The Hatton Garden burglary in 2015 has captured the nation’s imagination. So much so, that recent reports of Jim Broadbent and Michael Caine’s new film adaptation of the event will be the crime’s third on the big screen in as many years. A few old blokes – one a narcoleptic – pulled off the most valuable heist in London’s criminal history, stealing an estimated £25 million worth of goods from the safe depository in Holborn only a few hundred metres from the Royal Courts of Justice. Needless to say, organised crime is often viewed ambivalently by a public obsessed with the drama and romance of thieving and swindling, despite the harm done along the way.
But to find an equally compelling criminal story we need not wait for another grand heist. Looking back through the annals of London crime is exactly what writer Brian McDonald did. In his 2010 book, Gangs of London, he drew attention to the Forty Elephants Gang, a syndicate of working class women who lived in and around London Bridge and whose greatest notoriety came from their glamorous exploits of shoplifting, blackmail and extortion in London’s West End. The topic was so extraordinary he returned to his research and, in 2015, Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants was published.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Definitive records show that the Elephants operated between 1873 and the 1950s, but there is some evidence to suggest that the gang’s origins can be placed as early as the end of the 18th century. The gang’s name is not as cryptic as it may sound: the number is a rough estimate of its membership and the choice of animal is due to two factors: that they all lived around the Elephant and Castle pub in Southwark, and – more significantly – on leaving shops with their stolen goods under their clothes, the sheer volume of garb made them look like elephants. Only women were allowed to be members and they were almost all exclusively from a working class background; they rejected the jobs that people like them were condemned to do and instead, similarly to the suffragette movement, they took matters into their own hands. However, instead of fighting for the right to vote, the Elephants wanted something more immediate: financial independence. They would steal clothes and jewellery, sell them on for far less than they were worth, and distributed the earnings amongst their community, providing their families with a lot more than they could otherwise hope to.
McDonald’s second book uses as its focal point one of the most iconic characters from the gang’s history, Alice Diamond. Standing at five feet nine inches with a full figure, Diamond was a physical match for most men in London at the time and wearing diamond rings for knuckledusters, she made best use of her natural bulk. She became the gang’s ‘Queen’ in 1916, aged 20, and under her formidable leadership, the group’s success reached new heights. Often co-ordinating simultaneous raids at various jewellery and clothes shops around the capital, the Elephants under Diamond bamboozled the Metropolitan Police and weren’t afraid of using violence to get themselves out of tight spots. Their armoury consisted of a combination of wily trickery to distract unwitting shop attendants and expert seduction tactics to build up a highly pliable network of influential men. In this way, the gang was able to blackmail and swindle their way out of the reach of the law, and the Forty Elephants funded a life of decadence in London’s roaring twenties, hanging about the glamorous hotels, bars and theatres they could only dream about before their turn to crime.
When responding to a magistrate during one of her numerous court appearances about her violent treatment of policemen, Alice Diamond said: ‘Police forces are set up by governments to stop others getting a share of what they’ve got!’ It is this anarchic attitude, underpinned by a sense of fighting social inequality, which has reignited public interest in the Forty Elephants. A Canadian theatre company recently took its play adaptation of the gang’s history to Edinburgh Festival, while BBC screenplay writer Marnie Dickens has been said to be working on a series which might offer the same allure to viewers as the hugely successful Peaky Blinders.
The success of the Hatton Garden Heist will long be remembered for its slapstick incompetence, but there is equally plenty of mileage left in resurrecting the Forty Elephants Gang. It is no surprise, given the extraordinary story of a few dozen women who, equipped with some light fingers and a sense of social purpose, managed to terrorise London’s rich and metropolitan elite for the best part of a century.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.