London is a hotbed of crime, intrigue and espionage. And that’s all to be found in one small corner of Vauxhall. The city has a rich history – some say terrifying – of being home to all manner of petty criminals, gangsters and murderers. But some would be surprised to know that it’s also played host to revolutionaries from around the world, who later went on to do unspeakable things in their own countries. It seems that London will always attract sinister types, who flock here to join brutish thugs who were born within the sound of the Bow flyover. It’s hard to pick just 10, and they are a mixed and motley bunch indeed, but each has earned his own place. Here are our Top 10 Notorious People that Lived in London.
10. Claude Duval
Let’s start at the milder end of things, with a highwayman that was notorious for his theft, yet refused to deploy violence against his victims. Claude Duval was French-born but plied his trade on the roads going into London, especially around Holloway and Islington, areas that are now just north of London’s centre. His gallantry was famous – he even inspired a painting (entitled “Claude Duval”) when he asked the wife of a victim to dance a coranto with him by the side of the road. His flair and pacifist nature did nothing to spare him the gallows, however and he was hanged in 1670. The inscription on his memorial reads: Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art, Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart”
9. Frankie Fraser
But don’t worry, it’s not going to stay pleasant for very long. Next up is gangster “Mad” Frankie Fraser, who was known as a nasty piece of work. His resume includes things like torture, electrocution and murder, although he emphatically denies any connection with the Great Train Robbery (and had to bribe a policeman to avoid arrest for it). Now 89, he got into trouble at his retirement home for chasing a fellow resident down the corridor in a row over a favorite armchair. He was given an Anti-Social Behavior Order, usually reserved for misbehaving teenagers, which was probably somewhat of a comedown for the man who’d served 42 years in prison and even faced the death sentence at one point.
8. Dick Turpin
Another highwayman now, and one whose story may have been exaggerated a little for the purpose of spinning a yarn. He lived in various places around London – operating in what is now the borough of Waltham Forest before moving to Whitechapel and then Millbank. He committed a series of robberies in and around the capital but after killing a man, he fled to Yorkshire and it was there that he was eventually captured and executed in 1739. Fictionalized versions of his life started appearing in the 19th century, such as “Black Bess or Knight of the Road” (1866), and he has moved into folklore as a heroic and romantic criminal whereas in reality, he was probably just a criminal and an unpleasant one at that.
7. Billy Hill
A close associate of Frankie Fraser, who acted as his bodyguard, Hill was the godfather of London’s gangster culture, with the Kray brothers citing him as a mentor. He committed his first stabbing aged 14, and moved swiftly into looting after that, running a profitable black market during the Second World War. His trademark was to draw “V”s on his victims’ faces, although this was intended to maim rather than kill them. As he explained: “I was always careful to draw my knife down on the face, never across or upwards. Always down. So that if the knife slips you don’t cut an artery. After all, chivving is chivving, but cutting an artery is usually murder. Only mugs do murder” And when you have the likes of Frankie Fraser working for you, there is certainly no need to do your own murders. In fact, he rarely did his own violence at all, preferring to concentrate on organizing large-scale robberies like the Eastcastle St robbery, which netted around £6m in today’s money. He later retired from crime and died of natural causes in 1984.
6. Vladmir Lenin
Now, the next one might be slightly debatable, as not everyone would consider Lenin to be a figure of notoriety. To some he’s a hero. But he did pave the way for the terrors of the Stalin regime, as well as instigating his own “Red Terror” when he came to power. He claimed to have had a “bloodless revolution” but you’d be hard pressed to explain that to the Tsar and his young family, who were brutally killed at Lenin’s command. Lenin was, more surprisingly, also a Londoner, living here at the beginning of the 20th century, and lodging with an Irish family. During that time, he tried to stir up at the masses at Speaker’s Corner, but his poor English, with an Irish tinge, would have been incomprehensible to anyone listening.