ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Sociology & Anthropology»
  • Folklore & Mythology

The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green

Updated on March 28, 2017

Bethnal Green

Bethnal Green is deep inside London’s “East End”. It is an area that suffered considerable damage during the London blitz of World War Two and the rebuilding was not always done with a lot of sensitivity. It has a very mixed population due to centuries of immigration and is one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse regions.

In the past it was “ruled” by criminal gangs, most notably the Krays and the Richardsons in the 1960s. Bethnal Green after dark was a dangerous place to be. The war between the gangs came to a head in March 1966 when George Cornell, a member of the Richardson gang, was shot and killed by Ronnie Kray (one half of the notorious Kray Twins) in the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel Road.

On a more positive note, the Blind Beggar pub was also the location of the first sermon preached by William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army.

The Blind Beggar pub, Whitechapel Road
The Blind Beggar pub, Whitechapel Road | Source
Henry de Montfort. A 13th-century image
Henry de Montfort. A 13th-century image

So who was the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green?

The story was first told in the 15th century, although it did not appear in print until 1765 when it was included as one of the 'Reliques of Ancient Poetry' collected by Bishop Thomas Percy.

The beggar was supposed to have been a soldier who lost his sight during the Battle of Evesham in 1265. He was nursed back to health by a noble lady with whom he fell in love and by whom he had a daughter called Besse.

When Besse grew into a beautiful young woman she attracted the attention of four suitors, namely a knight, a rich gentleman, an innkeeper’s son and a merchant. Besse told them that they would have to ask her father for permission to marry her, but when they saw that her father was a beggar in rags, and clearly in no position to bestow any sort of dowry on his daughter, three of them changed their minds.

However, the fourth of the suitors, namely the knight, went ahead with his request and was amazed when the beggar offered him a dowry of £3,000 plus a gift of £100 to pay for his daughter’s wedding dress. These sums were, of course, huge fortunes at the time - the equivalent of millions today. The knight naturally thought that these were fantasy offers - how could an old blind beggar possibly be in possession of such sums? However, he was willing to marry for love, whether or the money was real or imaginary.

At the wedding the beggar threw off his rags and revealed himself to be Henry de Montfort, the son of Simon de Montfort, once the most powerful man in England but who had been killed at the Battle of Evesham. Henry had spent the years since the battle begging in order to raise his daughter’s dowry, which he was now ready to hand over.

The story has legend written all over it, as the evidence points to Henry having been killed rather than just blinded in the battle. It does, however, have a lesson to teach, namely that blindness is not restricted to those who have lost their sight – the outer aspect of someone is not always the full story.

No doubt the same could be said today for the whole of Bethnal Green.

Statue by Elisabeth Frink

The legend of the Blind Beggar is commemorated not only by the pub mentioned above but by a striking bronze statue in an unexpected setting a mile or so to the north.

Elisabeth Frink's bronze entitled 'The Blind Beggar and his Dog' stands on a plinth in a small green area bordered by retirement bungalows on Roman Road, close to the Regent's Canal. The statue dates from 1957, when Frink (1930-93) was beginning to make her mark as a major figure in 20th century British sculpture. The piece incorporates two of her abiding themes - the male figure and dogs - but is also highly distinctive with its stylized form and rough surface.

The fact that this piece stands in a working-class east London setting - far removed from the glitzy West End - bears witness to the Blind Beggar legend of love conquering adversity.


The Blind Beggar and His Dog, by Elizabeth Frink
The Blind Beggar and His Dog, by Elizabeth Frink | Source

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)