Robbery at the Prospect of Whitby

Many know about the Prospect’s association with Princess Margaret, Grace Kelly and Richard Burton, but what of the armed robbery of Saturday, January 10 1953?
It had been a chilly, but reasonably mild January day in Wapping. As the clock approached midnight the Prospect was closed and empty, other than the manageress Eva Johns and two barmen tidying up the pub. Fresh sawdust was scattered across the floor. Voices from the first floor seeping through the ceiling and down the stairs.
Anthony Owen Lynch, aged 40, was sat in his Daimler waiting patiently, the temperature skirting above zero. He had been hired by Captain Cunningham for the evening to chauffeur some of his party to and from the pub. Lynch would have known it would soon be time for the party to depart. It had been foggy most of the day, and would have been growing thicker as Lynch sat in the car.

Owen Cunningham

In the pub, Owen Cunningham, or Captain as he liked to be styled had been dining with a small group of friends and made his way to the stairs. Their meal had been hosted by George Broadbent, the licensee in the upstairs Samuel Pepys restaurant. Captain Cunningham was well known in society circles, both for his eponymous oyster bar on Curzon Street in Mayfair and for his private life. Tales of his antics appeared regularly in the press, including notably a fist fight with the Duke of Marlborough at the Twenty One Club in 1949.
Cunningham’s divorce had kept the papers busy, not only for the scandal of a society divorce, but for his wife’s imprisonment during the proceedings for contempt of court. Across the Commonwealth, newspapers carried stories of the socialite going from Mayfair to Holloway in a Rolls Royce. Her temporary incarceration arising from interfering with witnesses set to testify to her adultery. In the run up to the divorce proceedings Cunningham had even been forced to resort to advertising in The Times to ensure his estranged wife did not obtain credit using his name. Yet even once the decree nisi was granted, press attention did not fade, as scandal raised its head again when Jessie was declared bankrupt shortly after.
Outside the pub, in the thickening fog, Lynch’s car door was opened, a figure stood beside Lynch, draped in a light coloured raincoat. as Lynch turned to confront the stranger, he was taken aback, not only by the petulance of this interloper but by the fact that the figure’s face was concealed by a red scarf; only the stranger’s eyes revealing the danger Lynch now found himself in. The figure’s arm extended and Lynch knew instantly that the evening was not going to plan. A revolver was being pointed at him. A second figure, identically dressed but holding a  truncheon stood beside him and a third identical figure became apparent and ordered him out of the car.
Lynch was ordered to walk to the pub door and beckon the staff to let him in. Lynch knocked and called at the door until one of the barmen opened it. As the door opened, and the cold night air poured in, two of the gang grabbed the barman and dragged him inside. Lynch, restrained by a third member of the gang was thrown to the floor.
At this moment, Captain Cunningham and his party were walking down the stairs. As Cunningham descended, he would have seen the manageress and two barmen lying on the floor, and the back of the chauffeur who had driven them to pub. More disturbing than this were the three masked figures; three demons in trench coats. Two of the figures dashed to him, and shouted in the style of so many gangster movies “this is a stick-up”.

Patrick Campbell

Neither the honourable Patrick Campbell, first son of Lord Charles Campbell, second Baron Glenavy, nor his wife Cherry, had expected their meal to end with a taste of sawdust and on being told to get on the floor Campbell refused, and was rewarded by having his head cut open by the butt of the revolver. 
The diners and bar staff were ordered upstairs, presumably away from the ground floor windows. Cunningham and his party were thrown to the floor, their faces resting on the fresh sawdust, lying with the bar staff, staring at the wooden floor. There on the floor lay Lynch, Cunningham, Mr and Mrs Campbell, Elizabeth Smith, Mr Peter Brusey, a solicitor’s managing clerk and his wife, two barmen, Eva Johns, the manageress and George Broadbent the landlord.
When the anyone tried to turn their heads to see what was going on, a threatening flick of the truncheon or revolver was directed perilously close to them.
“Keep your eyes down” came the command from somewhere in the room every time one the prisoners moved. The gang collected wallets, money and jewellery from their captives. Eva Johns was forced to hand over the key to the safe, which with two tills were emptied into an old fish bag.
After finishing their work, the thieves had acquired £1,000 from the safe, from George Broadbent a watch and a diamond ring worth £2,500, rings worth £47 from Eva Johns, £8 from Peter Brusey, £75 from Captain Cunningham, three bracelets worth £10 from Elizabeth Smith, 5s from Patrick Campbell and a bracelet worth £2 from Cherry Campbell.
The thieves were unrelenting, even taking Peter Brusey’s umbrella.
Should have dined at home?
No Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *