The Weird World Of London Robberies


19Go on, admit it. If you’re over thirty, right after you heard about the Hatton Garden robbery you thought of Sid James and gelignite and vans roaring out of post offices. You secretly think it’s a bit cool robbing safety deposit boxes. It’s old-school-drop-it-copper-and-nobody-gets-hurt thieving in the grand tradition of the Great Train Robbery.

There’s a complex hidden world in the jewellery quarter of Hatton Garden that’s going to get more attention now that it has become the site of the biggest heist recorded in British history. I dipped into this labyrinthine network of subterranean spaces in ‘Bryant & May 11: The Bleeding Heart’ and found that it it does exist. There’s a lot of talk about abandoned railway platforms, wartime bunkers, old passages built by the monks of Ely and the remains of London’s second-largest river – the Fleet, which still flows through sewers beneath Farringdon Road.

Now, apart from the last part (you can hear the river in the road outside the Coach & Horses) some of this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt and some may actually be bollocks, but we do know that in Hatton Garden itself there are over 60 retail jewellery shops, and a great many small workshops that can only be accessed by those in the trade. Narrow underlit stairwells lead to tiny rooms with angled floors, and if you are recognised on the CCTV, the first of several steel doors might open, but each has to lock shut before the next can be accessed. There are heavily guarded underground vaults filled with safety deposit boxes and stores of gold and silver. They store the output of the steel-lined workshops where specialist items are made to order.

In Hatton Garden’s secure basements goldsmiths work using centuries-old methods and Hasidic diamond merchants sit examining gems. Once, before the war, diamond deals were conducted openly on street corners or across tables in the little kosher cafés that existed in the area. Now though, the latest hi-tech equipment has been installed to prevent robbery – but clearly it doesn’t always work. And in the case of this new robbery, details are thin on the ground.

Because of the secrecy surrounding it all, the temptation to create fictions around the area is strong. Heists have always featured in British film history, from ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ (sublime) to ‘The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery’ (ridiculous). Stanley Baker starred in Peter Yates’ excellent ‘Robbery’, and more recently Jason Statham was in the rather good ‘The Bank Job’, in which safety deposit boxes turn out to contain evidence of a royal scandal (this part being based on fact). The Mayfair smash and grab has long been considered grudging fair game, whether it’s Sid James with a brick or a complicated system of disguised postal workers unloading sacks.

Perhaps I should put Bryant & May in charge of such an investigation.

5 comments on “The Weird World Of London Robberies”

  1. Alan Morgan says:

    Definitely! It seems almost remiss of you now you bring it up. Our favourite uncles need to lock horns with the flying squad.

  2. Andy W. says:

    Bryant & May in charge please do – once again The Met / Flying squad are a laughing international joke.
    Boris’s wheelie Bins used in the heist, just pushed down the road full of the loot,alarms ignored, also what
    happened to Big Brother and all his cameras, probably switched off to save money.
    Allegedly all Mr Putins comrades will be enjoying their vodka once again in the streets of London.
    I await,no demand a short B & M story including wheelie bins & a cheeky foreign chap riding home drunk on a Boris
    push bike !

  3. Alan Morgan says:

    1970s, with John being 70s-dapper.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    The opportunities are almost endless, Admin. Real life providing fodder for fiction yet again.

  5. jan says:

    DON’T – just don’t
    here did u like the sloe gin?

Comments are closed.