Alfred Ernest TRAGHEIM


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Alfred Ernest TRAGHEIM
b: 25 JAN 1892
d: JAN 1976
Biography

Alfred Ernest Tragheim was one of the most notorious burglars of early 20th century Britain. He specialized in breaking into stately homes, often with his partner, William Weatherill. Both went to prison, and both ended up writing books about their lives of crime.

Alfred Ernest in fact went on to write several books, some of them novels.

His books were notable for their colorful use of prison and underworld slang, and he is cited in the Oxford English Dictionary as the first person to have recorded in writing the phrase “take the mickey” (actually in the form, “take the mike”).

In his later years he “went straight” and members of the family who knew him were shocked and disbelieving when they learned of his criminal past.

After a juvenile criminal career that landed him in Borstal, he took up with Weatherill in a house in the village of Lacey Green, in the Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire, England. Here’s a description from LaceyGreen.com:

In Kiln Lane, the two young tenants of' Malmsmead' were beginning to establish themselves. William Weatherill, aged twenty-two years, and Alfred Tragheim, aged twenty-one years, had viewed the property and considered it would be ideal for their needs. The new tenants readily agreed with the owner, Mrs. Hyde, who wished to let the property as furnished accommodation, to retain the gardener and housekeeper, so that the house and grounds might be cared for in a proper manner. To allay any anxiety that Mrs. Hyde may have had in letting to persons of such tender years, three months rent was paid in advance.

Weatherill, writing in later years, gives his readers a pen picture of Lacey Green and the house thus:

Lacey Green itself lies in beautiful country about two miles from Saunderton Station on the Great Western Railway to Aylesbury, and about three and a half miles from Princes Risborough and West Wycombe. We wanted a place where we would be absolutely secluded yet within easy working reach of London.

The house itself was an old-fashioned little affair standing in a few acres of its own grounds and well away from the beaten track. Let the reader visualize a stone-paved study and parlour, one of those great open fireplaces and ingle-nooks supported by ancient oak beams. It was picturesque, low ceilinged, but very draughty.

Everything about the place reeked of times gone by. It had a serving maid's kitchen over the top of a deep well with a pump in the corner, a dark little buttery, a narrow winding staircase leading to half a dozen quaint little bedrooms, and half-panelled walls dating back to the seventeenth century. But it suited us well.


These two polite, fashionable and smartly dressed young men purported to be medical students whose work frequently took them to London. To reach the Station from Lacey Green involved a two and a half mile walk, from Kiln Lane around Church Lane, then using the footpath to Small Dean Lane, finally continuing by Small Dean Lane to the Station.

The two young men could be observed leaving for their trips to London, smartly suited, wearing bowler hats, carrying rolled umbrellas and attache-cases. The villagers regarded them as two harum-scarum students who lived the 'high' life, for they would occasionally hire a car from Princes Risborough. The housekeeper, a local girl, Mary 'Polly' Claydon, was barred from the front bedroom at the western end of the house. This room was always kept locked, but she thought nothing of this, assuming the room was reserved for medical experiments.

The above picture of two high-class medical students, could not, in fact, have been farther from the truth. These young gentlemen had set up their headquarters in Kiln Lane, the nerve centre of operations for 'Smithson and Sikes', expert burglars and housebreakers. Weatherill, alias Frank Watson and Tragheim, alias Alfred Carlton, had served Borstal sentences and both had just been released prior to their arrival in Lacey Green.

Finally, in a place of their own, the two could sit down quietly in the evening, with the dimly burning oil lamp as means of illumination, to work out their schemes for the future. Here, unseen, unheard, unmolested and in splendid isolation, they set about their plans to raid a series of large country houses nationwide.

Their first exploit from Lacey Green was to a country mansion near Warwick, which provided 'rich pickings'. On another occasion plans were made to visit the Duke of Bedford's estate at Woburn Abbey, but this mission was aborted when they were spotted and chased by security guards. However, not being deterred, they relieved a gentleman farmer, in an adjoining village, of cash and jewellery. Making good their escape on an old bicycle and a horse belonging to the farmer, which they abandoned near Biggleswade, they visited the nearby home of a Bedfordshire brewer. Following another successful 'haul', they continued to Bedford, where they breakfasted, washed and brushed up, then caught the train back to London and thus Lacey Green after an eventful night's work. Another campaign of burglary took place in the counties of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.

All these expeditions were carried out by means of train travel, walking from Lacey Green to Saunderton Station, travelling to London and from thence to the desired destination. A couple of first-class quarterly season tickets were purchased for the journey from Saunderton to London. To avoid detection if plans when wrong, these tickets were placed in a safe deposit before taking a train from London to carry out burglaries. All the proceeds from these burglaries had to be transported from Saunderton Station to Lacey Green on foot, hidden in attache-cases.

The series of burglaries attracted the attention of Scotland Yard and police were alerted nationwide. It was said the Scotland Yard men would have been amazed if they could have seen the pair setting out from Lacey Green with their burglars' outfits. Tools, keys, maps, a rope ladder, a railway guide, gloves and masks, even their supper, were all hidden from sight in large attach?-cases. Indeed, it was reported that the local police constable would have received immediate promotion to sergeant had he known two such wanted men were living on his doorstep.

After this series of 'successful' exploits, the pair considered they had earned a holiday. The results of their labours had produced sufficient to allow a good living rate of ?25 per week, plus an excellent wardrobe. However, on the downside, a conglomeration of un-saleable stolen property was amassed, which was deposited in the locked bedroom. Alfred Carlton, who was a Scotsman, decided he would like to visit his family in Edinburgh, so the pair set off first -class from Kings Cross, travelling northwards in style.
Following a most unwelcome reception from Carlton's family, the pair toured Edinburgh. On their wanderings they hatched a plan to steal the crown jewels of Scotland, housed in the jewel room of Edinburgh Castle. The scene was inspected and a conclusion reached that the robbery might involve a certain amount of violence, in order to overcome the guard. A week was spent in researching the situation, before the pair returned to deepest Buckinghamshire to make their plans.

Back in Kiln Lane, it was decided that Carlton would use chloroform to disarm the guard, whilst this was in progress Watson would set about obtaining the jewels from the case. To this end Carlton, who fancied himself somewhat as a scientist, began some experiments to test his skills. As a result of his efforts the family cat and two tame mice succumbed to his deadly concoctions, whilst the poor unsuspecting housekeeper was lucky to escape with her life! Little thought was given to the sheer foolishness of the robbery, or if successful, the un-saleable items which would be obtained.

In the event the whole episode turned into a farce. The pair returned to Scotland, intent on putting the plan into action. They selected a dark, wet, foggy day, when there would be few visitors. Entering the jewel room, Carlton fumbled with the chloroform, but instead of administering it to the guard; he succeeded only in dropping the bottle, which broke upon the floor. This caused a terrible smell, which raised the suspicions of the guard. Luckily for them, however, the guard thought they were only playful students making themselves a nuisance and requested them to leave, otherwise they would have been in serious trouble.

In the early days of his 'career', Watson had taken to carrying a revolver around with him, an act that he grew to regret. He would even sleep with a pistol under his pillow in his bedroom at Lacey Green. This arose from the idea that the pair might be tackled by the police at any time and would have to fight for their lives.

The long trail of crime committed by these two young men came to an abrupt termination in Kent. Following successful 'operations' in that County, the pair selected a number of promising looking properties, which they proposed to revisit.

One evening in late spring, a few days after their previous visit, they arrived at Penshurst Station, on the last train, attired as prosperous City gents. They were the only passengers to alight, and in retrospect, arriving at a quiet village Station at such a late hour, was rather a foolish move. The ticket collector, who in the ordinary course of events would have known everyone, cleverly took no heed of the two strangers, but, being an observant fellow, his suspicions were aroused, knowing as he did of the recent burglaries in the area. Immediately the pair had left the Station the ticket collector contacted the police. Watson and Carlton set off for their night's work, blissfully unaware of the events that were to befall them.

The first house they visited was the home of a Lord, but he was away abroad. The house being particularly well secured, the project was quickly abandoned. The second house proved to be that of a Canon, however, there was no sign of great wealth and only a few shillings were realised in this exercise.

