The Blind Beggar is one of the most famous pubs in the East End of London, if not in London itself, although some of its history is more infamous than famous. For some, it is most associated with local gangsters, the Kray twins, who audaciously murdered a criminal in its saloon bar.
Historic East End Pubs – The Blind Beggar
However, the pub also has links with a Norman knight, brown ale, the Salvation Army and the Monopoly board game. The Blind Beggar is located on Whitechapel Road, in Whitechapel.
How the Blind Beggar Got its Name
The Blind Beggar was built in 1894. It is thought that it is located on the site of an old inn, which was built in the early 1600s. Its name comes from a local connection with a knight, Henry de Montfort, who lived in a grand manor house in the area. Legend has it that de Montfort was wounded and blinded at the Battle of Evesham and was left wandering and with no memory. He was found by a nobleman’s daughter, who married him. Their child, Besse, could not find a husband as her father had no status, as he was the blind beggar of Bethnal Green. When Besse finally found a suitor who loved her for herself, he was rewarded by Henry’s father.
The Home of Modern Brown Ale
During the 19th century, the Blind Beggar was located next to, and was part of, the Mann, Crosman and Paulin’s brewery. This was the ninth largest brewery in the country at this time. In 1902, the brewery’s head brewer, Thomas Wells Thorpe, devised a recipe for a new type of bottled brown ale. He described this as the “sweetest beer” in London – most other brown beers at the time were darker and sourer than modern brown ales. It is thought that this brown ale was the granddaddy of the brown ale we now drink. It was marketed as “The Original Brown Ale”.
William Booth and the Salvation Army
The Blind Beggar is held to be the place where William Booth started the Salvation Army. Booth did a lot of good works in the area and also held open air preaching sessions. He held his first independent sermon outside the Blind Beggar pub just before he started the East London Christian Mission, which evolved into the Salvation Army. You can see a statue commemorating Booth’s work close to the pub.
Ronnie Kray and George Cornell
The Blind Beggar is a must-visit pub for people who are interested in criminal London due to its connection with the Kray twins. The Krays were notorious local gangsters who ruled over most of the East End in the 1950s and 1960s. The pub was a regular haunt for both the twins, their gang members and other local criminals.
On the 9th March 1966, Ronnie Kray entered the pub and shot dead George Cornell at the saloon bar. Cornell was a member of a rival group of gangsters and he had spent some time winding Ronnie up by calling him a “big fat poof”. This may have been the reason Ronnie shot him, although some sources think that he did it to send a message to Cornell’s bosses, the Richardson Brothers, who were in dispute with the Krays.
In either case, Cornell could not control himself and started mocking the mentally unstable Ronnie when he came into the pub. Ronnie calmly took out a gun and shot him in the head; he died later that night in hospital. Kray’s companion shot his gun at the ceiling a few times to distract the people sitting in the pub and, it is thought, to give them the message that they should not talk to the police about the shooting. Although there were a few witnesses at the scene who told police that Ronnie Kray had definitely been the shooter, all of them were too scared to testify. It took police until 1969 before they could charge Ronnie with George Cornell’s murder.
The Blind Beggar and Monopoly
The monopoly pub tour is quite popular with Londoners and visitors, although you do need some stamina to complete it successfully! The aim of the tour is to visit all of the London properties on a Monopoly board in one day – you have to have a drink at a pub in each location. The favoured pub for the Whitechapel stop is the Blind Beggar.
Finally, if you take a guided Jack the Ripper walk, you may well end up in the Blind Beggar during the tour. There is no evidence connecting the Ripper with the pub, which was built after the last murder. However, given its location and the fact that Jack the Ripper was never caught, he may well have stepped in for a glass or two.