Most notorious pubs in the UK
We usually think of our local pubs as friendly and jolly places, where we can chat with locals, catch the football and, more often than not these days, stare at our phones in front of a plate of chips.
But some of the most notorious pubs in the UK actually harbour some dark and fascinating secrets. The first murder in a pub took place in the 4th Century AD, back when Roman taverns existed in Britain.
Creepy and infamous bodysnatchers, Burke and Hare, would look for victims in pubs like The White Hart in Scotland. And 65 years ago, Ruth Ellis famously gunned down her boyfriend outside the Magdala pub in Hampstead, making her the last woman to be publicly executed in Britain.
Let’s dive right in, and look at the most notorious pubs in the UK.
What are the most notorious pubs in the UK?
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The Star Tavern
How many of us can boast that their local boozer was the setting used to plot one of the biggest crimes of the century? The Star Tavern in Belgravia was frequented by the Great Train Robbers in 1963, who hatched their plan to snatch £2.3 million from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London in its upper room.
Bruce Reynolds, one of the most notorious and successful criminals of the age used to drive his Aston Martin up from Streatham to Buster Edwards (train robber by trade) and some of the rest of his gang, to formulate the plan. They only ever met four at a time, in case the police were watching them.
The Star Tavern’s landlord at the time, Irishman Paddy Kennedy, frequently swore at his customers. Apparently, rich and well-heeled diners often visited pub because they found it amusing to be surrounded by criminals and a rude landlord, who would often single one of them out for insults the whole evening.
The Star was where Reynolds met many more well-to-do criminals, including ‘gentlemen robbers’ such as Peter Scott, who famously robbed Sophia Loren of a £200,000 necklace when she was in the UK filming The Millionairess (ironic).
After the robbery, Reynolds fled to Mexico, where he lived a life on luxury on his £150,000 cut of the robbery (over 2 and a half million pounds in today’s money). He spent all his money, and was jailed when he returned to the UK, serving 10 years in prison for the train robbery.
Now when you click The Star Tavern’s website, you’re led to images of a wholesome family pub. There’s a grinning member of staff in one picture, and a lovely, flickering fire in the other. You can even book that infamous upstairs room for meetings, conferences and wedding receptions!
The Blind Beggar
The Blind Beggar, situated in London, Whitechapel, is notorious for being the murder scene of George Cornell by infamous East End gangster, Ronnie Kray. The Blind Beggar was well known as the haunt of Ronnie Kray and his twin brother Reggie: known as the Kray twins.
On 9 March 1966, Cornell, a childhood friend turned enemy of the Kray twins (he had joined a rival gang: the Richardsons), walked into the Blind Beggar pub, after ordering some ales. At roughly 8:30 pm, Ronnie Kray approached them with his associate Ian Barrie. Cornell smiled and said, “Well, just look who’s here”, in a sardonic drawl. Barrie pointed his gun at the ceiling and fired two shots, and Kray walked towards Cornell and shot him once in his forehead, above his right eye with a 9mm Luger pistol. Kray and Barrie then left in a car that was waiting on the street.
As Cornell was shot and lay dying, the bar’s jukebox was playing the song ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More’ by the Walker brothers. Despite attempts by doctors to save his life, Cornell was pronounced dead at 3:30am. Despite the numerous witnesses to his death, nobody was willing to testify against Ronnie Kray. However, he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in imprisonment at the Old Bailey in 1969.
In his autobiography Our Story, Ronnie Kray referred to the infamous Blind Beggar pub as “a big ugly building in a very poor part of London. Not the sort of place you’d want to take a lady friend for a quiet drink… it was simply the kind of pub where the poor people in that part of London would go for a drink to drown their sorrows, to have a knees-up on Saturday nights and pretend they were feeling happy.”
While we’re sure that Ronnie Kray’s actions in The Blind Beggar Pub didn’t exactly cheer the place up, it has evolved massively from this dispiriting description. The Blind Beggar pub serves a variety of delicious food, and mixes the old school with the modern, from traditional seating booths, original brick work and wooden picnic benches in the outside area, to grand chandeliers and the inclusion of vegetarian food.
The Plumbers Arms
The Plumbers Arms is infamous for being the pub that Lady Lucan burst into on the 7th November 1974, after her husband attacked her and murdered their nanny, Sandra Rivett.
Covered in blood, Lady Lucan stumbling into The Plumbers Arms, shouting: “murder, murder!”. The pub landlord’s wife, Diane, cleaned Lady Lucan’s severe wounds with white linen and tried to stop them bleeding. The landlord recalls that she kept screaming: “My children, my children” and saying: “he’s in the house”. He says that the shock overwhelmed Lady Lucan, and she soon fell silent.
Police who attended Lady Lucan’s Belgravia address – just a stone’s throw away from The Plumbers Arms – found the body of Mrs Rivett, the nanny, wrapped in a canvas bag. However, Lord Lucan had disappeared without a trace.
According to reports, Lucan fled the murder scene in a borrowed car, which was later found to have two types of blood in it. To this day, he has still not been discovered, and he would be 85 years if he is still alive. Lucan was named as the murderer of Sandra Rivett at her inquest. Her death certificate reads: “Cause of death: Blunt head injuries inflicted by a named person. Murder”.
Lucan himself was officially declared dead on the 3rd February 2016, but there is still no firm proof of his death. There have been sightings of him all over the world, from Goa, India to New Zealand. His wife believed he had committed suicide.
Today, The Plumbers Arms seems nowhere near as dramatic as its past. The food, though delicious sounding, is safely in the realm of pub grub, and includes egg, ham and chips or steak and ale pie, as well as a range of spirits, cocktails and beers.
So, there you have it. The most notorious pubs in the UK. If you ever visit them for a pint of cold beer and a burger, make sure to keep your wits about you…