A move was made across the road to the home of the Chairman of the Thames Ironworks. Here, after a struggle to gain entry, fortune smiled upon them. Once inside they had the free run of the house. All the downstairs reception rooms were systematically ransacked before moving upstairs to the bedrooms. In one of the bedrooms they found the family jewels, such a haul they had been searching for from the beginning.
There were diamond and ruby pendants, tiaras, bracelets, necklets, rings and watches, together with a host of other glittering articles of a women's personal jewellery. By a strange twist of fate it later transpired that this jewellery had only been removed from the safe that day, because workmen were undertaking repairs to the room where the safe was housed.

Well pleased with the night's work, the couple had the cheek to return to the Canon's residence, to 'wash and bush up', before their return to London and thence Lacey Green. By the time this task was completed dawn had broken; finding the most convenient Station for their return to London to be Ashurst, they set off in that direction.

On the way to Ashurst Station a cyclist, who eyed them in a keen fashion, passed the couple, but the pair paid little attention to him. It later proved to be that this was just one of a number of plain-clothes policemen searching the countryside for them. On arrival at the Station, Watson ordered two tickets for London, but before these could be obtained, a gentleman tapped him on the shoulder, requesting him to step into the waiting room for a minute.

The man, who was quickly followed by two colleagues, explained that they were police officers with instructions to stop and interrogate all strangers, following a number of burglaries in the district. Being reluctant to give their names and addresses, or to disclose the contents of their baggage, the pair were forced to await the arrival of the Superintendent of Police from Tonbridge. The London bound train arrived and departed; as both men racked their brains for a means of escape, it became increasingly obvious that the game was finally up. Carlton asked for a drink of water and a police officer was despatched to obtain one. As the policeman departed, Watson opened his bag and produced a loaded revolver. Just at that moment the policeman returned with the water, but seeing the revolver dropped the water and flung himself on Watson, who, following a struggle was quickly disarmed. In the ensuing chaos Carlton made a blind dash from the platform and fled, making his way up the road for a mile or two, however, once Watson had been rendered harmless, the police were quickly on his track and he was soon recaptured.

Once the Superintendent arrived he examined the couple's bags, informing them they would have to accompany him to Tonbridge to explain the presence of the innumerable valuable articles found therein. The pair usually left their railway passes in London when out 'working', however, on this occasion they happen to be carrying them, thus disclosing not only their destination, Saunderton Station, but also their names and the address of their 'hideaway' in Kiln Lane, Lacey Green.

Buckinghamshire police were soon advised of the events and lost no time in raiding 'Malmsmead'. The police forced entry to the house, much to the trepidation of the housekeeper, via a ladder to the front upstairs bedroom window, the locked bedroom - where they discovered a considerable amount of stolen property. A police spokesman commented that a cartload of stuff had been found at 'Malmsmead', the house being like a marine store dealer's.

In their possession on that late spring morning they had jewellery estimated to value 6000 pounds. After several months investigation into other crimes nationwide, the pair appeared at Maidstone, where they were sentenced, after pleading guilty. Carlton was given four and a half years penal servitude, and Watson, the perceived mastermind, and as the elder man, who should have known better, five years.


In prison, Tragheim found himself aggrieved by the fact that he had such a long sentence, and he went on hunger strike. He was force-fed daily, and chalked up a record for the longest prison hunger strike in British prison history.

On his release, he approached the American former war journalist DeWitt MacKenzie, with stories he had written about his crimes. With MacKenzie’s encouragement, he wrote and published Hell’s Kitchen: The story of London's underworld as related by the notorious ax-burglar George Ingram to Dewitt MacKenzie.

He later published the novels Stir, Stir Train, The Muffled Man, and the recollection Cockney Cavalcade.
He moved to the US (possibly assisted by MacKenzie) and lived in Paterson, NJ. He returned to the UK, where he died.




