William Claude Rains was born on 10 November 1889 in Camberwell, London. His parents were Emily Eliza (née Cox) and the stage actor Frederick William Rains. He lived in the slums of London and in his own words on "the wrong side of the river Thames" Rains was one of twelve children, all but three dying of malnutrition when still infants. His mother took in boarders in order to support the family. According to his daughter, he grew up with "a very serious Cockney accent and a speech impediment" which took the form of a stutter, which caused him to call himself "Willie Wains". His native accent was so strong that his daughter couldn't understand a word he said when he used it to sing old Cockney songs to her or purposely use it to playfully annoy her. Rains left school after the second grade to sell papers so that he could bring the pennies and halfpennies home for his mother. He sang in the Palm Street Church choir which also brought him a few pence to take home.