- "Number 178 was a lucky old house. It had a big oak door with a large knocker, and the people used to call it "Fort Vallance". It was a terraced house with a toilet out in the yard. Ron and I used to love the kitchen. We had a big coal fire and we used to sit around it while our mother used to be doing the ironing or making pots of stew or cups of tea."
- ―Reggie Kray in his autobiography Born Fighter 1991
178 Vallance Road, also known as Fort Vallance by many, was a small Victorian two-up, two-down terrace house in Bethnal Green, East London. It was the home to the Kray family after they moved from Stene Street in late 1938 when the twins were aged five.
They lived at this property from this age, almost up to when they were arrested and put in prison for life. Vallance Road’s former row of Victorian cottages has since been replaced with modern apartments. Very few of the old Victorian houses remain, but a small number of survivors were left standing after World War Two and have recently been saved from demolition by residents, who have successfully petitioned for their restoration.
1940s - 1950sEditThe second house in a row of four, 178 Vallance Road was home to the Kray twins from the time they were five, almost until they were sentenced to life in prison in 1969. Nicknamed Fort Vallance by a man called the 'Curly King', it was in a typical two-up, two-down Victorian terrace, and had a large oak door and a big door knocker. During World War II, the area surrounding the house was known as Deserter's Corner, due to the large number of men living in the street who had deserted the army or had ignored their call-up papers. During the Blitz, Ronnie and Reggie often heard bombs blowing up nearby buildings. By the time the war was over, German planes had destroyed 10,000 homes in Bethnal Green alone.
The house contained a small coal fire with a small lavatory in the backyard, along with a chicken pen and latterly a grinder for Ronnie's bayonets and swords. Situated very near the railway bridge where trains going back and forth from Liverpool Street Station would pass, the old house was subjected to frequent shaking. Violet's sister Aunt Rose lived next door, and opposite lived Violet's parents, Jimmy Lee and Mary Lee, who had a café on the corner of Vallance Road. The Repton Boxing Club, where the young Kray brothers trained, was a short walking distance from the house. After training, they would visit the public baths next door. Ron and Reg shared a room at the back of the house when they were younger, and continued to live there on and off until they were imprisoned.
1960sEditDuring the 1960s, even if they were having a meeting with The Firm and they were all in the front room, Violet Kray would come out with cups of tea and cucumber sandwiches. Many people came to visit the twins at Vallance Road, and frequent parties were held within the house, despite the size. The Carpenters Arms which was later bought by the twins for their mother is also within a short walking distance from the property. Violet and Charles moved out in 1967 to a flat in the City of London when redevelopment of the area began.
The terraces along Vallance Road that the Kray family had lived in since 1938 were under compulsory purchase orders in 1968. Tower Hamlets Council were about to undertake a major slum-clearance program across the borough of the East End, much of which had miraculously survived the Blitz, were bulldozed and replaced by modern developments throughout the late 1960s and well into the following decade. 178, like many houses in the area, had problems with structure and sanitation; its rickety outside lavatory and lack of bathroom made it the kind of dwelling that required for replacement with high-rise concrete modernity.
The terrace itself has since been demolished and has been replaced with a late 1980s development, with a plaque stating it was built in 1988, and part of the self-building housing initiative which was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales. 178 still exists but as a different building, with the original terrace being cleared during the East End slum clearance of the late 1960s to early 1970s. Many tourists and tour guides still visit the location despite the original building not actually being there anymore.