The Early Years

At 8 am on the 24th of October 1933, Reggie Kray was born. Ten minutes later his identical twin Ronnie made an appearance.

The proud parents, Violet and Charlie Kray already had a 7 year old son, young Charlie. Charlie loved the twins but he was to see himself being pushed more and more into the background. He didn't mind he knew his family loved him.

The Twins had a sister who, sadly, died when she was a baby. Childhood deaths were commonplace then, with Pneumonia and Tuberculosis the greatest Killers followed by Diphtheria and Malnutrition.

The Twins caught Diphtheria and were taken to hospital. Reggie recovered quite quickly but Ronnie nearly died. His mother thought that he should be taken home from hospital where she could look after him better. She was also of the mind that being separated from his brother Reggie slowed down his recuperation. She took him home and Ronnie was soon on the road to recovery.

They lived in Stene Street in Hoxton, now called Shoreditch, until 1939, when they moved to 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green. It was around this time, at the start of the Second World War, that old man Charlie Kray was conscripted into the Army. Old Charlie was a 'pesterer' a man who liked to go on the 'Knocker', roaming the country buying and selling Silver, Gold and Clothing. This nomadic existence suited Charlie but deprived the boys of a stable relationship with their father. Whenever old Charlie came home it was a time of excitement,like Christmas, party time and presents. The best tablecloth and crockery would be spread on the table something that was usually only reserved for Sundays and special occasions.

Although Charlie was away quite a lot he earned enough money for Violet to be able to stay at home and look after the children.

He was a man who didn't like to be tied down and joining the Army just didn't fit into his plans. It wasn't that he was a coward, he came from a family of boxers and enjoyed a good fight, but he had better things to do than getting shot by some German in a foreign land.

Charlie was now on the run, a deserter from the British Army. The Police and the Military were always calling at the house looking for him, sometimes in the middle of the night, waking the whole family.

The homecomings became less frequent, with the Authorities calling more times than Charlie. Although on many occasions Charlie was in the house when It was searched by the Police but they failed to find him.

The Twins began to associate their father's absence with the Authorities which instilled in them a deep hatred and resentment for anyone in a uniform.

It was a hard life for Violet Kray with Old Charlie working away and then on the run but she held the family together. She had time for everyone. She was always singing and laughing, she had a great voice. Softly spoken but with great willpower and perseverance. She never criticized or complained about anything.

Her one ambition in life was to bring up her children the best she could.

The boys were always well dressed despite the apparent poverty of the local community. She taught them the value of prayer and to treat people less fortunate than them with the respect that they deserved.

Violet loved her family and being surrounded by family.

Her sisters Rose and May lived either side of her in Vallance Road, her brother Jimmy slept downstairs in the living room, while Grandad Jimmy 'Cannonball' Lee, Grandma Lee and their son John and his wife lived across the road in their cafe.

Aunty Rose was the twins favourite. She was a great friend and confidante and could do battle with the best of men. When Ronnie was teased in school about his eyebrows being too close together, she told him that it was a sign that he was 'born to be hanged'. It was her death in later years that finally tipped Ronnie over the edge into madness.

Grandad 'Cannonball' Lee was a great character. He was a bare knuckle fighter, a legend in his earlier years. Later he became a showman and entreupener. He was a teetotaler which led to frequent clashes with Old Charlie Kray.

Grandad Lee was also famous for sticking a white hot poker on his tongue, walking on bottle tops, tap dancing, singing and playing a multitude of instruments.

He used to fascinate the twins with stories of when he boxed, bare knuckle, for a few shillings, in Victoria Park on Sunday Mornings.

He had always been a great athlete. Once, when his son Johnny drove a coach party to Southend, a distance of 42 miles, Grandad Lee turned up on his bike. He cycled there just for the fun of it.
He was prepared to cycle home again but his son insisted he took the coach. He was Seventy Five at the time!

Young Charlie Kray was born in 1926 into an East End that was hit hard by the Depression. The family lived in Gorusch Street, Hackney.

He went to Laburnum Street school, where he was picked for the football team.

His Dad's passion was for boxing and when he wasn't down the pub he took Charlie to boxing matches.

Young Charlie was brought up on stories about fighting and boxing, and often dreamt of winning the Lonsdale Belt as Champion of the world. Fighting was a way of life in the East End. It ran in the family so it was inevitable that Charlie would keep up the tradition.

In 1932 the family moved to Stene street, near Kingsland road, Hackney.

When Charlie was seven the twins were born. Everybody would fuss over them and ask if they could take them for a walk. Charlie too would take them out in their pram and he felt so proud when people would lean over and admire them.

As he grew up he got more and more involved in sports such as football, athletics and boxing.

He played football for his senior school in Scawfell street, Hackney and was in the team when they won the district finals.

At the start of World War 2 In 1939, the family moved again, this time to 178 Vallance road , Bethnal Green.

In 1940 Charlie, the twins and his Mum were evacuated to Hadleigh, a little village in Suffolk which they grew to love . After about a year away from home, Violet began to miss her friends and family and decided to take the boys back home to London. They were devastated.

Young Charlie soon took up boxing again.

When his Dad went on the run from the Army, Charlie was left as 'The Man of The House' a role he wanted to fill as best he could.

He got a job as a messenger at Lloyds in the city where he worked five and a half days a week.

Boxing began to play a bigger part in his life. He trained in the local gyms and his Grandad set up a punch bag in the top back room in Vallance road.

After a spell of rheumatic fever, he joined the Naval Cadets, where he continued training seriously. Then he joined the Navy where his boxing career really took off. He boxed for the Navy as a Welterweight. After the war bouts were arranged to keep the men entertained while they were waiting to be demobbed.

Charlie started to get terrible headaches and it wasn't long before he was discharged unfit from the Navy, on medical grounds, due to chronic migraine.

When Charlie came out of the Navy he worked with his Dad on 'The Knocker' and carried on his boxing as a professional fighter.

The twins by this time, had also been making a name for themselves in the ring and on one occasion all three brothers appeared on the same bill.

Unfortunately, Charlie lost his fight, the last professional fight he ever fought.

The Twins, Ronnie and Reggie loved the attention they received as young kids growing up. They came to expect it and when it wasn't forthcoming it was demanded. Charlie says "Sometimes they looked up at me in a strange, adult sort of way, and I'd have this weird feeling that they knew all about me and what was going on around them. Their dark eyes seemed to lack that childlike innocence. It was as if each boy knew more than he ought. The mental and physical relationship between them was intense"

Reg always liked the company of others, while Ron was more of a loner. He loved nothing better than going off with his Alsatian Freda, searching the bomb sites to see what he could find.

They loved listening to the old Relay radio which their mother rented on a weekly basis. It had only two dials, one to switch it on and the other for the two stations that were available. 'Dick Barton, Special Agent' and 'Just William' were there favourites.

Their first school was Wood Close in Brick Lane and then to Daniel Street School at the age of 12. School days were happy times for the twins, they got on with the Teachers as well as the other kids. Ron's best subject was general knowledge and Reg's was English. They both played football and boxed for the school.

Their Dad used to take them to the Robert Browning Youth club, in South London for boxing lessons three times a week. From there they went on to join other clubs including the Repton Boys Club, which years later was to be the scene of a famous murder mystery.

The war disrupted their education when they were evacuated to Suffolk, a place which they grew to love. When their mother decided to return to London they were devastated.

London was still being bombed and at nights they would make their way to the air raid shelter, which were in the Railway Arches across the road. They showed no fear at the events taking place around them. The Twins would just hold hands and shut their eyes.

Grandad Lee would entertain all the people in the Arches with his tricks and others would do a turn, singing or reciting. It was party time. Reggie gained a great love for the theatre through these war time theatrical evenings.

The houses and factories left derelict by Hitler's bombs were their playground and pieces of shrapnel their treasure.

They would push each other around the cobbled streets in a home made go cart, with a spike at the front to do damage to any rival cart that happened to crash into them.

When the Twins were about ten years old their uncle used to take them to Billingsgate Market on his cart pulled by two shire horses. Each trip a great adventure for the imaginary cowboys.

Still aged ten they would hire a horse and cart, take it to where the old tar road blocks were being taken up, buy it by the sackful for a few shillings and then sell it for firewood around the houses. Even at a very young age they knew how to make a few bob.

When they were fifteen they worked in Billingsgate Market for six months, the longest job they ever had. Reg was training to be a salesman and Ron was an Empty boy, collecting all the empty boxes for his employers.

The Twins also took turns working for Grandad Jimmy Kray on his second hand clothes stall in Brick Lane.

By now, the Twins were boxing at an amateur level, helped by brother Charlie who first introduced them into boxing.

Once a fairground came to Bethnal Green with its Dodgems, Roller coaster and Boxing Booth. In those days the audience were invited to fight any of the fairground fighters for a cash prize. If they could last three rounds they won a pound.

During the interval the crowd were invited to fight each other for cash. Reg and Ron stepped into the ring and proceeded to batter hell out of each other. They collected seven shillings and sixpence between them for the fight and ran home to tell the family. They considered themselves as paid fighters.

Although the Twins were very close, they would often fight each other toe to toe. After one of the many rows they had Ronnie climbed onto the Roof of a train station and threatened to kill himself by throwing himself onto the tracks. He never did but that was the intensity of their relationship.

By the age of fifteen the local papers were writing about the Twins' exploits in the ring. In 1948 Reg was the Schoolboy Champion of Hackney and went on to win the London Schoolboy Boxing Championships as well as being a finalist for the Great Britain Schoolboys Championship. In 1949 he became the South Eastern Divisional Youth Club Champion and the London ATC Champion.

Ron was also the Schoolboy Champion of Hackney and won the London Junior Championships, and a London ATC title.

Their brother Charlie recalls "As boxers, the Twins were quite different from each other: Reggie was the cool, cautious one, with all the skills of a potential champion and importantly, he always listened to advice. Ronnie was a good boxer too, and very brave. But he would never listen to advice. He was a very determined boy with a mind of his own. If he made up his mind to do something, he'd do it, no matter what, and unlike Reggie he would never hold back. He would go on and on until he dropped".

These same characteristics shown in the ring were to be seen later on in their business activities to devastating effects.

By the age of sixteen Ronnie and Reggie were becoming notorious in the East End. They had their own gang and caused mayhem in the surrounding areas. They were barred from most of the cinemas and dance halls in the area.

There were always gang fights in the East End so it was commonsense to have a weapon at hand or be able to get one pretty quick. The Twins usually carried a knife but could call on almost any weapon from their arsenal underneath their bed at Vallance Road. They were just as happy to use a weapon as use their fists, and they wouldn't stop until their opponents were completely subdued.

When they were twelve they had their first real brush with the law. They were put on probation for firing an air rifle in a public place.

Now sixteen, they were arrested and charged with Grevious Bodily Harm for an attack on a rival gang outside a dance hall in Mare Street, Hackney. The Rev R. N. Hetherington stood as a character witness for the Twins. He ran a small youth club in the area and the boys would run errands for him. This association really paid off. They were acquitted of all charges due to lack of evidence!

The Judge remarked "Dont go around thinking you are the Sabini brothers" (well known gangsters of the time). Years later the Sabini brothers and the Krays became friends.

Aged seventeen the Twins were in trouble again. They were standing outside a cafe in Bethnal Green Road with some friends when a policeman told them to move on and he pushed Ron in the back. Ron didn't let anyone push him around, he hit the policeman and they all ran off. Later when the police tried to arrest Ron, Reggie got involved and they were both arrested and charged with assault. But thanks again to the Rev Hetherington they received probation.

They were now boxing professionally. Ron had six fights, won four of them and lost two. Reg had seven fights and won them all. They could have made a career out of boxing had they not been called up into the Army a few months later.

At eighteen years of age the Twins were called up to do their National Service. It wasn't something they wanted to do but thought that if the Army were to let them be Physical Training Instructors then they would suffer it. This wasn't to be and they spent the next two years either on the run or locked up in the guardhouse.

While on the run they ended up in court again for assaulting a policeman. This time they were given a month in Wormwood Scrubs and on release they were sent to Canterbury barracks to be court-martialled. They escaped before they reached their destination but were captured twenty four hours later. They spent the rest of their National Service in the glasshouse at Shepton Mallet.

It was here that the Twins first met Charlie Richardson, who, in later years became their gangland rival.


© 2012 Vardin Stephen & All rights reserved.