Is Catford a safe place to live? The amount of times I’ve been asked that question I’m at the point where I’m inclined to say no just to make people feel better about not wanting to live here in the first place. I mean the shopping centre is filled to overflowing with beggers, drug addicts and drunks for criminy’s sake. Run for the hills and think of the children.

If the recent report of shots fired in Catford didn’t put you off and you aren’t as strong in your convictions as Lucy and Dan and are actually thinking of living in Catford, maybe this bedtime story will put you off. Get comfy as I tell the tale of Catford’s gangster past and its tenuous link to the Kray twins.

The Richardson gang

Charlie (L) and Eddie (R) Richardson

Once upon a time there was a mob known as the Richardson Gang led by fearsome Charlie and Eddie Richardson and their enforcer, ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser. According to legend and lots of first hand accounts and facts, the Richardson’s dabbled in drugs and racketeering. This gang were also known as the Torture Gang and were apparently more feared than their rivals the Kray twins.

'Mad' Frankie Fraser police mugshot
‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser police mugshot

The gang’s shenanigans were not widely known until the fateful murder of Kray cousin Dickie Hart, at a club in Catford.

Mr Smiths, Rushey Green Image credit: Town Forum
Mr Smiths, Rushey Green
Image credit: Sydenham Town Forum

In 1966, 75 Rushey Green was a gambling casino called Mr Smith’s which was owned by Manchester based businessmen, Dougie Flood (a hugely successful club/hotel/leisure business owner) and Bill Benny (an ex heavyweight 20 stone wrestler). Despite owning a string of clubs in the North of England these guys didn’t know how to handle the clientèle that frequented Mr Smith’s. They needed help so they turned to gang leader William “Billy” Hill and his enforcer Albert Dimes for their advice. Billy put them in touch with Eddie Richardson and Frankie Fraser.

Sealing the deal

On 7 March 1966 the club owners met with Eddie and Frankie to hammer out a deal to provide bouncers to protect the club as well as some gaming machines. When the deal was done they all went to the club for a celebration drink. Eddie and Frankie couldn’t stay too long because they had other business to attend to but the owners suggested that they should come back later for a meal and a few drinks.

Later that evening Eddie and Frankie went back to the club with a couple members of their gang. By the end of the evening they were joined by more and more Richardson gang members.

Also in the club that night were South London gangster Billy Hayward, his brother Harry, Henry Botton, Peter Hennessey and Dickie Hart, a member of the Firm (Kray gang).

Billy Hayward thought that something was about to kick off so he sent out for some weapons. His guilty conscience might have had him believing that the Richardson mob were amassing in numbers to seek retribution for Billy having an affair with the wife of Eddie and Frankie’s mechanic, Roy Porritt.  But the Richardson gang had no weapons as they were only at the club to socialise.

The Battle of Mr Smith’s

In the early hours of 8 March things eventually did kick off when Eddie asked Billy Hayward and his mob to ‘drink up and leave’ as it was 3.30am and the club was only licensed till 3am. One of the mob, Peter Hennessey took offence to the request and started fighting with Eddie.

Some sources say Billy Hayward started firing a gun. Other sources say Dickie Hart took out a gun and started shooting up the place, shouting: “Somebody’s going to die.” Regardless, all hell broke loose with people running, chairs flying about and shots being fired.

According to accounts, Frankie Fraser was trying to calm down Dickie Hart. He managed to knock the gun out of Hart’s hand and got shot in the leg for his efforts.

In the harsh light of day, Dickie Hart ended up dead trying to escape the mayhem and Frankie and Eddie ended up in hospital. Eddie got shot in the arse and Frankie got shot in the leg.

According to legend (or the actual account of the couple who own the property) one wounded gang member was found in the front garden of a house in Farley Road, just around the corner from the club. Some stories say it was actually Dickie Hart who was found dead in the garden as he had attempted to make his escape from the club which backs onto Farley Road.

75 Rushey Green in 2016
75 Rushey Green in 2016

According to legend the ghost of Dickie Hart can sometimes be seen running along Rushey Green, gun in hand screaming “Somebody’s going to die.” This is probably why people think Catford is such a dangerous place to live. I totally made that part up. I got carried away. Totally tasteless. Sorry.

Anyway, Frankie Fraser was charged with Dickie Hart’s murder but was found not guilty. But did he do it? Listen to what he says in this interview.

Do I really think Catford is a dangerous place to live? No I don’t but some will say it is especially if they have been victims of crimes or have witnessed crimes. It all comes down to perception and experience I suppose.

Sources:
The Krays
The National Archives
True Mafia Stories
Born Gangster

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Simon barnshaw
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Simon barnshaw

Catford is a dangerous area to live in people have been killed in that area milfordtowers is full of drugers people have been killed up there lt.s like lewisham area is the same has catford drugers beginning for money if they can knock down milfordtowers soon as they can up there walls are cracking up that’s dangerous to the public all the floors are cracking up they have taken to long to pull it down they keep saying this is come down in 5 years but when 5 years comes they are still standing

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[…] people’s minds. One is rough around the edges, dominated by a crummy centre, overshadowed by the ghosts of old gangsters and the dog […]

g r carr
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g r carr

As an aside to the article, it is good to see an image of the Wesleyan Church, Rushey Green, next to Mr Smith’s Casino.

Christopher Wendyl
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Christopher Wendyl

Hello, my name is Christopher Wendyl and I, as a working class person am very proud of he legend of gangsterism left by both the Richardsons and the krays. I also resent people’s slight criticism of their actions. They were assembly men of the public good and even donated money to the impoverished at the time. That’s all for now…