Tuesday 22 May 2018

The Quadruple Life of Frederick Monks

By day an accountant’s clerk and by night, a professional bicycle rider, debonair man-about-town and a burglar, the highly versatile Frederick Monks was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment for robbery in 1904. At the time he was the only man ever known to the London Police who had lived a ‘quadruple life’ and his story is a romance of roguery. He lived four widely divergent lives, mingled in four different classes of society, had four sets of friends, and maintained four characteristics. He was arrested in his lodgings in Kilburn Park Road (no number was given in the reports).

The Clerk
In the morning Frederick Monks, dressed like all the other clerks, took a seat at his desk in Wilson and Co. a firm of accountants at Nos.37 and 39 Essex Street, Strand. His demeanor was modest and unassuming. He was deferential to his employers and congenial with his colleagues. He ate his modest lunch alongside them, chatting about girls and sport - subjects which clerks often talked about. ‘That bicycle rider?’ he would say in response to the good-natured banter of his friends who asked him about the professional athlete who had won the three-mile race at the ring the evening before. ‘No, I don’t know him. He’s no relative of mine, even if his name is Frederick Monks. If I could win £50 for riding around a race track in eight minutes, do you think I would add up figures for 35 shillings a week? Not me!’ At the end of the work day Frederick Monks would close his ledgers, carefully hang his threadbare office coat on a peg, and leave the office to catch a bus to Kilburn Park Road where he rented a single room.

The Athlete
Fred trained at a gymnasium, where he put himself through an hour’s hard exercise with dumbbells, weights and pulleys, and Indian clubs. Then after a shower bath and a rub down, he would don a suit of riding tights, put on his outer clothes and a heavy sweater, and go to the Paddington Recreational Ground. There he would ride his bicycle for an hour. A sponge bath, another rub down, this time by his trainer, a substantial supper, and Frederick Monks, professional rider, was ready for a race. At the gymnasium and in the riding rink Frederick Monks was no longer the modest, unassuming clerk. He was loud-voiced, hearty, bluff and a good fellow. He swore much, drank nothing, and smoked a little. No one dreamed that he could and did transform himself into a humble bookkeeper during the working day. Frederick Monks was well known in sporting circles in London and his name often appeared on the sports pages. He won many races and was undisputed champion of his class.

Man about Town
On the evenings when Monks was not riding in a race or training he adopted his third persona. His dress suit, top hat, and patent leather shoes fitted him as well as his racing togs, and he wore them with the easy grace of a society idler. He had a wide circle of friends in Haverstock Hill and other parts of London who were ignorant of his life in Kilburn Park Road and on the cycling track. This Frederick Monks was known as a man of means, from a good family background and with a lucrative position in the city. As such, he was frequently invited to parties and receptions.

Monks was especially fond of the company of young women. In turn he attracted them: as he was very good looking with an athletic build, always fashionably dressed, well-educated and refined. Frederick was such a success with the opposite sex, that at the time of his arrest he was engaged to marry not one but four women, living at Salisbury, Fulham, Lambeth and Maida Vale. Their photographs were found in his rooms at Kilburn Park Road and with each photograph was a packet of love letters. After his arrest Monks boasted that he had made ardent love to many women, giving them presents and promising to marry a number of them. Monks was well able to maintain his role as a man of leisure from his winnings as a professional bicycle rider; but he had another and far more sinister source of income.

A Burglar by Night
In the early hours of the morning Frederick Monks became a burglar - and the police testified that he was as skillful and daring a man who ever wore a mask and used a jimmy. He disguised himself: slouching through the darkness, he passed unknown, friends who knew him well during his day periods of respectability.

For two years there were a series of unsolved burglaries in Hampstead, Paddington and Kilburn. Detective Inspector Pollard of X-division carried out the investigations with DS Gill and DS Burrell. In almost every instance the houses were entered between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, just a few days after the family had given a party. This coincidence, however, did not occur to the London detectives until DS Burrell took a list of guests who had been at a party in a house robbed the following evening. All the names seemed to be those of men above suspicion. But when he obtained guest lists from a dozen or so other householders who had been robbed under similar circumstances, the detective realized the name ‘Frederick Monks’ appeared on all of them and he was the only common link. Seemingly Frederick Monks, whoever he was, was on intimate terms with a dozen different social circles.

