Rise and fall of Jack Spot, London gangster


THERE have been some legendary figures at the head of East End gangland over the decades. From the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties the main man was Jack Spot, though like many others, much of his legend was self-penned.

JACOB Colmore, John Colmore, Jacob Comacho, Jack Comer – he was known by a multitude of names.

But in a colourful age, (his rivals included Manchester Mike, Newcastle Ned and Edgware Sam) Jack Spot was his common title.

He claimed it was because he was always on the spot when trouble needed sorting. More prosaically it was said to be a childhood alias given for the mole on his cheek.

Born on 12 April 1912 in Whitechapel’s Myrdle Street, Spot was the son of Polish immigrants, his brother a tailor and his sister a dressmaker.

But if his siblings took a predictable route for young immigrants, Spot was after better money.

At 15 he became a bookie’s runner, then a year later hooked up with a man running protection rackets on the Sunday morning stalls in Petticoat Lane.

Times were tight, and the stallholders’ main concern was to prevent new traders moving in and diluting their takings.

Quickly showing his aptitude for gangland, Spot managed to fall out with his senior partner, fought him, and took the protection business for himself, emerging as the self-styled ‘King of Aldgate’.

He went into partnership with East End bookie Dutch Barney, then took a more direct route – acting as lookout and minder to a successful housebreaker.

Arrested and admitting to 40 offences, he was merely bound over. No doubt amazed by his luck, Spot went back to bookmaking.

They say the bookie never loses – Spot made sure he didn’t. If he had a bad day at the course he’d be off before the punters came to collect their winnings, and supplemented his takings with a fairground con called ‘Take a Pick’, where punters paid sixpence (2.5p) to pull a straw from a cup. Lucky winners (and there were few) won a piece of tat, while Spot pocketed £40 a day.

Amazingly, he continued to operate successfully at the racetracks for some time, relying on the never-ending supply of mug punters, backed up by the unspoken threat of violence.

Taking his ‘Pick’ game back to Petticoat Lane, he would win £50 on a good day.

But a major part of the Jack Spot mythology centres on his protection of Jewish shopkeepers from the Blackshirts on their marches down Brick Lane.

His status as friend and protector to East End Jews is certainly partly true – but he did charge the shopkeepers £10 a time.

Nonetheless, it did the trick, and stallholders would be queueing up to donate money to Spot’s ‘Market Traders Association’, in fact just another protection racket.

After a brief stint of war service in the Royal Artillery, he returned first to the East End and then west, to where the real money was.

After a fight in the Edgware Road, and fearing imprisonment, he fled north. He worked as a minder around Leeds and Newcastle, helping up-and-coming gangsters beat or intimidate the old guard out of their nightclubs, gambling dens, or racecourse pitches.

Back in London in the late forties, Spot ran the Botolph Club in Aldgate, pocketing £3000 a week from illegal gambling.

More romantically, he now saw himself as ‘the Robin Hood of the East End’, travelling to Leeds, Manchester or Glasgow to beat up villains who threatened Jewish businesses.

He even claimed that rabbis would advise their frightened people to call for his services.

And he was still making a fortune from the races, meeting anyone who crossed him with instant and savage retribution.

The White family, who had run betting at the major southern courses for years were harassed, attacked with knives, bottles, machetes and finally routed in a fight at Harringay Arena.

The date was 9 July 1947. Now in partnership with gangster Billy Hill, all serious opposition had been crushed.

The two gangleaders settled down as businessmen, living well on the proceeds of protection in West London.

But just as underworld bosses fight their way to the top, so younger, hungrier and more vicious figures wrest control from them – or fill the void created by their imprisonment.

For Jack Spot, his decline was just a few years away – and his nemesis was to be his new partner.

About John Rennie

Writing about East London history. Sub at Daily Express. Teaching journalism at City University London. One presented a TV show called the Unsellables and the BT Walletwatcher blog. West Ham fan. Native of Basildon
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Rise and fall of Jack Spot, London gangster

  1. Bernard Franklin says:

    Jack Spot as you say was a violent gangster who was known to the police, yet allowed to operate with impunity. By comparison, the “anti war movement” led by Sir Oswald Mosley was continually thwarted in its efforts by the authorities. The British government has admitted to rounding up and jailing over 800 anti-war protesters without charge or trial. Many of them had been brave soldiers and officers in the first-world-war and didn’t want to see such uneccessary carnage again.

  2. John Rennie says:

    I don’t quite see the logic of bringing together Jack Spot and Mosley. Both were deeply unpleasant characters in their differing ways. Admittedly Mosley started off with a genuine desire to use politics to bring good before his megalomania led to a disenchantment with parliamentary politics; Spot was never more than a violent criminal who used his ‘anti fascist’ activities as a cover for protection rackets. However, the fact the police turned a blind eye to Spot’s criminal activities hardly makes Mosley one of the good guys? I’d imagine many of the pacifists would be appalled to be bracketed along with a fascist … wouldn’t you?

  3. nikki says:

    I don’t know if anyone can help at all – my great great uncle was Johnny Carter, one of those associated with Jack Spot and his gang and I am interested in trying to find out a bit more about the family. My nan and her sister who were both able to tell us more have recently passed away and I don’t know where to begin to try to find out some more about this dark yet interesting side to the family, sadly, when my nan was able to tell us more I wasn’t at the age to find this interesting, by the time I was she had developed alzheimers – if anyone can help I’d be very grateful as internet searches are showing very little (a mention of a fight with frankie fraser, a line in a gangster book etc) – there must be a little more info somewhere and I’d like to find out before all those who may know are no longer here to pass it on

  4. Tony Foster. says:

    Yes John you’re right, however my late uncle Harold Bolsom knew Jack Spot and many other Jewish gangsters and told me that he-Spot- was nowhere near Cable St at the time.
    In fact Mosley was advised by Sir John Simon- the then home secretary- to go elsewhere .
    But the assembled company -mostly communists-being denied a fight, turned on the police.
    Uncle Harold joined up and did his bit in the war, which thinking about it took more courage than most had he been captured?
    The author Henry Williamson became involved with Mosley and forever blotted his copybook with the reading public as a result.

  5. Dominic Fahr says:

    I grew up in the Manor and the reason the police ignored Jack’s businesses is prosaic…He paid most of them! Now (Big) Billy Hill was another kettle of fish. His authority spread way outside the Smoke. As for Mosley, a ot of Jews actually liked him and the feeling was that if he hadn’t been so rampantly anti-semetic (which I suspect was just a misguided attempt to gain friends in the establishment – who were one all antisemetic) they’d have backed him. To understand the gangsters you have to understand the environment: The War to End Wars(!!); would be totalitarian governments who regarded all those who worked for a living as the cum of the earth, upon whom one trod down – hard, and the Depression. With the threat of another war, in which the majority government and populace did NOT want to be involved, violence was the order of the day. After every war there is always an increase in gangsterism. They’ve been living on adrenaline for so long – couple that with over taxation and no actual attempt by the rulers to better the lot of the people who pay their wages and…

  6. Sally Glover says:

    My maternal grandfather was Alf White. I would love to hear from anyone who has info on him as my nan (90 in a fortnight and his only surviving descendant) can’t remember details many thanks in advance

  7. John Rennie says:

    Thanks Tony,
    Much of Spot’s stuff was self-mythologisation. He liked to paint himself as a Robin Hood… perhaps more just Hood. As for Williamson… I suspect there was a man who loved animals more than people. Lovely books, very strange man.
    John Rennie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *