Subscribe in a reader

OR ... get the weekly East End History newsletter

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Category: East End boxers

Tony Lambrianou and the Krays

View Tony Lambrianou in a larger map

The funeral of the Kray Twins  sidekick Tony Lambrianou in February 2004 brought back memories of the Krays bloody reign in the East End underworld, a brutal chapter in the history of London, and of the horrific crime that was to bring their time to an end.  Lambrianou was still only 61 when he died suddenly at the beginning of March. He and his brother Chris had been in their early twenties when they were sent down for 15 years in 1969, for their part in the murder of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie two years before.

By the time of the killing, the Krays’ ‘Firm’ was looking distinctly shaky at the top. One problem was Ronnie Kray’s increasingly erratic and violent behaviour. He had escaped the year before, when witnesses on an identity parade were ‘unable’ to recognise Ron as the man who had killed George Cornell in Whitechapel’s Blind Beggar pub. Ronnie now became curiously obsessed with the fact that he had killed but that brother Reggie always stopped short of administering the ultimate sanction to the Firm’s enemies.

Another problem was Reggie himself. His troubled marriage to Frances Kray was less than a year old, but already his bride, exhausted by the strain of Reggie’s lifestyle, had attempted suicide on two occasions. On 6 June 1967, the pair had booked a holiday in Spain in an attempt to make a fresh start. But the following day, her brother found Frances dead. She had swallowed a massive overdose of barbiturates. Reggie now took solace in drink and his behaviour deteriorated, to the alarm of the Firm. He shot a man he thought had insulted Frances (fortunately he was so drunk he merely wounded him), and shot another man in a Highbury club in a drunken argument.

Worried members began to drift away from the Firm and the increasingly paranoid Ronnie began to see challenges to his authority, many of them undoubtedly real. Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie was an East End hardman, an enforcer who would sort out troublemakers for the Krays. But by 1967, McVitie, who earned his nickname for never removing the trilby that concealed a bald patch, was also heading out of control. Usually drunk, and often speeding on the amphetamines that he dealt and increasingly consumed, he had taken £100 from Ronnie to kill a man (the remaining £400 when the job was done), and refused to do the job or repay the money.

McVitie had pulled out a shotgun at the Regency Club, owned by friends of the Krays. On another occasion he had stabbed a man in the club. Yet another East End villain was spiraling out of control. On 28 October 1967 the twins and cohorts including Chris and Tony Lambrianou were drinking at the Carpenters Arms in Bethnal Green. Suggestions were made that the group decamp to a party up the road in Stoke Newington.

Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie arrived at the same basement flat a little later. The suspicion was that the rendezvous wasn’t as coincidental as all that, and that Tony Lambrianou had been detailed by Ronnie to get McVitie to where the twins were waiting for him. McVitie walked into an atmosphere waiting to explode. Ronnie started abusing him, and Reggie put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. Reggie then picked up a waiting knife and repeatedly plunged it into Jack’s body, eventually impaling him to the floor with the blade. The body was bundled into a quilt and driven south of the river by Tony Lambrianou, with brother Chris following. They dumped the corpse outside St Mary’s Church by the Rotherhithe Tunnel. The Krays were furious, as this was on the very doorstep of their friend, south London gang boss Freddie Foreman.

What had happened in that Stoke Newington room was never entirely clear. Even the Lambrianou brothers had different versions of events. The pair served 15 years each for their part in the crime. Unlike many former members of the Firm, the Lambrianous refused to give evidence against the Krays when the case came to court in 1969. Tony Lambrianou’s funeral, at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green, was just a stone’s throw from where he, his brother and the twins grew up. And 350 showed up to mourn one man, and a romanticised way of life and of crime that’s now slipping into folklore and the violent history of London.

Jack Broughton – cockney boxer

Jack Broughton … boxer

Lennox Lewis’s triumphant defence of his world heavyweight title, and the emergence of East End Olympic hero Audley Harrison, confirm one thing – unfashionable and controversial though boxing may be in many quarters, the East End retains an extraordinary enthusiasm for the sweet science.
And that’s an enthusiasm only matched by our capacity for producing championship fighters.
But if Lennox thought his points win was an epic battle, he has a Wapping waterman to thank for it being such a relatively brief contest. And the well-protected Audley has the same fellow to thank for the first moves to body protection for pugilists.
In the mid-1700s boxing was a brutal sport. Rules were few, bouts open-ended, and physical protection non-existent. The winner was the last man standing and the loser often paid with serious physical or mental damage… or even death.
This was a problem for Jack Broughton. Jack, the third heavyweight boxing champion of all England, augmented his waterman’s wages with bare-knuckle street fighting, but increasingly trained and managed a stable of fighters.
Modern boxers talk about leaving the fight in the gym due to over-training; Broughton’s boys often couldn’t make the fight because they had beaten one another so badly in the gym.
But rigorous training was needed to produce a bare-knuckle fighter capable of going dozens of rounds, so Jack set to thinking. His solution was to invent mufflers, the earliest boxing gloves, which made their first appearance in his Hanway Street gym in 1743.
Brutal prize fights
And Jack, having invested time and money in training promising young fighters and crowd favourites, saw the problem in their careers being curtailed by injury and death in the brutal prize fights so, at the same time, he devised his own set of competition rules.
The London Prize Ring rules were boxing’s first, and pre-dated the more famous Queens- bury Rules by a century or so.
It would be a mistake to think that Jack had gone soft – in a handbill published during the 1740s, he described boxing as simply the most successful method of beating a man deaf, dumb, lame and blind.
But his ideas proved so effective in prolonging the careers of fighters that the rules he prepared in 1743 remained in effect until 1838.
In their new form, they were the benchmark for fighting until the last bare-knuckle championship bout in 1889. After 1889, gloves became the rule, so Broughton’s ideas persist to this day.
The rules were as follows: no hitting below the belt; no hitting an opponent who was down; wrestling only allowed above the waist; fights to be contested in rounds, with a 30-second rest period in between; rounds to be over with a knockdown; and fights over after a rest period if a fighter couldn’t toe the mark or come up to scratch.
This mark was a square of a yard chalked in the middle of a stage which boxers had to approach at the start of each new round.
The rules were sponsored by Jack’s patron, William Augustus, the Third Duke of Cumberland. Augustus was to become known as Butcher Cumberland for his merciless slaughter of Jacobite Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The Duke also had a taste for bloody sports, wagering huge amounts on Jack’s successful fights.
As a sideline, Jack began to teach sparring with mufflers to the young relatives of the Duke of Cumberland. But the pair fell out after Broughton was beaten by Jack Slack in 1750.
The Butcher lost £10,000 on the fight and his interest in pugilism soon afterwards.
He may have fallen from favour with Cumberland, but Jack enjoyed a long and comfortable retirement. When he died in 1789, a wealthy 85 year old, he was still a national hero, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Lennox Lewis and East End of London

It may have been a long time coming – 102 years, to be precise – but Britain at last has an undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion.
The political and financial machinations of larger-than-life promoter Don King and governing body the IBF have agreed to give Lennox Lewis the honour of being the first holder of every version of the world heavyweight crown since 1992 – Brits Frank Bruno and Herbie Hide have held the WBC and WBO versions of the belt in that time. But, for now at least, an east London man is champion of the boxing world once again.
True Brit grit?
There are some who might challenge Lewis’ cockney credentials, as happened with the last man to be an undisputed English champion of the world. Bob Fitzimmons, who held the title in 1897, may have been born in Cornwall, but he was raised in New Zealand, did most of his early fighting in Australia and was twice crowned as an American world champion.

Lennox was born and raised in Stratford and professes a lifelong allegiance to West Ham United. Although his accent owes a little more to North America than east London, his career as a winning fighter puts him in a great East End tradition – of cockney kids using the ring to make their fame, if not their fortune.
Go to Paradise Row in Bethnal Green and you’ll see a blue plaque to the memory of Daniel Mendoza. Mendoza the Jew, as he was known, was English bareknuckle boxing champion from 1794
to 1795. With bouts lasting until one of the contenders dropped – often several hours – long reigns as champ weren’t common.
The East End doesn’t breed too many boxers the size of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield or even Mendoza – it’s at the lighter weights that most of our lads have won their world crowns.
He ain’t heavy
Gershon Mendeloff was born in Whitechapel on 24 October 1894, but it was as Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis that he held
the world welterweight title between 1915 and 1916. Lewis fought an extraordinary 279 bouts in a career stretching from 1909 to 1929.
Lewis was a graduate of Premierland, a boxing hall just off the Commercial Road. This Aldgate hall was the training ground of another two world champions. Teddy Baldock was a Premierland bantamweight, who in 1927 beat Archie Bell in London to claim the vacant British and World titles.
The third graduate was another Jewish East Ender, Jack ‘Kid’ Berg, the Whitechapel Whirlwind. Berg wasn’t considered much of a contender when he burst onto the American fight scene on 31 May 1928. The little fighter, born Judah Bergman, was considered cannon fodder for Pedro Amador’s junior welterweight world title bout.
But instead of the upright stance, limited movement and china chin of the classic British fighter, the Yanks were shocked as the whirling dervish – his range and angle of delivery of punches made him the Naseem Hamed of his day – dumped Amador on the canvas.
Berg powered through the division, fighting almost
weekly, only failing when he tried to step up to the more moneyed lightweight crown, against Billy Petrolle. But though he took a beating against Petrolle, he fought on for another decade and died at the ripe old age of 82 in 1991.
Take a look at Charlie Magri’s birth certificate and you’ll see July 20, 1956, Tunis, Tunisia. But Magri was a Bethnal Green fighter through and through, honing his speed and skills as a flyweight at numerous York Hall bouts from 1977 onwards.
By 1979 he was European champion and four years later he landed the WBC world crown, defeating Eleoncio Mercedes in London.