London has been home to some of the UK’s most infamous criminals and touring their old haunts is a fascinating way to explore this great city.
Infamy is a tricky beast. By one token those that achieve it deserve any memory of them to be removed from the public consciousness, but by another token it can be hard for us to look away!
There is something about grisly crimes that appeals to the macabre side of our personalities. We let ourselves obsess over the gory details, linger over the horrific aspects of the victim’s final moments and delve into the tortured mind of the criminal. In many ways, it is the real life equivalent of watching a horror movie – sometimes it can be thrilling to take yourself out of your comfort zone.
Hence why killers like the Kray Twins become household names, while the do-gooders are quickly forgotten.
This all adds up to crime being big business. You only need venture into Whitechapel to see costumed, out-of-work actors doing their best Jack the Ripper impressions, to realise there is a market for this sort of thing.
So, here we have pulled together a walk around London that takes in some of its most notorious crime scenes, its nonsalubrious criminals and balances it all out with bloody good fry-up to get you going.
For this we have teamed up with Viewranger – the outdoor discovery app – which is home to thousands of trail guides and detailed OS maps for you to navigate using their intuitive navigation system. Just download the app, search for the CALIBRE Crime Walk and follow the route. Let us know your thoughts, share your best pictures and see if you can beat our personal best. We will share our favourites across our social media channels, so keep an eye out!
Do you have the stomach?
We start our voyage of violence and debauchery in the one place that traditionally has those qualities in spades: East London. More specifically, Bethnal Green, and one of the East End’s favourite greasy spoons, E Pellicci. This cafe and restaurant has been awarded Grade II listed status by English Heritage and is also the café the Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, would have their breakfast each morning before going about their daily business of rescuing kittens from trees and helping little old ladies across the road.
Considering you have a full 10km walk ahead of you, it is prudent to make sure you are sufficiently well nourished and thus one of their full English breakfasts is essential. To call the café a throwback would be an understatement but this all adds to the charm, and really puts you in the shoes of the famous twins themselves. Interestingly, the café is still run and owned by the same family that served the Krays, so feel free to pick their brains and ask for some recollections.
From there, head south until you reach the Repton Boxing Club. Another one of the Krays’ famous haunts, this was the club the twins used to spar at when they were younger – however Repton Boxing Club has also long been accepted as the location where gang land enforcer, ‘Brown Bread’ Freddie Foreman, shot and abducted fellow criminal, Ginger Marks, in January 1965. It remains the only crime the infamous London enforcer ever admitted to.
By this time on our walk you will be deep into the heart of Whitechapel and so it is time to talk about the one-and-only Jack the Ripper: the Victorian serial killer who murdered five women between August and November, 1888. Nowadays, the folklore surrounding this historical character has led rise to tours, films and even a controversial museum. On our walk you will be stopping off at the famous grade II listed English Heritage pub, The Ten Bells, where two of the Ripper’s victims, Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly, are thought to have stayed before they met their grisly demise. The Ten Bells Pub has been standing since at least 1752 and, although the exterior of the building has been rebuilt, the interior remains much the same, even featuring a macabre ode to the ‘Autumn of Terror’ with the wall opposite the bar featuring a list of the Ripper’s victims.
A quick detour
One of the charms of any city walk is that there are no shortage of potential distractions waiting for you to sink your teeth into. Opposite The Ten Bells is the world famous Spitalfields Market where you can peruse the latest stock from some of the country’s finest independent traders and boutiques. Of course, if you are feeling peckish then you will want to pay a visit to one of their food stalls, which serve the very best in international cuisine all week.
As you make your way east to our next destination you will pass the Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts venue where you can indulge in all manner of cultural highlights ranging from art and theatre, to music and film, and all housed in the one building. Check out their upcoming programme and plan your trip accordingly!
Fact or fiction?
Perhaps we are cheating a little bit with these next two selections but every grisly tale has its merits, no matter how fantastical.
Located next to Farringdon Station is the Bleeding Heart Yard, which is believed to have been named after the vicious demise of Lady Elizabeth Hatton. The tale goes that, at the Hatton House in 1626, Lady Hatton was hosting a grand ball where she was attracting many suitors because of her great beauty and even greater wealth. Suddenly, a suave gentleman dressed in his finery burst into the hall and swept Lady Hatton off her feet, dancing an elegant circuit of the room and eventually dancing their way out of the ballroom and into the garden.
Now, the guests gossiped and awaited their return, but alas it never came. The following morning her body was found in the courtyard torn limb from limb, but with her heart still alive and pumping blood. It was thought the man she had been dancing with was none other than the devil himself.
The reality is that Lady Hatton was simply a bit of a rebel for her time, which is what most likely earned her such an incredible tale. She died a perfectly normal, non-demonic death in 1646, but the yard retains its name to this day and there is a lovely French restaurant nearby which can offer crime-walkers a romantic meal for two.
Our next stop is Fleet Street: once home to the old soaks and rummies that made up the journalism trade. Sadly, we are not here to glimpse the last vestiges of a once-proud industry, but are instead here to discuss a legendary gentleman’s hairdresser.
Number 186 Fleet Street was the home of Sweeney Todd, a man who took the short-back-and-sides a little bit too far. Although this tale of the demon barber is a fictional one, there has been some debate in recent years about whether or not there was a real murderer who went by the name of Sweeney Todd. Regardless of whether Mr Todd inhabited the realm of fact or fiction, crime fans will still want to pay a visit to the location of one the most famous literary characters in London’s history.
The home stretch
It is in our nature to take pride in being the first at something, be it first in a race, first to invent something, or perhaps first to commit murder on a British railway network.
However, there was no pride in the heart of German tailor, Franz Müller, whose murder of Thomas Briggs on a North London Railway train from Fenchurch Street to Chalk Farm in 1864, secured him this iniquitous place in history. After delivering a vicious beating to Briggs, Mr Müller proceeded to remove the victim’s gold watch and spectacles, before throwing Mr Briggs’ body from the carriage and on to the tracks where he died from his injuries.
What happened next could be straight from a Hollywood thriller. The police, after piecing together an evidence trail that led straight to Mr Müller, promptly issued a warrant for his arrest. However, by this point he was already aboard a cruise ship bound for New York. The two detectives in charge of the investigation boarded a ship of their own and gave chase. Due to the faster nature of their vessel they were able to arrive in New York a whole three weeks before Mr Müller where they arrested him on sight and extradited him back to the UK to stand trial where, as well as his infamous first, Mr Müller also ended up being one of the last criminals in England to be punished by hanging.
Our final stop takes us plunging back, dagger-like, into the heart of Whitechapel to enjoy a well-deserved pint at the location most closely associated with the Kray twins, The Blind Beggar pub. This is the pub where Ronnie Kray, incensed by the appearance of rival gangster, George Cornell, on his turf walked straight up to him and shot him in front of a room full of witnesses. Such was the fear the Krays inspired at the time, no one was willing to be a witness against Ronnie and thus he remained a free man. It was only when the Kray twins were arrested for a different crime that the witnesses felt safe enough to give evidence.
Nowadays, The Blind Beggar is a charming, East End pub with a warm, friendly ambience and a modern selection of food and drink for weary walkers passing through. There is even a Krays book for sale on the counter – who says that crime does not pay?
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