Thursday, 18 June 2020

Rillington Place

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on 2nd June 1953. It was celebrated throughout the country with street parties such as this one in Rillington Place in London. The parties were for the entertainment of the children although whole communities joined in, often wearing fancy dress. Many foods were still rationed, eight years after the end of World War II, so the neighbourhoods saved up their coupons in order to provide a generous spread. Bunting decorated the street, together with Union flags and those of Wales, Australia and New Zealand. The stage at the end of the street suggests that entertainment is planned.

When this photograph is studied, the roadside kerbs will be seen painted in black and white, a remnant of the wartime blackout when this aided night-time visibility. There is just one street light, suspended from an overhead cable.

Notting Hill was developed in the mid 19th century on the Ladbrook Estate, as a fashionable suburb. Rillington Place in the north of the area was built in the 1869s as poor quality speculative housing. This was formerly farm land and before the 1850s only two buildings were to be seen; Portobello Farm and Notting Barns Farm. It was a cul-de-sac with a row of ten houses on each side, and at the end, the Western Iron Works. Here was the foundry of James Bartle, a business which produced manhole covers, lamp posts and railings. Other specialities were gasholders and cast iron canal bridges. Bartle had 75 employees and members of his family lived at 3 Rillington Place. Sold in 1910 to C. S. Windsor, the company went on to manufacture in the 1920s, the Windsor light car. The company went into liquidation in 1927 after the death of its owner and the buildings became the Department of Works for the Borough of Kensington.  On one side of Rillington Place, the houses backed on to the newly opened Hammersmith and City Railway. The properties deteriorated and by 1953 some were in appalling condition. Many were divided into flats, one on each floor. They had no bathrooms and shared the outside toilet. 

The last house on the left, number 10, is empty, its last occupant in jail awaiting trial for murder. John Reginald Halliday Christie had killed at least eight women including his wife, and their bodies were concealed around the house and in the garden. Christie, originally from Halifax already had a criminal record and had spent four terms in prison. Ironically, he served as a reserve policeman during the War, his record unchecked.

Timothy Evans and his wife, Beryl, and their daughter Geraldine, moved into the top floor of number 10 in 1948. A year later, Evans reported to the police that his wife and daughter were dead. After a search, the bodies were discovered together with a 16 week foetus in an out house, they had been strangled. Evans, illiterate and with a low IQ was forced in to confessing to the murders. He was found guilty and on 9th March 1950, was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London. The police investigation was seriously faulted and neglectful. It should have been clear that Evans was innocent.

Christie moved out of the ground floor flat on 20th March 1953 and another tenant of the building, when using the kitchen, discovered the remains of three women. Christie was arrested on 31st March and as the interrogation progressed, he admitted murder. His trial began on 22nd June and having been found guilty of killing his wife, Ethel, he was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 15th July.

Eventually, in 1966, Evans was posthumously pardoned. In 2003 his sisters were awarded a payment in compensation.

Both Evans and Christie were executed by Albert Pierrepoint. He was a Yorkshireman, who, in his 25 year career, hanged up to 600 people including 200 war criminals. Pierrepoint was also a publican, firstly at the “Help The Poor Struggler” at Hollinwood, Oldham and later at the “Rose and Crown”, Much Hoole, near Preston. Whilst still at Hollinwood, one of Albert’s regular customers, James Corbitt was found guilty of the murder of his mistress, Eliza Woods. Pierrepoint had the duty of hanging him at Strangeways in November 1950.

Many North Western towns chose a Rose Queen as part of their annual Carnival festivities and usually, she would be crowned by a minor local worthy. In 1950, Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, gave that honour to none other than the official hangman. Pierrepoint was no stranger to Whaley Bridge and would often be seen visiting the town’s hostelries.

Rillington Place was renamed Runton Close in 1954 to try to remove some of its unfortunate associations. The street was demolished in 1970 and redeveloped. Today, modern housing occupies the site and the value of the properties reflect Notting Hill’s fashionable status.

 The map of 1895


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