Some are thrilled by the discovery of a criminal forebear in their family tree, but Patsy’s 'black sheep' is a little too close for comfort. Her late father Jimmy Kensit was a villain connected to the most notorious gangsters of 1960s London – Reggie Kray is godfather to Patsy’s brother, Jamie.
Though apprehensive about what she might discover, Patsy wants to know more about her father’s murky past and to understand the roots of his criminality. “There were so many secrets,” she says, “but I feel ready to confront them.” She meets first with a criminologist who has unearthed a copy of her father’s criminal record, revealing the true extent of his involvement with the underworld.
Keen to find out where it all began to go wrong for Jimmy, Patsy investigates his early life in London’s impoverished East End. Documents at the National Archives reveal that Jimmy’s father was also prolific criminal. “It’s a sad discovery,” says Patsy. “They say ‘give us a child until he’s seven and we will show you the man’. His Dad was in and out of prison – that was his role model. It fills me with fear of what comes after this.”
But Patsy is pleased to find that her great-grandfather James Kensit was an impoverished, though apparently honest, “walking stick finisher”. “[It’s] a trade, a craft,” she laughs with relief. “As long as they were used for walking, and not for other things, we’re alright!” James and his family lived on the breadline in the slums of East London, but a further clue takes her back another generation and out to Beckenham in Kent.
There Patsy discovers that her great-grandfather Thomas James Kensit was illegitimate and, although – unusually – his name appears on the birth certificate, his mother never married his father, James Dennis. Pursuing this new and previously unknown line, Patsy finds that during the late 19th century her 3x great grandfather, James Dennis Senior, was the much-loved sexton of the local parish church.
Craftsmen and clergymen
Returning thereafter to the Kensit branch, Patsy uses parish records to take her further back and finds out that her 4x great grandfather Joseph was a “goldbeater”. Her next stop is the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, one of London’s Great Livery companies, where she finds out more about Joseph Kensit’s highly skilled career making gold leaf.
At Goldsmith’s Hall she also finds an amazing document concerning his son, Thomas Kensit, which reveals how this family of affluent artisans were plunged into poverty by the mechanisation of their trade. “That’s heartbreaking,” says Patsy. “One day you’ve got a craft that’s steady – that’s honest – and then it’s redundant.”
The paperwork also provides Patsy with another direct ancestor – Reverend James Mayne, for 40 years curate of St Matthew’s Church in Bethnal Green. “It’s really weird to think that my Dad, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Bethnal Green, has this ancestor – nearly 200 years ago – who was a clergyman in the same area,” she says.
Records at Lambeth Palace Library show that James Mayne dedicated his life to helping the poor and was granted a prestigious honorary degree by the Archbishop of Canterbury. “I’m bursting with pride,” says a delighted Patsy. “At the beginning I knew nothing, it stopped with my dad. Now I know about five generations of the Kensit line; and it’s respectable! It’s wonderful to carry this with me.”