History of Blind Beggar
The original Blind Beggar Pub is in London on Whitechapel Road. It was built in 1894 on the site of an inn established before 1654, and named for Henry de Montfort who lost his sight in battle in the 13th century, and became the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green. The story of how he went from riches to rags became hugely popular.
The Blind Beggar is known as the site on which the Salvation Army started. Founder William Booth preached his first sermon outside in 1865.
The Blind Beggar is notorious for its connection to East En
d gangsters theKray twins, who used the pub as their headquarters during their reign of terror during the 1950s and 60s.
Reginald “Reggie” Kray (1933 – 2000) and Ronald “Ronnie” Kray (1933 – 1995) were identical twins and the foremost organised crime leaders dominating London’s East End. Ronnie was known for his violent outbreaks and suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
The Krays were involved in armed robberies, arson, protection rackets, violent assaults including torture, and murder. On 9 March 1966, Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell, an associate of rival gang the Richardsons, as he was sitting at the bar.
As West End nightclub owners, they mixed with celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Diana Dors, as well as politicians. This gave them a perceived respectability and in the 1960s they became celebrities in their own right, being photographed by the likes of David Bailey and appearing in interviews on television.
They were eventually arrested on May 9, 1968, leading to convictions and sentences of life imprisonment.
The Blind Beggar Pub of Calgary is also “connected” – through William “Billy” James Hillis (1933 – 2010). Billy was a regular at this pub, a raconteur and a retired safe-cracker.
Billy was born in Cabbagetown, Toronto, a few doors down from the infamous Volpe gang. His father and uncles were gamblers and bookmakers, and Billy naturally followed in their footsteps, claiming he was 20 before he realized there was anything unusual about their lifestyle.
He was in his teens when he was recruited for his first robbery, at the end of the nitroglycerin era of safe-cracking. He then traveled North America for several decades, plying his trade. He once paid an associate known for armed robberies to stay away from a job, because in his own words, Billy was a “good guy, not a f***ing psychopath”.
Billy paid his debt to society in full, and sought other employment when his associates started showing up dead – most notably the self-styled Toronto crime boss Paul Volpe, whose body was found in a car trunk at Toronto Airport in 1983.
Billy is sorely missed for his stories, sharp dress, love of life and ease at making many great friendships at this bar. Cheers, Billy!
“As human beings, we have all got our failings, and one day we will all be judged. I feel sure that I won’t be lonely on my journey, wherever it may lead.”