Ten years ago today the East End came to a halt for the funeral of Ronnie Kray. The gangland boss suffered a heart attack in Broadmoor at the age of 61 and died in Wexham Park Hospital a couple of days later. Poor bloke - not even a convicted psychopath deserves to die in Slough. Ronnie's body was taken, after a post mortem, to the funeral parlour of W English and Son in the Bethnal Green Road, from where his final journey began on the afternoon of 29th March 1995. Thousands gathered in the surrounding streets to see the funeral procession, either to pay their last respects or for a final sneaky look at an East End legend. Reggie's coffin was placed in a glass-sided hearse, pulled by six plumed horses and overflowing with floral tributes. The cortege halted briefly just round the corner in Vallance Road outside the site of the twins' former home, although the original two-up two-down at number 178 no longer stood as it had been rebuilt as community housing. And from here it was just a few short yards up the road beside the railway viaduct to the church where the funeral service was to be held.
St Matthew's Church stands alone in the middle of a postwar housing estate, a beacon of brown on a patch of green surrounded by grey. There's been a church here for 250 years, although the increasingly multicultural nature of the surrounding area suggests that it may not last as a functional place of worship for very much longer. I paid a visit last week, wandering through the churchyard past dogwaste bins and teenagers gulping underage alcohol. Peering through the church's glass front door I saw a bright modern interior with a few wooden chairs gathered in the middle of a empty polished floor. It was hard to imagine, but ten years ago the church was completely packed out.
Ronnie's funeral was a massive East End affair. They played "My Way" during the service, as well as the rather schmaltzier "I Will Always Love You". The churchyard was full of shaven headed thugs, suited and booted for one day only. Four gangsters from rival 'firms', including Ronnie's brother Charlie, came together to act as pallbearers. Barbara Windsor and Morrissey sent wreaths, while another floral tribute was thought to be from the New York Mafia. But it was surviving twin Reggie who stole the limelight by attending handcuffed to a prison warder, having been let out of Maidstone for the day. He looked old and he looked distraught, but he was still happy enough to give interviews for local TV news. Perhaps he realised he'd be back here soon enough, this time inside the box (and he was, five years later, for a repeatperformance).
After the service the funeral procession headed east towards Chingford Cemetery where Ronnie was to be buried beside his beloved mother. 26 black Daimlers followed the hearse at an equine walking pace, causing gridlock through the streets of the East End. And they took a most indirect route to the cemetery, heading out across the Bow flyover (and past my house). But then legend has it that the Kray twins buried the body of Frank "Mad Axeman" Mitchell in the concrete supports of the Bow Flyover while it was under construction in 1967, so maybe Ronnie was having the last laugh after all.