Patsy's late father was a villain. Jimmy Kensit was deeply involved with the most notorious gangsters of 1960s London: the Krays and the Richardsons. Reggie Kray was even godfather to Patsy's brother. Apprehensively, Patsy embarked on an investigation into her father's murky past, hoping to understand the roots of his criminality and to discover how far back 'the family trade' went.
Patsy didn't know very much about her grandfather, just that he served in the First World War. She wondered whether finding out more about his life might help her understand why her father turned to crime.
We began to explore this line by approaching the National Archives in Kew which hold all surviving army records for the First World War. We searched for James Kensit's service record but unfortunately his name did not appear. However, this did not mean that Patsy was misinformed. In fact 60 per cent of First World War records were destroyed during the Blitz, the Nazi bombings during the Second World War, so it seemed likely that her grandfather's record was one of those lost.
The next line of enquiry was to see if we could find James Kensit listed on the Campaign Medal Index. At the end of the First World War, every serviceman was given appropriate campaign medals to reflect their military service, so if Patsy's grandfather had indeed served in the war he should be listed. This search proved successful: it revealed James Kensit's date of birth, that he was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and that he served in France. It also offered the tantalising information that he was awarded a British war medal, but forfeited it due to a civil conviction on 11 February 1921.
Patsy was understandably upset to discover that her grandfather had a civil conviction and wanted to find out more. The National Archives hold details of civil convictions and the records of the Central Criminal Court, which list offenders' convictions in detail, including the type of crime and the length of time served. The search revealed that James Kensit had a total of nine convictions, all for theft.
Having discovered two generations with criminal records, Patsy wanted to find out why this pattern had emerged in her family.
Identifying and visiting an area or place where an ancestor lived can often yield clues to help unlock mysteries from the past. We ordered James Kensit's birth certificate, as this would identify the exact location of his family home. As an added bonus the certificate would also indicate his father's profession, information that Patsy was understandably apprehensive about discovering. The Campaign Medal Index gave us James Kensit's date of birth so we were able to locate the birth certificate very easily.
Birth certificates are useful because they confirm not only the date of birth but also the parents' names, address and the profession of the father. In this case, Patsy discovered that her grandfather's father (Patsy's great-grandfather) was a walking stick finisher, and the address of Provost Street confirmed that the family lived in the East End. A walking stick finisher would have crafted the finishing touches to the sticks before they were sent to the shops.
It came as no surprise to Patsy that her great-grandfather grew up in the East End. However, identifying the exact street where her grandfather had lived helped profile the family even further. We used Charles Booth's Poverty Maps to gain a better understanding of life in Provost Street.
These maps are a useful tool for gaining an insight into the social history of London between 1886 and 1903. The streets are colour-coded in terms of wealth, poverty, crime, etc. Booth's map confirmed that the family were living in a very poor area. Historian and author Jerry White gave an outline of what life would have been like for the family, explaining that Patsy's great-grandfather would not have earned a great deal as a walking stick finisher and that the family would have experienced great hardship.
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