It was the Roaring Twenties in London, and the city was on fire with a mirth that many thought they would never see again after the horrors of World War I.
Nightclubs, cocktail bars and jazz joints throbbed with the youngsters.
The dresses were shorter, the heels higher.
In the 1920s, young women drove branded cars in the capital, young men enjoyed a freedom not afforded to their war-traumatized fathers, and the city’s youth were decked out in the finest. furs, jewelry, costumes and silks on this side of the Empire State Building.
It was the age of Bright Young Thing, immortalized in English cultural heritage by Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford.
READ MORE: The pretty village just outside London which was destroyed by King Henry VIII to make way for a palace
And if you weren’t born into the upper classes that gave you the opportunity to live a life of unprecedented decadence and debauchery, then hard, better luck the next life.
Unless you are Alice Diamond, the famous London gangster and leader of the infamous criminal girl gang “The Forty Elephants”.
Diamond and his loyal gang have become the stuff of legend.
But who were they?
Born in the Lambeth Workhouse hospital ward in 1896, Diamond’s father himself was no stranger to the life of crime and disorder.
He had three criminal convictions at the time of his birth, including an incident which saw him punch the then mayor’s son through a glass door, causing the latter to seriously injure him.
Diamond’s own criminal career began when she was warned for stealing chocolate at the age of 15.
And at the age of 18 – several convictions for theft later – she was named by the London press as the new “Queen of the Forty Elephants”.
The Forty Elephants were an all-female gang that existed long before Diamond herself even finished learning the alphabet – some historians claim it dates back to the 1700s.
First featured in mainstream media by Alice Carr – who, in her heyday in 1900, was known as London’s most dangerous woman.
It was a strict, tightly-run ship of thieves, who would stop at nothing to steal and make their way to a life of glitter and gold.
Stealing material items such as fur coats, designer shoes and Parisian jewelry meant that these working-class women could break the strict and ruthless class structure they were born into and make their way through the upper echelons. of a society where they would otherwise have been frozen. out of.
They approached their relationships with a strict sense of Mafia-level rules and codes, often working with the all-male Elephant and Castle gang with whom many had personal connections, of which Diamond’s own brother was a member.
The gang were known for their extravagant lifestyle and even crazier parties.
While many found themselves making jail time from time to time, there was a consensus among elephants that it was a better alternative to the life their mothers had lived.
Diamond herself was particularly feared. She was tall for a woman at the time, and rumor has it that the diamond rings stacked on her fingers unfolded into a brass knuckle.
From Croydon to Catford, Peckham to Putney, MyLondon wants to make sure you get the latest news, reviews and features from your part of South London.
Now there is a way to keep up to date with the areas that interest you with our free email newsletter.
The South London Newsletter comes out twice a day and sends you the latest stories straight to your inbox.
To sign up for the South London newsletter, simply follow this link and select the newsletter that suits you.
And to truly personalize your news experience on the go, you can download our top rated free apps for iPhone and Android. Find out more here.
This gives a whole new meaning to the term blood diamond.
Newspapers in Britain and the United States were mesmerized by this group, with rumors about the gang – especially Diamond – flooding both the gossip columns and the front pages.
And there were no limits to the ambition of the Elephants and the means they would implement to achieve it.
From the big, elaborate heists that make Ocean’s Eight look like a corner store operation in comparison, to the older aristocrats masquerading as housekeepers – some stories include the artful seduction of the most eligible young singles in the capital – they were elephants in name and underground lions by nature.
Diamond herself never married, but had a long-term relationship with the leader of the Elephant and Castle gang, Bert McDonald.
Once she decided the life of crime was behind her, Diamond handed over the reins of gang leadership to young Lillian Rose Kendall, a boyish-looking girl of considerable beauty and still means. more imaginative to accumulate material goods, including the crash of his car. at Cartier as a method of break-in.
Upon retirement, Diamond opened a brothel in Lambeth.
When World War II broke out, Diamond refused to evacuate London, insisting on staying in the city where she has devoted much of her life to ruling.
She died on April 1, 1952, at the age of 55.
Do you have a story you think we should cover? If so, send an email to [email protected]
Want more MyLondon? Sign up for our daily newsletters for all the latest and greatest from London here.