DS Burrell copied the names and addresses of dozens of ‘Frederick Monks’ listed in the Post Office directory and began a discreet investigation into all of them. At the accounting firm, his employers gave Monks the best of character references. The detective watched the clerk at work at his desk, followed him to his lodgings in Kilburn Park Road and found nothing suspicious. Then Monks’ complicated life began to fall apart when Burrell spotted an advert for a 100-mile bicycle race. Frederick Monks was listed as competing, so Burrell secured a seat near the rail at the Princess track. For a long time he was unable to get a clear view of Monks, but when he did, he became convinced that Monks the rider and Monks the clerk were one and the same. The detective’s next discovery was that Frederick Monks, of Kilburn Park Road, frequently came home late at night. When his landlady complained about his late hours, Frederick told her he could not refuse invitations. I am out at so many parties, balls and dances, it is the result of being so popular. Burrell kept watch and followed his suspect to a private house in Maida Vale, where, in evening dress, he made a social call on a young woman. The evening clothes identified Monks as the society man who appeared on the party lists, and from that time on he was carefully shadowed by the team from X-division.

Kilburn Park Road, 
with the spire of St Augustine's in the distance

The detectives soon learned that Monks was engaged to more than one young woman. DS Burrell spoke to the girl in Maida Vale who gave him a letter she had received from Freddie only the day before.
Dearest: I am thinking of you always, and your ‘good little talks’ are influencing me in the right direction. Never have I realized so much as last night the power for good possessed by one who is blameless. I cannot see you tomorrow night, as I promised, for I have an invitation, which I cannot refuse, to a party at Haverstock Hill. With love and kisses, - Freddie

The Real Frederick Monks
The police learned that Frederick Monks was an assumed name, and that the man with four lives was in reality the twenty-year old son of a wealthy, well-respected and prominent tradesman in Paddington. To protect his family, the press reports only gave his real name as Frederick S. Incredibly, he was even charged in the name of Frederick Monks, and despite considerable effort, we have not been able to work out who he really was.

Frederick was well-educated at a private school in Westbourne Park, receiving every care and attention at home, but he carried out a series of petty thefts as a young man. In April 1902 the police arrested him on a charge of handling a silver cigarette case and other items stolen during a Maida Vale burglary, but he was released because there was insufficient evidence against him.

On 16 June 1904 some knives and an ornamental writing desk were stolen in a burglary at 98 Shirland Road. The desk was found in the possession of one of Frederick’s young ladies, who said her sweetheart had given it to her. Following another burglary at 178 Portsdown Road, Monks was arrested by Detective Sergeants Burrell and Gill at 2am on 21 September 1904 in his Kilburn Park Road lodgings. A case of mother of pearl knives taken from Portsdown Road was found in his room. At first Monks tried to brazen it out, but finally admitted he was Frederick S, and that he had committed the two burglaries. The police described him as a stubborn, crafty and skilful burglar, responsible for over a dozen crimes. They charged him with the two burglaries and at the Clerkenwell magistrates court he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

Frederick served his time with hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs, but after that he disappeared and we don’t know what happened to him, as he probably changed his name again.

Friday 18 May 2018

The Murder of the Merry Widow of Willesden

On 31 Oct 1967, 59 year old Doreen Flintham was murdered at her home 62 Chambers Lane Willesden Green by Maldwyn Robert Gordon. Although there are many books about London murders, for some unknown reason this one has not been covered before.

Doreen was the widow of George Henry Flintham. He started as a plumber and became a very successful building contractor who was better known as the ‘Aga Khan’ of greyhound racing. He bought his first greyhound in 1929 and went on to become the owner of the largest number of dogs in the country and serve as the Chairman of the British Greyhound Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. When he died on 31 May 1964 aged 71, he left Doreen and the family £526,365, (worth over £10M today). 

White City Greyhound Track, 1927

In the 1940s and 50s, George would get his usual taxi to the White City stadium to watch his dogs race and then dash across town to other tracks. In 1959 when his dog Dunston Warrior won at Catford he was given the prize by film star Diana Dors. Puffing on a cigar, he told a reporter he loved dogs and had spent £200,000 on greyhounds. Doreen said they had about 400 cups in the house, ‘I wish he spent a tenth of what he spent on dogs on me!’ They married in Willesden in 1943 and for many years lived at 102 Clarendon Court in Sidmouth Road NW2.

In 1967 Maldwyn Robert Gordon was aged 22 and unemployed. He was living at Queens Park Court, Ilbert Street Kensal Green, when he met Doreen in a local cinema and she invited him home. They had sex and he told his friends all about the wealthy ‘merry widow’ and said he was going to rob her. Soon afterwards Doreen was found battered to death with a statuette. Neighbours said she was well known in the area as a keen gambler in the West End clubs, who made frequent trips abroad. Police conducted a four hour reconstruction of the crime, and Detective Superintendent Alfred Napier of Willesden Green police station, said they were keen to trace her young men friends who had stayed at the house in Chambers Lane.

Maldwyn Robert Gordon, 1970

From their enquiries, the police arrested Maldwyn Robert Gordon on 8 November 1967. In February 1968 at the Old Bailey he said he had hit Doreen to knock her out so that he could rob her, but had not meant to kill her. The jury found him guilty of murder and he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs. His friends were found guilty of receiving a diamond ring and other stolen property belonging to Mrs Flintham.

While serving his sentence, in October 1970, Gordon was escorted from prison to the Hammersmith Hospital, after he had complained of stomach pains. When he finished dressing after the X-ray, he suddenly pushed the two guards aside and ran out of the building. After crossing a railway line, he disappeared in a row of back gardens and stayed on the run for three weeks until he was re-captured in Notting Hill and sent back to prison. It is not known when he was released.

Friday 11 May 2018

Where was Kilburn Wells?

Today, No.42 Kilburn High Road at the corner of Belsize Road is a branch of the Franco Manca pizza chain. The London and South Western Bank opened here on 31 December 1874, and next door were two small shops, numbered 44 and 46, now reunited as a single premise, No.44, Rush Hair Salon. When the bank was expanded and rebuilt in 1898 to form the present building, a stone plaque was placed at first floor level saying this was the site of Kilburn Wells.

Kilburn High Road today, 
showing the Wells plaque, (May 2018)

The exact location of the Kilburn Wells has long been disputed, but after considerable research we now believe it was situated behind today’s pizza restaurant and Rush hair salon. The best evidence we have is that when local builder Henry Oldrey was demolishing some old houses to build a new photographic studio for George Nesbitt in April 1891, he found the remains of a brick arch and a tiled passage way behind what was then No.46 Kilburn High Road.
The corner with Belsize Road showing 
the Bank and an advert for Nesbitt's studio, (c1895)
In the 18th century, Kilburn gained a reputation among Londoners as a pleasure resort, known as Kilburn Wells. It grew up around a medicinal spring of fresh water in Abbey Fields, near the site of the old Kilburn Priory and in the grounds of The Bell, or Kilburn Wells public house as it was called at the time.
The Gardens and the Well were 
entered through the archway

On a 1762 map drawn by James Ellis, The Bell and the Wells are owned by Holton Vere. Successive generations of the Vere family held the land and rented out the pub. Soon after he became landlord, Joseph Errington, placed an advert in The Public Advertiser in July 1773 which lists its many attractions:

‘Kilburn Wells, near Paddington. The waters now are in the utmost perfection: the gardens enlarged and greatly improved; the house and offices re-painted and beautiful in the most elegant manner. The whole is now open for the reception of the public, the great room being particularly adapted to the use and amusement of the politest companies. 

Fit either for music, dancing or entertainments. This happy spot is equally celebrated for its rural situation, extensive prospects, and the acknowledged efficacy of its waters; it is most delightfully situated near the site of the once famous Abbey of Kilburn, on the Edgware Road, at an easy distance, being but a morning’s walk, from the metropolis, two miles from Oxford Street; the foot-way from the Mary-bone across the fields is still nearer. A plentiful larder is always provided, together with the best of wines and other liquors. Breakfasting and hot loaves.’

Cover of Handbill

He commissioned the French artist François Vivares (1709 to 1780), to draw the Long Room (the great room mentioned above), and Errington produced a handbill to promote the sale of the Waters which cost 3d a glass.

But despite his efforts to publicise the Wells, Errington went bankrupt in May 1795 and the Kilburn Wells with its tea gardens and medicinal springs was put up for sale. After further renovations, the Bell Tavern -‘usually known as Kilburn Wells’, was put up for sale again in 1807 and had a succession of landlords over the years.

Kilburn Wells viewed from behind the High Road across the footpath from Abbey Road. The white building on the right could be the Long Room, (c1800s)

At its height it rivalled the more famous Hampstead Wells. In 1801 Dr John Bliss analysed the water from both Kilburn and Hampstead Wells. Writing about Kilburn he said:

‘The spring rises about twelve feet below the surface and is enclosed in a large brick reservoir, which bears the date of 1714 on the key stone of the arch over the door. The water collected in the well, is usually of the depth of five or six feet, but in a dry Summer it is from three to four, at which time its effect as a purgative is increased. When taken fresh from the well a few inches under the surface it is tolerably clear, but not of a crystal transparency: at first it is insipid but leaves an evident saline taste on the tongue. At rest, and even on slight agitation, no smell is produced but on stirring the water forcibly from the bottom of the reservoir, it becomes turbid from impurities which have been collected in it, and a considerable odour is emitted like that from the scouring of a foul gun barrel.’

The description of the well given by Dr Bliss matches the remains which Oldrey found in 1891. The use of the water for curative purposes appears to have generally ceased in the early part of the 19th century. 

