnal Green, in September 1864. According to these reports she had lived all her life in the open air, and despite being ninety still walked at least five miles a day to go calling door to door, and had in fact walked all the way from Wandsworth to Bethnal Green the same day of her death.
The equine affinity of the Romany community had long drawn them to the race courses of England in large numbers, where they seized on opportunities to earn an income from the affluent race goers. For the men this involved gambling, horse trading, and prize fighting, whilst the women did a brisk and lucrative trade in fortune telling, and the touting of lucky charms, herbs and trinkets.
Fortune Telling at Epsom Races
By the late 19th century some of the men were using their intimate knowledge of horses and horse drawn transport to provide cabs for the race goers. The author Francis Hindes Groome, whose wife Esmerelda Locke was Romany, makes note of this in his 1880 book, In Gipsy Tents:
“You know a lot of the Gipsies up by London keep cabs and horses. There is one, Mark Davies, who, when first I knew him, had hardly a penny he could call his own, and now has thirteen cabs, men under him, and money in the bank besides. In the summer they take their cabs and horses to fairs and races, and hire a meadow in which to put their cabs and pitch their tents, so that it costs them little for keep, whilst they'll be making from two to five pounds a day. Ascot is a mighty place for that, because of the Eton boys.”
Often drunk and in high spirits, these wealthy clients were ripe for exploitation. Mark’s brother, John Davis, ‘Licensed Cab Proprietor’, stood trial at the Old Bailey in July 1894, accused of having obtained money and goods from divers persons at the race courses, with an intent to defraud.
As ever, rich pickings bring out the worse in the human character, and in time what began as a legitimate business had been all but taken over by the criminal element in both the Romany and non-Romany communities.
Prominent amongst those criminal elements was Edward Emanuel, who by 1920 had focused his attention away from his East End gambling dens and protection rackets and towards England’s race courses. Utilising his young protégé Dodger and the Romany Lee brothers to exercise control over the course entrances and the surrounding cab trade, and employing a conglomeration of local villians, the Sabinis of Clerkenwell, Alf White of King’s Cross, and Alf Solomon of Spitalfields, to intimidate and extort money from the book keepers, Emanuel was boldly attempting to consolidate overall control of the many lucrative rackets operating there.
This ambitious power play soon bought him into dispute with Billy Kimber, head of a powerful rival criminal contingent based in Birmingham, and a tense standoff followed. A summit between the opposing sides, held at the home of the Sabinis, in March 1921, turned nasty and culminated with Kimber being shot by Solomon.
A series of anonymous letters sent to the liberal Home Secretary, Edward Short, months later, laid the blame for the shooting on a ‘gang of foreigners led by Edward Emanuel’.
The letters, almost certainly penned by Kimber himself, or one of his close associates, went on to list a further ten shootings and stabbings, at least one with fatal result, which had recently occurred in London and on the racecourses at Epsom and Brighton, each carried out on the direct orders of either Edward Emanuel or his junior associate in crime, Gershon Harris.
Members of the 1920s Race Course Gangs, Ottavio 'Darby' Sabini standing right
In response to the shooting the Brummagem gang mustered over a hundred men to patrol the summer Epsom and Bath race meetings in an impressive show of strength. Kimber’s mob cornered and surrounded Alf Solomon at Bath, and he received a viscous revenge beating, being struck on the head with a hammer, kicked to the ground, and beaten unconscious with sticks.
By autumn a truce was reached, with Kimber and his associates given free rein to operate in the West Country, whilst Emanuel and his associates dominated the South.
Emanuel’s undisputed control of the Southern racecourses, thereafter, is displayed in the following account:
"For every race the bookmaker needed a printed list of runners. They were printed by a Mr Edward Emanuel for maybe a farthing apiece. To the bookies they were half a crown a set. Sometimes a bookmaker with a mistaken idea of independence refused to pay, and there are still a few around with razor-scarred faces to show how foolhardy they were. One anonymous correspondent, writing in 1923, informed the Home Office that Emanuel was still financing the Sabinis, was still often seen in the company of friendly police officers, and that "nine racing men out of every ten live in absolute terror of them". There is no doubt that some, perhaps many, police were in the pay of the Sabinis, and that [Emanuel], the gang leader who controlled these teams of violent thugs was sometimes referred to in surprisingly complimentary terms, even by senior officers.”
Emanuel was certainly well-connected. Records show he had been initiated into Freemasonry in May 1915, paying dues and regularly attending meetings at the Lord Desborough Masonic Lodge, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, for several years after. This doubtless allowed him plentiful opportunity to cultivate useful contacts, well outside of his own immediate social circle in East London.
Dodger missed out on much of the gangland feuding and racecourse violence of spring and summer 1921, having been jailed again for three years, just a few months after his release from prison, for his attack on Minnie, in winter 1920:
This report from February 1921, is the first linking Dodger with Timothy Hayes, his close partner in crime over the next decade, and an equally notorious character locally.
Six months older than Dodger, Timothy was born in Bethnal Green in autumn 1891, the illegitimate child of fifteen-year-old Frances 'Fanny' Hayes, who belonged to a family of mixed English, Irish and Jewish extraction. He was raised in the home of an uncle, Alf Smith, a Green Grocer, at 152 Vallance Road, only yards from the house where the Kray Twins would later hold court as gangland overlords in the 1960s.
The stigma of illegitimacy was a difficult start to life, and may have given Tim a predisposition to delinquency. From an early age he appeared to be at war with authority.
He received his first prison sentence in March 1908, at sixteen, when he was convicted of stealing tea. He was jailed again later the same year for theft of money. A few weeks after release he earned his third two-month sentence being convicted of a double assault. Another sentence came later that year for being a ‘rogue in the street’ and ‘frequenting’.
By April 1910 his criminality seems to have been ever deepening. Having stabbed another nineteen-year-old, Williness Jones, on the corner of Northampton Street, Bethnal Green, he received his first serious sentence, spending nine months in the Scrubs for malicious wounding. This case was grave enough to make newspaper reports. He was then described as a Spitalfields Market Porter, so would have been well acquainted with Edward Emanuel.
He had barely been released from this sentence when he was arrested again, charged with the attempted murder of Detective Constable Fred Cobley of the Met’s Bethnal Green J Division, the same 27 year old officer who had earlier arrested him for stabbing Jones, and who'd also got the teenage Dodger Mullins his first prison sentence seven months later. In a drunken act of revenge Hayes tracked the constable down, as he patrolled his local beat in Bethnal Green, a few days after New Year’s 1911, and lunged at him with a large carving knife, slicing his arm open. Pleading guilty to the lesser charge of assault he received six months.
A year later, he was jailed yet again, after being accused of another attempted murder, this time following a knife attack on a Benjamin Ward, at Globe Street, Bethnal Green, yards from Edward Emanuel’s home, perhaps acting under the older man’s direction. For this he received twenty months hard labour in Wandsworth Prison, but was free again by October the following year when he received another three months sentence as a ‘suspected person’. This was immediately followed by a further three months for another assault on a police officer in February 1914.
Metropolitan Police Bethnal Green J Division, early 20th century
Affronted by this latest attack on one of their own, the police were by now quite unwilling to have such an obvious danger roaming the streets, and re-arrested him within hours of release, putting him straight back inside for another three months under the ‘sus’ laws.
Feeling himself the victim of a campaign of police persecution, to show his contempt for the court proceedings, Tim refused to answer to his own name, and insisted it be recorded instead as Richard ‘Dick’ Turpin. Later the same year, whilst standing trial on another malicious wounding charge, he mocked the proceedings again, by offering his occupation as a ‘comedian’.
After witnesses were intimidated, he secured an acquittal on that charge, but the police ensured he spent just days of the next twelve months as a free man, their close attentions earning him a further three prison sentences, in close succession, for assault, attempted pickpocketing, and theft of a chain.
By November 1915, Hayes was by any standards, a serious career criminal, serving his twelfth prison sentence in just seven years, a second term of hard labour in the scrubs, for the maliciously wounding of businessman Philip Schratsky, a rival of Edward Emanuel in the East End Jewish community. This act of gangland violence is clear indication Hayes was now employed by Emanuel as muscle.
He was re-arrested shortly after his release in June 1916, having again sought revenge, issuing a murderous threat to Susman Schratsky, a relative of his last victim, on the Whitechapel Road. Despite being a small man, of just five foot three, he was described in The Illustrated Police News reports of the case as a ‘Hardened Young Ruffian’.
Three teen hoodlums pose in their best suits, with gun, swords, cosh, and pick axe, Brick Lane, circa 1910
Unlike Dodger the criminal career of Tim Hayes was not stalled by war. Avoiding conscription, he was arrested for larceny in June 1917, after a C.I.D investigation into his activities, and received his most substantial sentence to date of twenty-one months, again in the Scrubs. By the time he was released, on 3rd December 1918, the war was over.
In the following years Hayes became an integral part of the group of East End roughs and hardmen, many Spitalfields Porters, acting under the wider direction of criminal ‘godfather’ Edward Emanuel in his ambitious attempt to organise and mobilize the local hoodlums and utilise their manpower to wrestle control of England’s race courses from Kimber and his Brummagem gang.
Possibly enjoying the protection afforded by Emanuel’s covert contacts in high places, he now enjoyed his longest period of liberty since reaching adulthood, lasting over two years, before receiving the three-year sentence, alongside Dodger, in January 1921 for warehouse breaking.
The two men spent this time doing hard labour at Dartmoor, a notoriously tough environment. Hayes must have had a difficult ride, as he lost all his remission, and served an extra seven months on top of the sentence, not being released until late August 1924.
Tim had been a neighbour to my family for over fourteen years by that point, living with his grandparents, John Hayes and Isabella 'Bella' Pollock, at 44 Eastman Street, from the age of 18. On his release from Dartmoor, in June 1923, Dodger also moved into the Hayes family home, looking after Tim’s by now widowed grandmother Bella, whilst Tim remained incarcerated.