Dave Wiles: “You asked about when I met Alfred, well, that was a very long time ago in the late 60's or early 70's. I actually only met him a couple of times, he always seemed a little shy of company.
Any meeting would be at his sister Kate’s house in Finstock Road, Notting Hill. He would always stay with Kate when he was in London. I really only have vague memories of him as a little old man with a slight German accent. I really was not in his company for very long - he kept himself to himself, and whilst Aunt Kate, who was a superb dressmaker, would entertain us in her kitchen (which doubled as her dress-making workroom), Alfred would shut himself away in the Living Room... He was always generous towards me though, I have recollections of leaving with a shiny half-crown in my hand... Also, he was as I remember good at magic tricks - producing coins from nowhere...  A bit of a showman at heart?

”My mother, knew Alfred quite well, he was my parent's landlord when they rented a flat at 202 Lancaster Road, which believe it or not, was just across the railway line from 10 Rillington Place. My mother remembers when the police were digging-up Christie's victims from the garden...  Anyway, my mother just cannot believe what you have told me about Alfred, she thinks you are lying, or at least that is her current opinion - I'll have to persuade her otherwise...”
Facts
  • 25 JAN 1892 - Birth - ; Kensington, London
  • 28 FEB 1892 - Baptism - ; St Mark, Notting Hill, London
  • JAN 1976 - Death - ; Kensington, London
  • 28 MAR 1958 - Naturalization - ; Los Angeles, California
  • 1892 - Residence - ; 20 St George’s Road, London
  • 1911 - Residence - ; Borstal, Rochester
  • 1913 - Residence - ; Malmsmead, Kiln Lane, Lacey Green, Buckinghamshire
  • MAR 1958 - Residence - ; 1273 1/2 Huntley Dr, Los Angeles 26, CA
  • Occupation - Burglar, Author
  • 1892 - Residence - ; 20 St George’s Road, London
  • 1911 - Residence - ; Borstal, Rochester
  • 1913 - Residence - ; Malmsmead, Kiln Lane, Lacey Green, Buckinghamshire
  • MAR 1958 - Residence - ; 1273 1/2 Huntley Dr, Los Angeles 26, CA
Ancestors
   
Samuel TRAGHEIM
10 AUG 1838 -
 
 
Alfred TRAGHEIM
ABT 1868 - DEC 1906
  
  
  
Catherine WINTON
1 AUG 1837 - 1914
 
Alfred Ernest TRAGHEIM
25 JAN 1892 - JAN 1976
  
 
  
?
 
 
Jessie WRIGHT
ABT 1867 - 27 JAN 1956
  
  
  
?
 
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) Alfred TRAGHEIM
BirthABT 1868Norwich, Norfolk, England
DeathDEC 1906
Marriage4 JUL 1886to Jessie WRIGHT at St. Marks Church, Nottinghill, London
FatherSamuel TRAGHEIM
MotherCatherine WINTON
PARENT (F) Jessie WRIGHT
BirthABT 1867Spitalfields, London
Death27 JAN 195627 Finstock Road, Kensington
Marriage4 JUL 1886to Alfred TRAGHEIM at St. Marks Church, Nottinghill, London
Father?
Mother?
CHILDREN
MEdward James TRAGHEIM
Birth8 SEP 1889Gilmerton, Liberton, Edinburgh
Death13 MAR 1918Flanders, Belgium
Marriage23 MAY 1915to Alice MAYHEW at Kensington, London, England
MGeorge TRAGHEIM
BirthABT 1887
Death1945
MarriageABT 1925to Ellen HAYMAN at Kensington, London, England
Marriage4 JUL 1909to Mary Jane RICHARDS at St Jude’s Church, Kensall Green, London
FViolet Louise TRAGHEIM
Birth26 FEB 188824 Talbot Grove, Kensington, London
Death7 DEC 197065 Hill Rise, Greenford, Middlesex
Marriage1911to Robert William WILES at Paddington, London, England
FJessie Diana TRAGHEIM
Birth30 DEC 1906Kensington, London
Death12 DEC 1971London
Marriageto Thomas Francis COCKLIN
MAlexander Winton TRAGHEIM
Birth1898Kensington, London
Death1930
MAlfred Ernest TRAGHEIM
Birth25 JAN 1892Kensington, London
DeathJAN 1976Kensington, London
FCatherine Winton TRAGHEIM
Birth1 FEB 1896Kensington, London
DeathOCT 1986Kensington & Chelsea, London
MFrederick Thomas TRAGHEIM
Birth1903Kensington, London
Death1903Kensington, London
FMay Ellen TRAGHEIM
Birth1907Kensington, London
Death
MRobert Sidney TRAGHEIM
Birth1901Kensington, London
DeathABT 1950
Marriage1929to Mary STOCKWELL at Stepney, Middlesex
FFlorence Margaret TRAGHEIM
Birth1894Kensington, London
Death1950
Marriageto Thomas James WILLIAMS
Marriage1918to Harry D GRAHAM at Kensington
FEllen May TRAGHEIM
Birth30 DEC 1906Kensington, London
DeathABT 1990
M(Baby) TRAGHEIM
Birth30 DEC 1906Kensington, London
Death30 DEC 1906Kensington, London
Evidence
[S16]U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project) Record for Alfred Ernest Tragham