The popularity of the Wells suffered a further blow after the London and North Western Railway from Birmingham to Euston cut through the pleasure gardens in 1838. The area where the well existed, across the rail tracks and only accessible from the High Road, was made into a kitchen garden.

After the London and North Western Railway cut through the grounds. The Bell is on left, the Wells on right, (c1838)

Although the tea gardens were now confined to the grounds behind the public house, it continued to attract visitors. There were several tea gardens on the fringes of the London, offering a day’s outing and entertainment in the country just a short walk from its congested city streets. Dickens in his ‘Sketches By Boz’ includes an essay called ‘London Recreations’, first published in the Morning Chronicle 15 April 1835, which describes a visit to a tea garden. He mentions Kilburn, but the essay is probably an amalgam of various gardens.

There was a shooting butt in the grounds of the Kilburn Wells pub, hired to volunteer corps who would spend a day there, to practice or shoot for a prize, before dining and then marching back to town.

The Wells attracted other visitors, seeking a secluded location. Although frowned upon by the authorities, numerous duels of honour took place in the 18th century and were well publicised; (duelling was only made illegal in 1819). Duels were particularly prevalent among young military men who often selected isolated neighbourhoods just outside Town, and Kilburn Wells was a favourite venue.

At 7am on 2 July 1792, James Maitland the 8th Earl of Lauderdale and General Benedict Arnold met here after Lauderdale made an insulting remark about Arnold in the House of Lords and had been challenged to a duel. It was agreed they would both fire their pistols together. Arnold fired and missed, but Lauderdale declined to return Arnold’s shot saying he had no desire to kill Arnold. After consulting their seconds, the duel was considered over.

Benedict Arnold has been called, ‘America’s first traitor.’ He was an officer in the American Army in the war against the British, and George Washington promoted him to Colonel in 1775. Arnold achieved some military success but made enemies in Congress. He and his wife lived well beyond their means and Arnold entered into some shady deals that included the use of government supplies for his own personal needs, for which he was court martialled. Arnold had fought gallantly for his country and felt hurt by the way he had been treated. 

In retaliation, he secretly approached Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief in America and asked for £20,000 if he was successful in surrendering West Point and its garrison (where Arnold was now in command), to the British, and £10,000 if he failed. Clinton agreed to pay £20,000 but only £6,000 if Arnold was unsuccessful. The plan went wrong and Arnold defected to the British in New York, where he received the promised £6,000 (today worth about £750K), followed by later payments from King George. In December 1791 the Arnold family sailed for England and lived comfortably in London.  

Arnold received good publicity after the duel with Lauderdale at Kilburn Wells. He tried but failed to get a government post, so in 1794 he returned to his maritime trade, working for the British in the West Indies against the French. But in 1801 he became ill and died in London on 14 June while living at 62 Gloucester Place, where a plaque to his memory describes him as an ‘American Patriot.’

Pugilism, sometimes called ‘the science of boxing’, was also very popular and ‘mills’ or fights were frequently held at Kilburn Wells. At this time there were no timed rounds, the men fought until they were knocked down and the fights lasted for hours. In August 1781 George Ring ‘a battling baker from Bath’, beat a butcher called Edwards in a fight where ‘no bottom was wanting on either side, and a great number of knock down blows were given’. In 1783 Daniel Mendoza beat John Matthews at Kilburn Wells after fighting for two hours. Mendoza was the first Jewish prize-fighter to become a champion and he was England’s Heavyweight Champion from 1792 to 1795.
Daniel Mendoza (on the right) fighting Richard Humphries, 
(1788, NPG)

In 1863 the Old Bell was pulled down and the present public house was erected on the site. The Ordnance Survey map published a few years later shows the development of the area, and it is now impossible to find any remains of the once famous Kilburn Wells, which disappeared in the Victorian building boom, giving us today’s Kilburn streets. However, 1a West End Lane is called Wells Spa House.

Monday 2 April 2018

The Great Diamond Raid: Freddy the Fly and Screwie Louie

On 16 July 1956 Mrs Mullins collected hundreds of cut diamonds worth £100,000 from the London Diamond Bourse, then at 57 Hatton Garden, as she had done every week for the past six years and got into the chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce of her employer, Moses Wijnberg. They were taking the diamonds to his office in Kimberley House, Holborn Viaduct where Wijnberg traded diamonds twice a week on Monday and Wednesday. The unsold stones were returned in the evening to the Hatton Garden vaults. 

Just after 11.00am driving along St Cross Street into the Farringdon Road, the car was stopped in traffic. Suddenly a man wearing a cap and blue dungarees opened the back door, snatched the attaché case from Mrs Mullins and ran off. The driver, Frank Baker, chased the man but slipped and fell just as he was about to tackle him. The robber jumped into a waiting black Ford Zephyr car in Clerkenwell Road and sped off. The Flying Squad soon found the car abandoned in a cul-de-sac nearby. They issued a description of the robber as 5 feet 9 inches tall and aged between 20 and 30.

Later in court Moses Wijnberg said that Mrs Mullins had worked as his secretary for 40 years and Frank Charles Baker of High Wycombe, had been his driver for over six years. 
On Tuesday 17 July, acting on information, the police searched the three-room flat of 22 year old Phyllis Betty Clark in Greencroft Gardens (no number was given in the reports). She was described as a needlewoman who shared the flat with one Frederick Harmsworth. On the 26 July he was arrested in his pyjamas at 5am by 30 armed officers, while he was hiding out in a boarding house at Westcliff-on-Sea.

At the end of August, four men appeared at Bow Street court charged with stealing the diamonds. Frederick Joseph Harmsworth described as a bricklayer aged 30 of Greencroft Gardens; John Morley Kelly, 37, a deck hand of Landsdown Lane Charlton; Leslie Beavis a 26 year old salesman of Church Road Acton and William Cyril Manning an electrician aged 29 of Chichester Mews in Paddington (now demolished). Phyllis Clark was charged with receiving the registration book of a car, a TV, six ounces of plaster gelatine explosive and four electrical detonators. She appears to have cooperated with the police and the case against her was dropped. 

The prosecution barrister Mr Nugent said the Ford car had been stolen outside Park West in the Edgware Road area in May. Manning admitted he had taken the car and fitted it with false number plates on Harmsworth’s instructions. The finger prints of Harmsworth and Kelly were found in the car. Kelly left the country the day after the robbery, sailing to South Africa as a deck hand. Detectives flew there and arrested him as he arrived in Cape Town on the liner ‘Bloemfontein Castle’. 

On 19 November 1956 the men originally charged at Bow Street appeared at the Old Bailey. The Daily Mirror revealed that the blonde girlfriend of a petty criminal known as ‘Screwie Louie’ had been jilted. To get her revenge, she went to the police and told them about Louie who was arrested for buying a suit in the West End with a stolen cheque which had been left in the stolen Zephyr car. When questioned Louie said, ‘Why are you bothering about me? You should look at the big boys like Freddy the Fly’s gang’. He said the gang worked out of a garage in Chichester Mews in Paddington. He told the police that Freddy the Fly was Frederick Harmsworth the best ‘twirler’ (skeleton key maker) in the business, who was living with his girlfriend Phyllis Clark in Greencroft Gardens. 

In court DCS Sheppard said Harmsworth had 11 previous convictions, mainly for housebreaking. Harmsworth was sentenced to 7 years for the diamond robbery, even though the police admitted he had not planned the raid, nor was he the man who grabbed the diamonds. John Morley Kelly who had three previous convictions, received three years, and William Manning also got three years for stealing the car. Leslie Beavis was bound over for being an accessory. Passing sentence the Judge said to Harmsworth, ‘You are one of those people who choose to be a criminal and to lead a criminal life. You prefer it to any honest way of getting a living’. To Kelly he said, I am satisfied that you fell under the influence of Harmsworth. It was he who induced you to commit these crimes’.

Chief Superintendent Robert Lee, head of the Flying Squad in 1954, and Detective Chief Inspector Tom Sheppard were in charge of the case. In an amazing outburst at the Old Bailey, John Kelly shouted out, ‘There is corruption going on in this case, I am innocent. Kelly said he had met a man called Amos in Brixton, who worked with criminal gangs. Amos told him the diamonds had been sold to a fence for £65,000 and Lee and Sheppard had each been bribed with £13,000 to keep people out of court. 

The following year on 2 August 1957, Kelly’s case was raised in Parliament by his MP Mr Price, who said that Kelly had not been driving the getaway car during the robbery. His prints were only found on the stolen number plates which he admitted to. Kelly’s alibi, supported by his mother, was that he was home in Forest Gate at the time of the robbery. The MP said that the driver was a Mr Gosling now in prison, who had made a statement exonerating Kelly. Amos had told police that the two Dunn brothers had planned the robbery. They were arrested but then released, (we couldn’t trace the Dunns). One of the two officers accused of receiving bribes had resigned shortly afterwards. A police press statement said this had nothing to do with the case, rather that his wife objected to his irregular working hours. This could have been Chief Superintendent Robert Lee, known in the underworld as ‘one of the smartest bogies in the business’, who announced his retirement in 1957. 

In the House, Mr Simon the Joint Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, replying to Mr Price said that Kelly’s appeal had been turned down on 11 February 1957 and that a senior police officer had carried out an investigation of the claims made by Kelly but not found sufficient evidence to proceed. 

