Blind Beggar and his Dog is a sculpture by Elisabeth Frink. It can be found in the enclosed garden of Tate House on the Cranbrook Estate in Bethnal Green. The sculpture was made in 1958 and is one of Frink’s earliest commissions. In 1998 it was grade 2 listed.
The story of the Blind Beggar is a popular one in East London and indelibly linked with the identity of Bethnal Green. Up until 1965 the blind beggar was included on the common seal of the council. It shows him walking with his daughter and his dog. That was until 1965 when it merged with the boroughs of Stepney and Poplar to become Tower Hamlets.
Blind Beggar and his Dog
Elisabeth Frink’s sculpture of the Blind Beggar and his Dog draws on the lore surrounding the Blind Beggar. Made in bronze and eight feet high. The elongated figures of man and dog are stepped on a concrete plinth. The man strides forward with an outstretched hand whilst the dog strides ahead. Starting it’s life positioned on the Roman Road it was moved to it’s present and intended site on the Cranbrook Estate in May 1963.
Nowadays the most famous place associated with the story of the Blind Beggar is the pub in Whitechapel which bears it’s name. This was the place where George Cornell was shot dead by Reggie Kray in 1966. It’s taken it’s own place in the history of the East End as a result and the name of the Blind Beggar is now forever linked to gangland history.
The Legend of the Blind Beggar
The story itself is thought to stem from the time of Elizabeth I and it was a ballad. It’s full name is ‘The Rarest Ballad that Ever was Seen of the Blind Beggar of Bednall Green‘. It tells the story of a blind man with a dog who has a beautiful daughter. She goes off in search of adventure eventually getting to Romford. There she meets a number of suitors who she says must ask her father, the beggar, for her hand. Eventually the beggar is revealed to be Henry de Montfort, thought dead at the Battle of Evesham. Given that the battle took place in 1265 it’s quite possible that the story survived orally through the centuries before ever been written down.
Blind Beggar and his Dog was another sculptural piece of public art funded by the then Bethnal Green Metropolitan Borough. At the time social housing complexes were being developed on a vast scale. Still reeling in the aftermath of the war and earlier slum clearances, areas such as Bethnal Green had massive housing shortages. The Cranbrook Estate was a response to that. Though even then it resulted in the compulsory purchase and demolition of existing homes and workplaces on and around Cranbrook Street. Designed by Berthold Lubetkin the estate that grew up on the footprint of that land would retain the name.
Elisabeth Frink is now considered to be one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. Other works in London include the famous ‘Shepard and Sheep‘ in Paternoster Square and ‘Horse and Rider‘ in Dover Street. She was only 27 when she created Blind Beggar and his Dog. The style would stay with her in her later work. According to the CASS Sculpture Foundation she worked “mainly with bronze to make outdoor sculpture with a characteristic scarred surface”. She also “often depicted the male form, birds, dogs and horses”. In 1982 she was made a Dame.
Blind Beggar and his Dog can be seen in the gardens of Tate House, part of the Cranbrook Estate. It was installed in that location in 1963 and made by the sculptor Elisabeth Frink.
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