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The Carpenters Arms, Gangster Pub

October 22, 2009
by the gentle author

Carpenters arms

When this photo was taken, The Carpenters’ Arms in Cheshire St was the most notorious pub in London – owned by the gangster twins, Reggie and Ronnie Kray who bought it in 1967 for their mother Violet. They grew up in house just a hundred yard away at 178 Vallance Road, went to Wood Close School in Brick Lane and as youngsters frequented the Repton Boys’ Boxing Club (London’s oldest  boxing gym, established in 1884 and still in existence) midway between the pub and their home. This was their manor, they hung their boxing gloves over the Carpenters’ crest behind the bar and such was their gallows humour that (so the story goes) they had the counter made up from coffin lids.

The Krays were pair of cruel psychopaths who became the most infamous of East End gangsters and bizarrely sought out the society of celebrities in the vain hope of drawing attention from their litany of crimes. It is strange to me that Barbara Windsor (someone for whom I have great respect) can claim to have known nothing of the brothers’ criminal activities while she was dating Reggie. Eventually, both twins ended up convicted with life sentences for murder and the whole story came to its grim conclusion when Reggie Kray’s funeral cortege passed by the Carpenters’ on its way down Cheshire St on 11th October 2000.

Nowadays, the Carpenters’ is a welcoming place with a fashionable clientele and an impressive range of over fifty different ales from all over the world, landlords Eric and Nigel keep it as fresh as a pin and there is always a large display of fresh flowers on the bar.

Before they took over, Eric and Nigel were regular customers here and when the previous management went bankrupt early in this decade, they struggled for years to obtain the lease, fighting off property developers who wanted to turn it into flats. When they moved in, it had been shut for four years and the place was stripped out, only the bar counter remained. Constructed of panels of glossy heavy timber – this could be the Krays’ coffin-lid counter. Nigel told me the Krays decorated the place in a faux Regency style with striped wallpaper to match their West End nightclub, and he pointed to a chip in the paint on one of the cast iron roof pillars revealing the burgundy colour scheme of that period.

Nationwide, thirty six pubs are closing every week and in this climate a pub has to be special to survive. But I have every confidence that, in this current celebrated incarnation under Eric and Nigel’s joint landlordship, the Carpenters will be here for us for a long time. I like to pop in regulary for a drink early in the week on a quiet night and now, apart from a discreetly placed print of the long-departed evil twins, you would never guess at its sinister past.


50 Responses leave one →
  1. October 22, 2009

    I recently discovered your wonderful blog via All Things Considered. I’ve been wanting to stay in Princelet Street (courtesy of the Landmark Trust) for a long time but haven’t yet managed to find the time. But until I do so, your blog is a marvellous peek into life in Spitalfields and I now have a long list of things to see and do and eat when I finally get there.

  2. Kate Mattiasson permalink
    February 23, 2011

    This was the pub that my family used many years ago, my Grandmother Mrs Henrietta Austin lived just down the road and I remember as a child sitting outside the pub whilst my dad bought us out drink’s, we were then allowed to go in the pub when they were all tipsy and sit in the corner hidden by our parents and listen to all the “East Enders” singing the Old Songs! I loved every minute of it.

    I live in Essex now but my friend Susan still lives in Hackney and when we go on our walks to the Lane or Spitalfields Market on a Sunday I always pop my head in the pub and say “Hello” to all my relative who sadly are no longer with us. (Bless them all).

  3. Sita Aley permalink
    March 26, 2011

    My ancestors James and Mary Aley lived in the Carpenters Arms in 1851 with their family – not sure for how long can only find the 1851 census records that mentions them living there – in 1841 they were living in Kent.

  4. gee permalink
    October 31, 2011

    reg was a mate, shame that he was so misunderstood, one thing is that the manor was better in every way when the twins were around, not perfect but better than now.

  5. Matthew permalink
    March 12, 2013


    yes, it’s always tricky to understand why someone would lead a psychopathic, murderous lifestyle…

  6. alexia permalink
    April 14, 2013

    I bet that you matthew never even met the man and are basing your comment on the film etc… they werent perfect but yes I met Reg and no matter what you can say he respected women and children.

  7. gemma lawrinson permalink
    May 5, 2013

    I agree Alexia most of these critics are only going off the film and whatever crap they read on the internet etc . They did respect women and children and worshipped their mum so in my books that’s not what i would call a pair of ‘evil men’ yes they did some bad things but they had a reputation to uphold and business is business in my eyes.

  8. Barbara permalink
    June 12, 2013

    And how did they respect women and children?????? By murdering their husbands, sons , fathers…………….

  9. frank hadley permalink
    September 13, 2013

    I went to wood close school which can be seen behind the pub. it was in wood close off cheshire street.and next to st. matthews church. cheshire street market used to be very busy on sunday’s. sadly all the old markets in the area are dying out with the exception of columbia road flower market.

  10. Susie permalink
    October 28, 2013

    Reginald Kray di dnot date Barbara Windsor (then known as Barbara Deeks, she merely had a one night stand with him. She did however have a brief affair with his elder brother Charlie while he was married to Dolly Kray. If you read her autobiography, you will discover more. Love that the pub is still there!! Shame that their home is not as although it needed modernisation, the structure was better that what has replaced it, the replacement lacks charm and is rather souless. Nowadays they would simply ‘gut the insides of a shabby home, retaining the exterior. Afterall, these old houses withstood two World Wars!! The wind brings down ‘modern houses’ of today’s builds. Rant over.

  11. Ken Foot permalink
    October 29, 2013

    So glad this pub as reopened and will make a point of visiting next time I have a reunion with old schoolfriends in the area.
    I worked as a lad on a market stall right outside the pub on a Sunday morning when the Brick Lane/Cheshire Street market was in its heydays during the early 60’s. Saturday’s were spent on the same stall in Hoxton market – happy days.

  12. October 29, 2013

    I went to Hague Street primary school and although I was younger than the Krays & never new them, I have always been led to believe that they were also pupils at Hague Street.

  13. David permalink
    January 13, 2014

    This is a lovely pub and, it was nice to see it restored. But I must say I didn’t approve of the Kray Twin artwork, even if it is on the official Kray Twin walk. I’m sure the landlord wouldn’t be so quick to erect a shrine to them, if they were still around demanding protection money from their hard work. Let’s stop idolising villains, and instead start recognising the hard working people that built and lived in the East End (which this website does so well).

  14. phil mallinson permalink
    June 15, 2014

    Popped in yesterday great pub we were on a day out in London,went to the house jack the hat was stabbed,vallance rd to where the Krays house used to be,also went in the royal oak,it was sort of a Krays day

  15. andrew parmenter permalink
    August 6, 2014

    I am a 100% my auntie jean owned the carpenters arms with her friend estey. I am her newphew Andrew and my auntie’s dad was Harry Corbet the famous boxer and also his brother Dickie was a boxer. I would be intersted to find out if anyone remembers this and has any fond memories or information.

  16. Kevin Brett permalink
    November 4, 2014

    Id like to here more about the krays met reg once long time ago

  17. Naeem permalink
    November 26, 2014

    Gangsters but gentlemen…… Not evil hearted but evil on business. RIP kray brothers

  18. Adam permalink
    January 18, 2015

    Cringe worthy some of the comments on here. They were murderers, and took money from hard working east enders.

  19. Marcus Shingler permalink
    February 8, 2015

    Good pub. Don’t make mistake we did by walking from Bethnal Green tube, which is a bit of a dodgy trek. Go to Bethnal Green overground or walk from Brick Lane instead. Good range of ales. We tried the Adnams American IPA and St Peters Honey Porter as well as a safe pint of Brooklyn lager. Busy place but we found a quieter room round the back. All in all a decent boozer.

  20. Dawn permalink
    February 9, 2015

    Hi all.. Apparently my nan used to play the Joanna ( piano ) joan was her name. Anyone know anything ?