The press speculated that diamonds were passed to ‘Mr Big’ or ‘The Phantom’, the man who had planned the robbery. It was generally believed he was Billy Hill, known as ‘the Boss of the Underworld’, but he always denied it. Mr Big was not named and the diamonds never found. 

After serving his seven year sentence, Freddy Harmsworth, now a street trader living at Birchington Court in West End Lane, was arrested in September 1963 for the theft of £13,000 from the Sheerness Co-operative Bank. 

He and Dennis James Hawkins from Clapham, had spent 18 hours over a weekend hidden in the bank, and had burned through the steel strong room door using an oxy-acetylene cutter. We were not able to find out how long Harmsworth was imprisoned for this crime.

Saturday 8 August 2015

An IRA funeral march and the bomb at Biddy Mulligan’s Pub

This story looks at both sides of the ‘Irish Troubles’ in the 1970s and two major events in Kilburn.

The Victoria Tavern and Alec Keene, prize fighter
About 1862, the Victoria Tavern was built on the south corner of Kilburn High Road and Willesden Lane. Alexander Findlay, better known as champion prize fighter, Alec Keene, took over the license of the Victoria Tavern in 1866 and stayed until 1879.

Alec Keene’s first recorded fight was on 20 June 1848 against ‘Sambo Sutton’ (real name Thomas Welsh). Keene was described as ‘the young and fresh light weight’ while Sutton was called, ‘an old stager who has always conducted himself well’. Keene won the fight in ‘masterly style’ and the 200 sovereigns’ prize money went to his backer Jem Burn, an ex-fighter.

Keene fought successfully through the mid-1850’s but then retired and like many ex-boxers, opened a pub, ‘The Three Tuns’ in Moor Street, Soho. Exhibition matches were held there and he continued to act as a second for other boxers such as his friend and world champion, Tom Sayers. When he moved to Kilburn, Keene held boxing matches at the Victoria Tavern, and its semi-rural position allowed him to promote pigeon shooting competitions which proved popular.

Alec and his partner George Brown also provided mass catering for crowds at race meetings, such as the annual three-day Barnet Fair and Races. They set up a booth, or “canvas hotel” as they called it, for the sale of hot joints of meat, chicken and vegetables. And to wash it down there was: ‘Moet’s champagne, wines and spirits, Bass’s pale ale and Guinness’s stout’ with ‘cigars and the fragrant weed of the very best’ to round off the meal.

Keene moved to another pub in East Mosley for a few years before his death in 1881. His body was returned to Kilburn for burial at Paddington Cemetery in Willesden Lane, just a few hundred yards from the Victoria Tavern.

Origin of the Name Biddy Mulligan
The pub was re-named Biddy Mulligan’s in the 1970s. The name was taken from the best known character of Irish comedian Jimmy O’Dea. Highly popular from the 1930s onwards, O’Dea dressed in drag as Biddy Mulligan, a female Dublin street seller.

To see his act there is a film clip of Biddy on YouTube.

Support for the IRA
In 1971 Michael Gaughan, a member of the IRA Active Service Unit in London, was sentenced to seven years for attempting to rob a bank in Hornsey with two revolvers. In March 1974 he and four other IRA men went on hunger strike in Parkhurst Gaol on the Isle of Wight. They were force fed, a horrible process used earlier on Suffragette prisoners: ‘six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner's neck over the metal rail, force a block between his teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.’ Gaughan’s weight halved, and after a hunger strike that lasted 64 days, he died on 3 June 1974, aged just 24 years old.

The IRA wanted to maximum publicity. Four days later crowds of over 3,000 people lined the streets, as Gaughan’s coffin was taken from The Crown at Cricklewood through Kiburn to the RC Church of the Sacred Heart in Quex Road for a Requiem Mass. The slow procession was led by a piper and an IRA guard of honour wearing berets and dark glasses. The next day his coffin was taken to Dublin for another parade and burial. The eight men who escorted the coffin in Kilburn were charged by the police with unlawfully wearing uniforms. They came from the Birmingham and Manchester areas rather than Ireland or Kilburn, and were each fined £60. 

Michael Gaughan's funeral march in Quex Road, leaving the Sacred Heart Church (Getty Images)
The Biddy Mulligan’s Bomb
In the 1970s Biddy Mulligan’s was a popular drinking place among Irish residents in Kilburn. The writer Zadie Smith talks about going there with her mother when collections were regularly made for the IRA.

On the evening of Sunday 21st December 1975 a young man seemed to be acting suspiciously. He was carrying a holdall but when the manager, John Constantine, challenged him to open the bag, he refused and was asked to leave. The man was described as around 18 years old, slim with fair hair, wearing a blue denim jacket and jeans. About an hour later, the pub was shaken by a large explosion. Luckily, only a few of the 90 people in the bar were hurt and none of them badly. An old lady of 82, who had been a regular for almost 50 years, said there was a very large explosion and a lot of glass splinters went into her hair.

The bomb squad estimated that about three to five pounds of explosive had been left in the holdall outside the pub in the doorway. Scotland Yard said that a phone call had been received by the BBC the previous night from an Irish man claiming to be from the ‘Young Militants’, a splinter group of the Protestant Ulster Defence Association (UDA). He said they were going to carry the War against the IRA onto the mainland. Leaders of Sinn Fein in London said they collected about £17,000 a year in Kilburn and they were concerned about this UDA backlash.

Biddy Mulligans in 1975 (Getty Images)

The following day landlords of the other pubs in Kilburn put guards on the door to check people’s bags as they entered. Locals were very concerned that ‘the Irish Troubles’ had spread to Kilburn.

The police acted very quickly (presumably with accurate intelligence), and arrested six people on the 23 December, a man and woman in London and four men in Glasgow and Renfrewshire. In October 1976 four of the men appeared at the Old Bailey and they were all found guilty. Samuel Carson, 31, a store man of Bangor, was found guilty of organising the plot and was sentenced to 15 years. Alexander Brown, 18, a chef also from Bangor, indentified as the man who planted the holdall, was given 14 years. Noel Moore Boyd, 20, an electrician from Belfast who made the bomb circuit, got 12 years. Archibald McGregor Brown, 40, a lorry driver of Cumbernauld, who stole the gelignite and provided a safe base in Scotland, received 10 years. In sentencing it was said the men were Protestants who were determined that IRA sympathisers should not meet in the pub without retribution. The judge said, ‘It should be clearly understood whatever political, religious or social feelings people may have, a crime of vengeance is not allowed. What is more, the use of explosives, with all the implications of danger to life and limb, is totally unacceptable.’

Later the pub name was shortened to Biddy’s. For a few years it traded as an Aussie sports bar called the Southern K, but in closed about 2009 and today the building is a Ladbrokes betting shop.

The site of Biddy Mulligan's today (Dick Weindling, August 2015)

Singer-songwriter Sean Taylor was born and still lives in Kilburn. He has played at the Glastonbury Festival four times. Sean released seven albums between 2006 and 2015. One of the tracks on his 2013 album ‘Chase the Night’, celebrates ‘Biddy Mulligans’. You can hear it on YouTube:

Wednesday 15 July 2015

From Forger to Journalist

This intriguing story looks at a young man who travelled round the world, but there is a Kilburn connection.

Queens Arms Hotel
This pub at the end of Maida Vale and the beginning of Kilburn High Road was opened about 1843. It was a major coach stop with stabling at the back for the horses.

The Queens Arms Hotel, about 1900

The original building survived until 1940 when it was hit by a bomb on 26 September and at least 14 people were killed. Left as a bomb site, local children played in the large crater until it was rebuilt in 1958. Today it is managed by singer Rita Ora's Albanian father.

Queens Arms today

Archibald Cole
In May 1861 a young man rented a room for a few days at the Queens Arms Hotel. John Kempshaw, the landlord, said that the man gave him a leather bag to look after which contained 400 to 500 gold sovereigns. He saw the same man at the races with a young woman who was very nicely dressed, and Kempshaw served them with a hamper. The next day Kempshaw went with the man to Oxford Street to buy a portmanteau bag as he said he was going abroad. Kempshaw advised the man to put his money somewhere safe.

The young man was Archibald Hamblin Lillingstone Cole, who was born in Whitchurch, Shropshire in 1841, the eldest son of Reverend William Graham Cole. Archibald worked for four years as a clerk for the long established navy agents Messrs Stilwell and Co, at 22 Arundel Street, the Strand. In 1860 he was given a month’s leave to study for the Civil Service Exam. But Cole suddenly left the company in November 1860 and they did not hear from him until they received a letter in May 1861, saying he was going abroad and asking for a loan of £5 as he was penniless. The company did not pay him the £5. A few days later he went to the bank of Willis and Percival in Lombard Street, where Stilwell’s had their account, and asked for a cheque book. The clerk knew Cole worked for Stillwell’s and gave him the cheque book. On 27 May a cheque for £603 was presented by Cole at the bank, apparently signed by Stilwell’s, and they gave him the money, which he immediately exchanged at the Bank of England for gold sovereigns.

Cole left his home in Upper Portman Street and hired a courier, John Mattos, a black Jamaican, who was known in the West End as ‘Kangaroo’. Cole paid him to accompany him and a young woman to Paris and act as his interpreter. He asked Kangaroo to get cards printed in the name of Livingstone. This was similar to his middle name of Lillingstone and the name of the great explorer.

When they met at the station Cole handed Kangaroo a leather bag which contained gold sovereigns and a cheque book. The party travelled to Paris where they stayed for four days. As they left Cole asked Kangaroo to count the money to see how much remained, which was 330 sovereigns. They had lived luxuriously and he had spent about £200 on food and jewellery for the unnamed young lady. Mattos said he was given £7, with expenses all paid, for his work.

Once they discovered the fraud, Messrs Stilwell’s took out a warrant for Cole’s arrest, but he’d fled to the continent where he was convicted for an offence and jailed for two years. The English warrant was still active and Detective Joseph Huggett spotted Cole as he boarded a steamboat in Rotterdam in October 1863. When they got out to sea Huggett arrested him and he was prosecuted for forgery at the Old Bailey on 26 October. The bank clerks and Stilwell staff told the court that the handwriting on the cheques was that of Cole. Publican John Kempshaw and ‘Kangaroo’ also gave evidence about what they knew about Cole.

He was found guilty by the jury. The judge said that the forgery was for a large amount of money and up until a few years ago Cole would have been hanged. (£603 in 1861 is equivalent today to about £50,000). He was sentenced to ten years and transportation. The 22-year-old was transferred to Portland Prison and onto the convict transport ship ‘Racehorse’ for the long trip to Western Australia. After leaving England on the 19 May the ship berthed at Fremantle on 10 August 1865.

Convict records indicate that Cole was stoutly built, about five feet seven inches tall. His hair was brown and eyes grey. On his left arm there was a tattoo showing the letter “C”. A Charlotte Graham of Camden Town was nominated as his next of kin. Perhaps she was his lady travelling companion on the trip to Paris?

Apart from a couple of minor misdemeanours after his arrival in Western Australia - disobeying orders and drinking with a free man - his conduct was sufficiently good for him to receive a ticket-of-leave in February 1869. For just under a year he was employed as a clerk by Henry Gillman, a storeman in the coastal town of Bunbury. Gillman, also an ex-convict, had flourished in Australia since the expiration of his sentence for housebreaking in 1851.

From January 1870 Cole worked for himself, first as a clerk, then from mid-1870, as a schoolmaster in Bunbury, earning £100 per annum. In June 1871 he was granted a conditional release, effectively making him a free man. By 1872 he was an accountant but in the following year he was employed as a reporter on the Fremantle Herald. Looking for adventure, he sailed to Singapore in December 1873, where he soon found work as a journalist.

Singapore and Japan
Before leaving Western Australia he had met Catherine Briggs. She was born in Calcutta, where her father was a veterinary surgeon attached to the British army. She had come to Australia as a child. Her parents disapproved of her association with the ex-convict Cole, who was eleven years her senior. But love won out and she joined him in Singapore where they married in May 1874. The wanderlust continued to affect Cole. By 1878 the family, now including two daughters, had gone to Japan.

Archibald and Catherine Cole

It was only 25 years since Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy arrived in Japan to begin the process of opening the country up to the West. Yokohama had become a boom town. But foreigners were still a novelty, mainly working as engineers, legal advisers, coastal pilots and teachers. They were required to remain within a 43 kilometre radius of the treaty ports unless they held a special passport.

Merchants of Yohohama (Woodblock by Kuniteru II, 1870)

From August 1878 the Cole family lived in Yokohama, where Archibald worked as a journalist and editor of the Japan Gazette and Japan Mail. Although he went to China as a correspondent for the New York Herald, Cole was based in Yokohama for the next six years, during which time three sons were born.

Their home was on The Bluff; a residential area overlooking the harbour, favoured by foreign merchants. At the time Yokohama was described as a low swamp, criss-crossed by drainage canals, spanned by rather rickety wooden bridges. The town comprised warehouses, some elegant western shops, one or two good hotels, as well as bonded and free stores, custom-houses, banks, shipping offices, grog shops and money changing premises. There were two churches, pleasant bungalows with attractive gardens, an assortment of lodging-houses, a large railway station and a good shipping anchorage. All this was overlooked by the magnificent Mt Fuji, topped in a snowy cloak for much of the year.

Yokohama from The Bluff. (Very early photograph by Felice Beato,1869)

After living and working successfully in Yokohama, Archibald Cole died there on 18 January 1884. A local newspaper reported:
‘Mr. Cole was pursuing his usual duties yesterday, but in the evening he was seized with a fit of apoplexy, this was succeeded by another this morning, from which he never rallied.’

His descendants believe the fit of apoplexy (which at the time meant a sudden unconsciousness and death), was caused by an overdose of opium, a fittingly dramatic end for such a flamboyant character. He was buried in the foreigners’ cemetery in Yokohama and soon afterwards his widow and children returned to live in Australia. Catherine died there in 1916.