Blind Beggar and His Dog (Statue)

Elizabeth Frink’s bronze statue of the Blind Beggar and His Dog was unveiled in 1957. The statue stands in gardens at Bethnal Green’s Cranbrook Estate, which was Berthold Lubetkin’s last major project before his retirement. The estate has undergone refurbishment within the last few years and has been changed in its look, although not its original layout. The estate is situated on the north side of Roman Road, to the east of Bonner Street.

The statue of the ‘Blind Beggar’ is in the middle of the residents’ gated garden but it can easily be seen from the pavement of Roman Road. It has been set high up on additional masonry within the garden beside a small ornamental water-fountain. The angle at which the two figures have been set could have been better chosen because they are not seen to full advantage from the pavement. While residents can walk around the statue, the general public can only see it from one angle.

Dame Elizabeth Frink (1930-93) was born in Suffolk. She studied art at the Guildford School of Art and the Chelsea School of Art. There is another work in London by Frink for which she is probably better known. It is the bronze and fibre-glass ‘Shepherd and Sheep’, unveiled in 1975, in Paternoster Square. It was commissioned for the original 1970s Paternoster Square complex and retained and repositioned in the redeveloped square in 2000. Another work by Frink to be seen in London is ‘Horse and Rider’, commissioned by the developers called Trafalgar House in 1974. It was for their site on Dover Street at the junction with Piccadilly. To say Elizabeth Frink is an important 20th-century sculptor is an understatement. Some of her other works can be seen in the Tate Gallery.

Details of the story of the Blind Beggar can be found here . . .

Blind Beggar Pub, Whitechapel Road

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Blind Beggar Pub, Whitechapel Road

Above: The pub with its beer-garden seen behind some of the market stalls.

They always say ‘The Blind Beggar Pub, Bethnal Green’ – which is true – giving the impression that the pub is at the ‘centre’ of Bethnal Green – which would probably be defined as where the ‘green’ of Bethnal Green is to be found today. In fact, the pub is within the old boundary of Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green – but only just. It stands at the southernmost part of the Metropolitan Borough, facing onto Whitechapel Road, at No 337, of the west corner where it joins onto Cambridge Heath Road.

It would probably be true to say that the Blind Beggar is the most famous (or infamous) pub in the East End and certainly one of the most famous pub names in the whole of London. The name is known to those who have never even visited the East End of London.

A Few Dates

According to documentary evidence, the name first appeared about 1570 as ‘Blind Beggar of Bednall-greene’. It was also referred to as the ‘Old Blind Beggar’ [Lillywhite; n3522 p57, n10895 p385]. There was a ‘Blind Beggar’ pub (or ‘Old Blind Beggar’) in Roman Road from at least the 17th century. There have also been several pubs by the same name in the area of Roman Road over the centuries.

There has been a pub on the site of today’s pub, in Whitechapel Road, since 1673. In 1866 the Blind Beggar was purchased by Mann, Crossman & Paulin, at the Albion Brewery adjoining the pub. The present pub was rebuilt in 1894 to designs by Robert Spence, who was the brewery’s engineer and architect. The interior of the pub was decorated with polished pink granite pilasters and a central column support for a double arch below the eccentrically trimmed red-brick upper storeys. Inside, the blood-red ceilinged interior has been much remodelled.

The Story Behind the Name

The name is said to refer to the de Montford family. Simon de Montfort died in 1265 at the Battle of Evesham. It is said that his son Henry, who was fighting alongside his father, also fell at the battle, being wounded and blinded. Legend says that he was found by a baron’s daughter who took care of him, nursed him back to health, they fell in love and were married. In later years their daughter Bessie used to accompany her father around the streets of Bethnal Green.

It is said that Bessie grew up to be beautiful but she could not find a husband – the problem being her father. Bessie was courted by four suitors – a rich gentleman, a knight, a London merchant and the son of an innkeeper. Most of them withdrew from being suitors when they met Montford to ask for the old soldier’s consent to the marriage. In a predictably medieval twist, the courtly knight was the only man who could see past the seeming lack of a dowry to the woman he loved.

