*This story was also included in ‘The Five Boroughs’ project.
This week it’s the story of Bethnal Green born swindler and early 20th Century rogue, Horatio Bottomley.
“Over the years London has played host to many gangsters and criminals but one name you’re unlikely to find sandwiched between Jack the Ripper and Mad Frankie Fraser is the less terrifyingly named, Horatio Bottomley who sounds more like a sad rejected extra from the Muppet Show than an evil genius.”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Fruit Of A Wicked Plant’.
Born in 1860 Horatio Bottomley was placed into an orphanage at an early age. At 14 he was turfed out and left to fend for himself but landed a job as a shorthand legal writer for a company firm. It was during this time that he developed his real education; not in how to abide by the law but in how to circumvent it.
On leaving the firm he managed to raise funds to start his own publishing business, before leaving all the investors high and dry, escaping with all the money. But Bottomley managed to avoid criminal charges because what Horatio lacked in the name department, he more than made up for with his intellectual abilities and silver tongue.
His next project was an old classic; promised unlimited wealth from an area so far away that know one would ever actually visit the place. Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Between 1893 and 1903 he set up over 50 fraudulent mining companies and generated a personal fortune of over £3 million which he spent wisely on gambling and champagne.
Horatio’s next idea was a real winner. What better way to promote your illegal schemes than by creating a paper promoting them? And so ‘The Financial Times’ was born with Mr Bottomley as its chairman.
So what’s next for a conman with the gift of the gab and absolutely no scruples? Why politics of course! And so he entered Parliament representing South Hackney, before being thrown out in 1912 due to bankruptcy.
During the war years Horatio Bottomley made a packet with enlistment speeches, some other high-end scams and another stint in parliament, before the past caught up with him and was eventually sent to prison for seven years.
On his release from the clink, and weighing in at 17 stone, Bottomley was convinced that his future lay under the bright lights of the West End theatre. It was here that he ended his days telling jokes and stories at the Windmill Theatre inbetween the performances of strippers.
Horatio Bottomley eventually suffered a heart attack on stage in 1933 and died shortly afterwards. But he wasn’t the only one that was convinced that his future lay in showbiz. On clearing out an old West End theatre in the 1970’s, and old notebook was found that once belonged to playwright Noel Coward. Inside were notes from a play he had been planning on the life of Horatio Bottomley.