When someone hears the name the “Blind Beggar”, generally one thing comes to mind, and that is the pub in Whitechapel in which East End Gangster Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell in 1966. However, by walking through the streets of Bethnal Green, you will discover the original story of the Blind Beggar. A story of unknown origins, it was the theme of a ballad of over 200 lines which was published in the 17th century.
The story starts with the sad story of the Blind Beggar, a man who didn’t have a penny to his name but his pride and joy was his daughter Bessy – “a fair daughter, most pleasant and bright”. Many men, including a gentleman of fortune, a London merchant and an innkeeper’s son, could not help to fall in love with Bessy due to her great beauty and her sweet countenance. However, most would soon turn their backs on her once they found out about her lowly status and her poor blind father, who spent his days begging for charity accompanied by his faithful dog.
There was one man who was different! He was described as a Knight and he was determined to marry young Bessy and wanted to meet her father to ask for her hand in marriage as he believed that you “weigh true love not by the weight of the purse”. A wedding soon followed that featured the most skillful musicians, the most scrumptious foods and attended by many of the noblest families – a wedding of “joy and delight”.This was when the secret was finally revealed!
The Blind Beggar was in fact the son of Simon de Montford who had been an influential baron during reign of King John. Despite being blinded at the Battle of Evesham, he was indeed a man of substantial means; he lived the life of a Blind Beggar to ensure that whoever would win the heart and love of young Bessy was not after her money!
It appears that Bessy and the Knight indeed had a happy ending – whether the story was true, perhaps we will never know for sure.
However, the story has influenced the name of an infamous pub, a statue by Elisabeth Fink, a song from the 1950s and was the image on the first Coat of Arms of the borough of Bethnal Green!
Experience more of Bethnal Green’s rich history with our Footsteps of East London Walking tours on the 2nd and 8th December with award-winning tour guide Daniella King, as part of the Spitalfields Music festival 2018.
Find out more about Daniella King and East London on foot here.
© Daniella King