By 1690, the Beadle of Bethnal Green carried the badge of the Blind Beggar on his ceremonial staff. And in the 18th century, every pub in the area bore the image of the beggar on their signs. Even Kirby’s Castle, a lunatic asylum, was dubbed the Blind Beggar’s House in 1727.

Sinister Events in the 1960s

There are also other more recent names associated with the pub – those of the Kray twins and of the events that took place there. 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 9 March 1966, Ronnie Kray entered the pub and shot dead George Cornell in 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. The Kray’s companion shot his gun at the ceiling a few times to distract the people sitting in the pub and probably 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 the police until 1969 before they could charge Ronnie with George Cornell’s murder.

The Pub Today

The pub is still open, standing on the north side of Whitechapel Road. The brewery building still stands on its west side of the pub but the rest of the site – to the north – has been demolished and used for other developments. The brewery’s use for its original purpose ceased in 1979. The pavement outside is in use most days of the week by Whitechapel Market, a street market whose eastern extent is just outside the pub.

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Bexley, London Borough of

Above: An outline map of Greater London showing the position of the London Borough of Bexley. The City of London (RED) is surrounded by the 12 Inner London Boroughs (GREEN). Around them are the 20 Outer London Boroughs, making 32 London Boroughs in total. The City of London is a separate administration.

There are 12 London Boroughs surrounding the City of London. They are often referred to as the Inner London Boroughs. It is land covered by the City and the Inner London Boroughs that are the subject of the ‘Know Your London’ blogs. However, there are a few places of interest that relate to the history of Inner London to be found in some of the 20 Outer London Boroughs. Greater London was created in 1965 when additional land was added around Inner London, creating the 32 London Boroughs (12 Inner London plus 20 Outer London) that we have today.

The London Borough of Bexley came into being in 1965. It shares a boundary with the London Borough of Greenwich – which is an Inner London Borough. To the south is the London Borough of Bromley. Bexley has a long riverside boundary which includes Thamesmead and Erith. To the south of the Borough is Sidcup. Bexley is the name of an ancient village within the Borough as well as being the name of the Borough itself. The borough has the line of the A2 – known as the Old Dover Road – running through it which started its existence as a Roman Road from Southwark to Canterbury and then further east to Dover. The road was part of what the Saxons called ‘Watling Street’.

Places of interest covered in the blogs . . .

Abbey Wood Station

Abbey Wood Station Poster

Lesnes Woods

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Abbey Wood Station Poster

Above: A new poster on Abbey Wood Station to advertise the new Crossrail services.

If you can remember back to the days when most people in England took their holidays at the seaside, you may remember the posters that appeared on railway stations and also as smaller versions in railway carriages of well-known holiday destinations. Most of the posters included a painting of the location, usually created by a well-known artist or graphic designer. Because of the high quality of the artwork, the posters have remained in many people’s memory over the years and the posters are highly collectable to this day.

The year 2018 sees the introduction of the new Crossrail line which will soon become operational. It has been added to London’s Underground Map in the form of a purple route that will be called the Elizabeth Line. The western terminus will be at Reading, with a spur running south to London Heathrow Airport. The line runs east-west, passing under Central London in tunnels – with stations like Paddington, Bond Street, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel along its route. The line continues east to two final destinations – Shenfield Station and Abbey Wood Station. Both of them are stations on lines already conveying passengers further east so they will become busy interchanges.

Until a few years ago, Abbey Wood was just a two-platform station on the line from Central London to destinations like Gillingham. The rather run-down station received an impressive make-over and opened to the public in October 2017. The station site is just a short walk from Abbey Wood – so-named because a large religious house called Lesnes Abbey was built there in Norman times. The Abbey was surrendered in the 16th century, at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and only the base of the stone walls can be seen on the site today.

Above: Two posters of Canterbury, in Kent (left), showing the famous cathedral; and Cromer, in Norfolk, with the lofty tower on the parish church, its long pier and extensive sandy beaches.