He continued to pay the rates there with Bella for the next three years, until both men were jailed again in 1926. This displays the close personal friendship these two men now enjoyed, perhaps forged in adversity during the difficult sentence on the moor. They would remain best friends the rest of their lives.
No sooner had Dodger been released, then he was straight back involved in acts of gangland violence and extortion.
Now in his early thirties, he appears in newspapers six weeks later, being remanded after trashing the Shoreditch pub of ex-boxer and local hardman Patrick O’Keefe, attacking his barman:
Dodger was soon released, having been fined twenty shillings and bound over to keep the peace, the magistrate drawing the conclusion that Keefe’s knuckle duster wielding barman ‘Mad’ Patsy O’Boyle, victim or aggressor, had clearly given as good as he got in this particular confrontation.
British Welterweight and Middleweight Champion Patsy O’Keefe (1883 – 1960), who fought off an extortion attempt by Dodger Mullins and his gang on his pub in Shoreditch in the mid 1920s.
The following autumn Dodger was again back behind bars, after being caught passing counterfeit pound notes in a Whitechapel pub, with Albert ‘Tricky Bill’ Deighton, a local pickpocket, in his late forties, with a long string of convictions for pretty thefts dating all the way back to 1889.
At the Old Bailey trial Dodger claimed to have borrowed the forged notes off a shadowy man called somewhat incredulously, Micky Mack, and, equally incredulously, for a well known habitual drinker, denied he ever went into pubs at all, not even peering through the glass out of curiosity! Eventually after a fortnight the case collapsed for lack of evidence, and he was again set free on the streets of East London.
Four months later Dodger made national newspapers headlines again being arrested on suspicion of leading a five-man gang in a razor attack on Moses ‘Moey’ Levy, a 37 year old bookmaker, of Medway Road, Bethnal Green:
Originally a pickpocket and petty street thug, Levy had been recruited by Emanuel as muscle against Kimber's gang during the race course fued of 1921. He was arrested and jailed for carrying a loaded revolver at that year's tense stand off at the Epsom Derby.
On release Levy broke with Emanuel and defected to the Aldgate mob. By 1924 he was challenging his old boss for overall gangland supremacy in the East End. A series of confrontations proceeded this latest attack. On one such occasion Dodger and Hayes had attacked Levy's right men with pick axes, and on another they had beaten one of his gang members insensible and tossed him down a manhole. Hayes later claimed to have pulled a revolver and shot Levy in the chest during another confrontation, though there is no independant confirmation in newspaper reports, so if it did happen, the injury was not serious, and the law never involved.
Alongside three of the same men named in the February 1925 attack on Levy, a few months later Dodger was further accused of the robbery of an East End cab driver. They were then described in reports as ‘supposed members of a race gang’.
A year later, the industrial output of the country ground to an abrupt halt, with the calling of the nine-day General Strike. In order to intimidate the East End dockers back to work their employers turned in desperation to the criminal underworld. For this purpose, Dodger and Tim Hayes were drafted in as strike breakers in partnership with another notorious local gangland figure; Arthur Tresadern.
Six years Dodger’s senior, Arthur was born at New Nichol Street, Bethnal Green, on 27th November 1886. More commonly known on the streets as Arthur Harding, he was in trouble from a young age and first convicted in October 1900, at just fifteen, for disorderly conduct.
Arthur Tresadern Harding as a child delinquent.
He soon become the leader of a gang of juvenile delinquents who terrorised the traders of Brick Lane, demanding protection money.
In spring 1906, aged nineteen, he stood trial for firing a revolver twice at thirty-four-year-old Daniel Cody, outside a pub in Vallance Road, missing his target, but slightly wounding Cody’s female companion. He was jailed later the same year for striking a police officer.
In winter 1911, aged twenty-five, he led a five-man gang in a razor attack on another prominent Jewish gangland figure, Isaac ‘Ikey’ Bogard, then leader of the Aldgate mob, in the Blue Coat Boy Pub in Spitalfields, and for this he was again jailed.
Aldgate Gangster Isaac ‘Ikey’ Bogard in 1919
Dodger’s own rise to prominence in Bethnal Green had been partly facilitated by Harding’s imprisonment for much of the period from 1910 to 1923. After being freed for the attack on Bogard in September 1915, just eight months later Harding was again given a lengthy jail sentence for receiving stolen goods. He served the last two years of that alongside Mullins and Hayes on the Moor, being released in July 1923, six weeks after Dodger. He later described Dodger in the following terms:
“Dodger’s name was enough to inspire fear, everyone knew or had heard of him. He could walk into a pub and terrify anybody”
Dodger and Tim’s decision to team up with Harding in 1926 was a calculated move intended to counter the ever-rising power of the Sabinis, who had recently broken with Emanuel following a dispute, and were now backing his rival Moey Levy.