  21. Kevin Brett permalink
    April 13, 2015

    Top men things sound better when thay were running things not like these idiots to day live on the krays

  22. melody permalink
    May 9, 2015

    My mum worked for the childrens council and took the Kray twins to the crèche every day when there mum was ill she told me lots of stories her name was Ada and she lived in Crandberry st just through the arch in valance rd, we remember bullet holes in a small wall next to the pub n went to look at them every time we went down the lane to see the puppys in boxes so bad cried every time ,,,

  23. Lee Davies permalink
    May 23, 2015

    Yes the Kray’s were violent but there crimes did not involve attacking the general public for no reason which sadly in todays society is all we see. They fought for there own and in my opinion they appear to be very misunderstood.
    Whilst in prison myself as a young lad I read the book “the firm” which gave an insight into there world at that time and it interested me, not in a sense I wanted to go out and committ violent crimes, but there overwhellming passion to protect what they had worked hard for and built up.
    I made contact with Reggie Kray in 1993 whilst he was serving at HMP Blundestone, he replied back to my letter and that letter I still have today in good condition.

  24. iain permalink
    July 24, 2015

    The Krays extorted protection money from local shopkeepers,publicans and other businessmen,very often small family concerns.
    What’s so gentlemanly about that?

  25. Alan Lewin permalink
    August 22, 2015

    I have read with interest the various comments listed above which seem to have lapsed into comments on the Krays. With that in mind I will relate a little story regarding them which probably only one other person living has knowledge of. Whilst there can be little doubt regarding their level of violence this is an entirely different side to them.

    I lived in Mile End from 1947 – 1970 and they had their first club behind Mile End Station (in Eric Street) which was I believe a snooker hall.

    My local church was Holy Trinity in Morgan Street and could be seen from Mile End Road at the other end of Rhonnda Grove.

    At some point during the time the Krays had the snooker hall as their base all of the lead on the roof of Holy Trinity was stolen and the roof began to leak badly.

    The vicar at the time was very much involved with the well being of his parishioners. He was concerned that due to the problems with the roof he was only able to hold services in a small part of the church known as the Lady Chapel.

    He would of course be aware of the Krays reputation as being “fixers” in the local world of crime. He took it upon himself to visit the snooker hall and speak with them to see if the thieves could be traced and bought to justice.

    Obviously because of the unwritten law of ” grassing” they were never traced but something quite remarkable did take place.

    The vicar returned with sufficient funds to have the all the lead replaced and the roof repaired. Never again was there any further trouble of this kind whilst the Krays were in power in that part of the east end underworld.

    How do I know all this? My father was both church warden and vicars warden ( at different times) at Holy Trinity.

  26. David permalink
    September 7, 2015

    I love this pub! Great atmosphere, good beer and food. My nephew lives just around the corner so it’s an ideal place for a family meet.

  27. Kenny Briant permalink
    September 22, 2015

    My old man was court-martialled with reg.ron.&dickie Morgan in 1952
    He knocked about with em for a while after
    Tolde some funny & not so funny storiesy mum
    Went several clubs they owned and she
    Never had bad word to say
    I used to drink with Charlie K when he lived
    In croydon .again always respectful
    I’ve heard loads stories over the years
    About people supposedly who know em
    But I know from the horses mouth DAD

  28. Sarah R permalink
    October 9, 2015

    Great to keep pubs going !!! London has become so anti social people don’t mingle unless packed on a train. I can’t wait to come here. I remember 15 years ago I can name at least 25 pubs that are now flats.

    So so sad.

  29. michael o keefe permalink
    October 23, 2015

    Just come across this blog
    I went to school 5 yards away St Bernards
    it was a gay gaff,the geezer who owed it at the time
    came running out one day and attacked one of my mates
    we were caught looking in the pub at the ladyboys
    one of our teachers a big jock offered him out infront
    of all us..He became our hero..Mr Mckeown.
    I was at the school when the Krays must of bought it
    I left 1968 15 years old……………….
    My dad knocked about with Willy Malone
    a quiet man who was very good to us
    Roy Shaw and Freddie Foreman books
    will tell you more but to not much.
    Very respected man.
    My dad also looked after the royal oak pub
    in columbia Rd
    Just outside 10 yards away Ginger Marks was shot(aledglly)
    the bullit holes were in our play ground wall.
    Gingers son now lives in america,he started a new life
    and has a great family.

  30. October 29, 2015

    I’m moving in right beside this pub, I see the area has some history 🙂
    However, British gangsters ain’t got nothin’ on the Italian mafia in NYC.

  31. Lisa permalink
    January 30, 2016

    I’m about to undertake my dissertation.
    I’ve chosen East End gangsters. Why do many romanticise them?
    If there is anybody who would like to give me any factual information, please get in touch…… thank Lisa x

  32. February 11, 2016

    My family are born and bred in the East End of London and have been for many generations. I don’t understand these people that put the Kray brothers on this legendary pedestal by say things like “Well they must be nice people, they loved their dear old Mum bless her heart”. I’m sorry but ‘Adolf Hitler’ loved his Mum, dose that make him a nice bloke. The fact is the Kray brothers ran protection rackets on local businesses in their local areas which basically means they demanded money for hard-working people and if those hard-working people didn’t pay up they got dealt with. Simple fact. And just because they respected women doesn’t make them any less than what they were. Controlling, psychopathic, murderous, criminals. And if you think the two murders that they went down for are the only two they committed… Your insane Jack. The whole image surrounding the Kray brothers is hypocritical of its own Society but then puts its most horrendous members at the top of its celebrity list. There’s nothing big or macho in respecting women & children, that’s what your supposed to do. That fact that this subject is constantly being dragged to the surface of the Kray brother story, iterates the fact that society want them to be seen (even in death) as good upstanding citizens of their once dictated to community. Sorry if this offence or upset anyone it really was not my intention I just don’t get it.

  33. Susan permalink
    March 17, 2016

    I lived opposite the Carpenter’s Arms around 2000 for a couple of years and spent many a happy lock-in there. I cannot remember the names of the couple who run it at that time. They had a lovely dog called Cagney. Does anyone remember them and what happened to them? They were a very friendly couple.

  34. Jan permalink
    March 29, 2016

    Andrew Parmater I knew Jean and Estie
    They were friends of mine. I also worked in The Carpenters
    On Sunday lunchtime for them.

  35. Sonya Roseman permalink
    April 6, 2016

    Hi, Im doing a film about Frances Shea Kray, Reggies first wife . I’m looking for friends who knew her.. Please contact me on .. I am halfway through the film and if somebody would speak to me on camera preferably that would be great if not its fine .. Please help! Many Thanks xx

  36. jayne permalink
    July 2, 2016

    I will be visiting the Carpenter’s Arms on my Kray Tour in August, I was wondering if anyone knows whether the wooden Bar top will still be the original coffin lids the legendary twins had fitted. My last trip to London, we passed this little Pub in a taxi and i promised myself I would go for a drink or 3 on my next trip.. Cheers everyone !

  37. Allan permalink
    March 17, 2017

    Are you still open?

    When I was a kid walking through weavers fields with my mum laidened down with shopping from berthnal green market my mum always told me to keep away from this pub as bad people owned it.

  38. Gloria Goodman permalink
    July 2, 2017

    This is for Andrew Parmenter who wrote in August 2014 that he was sure his Aunty Jean used to own The Carpenters Arms with her friend Estey. Jean’s dad was the boxer Harry Corbet. Andrew was asking for information about this and yes, Jean & Estsey did own this pub and I have photos to prove it. I used to go there on Sunday mornings with my dad & this is where I met the women, in fact, Estey was Canadian. I have fond memories and as I said, a few pictures. If you ever see this please email me. What a small world. I love this pub.

    Gloria Goodman

  39. September 17, 2017

    Susan it was Jill and Brian!! They were lovely. Had many a happy lock in there too – glad it’s still a good pub

  40. gary permalink
    November 11, 2017

    i can say this reg never ever nailed my head to the floor

  41. December 2, 2017

    The Krays were pair of cruel psychopaths

    Just lost you £a grand in beer. I’m doing a 1 off night.Heard your place was the one to end the night. Shame.Disagree with the prices of BB but


  42. Gloria Goodman permalink
    July 9, 2018

    I now live back in London from Toronto and I hope to visit the pub again. As I said above I knew Jean and Esty who owned the pbb years ago ad have some photos as well. If anyone out there remembers them please email me it would be nice to chat about them and the great pub.

    Gloria Goodman

  43. Andy Y permalink
    January 3, 2019

    I lived on Cheshire St (I think it was above Yummys Cafe) in the mid 80s. This pub was our local and we spent a lot of time playing pool upstairs. Always friendly. Good to see it’s still open.

  44. michael dennison permalink
    January 4, 2019

    jean and estie were friends of mine and my wife and I worked for them behind the bar for ten years. we had some great times and were still in touch with them both until they passed away.From micky.

  45. February 22, 2019

    I am one of the drag queens who lived at Bethnal Rouge, a Gay Liberation Front bookshop and social centre at 248 Bethnal Green Road. We loved the Carpenters Arms and the lesbian couple Jean and Estey who ran it when we were there in 1973/1974. I was checking out 248 in 2018 for Queer Tours of London – a mince through time – and it’s now a bank, which is something of a coincidence because we were told the owner in the 1970s was the Kray families banker. I also looked into the Carpenters, unrecognisable inside. Gone is the piano, the songs and the community spirit of the past. But that’s gentrification for you folks.

  46. Bubla Harris permalink
    September 3, 2019

    Hi Stuart, Just by chance saw your name on this site. I lived in and around Valance Road from1950 until the late seventies and knew the twins via some of their associates. We remember Jean and Estey as we used to drink in the Carpenters with one of our lesbian friends occasionally. However, you may remember me for the short time we worked together in Fenchurch Street at Sterling Shipping etc. Good to hear all appears well with you.

  47. Mpc permalink
    December 2, 2019

    Many thanks to the previous landlords.. you have left a great legacy. To the new owner, please keep the Timothy Taylor. Will be visiting again next week!

  48. Ian Silverton permalink
    July 7, 2020

    Nice storey here from the past, anybody remember the scrap yard on the corner opposite the pub? And the family who owned it called the Dearings, Tosher, Harry, Mary, and sons Mike and Jeff Dearings?

  49. Richard Hayden permalink
    January 24, 2023

    I was a teacher at the school that was next door to The Carpenters Arms (St Bernards RC School) from 1976 to 1980 and spent what was probably too many hours in the pub after the days work was done. I remember Jean and Estey – lovely people and just a bit wild at times. Mr McKeown (previously mentioned by Michael O’Keefe) was still teaching (Head of Geography) when I was there. In fact my classroom (Art) was next to Mr McKeowns on the top floor of the school and he certainly was a regular lunchtime visitor to the pub. Lo and behold any pupil who played up during his lessons after lunch. Lets just say he was a very strict disciplinarian. Other memories of the pub include a few lock-ins, and when Jean and Estey had had enough of being behind the bar they would ask us to pull our own pints and pop the money in the till. Happy memories of being part of the community.

  50. George Sturt permalink
    April 30, 2024

    I lived in old montague st vallance road as a baby until I was 4 and then moved to Cheshire st in the 7os where I remember the growing up there and the pubs in Cheshire st there was the king and Queen jus on the other side of the school next to the carpenters arms where als I remember Jean and estel and they had a dog called sonny who my brother Steven used to take for a walk on a regular basis my mum used to drink I that pub and work in there on a number of occasions I remember me and my brother used to get the rolls from Percy ingles Bethnal Green for the pub . My mums name also was Jean and my stepdad was Harry. happier exciting vibrant times sadly that east end has gone it’s a different place different depressing people about now

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