Because Crossrail wanted to bring the new railway, with its new interchange at Abbey Wood Station, to the notice of the general public, a new poster has been erected on the station concourse. It’s a grand idea that will make everybody aware of what is going on. To drive home the point about the religious house that was once surrounded by woodland, the picture shows a huge building standing tall, above the trees on one side of the poster. In the centre are shown two trains – representing the local line and the new Crossrail line. Finally, on the right, is the new station concourse with its curved roof – made of huge timbers to further remind everyone that the name reflects the wood in which the religious house was built.

What is slightly curious is the drawing of the gigantic abbey structure towering above the tall trees in the wood. It is drawn on the scale of Canterbury Cathedral or even Westminster Abbey when compared to the size of the trees. If anybody is sufficiently awake as they walk through the station, it will certainly make them think. For anyone who does not know the area, they will be disappointed when they reach the site of Lesnes Abbey only to find that the remaining walls are barely higher than the surrounding grass.

The poster certainly makes the point about the original name of the area. It is rather more of a diagram than a picture of Abbey Wood because it is not possible to see all the features shown on the poster from one viewpoint – even if you ignore the fact that Lesnes Abbey no longer exists. The pictorial representation does hark back to the way that the older posters were drawn. However, unlike the older posters, which are completely accurate in almost every detail, this poster has taken considerable liberties in portraying the area’s historic features.

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Victoria Park Parish Boundaries

Above: The three parish markers to be seen in Victoria Park.

When Victoria Park was laid out, the only boundaries to the land were those of the parishes. Metropolitan Borough boundaries were created later. The park, therefore, was created as one entity with one administration. When the Metropolitan Boroughs were formed, the park came under three different administrations and problems arose as to which Metropolitan Borough should cut the grass, maintain the flower beds or look after the footpaths. No borough was going to provide a free service for the other.

Above: Early map showing the parish boundaries. Land for the future Victoria Park is shown in green.

It will be seen that three parishes meet at a point (where a red dot has been added to the map). When the Metropolitan Boroughs were formed, the old parish boundaries were converted into Metropolitan Borough boundaries (named in Yellow).

In 1965 Bethnal Green and Poplar were combined (along with Stepney) to form the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The Hackney part became part of the London Borough of Hackney. The rather petty problems of which borough should cut the grass were abolished when, a few years later, the whole of the park was transferred to Tower Hamlets by re-drawing the boundary. This can be seen on any modern map of London, including Google maps (just search for ‘Google Maps London Borough of Tower Hamlets’) where you will see the park enclosed by one boundary.

The anachronism of the three parish markers remains in the park to this day. Each marker is a different shape. Two of them are made of cast-iron and the third is of stone. They represent a glimpse of a different time dating from the 19th century.

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London Bridge Alcoves in Victoria Park

Above: One of the two alcoves from old London Bridge standing on the grass in Victoria Park.

Old London Bridge – the one with the houses on it – was a stone structure crossing the Thames for six hundred years. The bridge was opened in 1209 and the houses, built of timber, were added some years later. Between 1760 and 1763 the bridge was cleared of all its houses. Pedestrians had rather got used to the protection from the wind that the houses afforded them and the authorities, realising this, added 14 stone alcoves – seven each side – for anyone to take shelter from the elements as they crossed it. In fact, the poor and destitute often used to sleep in the alcoves by night.

In 1824 plans were made for a new London Bridge, on a new site, just up-river of the old one. After the new bridge had been opened, in 1831, the old bridge was demolished and the footings of the old bridge were removed from the river-bed. This blog is related to the alcoves, so, the question is ‘What happened to them?’

There are 14 to account for but only three remain in London. One was purchased by the Governors of Guy’s Hospital and it can still be seen in one of the quadrangles of the original hospital buildings.