Around this time Dodger and Harding were involved in a tense stand-off with the Sabinis, on the Italians home territory, the Yorkshire Grey Pub in Theobalds Road, Clerkenwell, which culminated in a man being stabbed and killed. Harding was later named as the main suspect for the murder by the head of the Flying Squad.
On 22nd June 1926, a month after the General Strike ended, Dodger and Tim appeared in court and were convicted of demanding money with menaces from a billiard maker in a Whitechapel club, and were both returned to jail for four years. They were then described in national newspaper reports as the ‘Nightmares and Terrors of the East End, leaders and pioneers of the gang warfare both there and on the race courses’.
Dodger protested loudly against their conviction from the dock, claiming the case had been a deliberate fit up, engineered by the Sabinis and associated ‘Yiddish’ gangsters who feared him and wanted him and Hayes removed from the streets.
In an apparent act of revenge, just days later Arthur Harding fired a gun at Moey Levy in Cambridge Road, Bethnal Green, whilst an accomplice, John Silver, slashed his throat from behind with a razor, narrowly missing his jugular vein. Silver, a close friend of Hayes and Mullins, was more commonly known by his street alias Charlie Oliver, which the local Yiddish speakers mangled to Orica or Horrickey.
Left with a five inch scar to the neck, Levy was menaced further a year later by Tim's younger brother, Alfie Hayes, and local hardman Tommy 'Wassel' Newman, who were both jailed for their efforts, Newman for three years.
Much of this latest sentence, Dodger served in Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. He was released from there after three years, on 5th July 1929.
Intent on revenge on the ‘Italian mob’ for their treachery, seven months later he appears in court again, after cornering and attacking a Sabini associate, Angelo Castagnetti, in a Soho nightclub. He stood trial at the Old Bailey, in May the same year charged with wounding Castagnetti, with intent to do GBH, but was discharged after the eye witnesses were silenced through a vigorous campaign of bribery and intimidation by Dodger's allies.
Dodger’s next target was another old associate since gone rogue, Alf Solomon. Within a fortnight of the attack on Castagnetti, Solomon penned the following appeal for police protection:
"On leaving the Clapton Stadium, this particular night I was followed by a gang of men with Luper the leader under the protection of Inspector Pride. I was followed through a number of turnings, my life was threatened by a gang who is now remanded at Marlborough Street who Dodger Mullins is the head. I can't say that Inspector Pride was there then, but he was in the stadium drinking with them until 11 O’clock at night. The words I heard used this night was "Let's do him," and "we've got the Big Five behind us now”. The appeal I am making to you is, as this man Luper is working under the protection of Superintendent Brown, what protection have I got? If necessary to hold an inquiry into this affair I am quite willing to come and give evidence in front of you, as I have got further news to tell you, that will surprise you, and I can bring witnesses. Hoping you will give me your protection as I don't know which way to turn."
The same age as Dodger Mullins, and also a relatively diminutive five foot six in height, Solomon was a feared man in his own right, with a notoriously volatile and unpredictable nature, as Billy Kimber found out to his cost during the race course dispute of 1921.
If Kimber was lucky to escape with his life on that occasion, bookmaker Barnett ‘Buck Emden’ Blitz, was not so fortunate, being fatally stabbed with a carving knife by Solomon, after quarrelling with Edward Emanuel at the Eden Street Club in September 1924. Solomon received a four-year sentence for manslaughter on that occasion.
Released from Parkhurst, in February 1927, Solomon, in alliance with the Sabinis, resumed his career of extortion and intimidation on the nations race courses, with little real opposition, until Dodger’s release from the same prison in July 1929.
The Police declined his appeal for protection, noting that, in light of his reputation and past, Solomon’s enemies were much more likely to be in need of protection than him. This was an opinion shared by contemporary mobster, Wag McDonald, who described Alf Solomon as a major criminal and the ‘worse man he ever knew’.
Six days after Dodger’s release from gaol, the Illustrated Police News reports on the conviction of another of his former confederates, Arthur Harding, at the Guildhall Police courts for demanding money with menaces from Henry Sherman, an engineer in Bishopsgate, ordering an associate to beat him to the ground when he refused to pay. Arthur was on this occasion vividly described as:
‘a danger to the community, an associate of a gang of razor slashers, a very violent man, with previous for larceny, assault on the police, burglary, wounding, and riot, who doesn’t hesitate to use the razor as a weapon of attack’.
Harding denied the charge, claiming to earn his money legitimately as a ‘wardrobe dealer’, obtaining second hand clothes by totting, calling door to door, selling them on from a store front on Brick Lane. Occasionally he bought and sold items from other locals in the same game, including East End Market Trader, Jimmy Kray, and his recently married son Charlie, soon to be father to twin sons, Ronald and Reginald.
Harding's store, trading under his real surname Arthur Tresadern, at 250 Brick Lane, a few doors from one of Dodger Mullins many childhood homes.
Now in his early forties and newly married with young children, Harding was keen not to risk another long sentence, having spent most of his adult life, since the age of fifteen, behind bars. Despite pressure, he refused to back Dodger in his revenge vendetta against the Italian and Jewish mobs.
