East End Gangsters, The Krays

Over the centuries, the East End has always been a bit of a crime hot spot. Its position on the outskirts of the city, its often overcrowded population and its poor and relatively deprived conditions compared to the rest of London often made this one of the least safe areas to visit and live in the capital.



East End Gangsters

In crime terms, the East End is perhaps best known for Jack the Ripper, an infamous serial killer who frightened all of Victorian England during his short but bloody spell of murders. The 1950s and 1960s saw a newer type of criminal come to the fore, as organised gangs led by locals such as The Kray twins took over the area and other parts of London. The best known East End gangsters tend to be associated with the Krays and often met a nasty end of the hands of one of the twins or their associates. Let’s take a look at some famous gangster criminal mug-shots….

George Cornell and the Blind Beggar pub

George Cornell was born in the East End of London and grew up as a close friend of the Krays. Although he worked the East End for some years, he is best known for his enforcer role when he moved to South London. He joined up with a rival ‘family’ to the Krays, the Richardsons rather than working for Ronnie and Reggie’s firm.

His childhood relationship with Ronnie and Reggie Kray meant that he was often used as a go-between between the two families when they clashed or wanted to iron out territorial problems. The fact that he had left the area and joined up with a rival gang didn’t endear him to the twins, however, and it was his death that finally put Ronnie Kray behind bars.

In 1966, Cornell had come back to one of his old haunts, the Blind Beggar pub. He made a sarcastic comment at Ronnie Kray, perhaps not realising how much Ronnie now disliked him and how wound up he was over spats they had had in the past. The temperamental and mentally unstable Kray brother took umbrage and shot Cornell in the head immediately, even though there were many witnesses in the building. None of the witnesses would testify against a Kray and Ronnie wasn’t prosecuted for the murder until 1969.

Freddie Foreman, “Brown Bread Fred”

Although Freddie Foreman was born in South London, he also worked in the East End. He was most associated with the Kray twins, for whom he worked as a freelance enforcer and hit man. His nickname of “Brown Bread Fred” comes from the Cockney rhyming slang – brown bread means dead.

Although Foreman had an active criminal career outside of the East End and the activities of the Kray twins, he is perhaps best known for taking part in the murder of Jack “The Hat” McVitie who was killed by Reggie Kray in 1967. Freddie Foreman admitted to helping dispose of the body and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime. It is also said that he was one of the enforcers who “persuaded” local witnesses not to testify against Ronnie Kray for the murder of George Cornell.

Freddie Foreman’s son, Jamie, is a well-known actor who, ironically, played an East End hard man in Eastenders, Derek Branning.

Jack “The Hat” McVitie

Jack McVitie was often simply referred to as Jack the Hat, as he wore a hat most of the time to hide his baldness. He worked independently dealing drugs but, by the 1960s, was also working for the Kray twins periodically when they needed certain jobs done.

McVitie’s problem, as with so many people who had issues getting along with Reggie and Ronnie, was that he didn’t show them enough respect and they felt forced into taking action against him. He was also unreliable, probably due to drug use. It is thought that the final straw was a botched murder – the Krays paid him to kill one of their former associates. McVitie failed to make the hit and kept the money the Krays had paid him rather than giving it back.

McVitie was murdered by Reggie Kray in 1967. His death led to their arrest and subsequent prosecution.

Ronnie and Reggie Kray

The Kray Twins. Copyright David Bailey.

The Kray twins. Copyright David Bailey.

The Kray twins were East End born and bred. They became the dominant criminal family in the area during the 1950s and 1960s running a gang known as “The Firm”.

Their story remains popular because they combined gangland activities with the kind of glamorous life that we associate with entertainment stars.

Like many gangland mobsters, the Krays’ focus was on other criminals rather than the general public, although they ran protection and extortion rackets as well.

Ronnie was eventually convicted for the murder of George Cornell; Reggie went down for the murder of Jack “The Hat” McVitie.


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East London History - East End Facts

Malcolm Oakley - East London History - A Guide to London's East End.

I grew up on the fringes of London's true East End and have been fascinated by the ever changing history and landscape of the area.

Visitors and tourists to London may only ever explore the City centre but for those that care to travel further east, a rich and rewarding travel adventure awaits. So much of London's history owes a debt to the East End. Colourful characters, famous architecture, hidden treasures of changing life over the years.

Author by Malcolm Oakley.

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Posted in East End History

3 comments on “East End Gangsters, The Krays
  1. Kim Leggett says:

    I absolutely love the kray twins and loved reading about them and the crimes they committed. I believe that u do tours on the kray twins. I hope to do this soon. Are the tours going to end at all ???

  2. Paola Desiderio says:

    Malcolm Oakley I would love to have a chat with you.
    Please get in touch
    We are making a documentary about the London Hospital for Channel 5 and we want to tell a lot of great stories.

    Please contact me on
    paoladesiderio@transparent.tv or rollingonfilm@yahoo.co.uk

  3. Oludayo Oke says:

    I am a big fan of the Kray Twins

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