Shortly after old London Bridge was demolished, the Crown Estates purchased 218 acres (88 ha) of land at Bethnal Green which were laid out as a large new park between 1842 and 1846. It was opened to the public in 1845 and called Victoria Park. Two of the alcoves were acquired from old London Bridge and installed on a large open space at the NE end of the park near the area called Hackney Wick. They were erected in 1860.

It is believed that much of the original masonry, which could include stone from the alcoves, is still lying in a stonemason’s yard near Dartford.

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Victoria Park

Above: The attractive lake in Victoria Park.

The subject of ‘Parks in London’ would fill several weighty volumes. Some of the larger parks in London – like Hyde Park and Richmond Park – derived from land that was Royal land which continues to be administered by the Royal Parks to this day. Various parks in London – like Dulwich Park, in SE London, and Waterlow Park, in north London, derive from farms or estates that surrounded great houses. There is also extensive common land in London – like Blackheath, Clapham Common and Wormwood Scrubs Common – whose history goes back to the days of manors and open ground for use by the villagers. Various civic authorities have created open spaces for the enjoyment of the public over the years, some of them quite large while others are very small but all of them greatly treasured by those who use them.

The visionaries for the need for open spaces were the Victorians. Those in a position of power were beginning to realise that London was continuing to expand which meant that common land, farms and other fields were starting to vanish due to the relentless march of developers. It was found that in some cases – the common land at Peckham Rye is a good example – developers were building on common land without permission which was actually protected by ancient laws.

It was at that point that draconian laws were drawn up and passed by Government to prevent the further development of common land. Tourists visiting from Europe are often amazed that so much of Inner London is still covered in grass – like Clapham Common. The answer is that it was not by some accident of fate. It was by passing laws so strict that even kerb-stones cannot be laid beside the grass on a common.

Our subject is that of Victoria Park. As well as stemming the tide of development in the middle of the 19th century, it was decided that two new large parks should be created on open land before it was devoured by the developers. One site to be earmarked was what became Battersea Park, on the south side of the Thames. The other site was Victoria Park, in East London. It was a bold move and one that has not been repeated since. The nearest example in the 20th century was the creation of Burgess Park, near Camberwell, after the Second World War. It was laid out on land that was once in use for industrial purposes.

There is little to choose between Battersea Park and Victoria Park because they are both large and both contain splendid features. We will now take a look at Victoria Park.

Above: Map of Victoria Park, showing the two canals along its southern boundary. Well Street Common lies to the north of the Park, Olympic Park is partly shown on the right and part of Mile End Park is at the bottom of the map

Victoria Park opened in 1845, extending over 86.18 hectares. When the park was laid out, Regent’s Canal had been constructed and also the Hertford Union Canal. They acted as the southern boundary for the park but they also provide additional walkways and recreational features today. There is a large ornamental lake in the park which is probably its finest feature. Of recent years a Chinese Pergola has been added to the island in the lake and new bridges have been constructed allowing the public to access the island for the first time in its history.

The park extends east to Hackney Wick and, although the motorway leading to the Blackwall Tunnel has almost endless traffic by day and by night, there is just enough separation from the busy dual-carriageway that the peace of the park is maintained on that side. The northern side is in the form of several curves which are beside roads with houses along their northern sides.

Victoria Park is very well used by those who just want to sit and relax or take a stroll. Beside the large ornamental lake is a newly refurbished tea-house. There is provision for those who like sports activities, including football clubs, cricket clubs and athletics clubs. The oldest model boat club in the world – the Victoria Model Steam Boat Club – founded in the Park on 15 July 1904, is still active today and holds up to 17 Sunday regattas each year.

The open ground called Well Street Common lies near the park’s northern boundary. To the east, within easy walking distance, is now the newly created Olympic Park, at Stratford. To the south, linked by the footpath beside the Regent’s Canal is the extensive Mile End Park, created piece by piece as land which had been occupied by old factories and warehouses became available after the Second World War.

Two unusual features within the park also need to be mentioned. One is the huge ornamental drinking fountain, paid for with money from Angela Burdett-Coutts. The other is two of the stone alcoves from old London Bridge that were added for the public to sit in and relax.

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