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At The Blind Beggar

March 31, 2014
by the gentle author

David Dobson, Landlord of the Blind Beggar

Henry VIII at the gaming machine – a rare image of this infamous monarch not recorded by Holbein yet a familiar sight in Whitechapel, where David Dobson landlord of The Blind Beggar delights to dress up in velvet robes and swan around like the ghost of the old king come back to haunt us.

The particular blind beggar in question is Henry de Montfort who lost his sight at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and became the subject of a Tudor ballad recounting the myth of his salvation by a young woman of Bethnal Green – where he ended his years begging at the crossroads, cared for by his only daughter. Subsequently, the image of the beggar and his daughter became the seal of the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green in 1900 and adorns the inn sign of The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel today.

Paradoxically, The Blind Beggar has become a site of pilgrimage for the devout,  seeking the location of the founding of the Salvation Army by William Booth, who started his independent mission by preaching outside in 1865. Converted to housing now, the former Albion Brewery stands next door towering over the pub that served as its tap room, until it closed in 1979. In 1808, it was the enterprising landlord of The Blind Beggar who bought the small brewery next door and named it the Albion Brewery, which grew to be the third largest in Britain by 1880 and, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the first Brown Ale was brewed here by Thomas Wells Thorpe.

In 1904, ‘Bulldog’ Wallace, a member of The Blind Beggar Gang of pickpockets who frequented the pub, stabbed another man in the eye with an umbrella – initiating the notoriety that coloured the reputation of the pub in the twentieth century, which reached its nadir with the shooting of Georgie Cornell by Ronnie Kray in March 1966, as recounted to me by Billy Frost, the Kray Twins’ driver.

“We don’t glorify it, we want to be famous for other things,” admitted David Dobson when Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined him for a jar last week. “For example, I’ve got the finest collection of Japanese Carp in the East End,” he assured me, as he led us into the garden and leaned over the vast tank full of fish, each as fat as my leg, so that his beloved charges might lift their heads from the water and permit him to stroke them affectionately under the chin.

“I enjoy the diversity of my clientele,” David confided, when I enquired about the rewards of his job, “Every day, I meet people from all over the world. We’ve had Jerry Springer here, and Brad Pitt’s popped in.”

Yet in spite of the glamour and the attention, David’s motive for acquiring the Blind Beggar is refreshingly simple. “I like drinking, so I bought the pub,” he confessed to me with an eager grin, raising a glass as he revealed a lifelong commitment to his pub, “It’s not a job for me, it’s way of life. I’m live here and I’m in every night – I’ll be leaving here in a box.”

The Blind Beggar, mid-nineteenth century – there has been a pub on this site since 1673

The current building was constructed in 1894

The Albion Brewery

The Watney Mann Brewery with The Blind Beggar attached

The Blind Beggar and the former Albion Brewery today

David Dobson, Publican & Proprietor

David and his Koi Carp

David pets his not-so-coy carp

“I wore it for a fancy dress party years ago, but now it’s just a habit.”

David and a local wag

David waits to welcome the Olympic Torch to Whitechapel in 2008

David Dobson - “I like drinking, so I bought the pub”

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

The Blind Beggar, 337 Whitechapel Rd, London E1

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. March 31, 2014

    A convincing and consistent philosophy of life! — I’ll give it a try when in London … :-)

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  2. March 31, 2014

    Looks like a jolly place to spend an evening – glad this pub hasn’t been closed down! Valerie

  3. mary moulder permalink
    March 31, 2014

    Loved the outfit! Mary from Tucson, AZ, USA

  4. sprite permalink
    April 1, 2014

    Love the puns of koi/carp and the habit!

  5. Lesley permalink
    April 2, 2014

    I have very fond memories of drinking in the garden of this pub on a (rare!) sunny afternoon back in 2008 when I used to live on Hackney Road. Great pub with lots of character – just like the owner it seems! Not too many places like that here in Australia. Would love to return for a pint one day!

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