Eventful pub

There are few pubs in the world that can claim to be the site of the founding of a religious denomination, the creation of a style of beer, and also a murder by a famous gangster. But there’s at least one pub that can.

Ewan Munro, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The last time I visited London, I was struck by the thick layers of history that sat over even the most unassuming locations. (This is a not uncommon experience for Antipodean visitors to the Old Country, I’m told.) A good example of that is an unassuming pub in the East End named the Blind Beggar, which somehow became a hub of historical eventfulness.

In 1865, a Methodist preacher named William Booth gave an open-air sermon outside an inn in the East End of London. Booth was a revivalist preacher with a gift for speech and a connection with the working class. His sermons led to the Christian Revival Society, which turned into the the Christian Mission, which turned into the East London Christian Mission… which turned into the Salvation Army, a church which today numbers more than one and a half million members. The inn next to his first independent sermon, where it all began, was the Blind Beggar.

At the start of the 20th century, a zymurgist at the Albion Brewery (operated by Mann, Crossman & Paulin) created a new variety of beer: brown ale. Well, he recreated and repopularised a variety that had been popular a hundred years earlier, really. But the beer was a hit – and you can still buy brown ales today. The pub next door to that brewery, where you could first buy modern brown ale, was the Blind Beggar.

In the 1960s, the Kray Brothers were the centre of organised crime in London. Identical twins, celebrities, and terrifying gangsters, their gang “The Firm” ruled the East End. So when Ronnie Kray walked into a pub in March, 1966, and found a member of a rival gang there, he calmly shot that man in the forehead. All the eyewitnesses were too terrified to testify against him, but Kray was eventually convicted anyway. He stayed in jail until his death in 1995. That pub, of course, was the Blind Beggar.

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