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.

The Krays – Books, DVDs, Photos


View Larger Map


5 comments on “East End Gangsters, The Krays
  1. Tony Dailde says:

    Please don’t glorify murderous violent criminals . How can you love or be a fan of people who murder?

  2. Tony Dailde says:

    Please don’t glorify murderous violent criminals

  3. 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 ???

  4. 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

  5. Oludayo Oke says:

    I am a big fan of the Kray Twins

Please Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

  • Nora 18th March 2019 at 3:50 pm on Hughes Mansions Stepney | WW2 PhotosMy mother lived there and during war lost one of her sisters after last bomb dropped. My mother was a war bride and came to America and would go back
  • Toni hills 17th March 2019 at 12:20 pm on London East End Street NamesHi all I lived at number 27 Murray square my name then was mason I had two sisters Tina and Debbie my mum and dads name was Jim and pat
  • Toni hills 16th March 2019 at 4:24 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI lived in murrary square number 27 until 1969
  • Toni hills 16th March 2019 at 4:05 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI lived in murray square aswell we moved to kent in 1969
  • Toni hills 16th March 2019 at 3:59 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHi hun i went to star lane secondary i also lived in custom house when ronan point fell we watched it fall
  • Anthony Spencer 16th March 2019 at 1:35 pm on London East End Street NamesI am trying to find details of "Rosher Row Stratford" I have found "Rosher Close" but cannot find any references to Rosher Row. I am 99.9% certain it was Rosher
  • James Toone 16th March 2019 at 7:35 am on London East End Street NamesI've only just found this website; hence my late response. Yes, 'The Balloon' was the name of an inn: a member of my family, Hugh Hopley, apparently was, in the
  • Lisa Davies 14th March 2019 at 2:31 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonYes cribbs was across the road, I lived opposite The White House for 25 years on Shirley Street til 2005, I never see coffins in the windows... Still give me
  • Tom Garnell 14th March 2019 at 11:23 am on History of Canning Town East LondonThe White House was really The Hallsville Tavern. It was a triangular pub facing up Raffy. I hated passing Cribbs with all the coffins, empty I suppose, standing in the
  • Tom Garnell 14th March 2019 at 11:21 am on History of Canning Town East LondonI was born in Plaistow, Beatrice Street backing on to Chargeable Lane, moved at the outbreak of war to Dale Road, bombed out in March 1941. My father worked for
  • Valerie Connelly 14th March 2019 at 7:15 am on The Silvertown Explosion of 1917 – WW1 HistoryMy grandmother Nell Greenwood had a ship's laundry in Constance Street, Silvertown where she serviced the ships in the docks. My mother was a small baby at the time of
  • Mackenzie Smith 13th March 2019 at 9:45 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI remember ian the son who went to a private school when he came home on a school holidays he would call round my house to play I'm not Jewish
  • Mackenzie Smith 13th March 2019 at 9:18 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonYes the white house opposite was cribbs the undertaker
  • Ann Terry 13th March 2019 at 6:00 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Elaine Apparently my father (now deceased) named Lewis (Louis) Terry was fostered to an Aunt in Clarence Road, Canning Town in the 1920s, her name was Fanny Wells and
  • stanley Marshall 12th March 2019 at 9:37 pm on Britannia Theatre Shoreditch | WW2 PhotosHello all, I find these memories amazing. I was born in Bethnal Green 81 years ago. I found out recently that my GGG G D, had a daughter who was
  • Jane 12th March 2019 at 5:46 pm on Britannia Theatre Shoreditch | WW2 PhotosLoving these East London posts, Malcolm! Would be interested in 19th century silk weaving stories. An ancestor who lived on London Street, Bethnal Green (where the rail line goes through
  • Pauline Williams 12th March 2019 at 4:18 pm on White Horse Hotel East Ham | WW2 PhotosMy fathers first wife and son aged 4 were killed in an air raid in Gyledune Gardens in 1944 they were the only casualties in that area that night. The
  • Stan Marshall 12th March 2019 at 3:20 pm on Hughes Mansions Stepney | WW2 PhotosVallence Rd., had some very interesting tenants, especially at 178. Iremmber the address as I also lived at 178 But not Vallence RD. I did go to school with the
  • Tim 12th March 2019 at 3:06 pm on White Horse Hotel East Ham | WW2 PhotosPub was rebuilt (am not sure when), but has now been demolished and new flats being built as we speak.
  • Mackenzie Smith 12th March 2019 at 2:25 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonYes the pub opposite caters supermarket ,before the supermarket I lived in the round top Nisson huts ,I was Born in Howard's road plaistow 1948 I lived in Lawrence street
  • Bry Carling 12th March 2019 at 12:16 pm on History of The East London CockneyMy dad’s people were from Mile End... they came there from Yorkshire in 1820. The family had 22 children quite a number of which survived. 14 to be exact. I
  • Frank Oakley 12th March 2019 at 11:44 am on Hackney a Brief HistoryI also worked in Hackney on and off till 1995,and still ave family living there,if only I could drive in there and park.
  • Malcolm Oakley 12th March 2019 at 10:46 am on Hackney a Brief HistoryWe share a great surname ;)
  • Gerry O'Neill 10th March 2019 at 11:06 pm on The Silvertown Explosion of 1917 – WW1 HistoryMy great, great uncle worked at the plant. He was, as they said at the time, a "bit simple" and he was only employed to sweep floors. On the day
  • Frank Oakley 10th March 2019 at 10:08 pm on Hackney a Brief HistoryI lived in Homerton from 1940 and moved out 1964 to Plaistow when I married.Hackney was a great place too live then.
  • Malcolm Oakley 10th March 2019 at 4:12 pm on Hackney a Brief HistoryThank you for this great story! We really enjoy hearing from people across the globe with East London connections. I only got as far as Ilford to Devon!
  • Joe Clarke 10th March 2019 at 2:20 pm on History of Canning Town East Londonsay 7.30pm? I will be wearing a coat with Saracens on it so you know who I am. Joe
  • Charles sage 10th March 2019 at 2:11 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHi joe , The Bell pub , what time, Charlie.
  • canadiangal2015 9th March 2019 at 8:01 pm on Hackney a Brief HistoryI was born in the Women's Hospital in Hackney, my parents lived in Leyton until we three immigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 1953 travelling by boat across the Atlantic and
  • Joe Clarke 9th March 2019 at 6:42 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonCharlie - yes that is perfect. Looking forward to it. Joe
  • June Nash 9th March 2019 at 11:24 am on History of Canning Town East LondonHi there I was born and raised in Desford Road, Canning Town, until my family moved to Australia in 1971. Reading the comments here has made so many memories come
  • Charles Sage 9th March 2019 at 10:12 am on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Joe , I can make it on the 26 March how’s that with you , Charlie
  • Vicki Coppell 8th March 2019 at 9:39 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonNo, Lisa, don't remember any Jacksons ( not to say there weren't any) but I do remember a Davies family. They had a german shepherd called Kim that terrified the
  • Lisa Davies 8th March 2019 at 1:12 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonHI B Gee I wonder if you are talking about the Beckton Arms? You used to have the walked along thru back of raffy and past sub way? Or maybe
  • Lisa Davies 8th March 2019 at 12:46 pm on History of Canning Town East LondonI am 38 and Custom house/Canning town is all the same. I know a few families in Murray Square.. A family friends of ours who has been the Decades they

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 206 other subscribers.

Top