Unable to coerce him ‘out to fight’ on his side, relations between the former allies rapidly soured, and Harding found himself on the receiving end of threats and intimidation, being knocked down and robbed of three pounds by Dodger and his gang, at the local greyhound race track, in March 1931.
The following day they turned up at his home to strong arm him further, a tense confrontation that culminated in Harding chasing them away armed with a revolver.
At his wife’s behest, Harding then did to what many East Enders was entirely unforgivable, he involved the police and gave a statement against his attackers. They acted swiftly issuing a warrant for Dodger’s arrest (below).
Dodger was soon tracked down, and placed on remand. He was convicted three months later, on 16th June 1931, and received six years penal servitude for robbery and demanding money with menaces.
Harding later claimed justification for his actions, stating that putting Dodger back ‘where he belonged’ was the best thing he had ever done, as if he hadn’t have done so, he would have been at the beck and call of every local villain, any time a fight was on. In truth he feared Dodger Mullins as much as the next man, more than enough to break the underworld code of silence in the interest of personal safety.
It was a decision that meant Harding was now finished in the East End, his criminal reputation in tatters. He immediately fled Bethnal Green for Leyton, and only ever appeared in court once more, in August 1935, when arrested under the ‘sus’ laws in the course of his door to door calling as a clothes and jewellery dealer. He was freed without charge, and seems to have genuinely severed all ties with the criminal world by that point.
Meanwhile Dodger again served his time the hard way, on the moor, in notoriously tough conditions. Just seven months into this sentence he was involved in one of the most infamous of all prison disturbances, the ‘Dartmoor Mutiny’.
This was the culmination of several weeks of growing disobedience, amid accusations of food tampering, which had seen a guard attacked with a razor blade, and several prisoners removed to solitary.
On 24th January 1932 tensions hit boiling point when fifty prisoners stood together to refuse orders. The rest were marched back to their cells but refused to enter. As the standoff escalated, violence soon followed, and the prison governor and his staff abandoned their posts fleeing hurriedly to an unused part of the prison, securing themselves there.
The rioting prisoners were left to run rampant, releasing those held in solitary and terrorising the ‘well-armed' prison staff for the following two hours, effectively controlling the prison. The army and outside reinforcements were called in to restore order, but this was not achieved without several prisoners being shot and wounded whilst attempting to scale the wall to freedom. Extensive damage had been caused to property in the course of the riot, with several blocks and buildings raised by fire.
Dartmoor Mutiny 1932
Dodger and fellow London criminal, Ruby Sparkes, later appeared in court accused as two of the thirty-five ringleaders of the mutiny. As ever Dodger claimed to be a total innocent in court, insisting he spent the entire riot resting quietly in his cell, slamming his door shut when it was broke open, and refusing to come out and join in. Unable to prove otherwise he was acquitted, and kept his remission, being released after serving four and a half years of his six-year sentence, on 30th December 1935.
The jubilation of release was quickly marred when his pickup driver, Wally Challis, whilst speeding back to London from the Moor, knocked over and killed a pedestrian. Challis subsequently received five years for causing death by dangerous driving.
Despite this ill omen, at the age of forty-two Dodger remained game and eager as ever, and again wasted no time in settling old scores.
His attempt to regain a foothold in the lucrative racecourse extortion rackets, swiftly led to a confrontation at Yarmouth with runners of his old gangland rival Alf Solomon. The dispute continued on the train back to Liverpool Street, Dodger rising from his seat and offering out anybody brave enough to fight him, but finding no willing takers.
A group of eight of Solomon’s men nevertheless surreptitiously shadowed him back to the East End, confronting him with weapons in a pub once he was deemed sufficiently drunk enough not to resist. Dodger narrowly managed to flee, but the same gang caught up with him again later at the Bedford Hotel, near Tottenham Court Road, and attacked him group handed, slashing his face with razors. An ambulance was called and he was rushed to the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, where his already battle torn face was patched up and stitched back together by surgeons.
Hell bent on revenge, a large mob of more than thirty of Dodger’s friends and allies targeted Alf Solomon, and his clerk, Mark Frater, at the next big race meet at Lewes, surrounding them and attacking them with fists, feet, coshes, razors and hatchets. Sixteen of them were later jailed, including James ‘Spinky’ Spink, the inspiration for author Graham Greene’s character Pinky Brown, in his 1938 novel Brighton Rock, which was written in the wake of sensationalist newspaper reports on this bloody ‘Battle of Lewes’.
By now the era of the racecourse gangster was rapidly drawing to a close. Just twelve weeks after Lewes, another infamous battle occurred, this time in the East End of London at Cable Street, when thousands of anti-fascist protestors gathered to successfully bar Oswald Mosely and his Blackshirts from marching through Jewish residential areas.
A twenty five year old up and coming hoodlum, born and raised in Whitechapel to Polish Jewish emigrant parents, Jacob 'Jack' Comer, claimed to have led the locals in their resistance to Mosley that day, leading a furious charge into the Blackshirts, and personally felling Mosley’s bodyguard, receiving a viscous beating at the hands of the police as a result. For this he claims he was given the nickname Jack Spot, being there on the ‘Spot’ in a time of trouble.
Police attack Jewish protestors, Cable Street 1936
The veracity of his version of that day’s events is open to question, some claim he was never there at all, but certainly Comer was in a rising position of power and influence in the Jewish underworld, coinciding with the decline of the old guard, Edward Emanuel and Alf Solomon, following the latters humiliation at Lewes.
An anonymous letter sent to a newspaper in the wake of Lewes named Emanuel as the senior figure in the underworld, still wielding the true power over the racecourse gangs, but within a year of that high profile skirmish, Comer had confronted and bested both men at Hendon races and sent them into permanent retirement, claiming the title of ‘Top man of the Jews’ for himself.
Jack 'Spot' Comer in London 1940s, and with wife Rita, 1950s
The outbreak of war three years later proved the final nail in the coffin, with the one-time Racecourse Godfather, fifty-one-year-old Darby Sabini, interned as an enemy alien in 1940, despite the fact he had been born in England to an English mother, had never been to Italy, and spoke little Italian himself.
Described as a ‘Gangster and Racketeer of the worse type’ Darby appears as number six on an MI5 list of twelve persons suspected of having contact with enemy agents, likely to assist the enemy, through internal violent action against the country.
He was released from internment in under a year, but when his son Harry was killed in August 1943, on active service with the RAF in Egypt, he was reportedly devastated, and thereafter withdrew into a reclusive retirement, dying heartbroken, in 1950.
Ottavio 'Darby' Sabini (1888-1950) pictured in retirement in Brighton, Sussex
The same war time list also included Edward Emanuel, Darby’s youngest brother Harry 'Boy’ Sabini, and Sabini right hand man, Pasqualino Papa. The last two had been effectively running the day to day business of the Sabini gang’s activities in London for over a decade, since the relocation of Darby and oldest brother Charles Sabini, to Brighton, in 1926, following bankruptcy and a lawsuit.
Harry 'Boy' Sabini
Born on 25th July 1901, at Great Bath Street, Clerkenwell, from the age of sixteen Papa boxed professionally under the ring name of ‘Bert Marsh’ and it was under that name he first appears in newspaper reports, in 1922 when he was convicted for the non-fatal stabbing of a rival of the Sabinis.
In 1936 he came to widespread public attention when he stood trial for the gangland murder of Massimino Monte-Colombo at Wandsworth Greyhound Track, though he was eventually convicted and imprisoned on a lesser charge of manslaughter.
1936 newspaper report on Pasqualino ‘Bert Marsh’ Papa.
After the death of Darby Sabini, Papa was the dominant force in London's Italian community. The quiet respect he wielded in the 1950s and 60s, mirrored that of contemporary New York Sicilian mafia boss, Carlo Gambino, a year his junior, who died just twelve days after him, in October 1976.
His family had been involved in Little Italy’s underworld since the Victorian era and were originally rivals of the Sabinis.
His father, Emidio Papa (1877-1946), a street organ grinder and gentleman’s barber, appears in newspaper reports for cutting a man with a knife in a street quarrel in 1903, when Pasqualino was just two years of age.
Grandfather, Michelangelo ‘Micky’ Papa (1852-1943), was imprisoned in June 1883, for wounding with intent to murder, after stabbing Darby Sabini’s father, Ottavio Sabini, in the arm with an ice pick in the Crown Public House, Holborn, and another gangland rival, John Podesta, in the neck and chest with a clasp knife, in Warner Street, Clerkenwell. He received a further prison sentence, in May 1885, after wounding Felice de Gaetano, a street ice cream vendor, again by stabbing him in the neck. Micky eventually died in tragic circumstances, when loose tobacco from his pipe set fire to his clothes, in his home, at the age of 90.
Through his mother Pasqualino had further underworld links, his maternal uncle, Alphonso Mazzone (1872-1953) being another noted gangland figure, who had been shot in the head in a Clerkenwell pub, in December 1899, losing the sight in one eye, after taunting his rivals directly, by raising a glass ‘to the face of my enemies’.
Pasqualino Papa, aka Bert Marsh, photographed outside the Old Bailey in the 1950s.
As the dominance of the Sabinis declined, besides Pasqualino Papa and Jack ‘Spot’ Comer, several other younger men also emerged as major players in the 1940s underworld, building their reputations and fortunes through illicit trade in the booming black-market economy of war-torn London. Chief amongst these was a suave young thief in his early thirties, William ‘Billy’ Hill.
Recognising Hill’s business acumen and emerging leadership qualities, Dodger astutely offered him his own services, and despite his increasing years, showed, in terms of the underworld, he was still a man to be trusted and feared in equal measure.
In 1942, singlehanded, he took on two young up and coming roughs, Johnny Dove and Mikey Harris, in a fight at a club in Old Compton Street, Soho, after they had mocked and insulted Billy’s sister Maggie. Billy later gave an account of this fight in his 1955 autobiography Boss of Britain's Underworld:
“One afternoon I was in one of these Soho clubs having a drink and thinking about tomorrow when I went to the toilet. When I opened the door, I saw two young tearaways from over the water belting the life out of my old friend Dodger Mullins with an iron bar. In his time Dodger had been a twenty-four-carat villain. He was well into his sixties now and had more porridge behind him than most. We all liked Dodger. He had been a first-rate screwsman, and was more than able to take care of himself. Now two young tearaways were reaching for the crown of glory in being able to say that they had beaten the life out of Dodger. I didn’t wait. You don’t stop to think. I got out my chiv and gave one tearaway my favourite stroke, a V for Victory sign on his cheek. Then I cut the other monkey to ribbons. It was no use them hooting and hollering “Help, murder!” Everyone had seen me go to that toilet and they knew that it wasn’t me shouting. They knew better than to come in and interfere. The two young mobsters did entertain the thought of prossing me for that job. But they changed their minds when I was put up for I.D. by the law. At least I was not picked out, so I suppose they didn’t want to know.”
Mugshots of William Charles 'Billy' Hill, late 1940s.
Another shadowy figure who emerged at this time was Ray Kramer, an English born American gangster, who was previously one of Al Capone’s gunmen in Prohibition era Chicago. Deported in 1930, after serving four year in Illinois State Penitentiary for attacking and robbing a rival of Capone’s with a revolver, in England he settled in Kings Cross, and operated as a house breaker and racecourse extortionist for the local White Family.
By the mid-1940s he was acting independently of the Whites and had grown wealthy enough from ill-gotten gains to own a plush home in Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. His neighbours there included high court judges, and even an exiled head of state, Victoria Eugenie, Queen of Spain, cousin of King George V.
Despite my family’s various social and geographic ties to Eddie Emanuel, Dodger Mullins and Tim Hayes, living, working and schooling side by side with them for many years, to the best of my knowledge the only member of my own family ever drawn into the murky criminal underworld on their doorstep was my great grandfather's youngest brother Jim.
In November 1945 alongside Kramer, and an unidentified third man, he took part in a raid at Warner’s silk factory in Essex, where the coronation robes and wedding dresses for the Royal Family were made. Escaping with several thousand pounds of stock, Kramer and Jim were caught soon after and punished heavily, each receiving sentences of ten years.
The third man was never caught, and both refused to name him, though the police were confident they knew his identity. It was widely believed to be Billy Hill.
Hill had worked with Kramer at the race courses in the 30s, and was impressed by his tales of the Chicago mob and his affluent lifestyle. Seeking to emulate him, he later purchased an expensive apartment in the street directly adjacent Kramer’s old home in Porchester Terrace, on Moscow Road.
London Gangster Billy Hill
Ray Kramer died whilst incarcerated in Parkhurst in summer 1951, just over half way into his sentence. Jim was released a few years later, and keen to start a new life, emigrated abroad.
Facing imminent arrest for another warehouse robbery, Billy Hill had meanwhile fled to South Africa, and was away from England, in April 1947, when his brother Archie Hill and Dodger Mullins were involved in a serious dispute with gangland figures Victor ‘Jock’ Russo and Jim Emmett. As a result of this latest skirmish, Dodger ended up with additional razor scars lining his already war-torn face.
On his eventual return to England, Billy led retaliatory razor attacks against both men, with the assistance of Jack ‘Spot’ Comer, who was by now enjoying prominent position in the underworld, following a successful showdown with the Kings Cross Whites in January of the same year.
Russo belatedly avenged himself a decade later, by testifying in court that Hill had attempted to use him to frame Jack Spot for a razor attack, in July 1956. The alliance between Hill and Spot had by then broken, with both men in direct competition for control of the London Underworld.
Two months earlier, Spot himself had been the victim of a viscous razor attack, at the hand of a mob of attackers, including Francis ‘Mad Frankie’ Fraser, Billy Blythe, Bobby Warren, Teddy ‘Ginger’ Dennis and Bert ‘Battles’ Rossi, acting on the joint orders of Hill and Papa, who were now working in unison against Spot, after an attack by Spot on Papa’s close associate, 'Italian Albert' Dimes, a year earlier, in Frith Street, Clerkenwell.
Billy Hill and associate Bert ‘Battles’ Rossi, at the launch party for Hill’s biography in 1955.
Whilst Hill and Spot were busy feuding for control of London, Dodger, now sixty-four, was busy receiving yet another prison sentence, his last of fifty-one convictions, spanning forty-seven years. This final criminal offence as an old age pensioner was one of larceny.
When he was released he found the balance of power in the East End underworld shifted significantly.
With his phone tapped, his every movement watched, and his top enforcers in jail for the attack on Spot, Hill had found it impossible to continue to operate as he had. Sensing his days as London's premier gangster were numbered, and keen to step back from the high public profile he had courted in recent years, he purchased a nightclub in Tangiers, spending most of the year there.
Though he continued to hold lucrative business interests in the UK, and remained a formidable underworld figure for the rest of his life, he had already accumulated a fortune from his interests in West End Nightclubs and the proceeds from several successful bullion robberies, and found little difficulty bankrolling an early retirement in the Mediterranean sun.
Billy Hill pictured at sea 1950s
The vacuum of power created in London, was soon filled by younger up and coming men, most prominently the Nash brothers in North London.
In Dodger’s old manor, the East End, with Spot humiliated and eclipsed and Hill now largely absent, power passed to two local twins in their mid-twenties, Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
Born in Hoxton and raised on Vallance Road, the Kray twins had initially been promising prospects in the amateur boxing world, but after deserting from the army whilst in national service, they were soon making newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons, having been drawn into the underworld under the influence of older local figures, particularly ex-boxer and gangland enforcer Bobby Ramsey.
Initially employed alongside Ramsey as minders for Jack Spot, the twins defected to Billy Hill as the feud between the two men escalated, and were later taken into his confidence as proteges.
Billy Hill and the Kray Twins in Tangiers, early 1960s
Following Hill’s example, the twins decided to concentrate their growing entrepreneurial business interests in nightclubs and casinos. As a new decade dawned on London, the so-called swinging sixties, it was increasingly obvious that this was where the smart money was to be earned, rather than on the race courses as of old.
In many ways Dodger, with his broken nose, and road mapped razor scarred face, represented a generation now past and was noticeably out of place in the plush new world, of suits, glitz, glamour and celebrity.
As he had once done with Hill, he loyally offered his services to the new incumbent gangland power, and the twins were only too happy to have him around, informally minding the door at several of their East End clubs and drinking dens. He became a regular drinking pal of the twins father Charlie, bearing no animosity for his, and his father Jimmy Kray’s, earlier business links with his one time nemesis, Arthur Harding, in the 1920s and 1930s.
With his endless stories of the old days, the bloody disputes and battles with Italian and Jewish mobsters at the racecourses, he soon became a popular figure with both twins, who had once been warned by a juvenile magistrate not to go around causing trouble ‘thinking they were the Sabinis’.
Reggie Kray later penned his own memory of Dodger in his book Villains We Have Known:
[Dodger] was known all over London, and Ron and I had the utmost respect for him for years. One night in the Kentucky Club when Dodger was nearly seventy years of age, Johnny Nash walked in with his mob, accompanied by Joey Pyle. John and Joe were old friends, but Dodger, unaware of the political situation at the time, asked to speak to me privately. In the passageway of the club, I joined Dodger during the quiet interlude to hear what he had to say. ‘If there’s any trouble with that firm, I’ll make one with you and Ron. I’m shootered up’ and he produced from his overcoat pocket a small black Italian Beretta. I told Ron about this gesture of loyalty on Dodger’s part and never forgot him for it. He was a really game fella, even in his twilight years.
Dodger Mullins, right, with Charlie and Violet Kray, and actress Barbara Windsor, 1960s.
Dodger Mullins died in 1968, at the age of seventy-six, after being hospitalised by a car accident during the course of an extended pub crawl of the East End.
The Kray twins criminal empire was by then in decline. Under constant police surveillance they were forced to pay their respects from afar, sitting solemnly in a van parked a short distance away from the funeral service. They were arrested weeks later, and would remain jailed, effectively for the remainder of their lives, for the gangland murders of rival mobster George Cornell and Kray firm associate Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie.
Jack ‘Dodger’ Mullins photographed in 1965 at the wedding of Reggie Kray and Frances Shea
The death of Dodger Mullins and the concurrent downfall of the Kray twins ended a long and dark tradition of gangland activity in Bethnal Green, stretching back two centuries to the very first man referred to in whispered tones as the ‘Boss of Bethnal Green’, the corrupt magistrate and property magnate, Joseph Merceron, associate of my ancestor, Edward Clark, on Brick Lane.
By 1968 most of my family had left Bethnal Green, with the exception of another great-uncle who had moved with his wife and children, from Hunslett Street, in 1964, into high-rise flats on the newly built Cranbrook Estate.
Constructed over the rubble of the Victorian housing at Cranbrook Street, where my Bellenger ancestors lived in the 1860s, and adjacent Alma Road, where Dodger Mullins was born in the 1890s, this was part of the same wide-reaching scheme of post war slum clearances and urban redevelopment that saw the demolition of the Bellenger's silk weavers homes in Seabright Street and the Kray family home at Vallance Road.
The close knit family ties and deep community spirit of the old East End saw its demise along with the slums, as extended family groups were seperated and scattered into new housing estates in the suburbs.
The death of my uncle, in 1997, at seventy-eight years of age, finally ended my own long family connection to Bethnal Green, stretching back more than three centuries since the arrival of the first refugee ancestors from France in summer of 1681.
Ancestry of East End Villian, Dodger Mullins (1892-1968). Some books have claimed he was of mixed Irish and Jewish stock, like close associate Timmy Hayes, but this appears to be myth. Both sides of his family were London English, baptising and marrying in the Church of England, as far back as records can be traced.