1 August 2014

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Behind Bars - The Most Infamous Criminals' Pubs


Keith Barker-Main introduces a selection of pubs that became unwitting accomplices to some of the capital’s most infamous criminals

The Blind Beggar

337 Whitechapel Road, E1. Tel: 020 7247 6195

Although Bobby Moore was briefly to become the landlord of The Blind Beggar, in 1966 he had an England World Cup-winning team to captain. In the final, Bobby’s boys scored four times, while at the Whitechapel pub, an entirely different score was settled that same year. At the height of their reign of terror, news reached the Kray twins that rival gang member George Cornell was holding court at the Beggar. Cornell had committed the crime of calling Ronnie Kray a ‘big fat poof’ and, to the tune of The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) on the jukebox, Ronnie strutted in. ‘Well, well, look who’s here,’ he said, before dispatching Cornell with a single shot to the head. Nowadays, East End hospitality runs to a shot or two of Bell’s or a pint of London Pride or Old Speckled Hen at this
family-friendly affair.

The Plumbers Arms

14 Lower Belgrave Street, SW1. Tel: 020 7730 4067

Customers supping Wadsworth 6X or Bombardier at this genteel Belgravia boozer are unlikely to witness anything more sinister than pinstripes downing gin and tonics. But on a dank November night in 1974 normal service was interrupted by a commotion. Staggering into the saloon bar in her blood-spattered night attire, Veronica Lucan, estranged wife of the seventh Earl of Lucan, announced that her childrens’ nanny, Sandra Rivett, lay murdered in the family home along the street. In the darkened house, the diminutive Lady Lucan had also been attacked, escaping by disabling her assailant with a sharp squeeze to the groin area. Whether it was Lucan who had ballsed up his wife’s murder is a question that Scotland Yard has still to put to the vanished earl.

The Captain Kidd

108 Wapping High Street, E1. Tel: 020 7480 5759

An attractive wharf-side warehouse revamp of this ancient hostelry belies its grim past. Now a Samuel Smith house with an Anglo-French dining room upstairs, its name celebrates the Scottish pirate who may have been the inspiration for Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Kidd was paraded along Wapping High Street in 1701, then hung from a gibbet over the Thames at the adjacent execution dock. Kidd’s tarred and feathered corpse was hung in chains at Tilbury as a warning to would-be pirates. It is also claimed that a modern-day rogue, Barings Bank trader Nick Leeson, used to drink here too.

The Magdala

2a South Hill Park, NW3. Tel: 020 7435 2503

As you enjoy your pint of Greene King IPA at this tarted-up local, consider this: had Ruth Ellis lived in France, would her place in the history books have been assured? It was the peroxide blonde’s misfortune to fall foul of the law in 1955 conservative Britain. Separated from her husband, Ellis shacked up with David Blakely, an equally complicated character. Their messy, violent affair deteriorated until on Easter Sunday, Ellis fired six shots at Blakely outside The Magdala. Despite a public outcry, she became the last woman in Britain to be hung. A French paper reported her fate thus: ‘Passion in England, except for cricket and betting, is always regarded as
a shameful disease.’

The Star Tavern

6 Belgrave Mews West, SW1. Tel: 020 7235 3019

Perhaps it was this quintessential 19th century London pub’s location – in a delightful mews surrounded by exclusive addresses – that inspired a bunch of get-rich-quick villains. For it is alleged the Great Train Robbery was plotted in the Star’s upstairs dining room. Today’s roast beef and fish and chips were probably also on the menu back in 1963, when Britain’s biggest ever heist took place. A gang held up the overnight Glasgow-Euston Post Office train, escaping with £50m in today’s money. That buys a fair few pints of Fuller’s Discovery or ESB, even at Belgravia prices.

The Spaniards Inn

Spaniards Road, NW3. Tel: 020 8731 6571

Watch American visitors’ faces light up at this ramshackle coaching inn on Hampstead Heath. Not only is it a Hollywood dream of ye olde England, but it also comes steeped in history: Dickens and Byron drank here; Keats composed Ode To A Nightingale in its garden. But which former patron would Johnny Depp choose to play? Dick Turpin, I wager, the notorious highwayman whose pistol hangs in the bar. When he lodged here as a boy, he was no doubt planning his future career as he watched stagecoaches pulling up opposite.

The Coleherne

261 Old Brompton Road, SW5. Tel: 020 7244 5951

This long-established gay bar boasts no fewer than three serial killers as former punters who preyed on drinkers within. Pull up a stool at the large U-shaped counter, order a pint of Fosters and contemplate the shocking tale of Dennis Nilsen, whose 15 victims’ dismembered corpses were discovered in his drains. Then there was Colin Ireland, a homophobe who asphyxiated five men, and Michael Lupo, a young shop owner I once unwittingly drank with – after he had strangled the first of four men. Nowadays, you’ll more likely be picked up by someone whose only crime is dressing like Graham Norton.

The Old Bank Of England

194 Fleet Street, EC4. Tel: 020 7430 2255

Marble Italianate grandeur, Corinthian columns, glistening brass chandeliers, 18th century-style murals, swagged drapes and ornate decoration at this Fullers house are a joy to behold, as is a carved central mahogany island bar typical of the Victorian era. Once the Bank of England’s legal arm, it is now favoured by office workers and tourists. From a mezzanine lounge gallery, watch them tucking into steak and ale pies. Then give them indigestion by revealing that the former kitchens below were once run by a Miss Lovett, whose locally sourced organic meat was purveyed by boyfriend Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.

Prince Arthur

80-82 Eversholt Street, NW1. Tel: 020 7387 2165

No matter what shade of green the frontage is painted – recently both fluorescent and forest green – the tables outside this easy-going Euston local are a great place to dawdle over a pint of Greene King IPA. The Arthur has a place in modern history. In 1998, Gregory Mills, a 28-year-old Australian former barman, was stopped for speeding in America. The Colorado cop, recognising the name from Interpol’s website, called London, to discover that Mills was wanted for questioning over the fatal stabbing of the pub’s landlady, Carol Fife, in a £2,500 robbery that went wrong. Extradited to the UK, Mills was convicted of her murder, marking the first time the internet had been useful in such a way.

The Ten Bells

84 Commercial Street, E1. Tel: 020 7366 1721

No round-up of London crime would be complete without a mention of Jack the Ripper. Although a sympathetic restoration has made The Ten Bells a magnet for Shoreditch trendies today, in 1888 it was favoured by prostitutes such as Mary Kelly, who, along with six other working girls, had their throats cut by the Ripper. Order a pint of Bombardier and mull over the various suspects in an unsolved crime wave that stopped as abruptly as it had started: Queen Victoria’s grandson Eddy, author Lewis Carroll and painter Walter Sickert.

Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Autumn 2007