Life in the big smoke

Ghosts and gangsters: A couple of notorious London pubs

London has a colourful past. It’s a city jam-packed with quirky stories and odd folktales. These streets have seen a lot, from mad Victorian killers to brawling gangsters to bombs falling from the sky. All those stories and memories are still here. You can still visit the pub where Jack the Ripper’s victims drank and have a pint in the place where the infamous Kray twins killed a man. Here are some of the city’s most notorious pubs.

The Ten Bells


the ten bells spitalfields Image via pinterest.

The Ten Bells is a popular pub next to Spitalfields Market. It used to be a bit scruffy, with toilets full of scribbles and graffiti. Now it’s a popular hangout for bankers and people from Essex, just like most of the pubs in the area. I’ve only been there once since it was redecorated a couple of years ago and the only thing I can remember about that evening is chatting about increasingly girly stuff over several pints of ale. But that’s perhaps not such unusual way to spend time in the Ten Bells. The pub is famous for having been a favourite of two of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly.

Back then Spitalfields was a very different place, the worst slum in London, with over-crowded housing, desperate poverty and landlords charging a nightly rent for flea infested beds in a drafty rooms. Many women in the area ended up working as prostitutes. Some of them walked the streets, others picked up customers in the pubs. The Ten Bells was one of their haunts.

The pub was opened in 1851 and according to Wikipedia Jamie Oliver’s great great grandfather was the landlord in the 1880s, around the time when Jack the Ripper was stalking the streets of Spitalfields.

84 Commercial Street, London E1 6QG

The Blind Beggar


the blind beggar Image via Spitalfields life.

On Whitechapel High Street sits The Blind Beggar. It’s quite an unassuming pub, and by that I mean that it looks like any other slightly downtrodden boozer where men huddle together to drink lager and watch sports. Unless you know the history of the place it’s difficult to imagine that it was there the infamous Kray twins shot gang rival George Cornell in front of a bunch of witnesses.

The murder took place on the 9th of March 1966 and was the beginning of the end for the brothers’ reign as kingpins in the East End underworld. A couple of months earlier Cornell had called Ronnie Kray, who was bisexual, a “fat poof”. Kray bore a grudge and when he saw Cornell at the Blind Beggar that day in March he pulled out a 9mm luger and shot him once in the forehead. Even though Kray was identified by several witnesses they all refused to testify against him and he was not arrested until two years after the killing.

The Kray twins ruled London’s underworld in the 60s. They ran “The Firm” and were involved in robberies, arson and protection rackets. Before their downfall the twins even ended up becoming semi-celebrities, mixing with famous musicians and politicians and appearing on television.

The Blind Beggar was built in 1894 on the site where an old inn had stood since the 1600s. The pub is also famous for being the location for William Booth’s first sermon, which led to the creation of the Salvation Army.

337 Whitechapel Rd, London E1 1BU

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese


ye olde cheshire cheese Image by Bobo.

This isn’t exactly a notorious pub, but it’s a famous one, one of the most famous in London according to some. Its vaulted cellars are thought to be part of a 13th century monastery. The site was home to an inn which burnt down in the great fire of 1666. Most of the pub was rebuilt the next year, making it one of the oldest in the city. Fifteen monarchs have reigned whilst people have been enjoying pints under its roof.

Since Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese can be found on Fleet Street, where most of the national papers had their headquartes back in the day, it’s also been a favourite haunt for journalists and writers. Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and Voltaire are all said to have drunk there.

The pub also had its own parrot, Polly, who is now stuffed and can be found in the ground floor bar. Polly was known for mimicking customers and her death in 1926 was announced in newspapers around the world.

145 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2BU

The Prospect of Whitby


the prospect of whitby Image via pinterest.

This pub was originally known as “The Devil’s Tavern”. And if you weren’t a smuggler or a pirate it wasn’t the place for you. The Prospect of Whitby was first built in 1543, making it the oldest pub on the banks of the River Thames. It became known as a smugglers’ den in the 17th century. After a fire destroyed the original pub in the 18th century the new building was renamed after a ship that used to anchor nearby. The pub has come a long way since then. When a luxury restaurant was opened on the pub’s first floor in the 1950s it became a popular spot for European royalty.

57 Wapping Wall, Wapping, London E1W 3SH

The Morpeth Arms


This pub used to host 19th century prisoners on their way to the colonies. These men and women could be held in solitary confinement for six months. Outbreaks of cholera were common and many got scurvy before they had even set foot on a ship. Some of didn’t make it further than to these cells and their restless spirits are still said to haunt the pub basement. In the main bar customers have been known to complain that their drinks have been knocked out of their hands by an unseen force (sounds like a good excuse to get a fresh pint).

58 Millbank, SW1P

The Grenadier


the grenadier pub Image by George Redgrave.

The Grenadier is one of the most famous haunted pubs in London. In the early 1700s it was a popular gambling den for soliders. Around that time an officer was caught cheating at cards. He was flogged to death for his crimes. According to the pub’s owners his spirit never left.

It’s believed the solider died in September, which is when the paranormal activity picks up. Customers have reported a shadowy outline of a figure walking across the floor and vanishing suddenly. Other pretty standard ghostly behaviour has also been reported: rattling chairs, moving objects, strange clouds of cigar smoke and mysterious cold spots. Staff are said to have heard groaning voices coming from the cellar.

The pub’s ceiling is covered with notes which have been put there by visitors who hope to get rid of the ghost by paying off his gambling debts. I’m guessing the pub owners are quite happy it doesn’t seem to have worked, yet.

18 Wilton Row, Belgrave Square, Hyde Park Corner, SW1


Jackie says:

What a great read!!!

Lotta says:

Thank you!

Unwittingly I’ve drank in three of these and upcoming plans to visit the Ten Bells.

Lotta says:

Nice! What did you think of them?

I preferred the Grenadier, I visited it only a few months ago with my brother. The Blind Beggar visit was a long-long-time-ago. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese encounter happened by chance as I was staying at a hotel on Fleet St, walked by… thirsty, and thought why not! Having navigated some very narrow winding stairs, I finally got a seat! I had no idea of its history, however, I did assume it had one. I would recommend them all!

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