6 thoughts on “Alfred Ernest TRAGHEIM

  1. This was my great Uncle Alf, My Grandad married his sister Florence. The family story was that Uncle Alf was a Medical doctor and had got struck off because he wanted to legalise abortions instead of the “back street abortions” that were being done at the time. He was a very kind man to me and gave me the advice to get out of Portobello Lane (market) before e I got into serious trouble, My Grandfather actually gave him £1000 pound so that he could get to the USA. Uncle Alf told me that because of that debt he had wanted my dad and mum to go to California to start a new life. He owned several properties there including ranches when he died Untie Kate was left without any benefit from Uncles Alfs estate as his will in the USA were doctored.

    • Hi, Paul.

      It’s lovely to hear from you. From the books he wrote (and other sources), what I gathered was that he had hoped to become a doctor, but had committed a crime at a young age and been sent to Borstal (the original institution of that name rather than the Borstal system generally). I don’t know what crime it was that he committed.

      He had studied some chemistry (enough that he was able to manufacture some chloroform) so he probably actually started his university studies. I don’t know where. Having gone to Borstal derailed his medical plans. I can’t remember if it was in Borstal or after going to prison again for another crime, but inside he fell in with George Smithson, who was a little older and probably a more hardened criminal, and the two of them hatched the plan to rob stately homes. After he went straight he wrote several books and as you said he moved to the US. I haven’t come across anything saying what he did here, or indicating that he owned any properties, so what you said is very interesting. I haven’t had time to do any family research for several years now, but hope to get back to it at some point and fill in those gaps.

      • I would love to find Uncle Alfs books do you know if they are still available by any chance? The Traghieim side of the family looked down on the Williams, as my grandad Thomas who married Florence was only a greengrocer in Portobello Market but he was very successful and very generous to a fault, when he died 1957 he was owed thousands of pounds by most of the families from the market, he said “ I may be just a greengrocer with 3 stalls but I’ve never robbed anyone in my life unlike the other side”. His funeral cortège stretched the length of portobello market . My mum tells me she had never seen so many flowers in her life as every wholesaler in Covent Garden sent flowers from each person who worked there, so if one wholesaler had 6 employees 7 reefs were sent , so if you multiply this by the number of wholesalers you can see why she said this. Then include the 100 or so porters and that was just from Covent Garden. During the war my dad said that they had 1500 ration books and nobody went with out anything ( good old black market and farmers), and uf the husband or son was away fighting he didn’t take there money.
        When Uncle Alf left prison he lived with them for several years. He obviously changed his way of life and I was grateful to listen to him and not in up in the nick, which many of the people ended up in including my dad. As for the will I know what part of the family made him change it , they also done the same to Auntie Kate who was the sweetest women.

        • None of his books are in publication, but you can sometimes pick them up in second-hand book shops. He published under the pseudonym George Ingram (which was a family name — the name of an uncle, I think). His first book, “Hell’s Kitchen,” was jointly authored with DeWitt Mackenzie, an American journalist and editor. They seem to have remained friends, and I think Mackenzie helped Alf move to the US.

          • Try to get hold of “Raffles in Real Life” by “Gentleman George” (George Smithson). He was Alf’s partner in crime, and so you get to see Alf from the outside. “Gangs of London” by Brian McDonald also has a sizable section on Alf’s criminal career.

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