In general, I was never a great fan of crime stories, neither was I a student of murder mysteries, much less serial killers. My interest came from a rather different direction.
Having been born and spent my early years in North Ealing, it was a fairly frequent event to travel into central London via the A40 Western Avenue, later to include the elevated Westway section and, when travelling in the family car, my late father would gesture towards the grimy terraces close to the road as it passed through North Kensington and observe solemnly: “Down there, that’s where Rillington Place was -
A short distance from North Ealing was Park Royal -
This factory was also the place where, in early 1944, John Christie went to work as a driver after having been released, at his own request, from the War Reserve Police in December of the previous year -
Finding out more . . .
IN THE BEGINNING
‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple . . .’ Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest)
Why the interest?
Down there, that’s where Rillington Place was – terrible murders, so dreadful they had to change the name of the street...
10 Rillington Place
A transistor radio made at
Ultra Electric Limited . . .
a meeting place for murder.
Some years later, I found myself living and working in The Royal Borough and once again, probably in response to the film being shown on television, my interest was aroused. By this time, the Internet was starting to become more of a feature of daily life and my first impulse was of course to carry out a Web search in the belief that someone somewhere would already have created and posted the definitive work, or at least a few maps and pictures. To my surprise and disappointment I could find little of relevance and nothing of consequence beyond someone’s rather half-
It will have been some time in the mid-
In any case what could have been so terrible that even the name of the street could not have been allowed to remain? I had never heard of such a thing before. At a tender age, and without so much as an encyclopaedia to refer to, let alone an Internet, it was difficult to pursue as by then even the old copy of the A-
In 1970, the film starring Richard Attenborough in the role of John Christie was made and premiered in the UK in January 1971 (and on general release from May) but I would not have gone to see such a film at that time as it might not have seemed either all that suitable or of any great interest. In due course, perhaps a few years later, the film was shown on television for the first time, and that was the moment when, as a young adult, the whole subject came once again into my field of view.
The one great merit of the film for historical purposes is that it made use of the street itself for external location shooting -
More years passed, and by this time I was pursuing a musical interest -
With somewhat quickened pulse as I drew near, the initial impression was both confusing and rather disappointing. It would have been 1978 and, as I now know, the modern developments of Bartle Road, St Andrew’s Square and Wesley Square had only just reached completion. I could see enough to know that I was in the right place -
The Local Studies section of the Kensington Central Library provided an essential collection of resources in the form of historical maps, electoral register records, press cuttings, period photographs and much other documentation. This was to prove vital in developing the whole wider account that was later to be undertaken -
Perhaps this book might best be described as the story of what happened to me when I resolved to find out . .
(Revision: August 2020)