Today (March 9) in London History – In Cold Blood

On March 9, 1966 East End gangster shot south London gangster George Cornell dead in the Blind Beggar pub in London’s East End. That’s the story we tell in this episode of Today in London History.


Ok, well, I’m afraid it’s low-life London today.

It was on March 9th 1966 that the notorious East End gangster Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell, a nasty piece of work from the rival Richardson gang from south of the river. 

The story’s well known but unsavoury though it is it probably bears repeating.

Not least for some of the spin-offs and connections.

The murder took place in a famous East End pub, the Blind Beggar, on Whitechapel Road. 

Connections? Well, the Salvation Army for starters. William Booth took to preaching outside the Blind Beggar and that was the beginning of the Salvation Army. 

You can drop another name – Bobby Moore, East End boy and much-loved Captain of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning football team owned the Blind Beggar for a time.

The Blind Beggar was also the Home of Modern Brown Ale.

And it had form in the matter of rough customers and murder. 

In 1904, ‘Bulldog’ Wallace, a member of The Blind Beggar Gang of pickpockets who frequented the pub, stabbed another man in the eye with an umbrella. Stabbed him to death. 

But let’s get to the main act, get to Ronnie Kray and George Cornell. 

The story has it that George Cornell had been involved in the shooting of one of the Krays’ “associates” – Richard Hart. It had also got back to Ronnie Kray that Cornell had called him a “fat poof.” Never mind that it was true – well, Ronnie Kray was homosexual and he was portly  – Ronnie Kray had a reputation to protect – saw himself as a sort of English Al Capone, wanted everybody to think he was the Alpha male incarnate, the hardest man around, as butch as a silverback gorilla’s armpit – so “fat poof”, them was fightin’ words, the insult pretty much guaranteed Geoge Cornell’s death sentence. 

Three other spent narrative cartridges.

One, according to his twin Reggie Kray, Ronnie didn’t like the pub. Reggie said, “”One pub Ron never did like was the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel Road, Stepney – the pub where he would later shoot dead George Cornell. It’s been renovated since then, of course, but in the old days, Ron hated the sight of the Beggars, and called it a dump. He says today that he must have had a premonition about it.”

Two, you have to wonder about Geoge Cornell’s mental muzzle loading velocity. What could have possessed him to go drinking in the Blind Beggar, smack dab in the middle of the Krays’ turf?

Maybe the answer to that is provided in the forensics. Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell in the head at point-blank range. He shot him just over the right eye. The bullet passed through whatever was there and came out the back of his head. He shot him at 8.30 in the evening. Cornell didn’t die until 10.30. You thinking what I’m thinking? Maybe there was a lot of sawdust for brains in that skull.

Anyway, let’s end this by hearing from the murderer himself. Ronnie Kray. He told the story. Two things about this account. First of all, of course I’m reading it with this Yank accent. If you can, try to imagine it said with a Cockney accent. And secondly, be a bit of a literary critic with this. It’s a narrative. He’s telling a story. It’s a story about him he wants you to believe. But it’s also a story he wants to believe about himself. The story in a sense precedes the event because he’s trying to give heroic meaning to something that’s sordid and tawdry and vile and utterly stupid. He’s basically trying to turn faeces into gold. Terms like, “Richard Hart had to be avenged…somebody had to pay the price…no general ever had a better right-hand man.” It’s second-rate B movie stuff. Preposterous, really. He thinks he’s the big man – calling the shots – but in fact he’s doing the bidding of a crude, pathetic really, cartoon of a B-movie of what it means to be a gangster, what a gangster does and thinks and says. 

Anyway, here’s Ronnie Kray telling us about “how I got my button, as the Yanks say” – he actually says that at the end. Poor bastard. 

Today in London. Given what follows, I think I’m going to give you a heads up about something that’s utterly beautiful, utterly civilised, all good. Swan Lake. The Royal Ballet dancing to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece at the Royal Opera House. It opened on March 1st. Runs to May 28th.

And now – you ready for this? – Today in London History.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *