There is still a fascination with these infamous criminal Kray twins, despite all the violence, murder and fear that surrounded them. Now a new film, Legend, about the notorious brothers is to be released on 9 September. Tom Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, identical twins but very different men.
To discover a little more about where the Kray twins grew up and fell into their criminal lifestyle I took a walking tour through London’s East End.
The tour starts at Bethnal Green Overground station where we meet tour guide John Bennett, a local and an expert on the Krays. Our fist stop is the Old Lion pub in Tapp Street. It’s no longer a pub, but in the day The Lion was where The Firm did their business.
It was also where, in 1966, Ronnie Kray heard that rival gang member George Cornell was in The Blind Beggar pub around the corner and announced that he was ‘gonna do Cornell’. Which he did, shooting him in the head, and eventually receiving a life sentence for the crime.
Their story starts, however, around the corner in Vallance Road (a Victorian terrace house, since demolished) in 1933 where the twins were born into two big families: the Krays from Hoxton and the Lees from Bethnal Green.
Both grandfathers had been bareknuckle boxers and, though not criminals, settled arguments through punches. Their mother doted on them and, as identical twins were a rarity at that time, they were spoilt rotten. They were treated like celebrities even then.
At the age of three the twins caught diphtheria. Reggie recovered quickly but Ronnie was ill for some time. It is thought that this prolonged exposure to the disease triggered his paranoid schizophrenia and made him different from Reggie both physically and mentally.
Walking on from Tapp Street we reach the corner of Hague Street and Bethnal Green Road. John tells us the twins had their first brush with the law at the age of 16. Ronnie hit a policeman and, when he heard that Ronnie had been beaten up in the cells by the police, Reggie joined him by punching the same officer.
This was the pair’s first criminal record and the boys learnt that the police were not the ‘goodies’.
Just along Bethnal Green Road is the art deco café E Pellicci, which the twins regularly visited and where Tom Hardy filmed some important scenes for Legend.
Opposite the café on Bethnal Green Road is the church the twins both got married in (although it has now been converted into flats) and where celebrity 1960s photographer David Bailey took their iconic wedding photos. Both twins were bisexual when it was still illegal to be homosexual, and Reggie married his girlfriend, Frances Shea, in 1965.
The marriage lasted three months and was never consummated. Reggie never agreed to a divorce and sadly in 1967, Frances, played by Emily Browning in the film, committed suicide.
Taking a road off Bethnal Green Road, near Vallance Road, another church rises up darkly in front of us. It is the Krays local church, St Matthew’s, where the twins attended their mother’s funeral in 1982 – handcuffed to HMP Parkhurst guards.
Both their funerals were also held here: Ronnie’s in 1995 and Reggie’s in 2000. John tells us that their funerals were like state funerals, with thousands lining the streets to say their goodbyes.
Round the corner from Vallance Road is the Repton Boxing Club where the twins trained as lightweight boxers. The twins turned professional in 1951 but their career didn’t last long as they were dishonourably discharged from National Service.
General boxing rules were ‘if you can’t behave outside the ring you don’t go in the ring’. By the time they came out of the army they had been locked up for six months in a military prison and honed their criminal skills from the other inmates. They made some important friendships for the future that led to their downfall.
Their downfall culminated on 9 March 1966, the day Ronnie discovered that George Cornell was drinking at the Blind Beggar pub. George was sitting at the end of the bar and Ronnie shot him straight through the head. The bullet is evidently still in the wall – covered by a photo. Go and see for yourself…
To find out more about the notorious Kray twins take the tour at East End Tours