The Caravel, Glasgow’s toughest pub, favorite of the city’s gangsters

The famous Caravel Bar was demolished in 1996, after years of controversy.

The pub was rumored to be a crime hub with bomb threats, apparent drug dealing and underworld murders. Apparently the hangout of some of Glasgow’s biggest gangsters, The Caravel was run by one of the city’s most notorious crime couples.

The Caravelle belonged to Margaret McGraw – wife of Thomas McGraw. Known as ‘The Licensee’, Thomas was once one of Glasgow’s wealthiest businessmen, earning millions in security firms, taxi companies and estates.

The pub first made headlines when a typical afternoon at The Caravel nearly saw the building explode. As punters filled the bar, Glasgow ‘king of crime’ Arthur Thompson had a grudge against Thomas – and planned for one of his men to destroy the whole place while he was there.

Arthur Thompson Senior (middle) with his legal team (Image: Daily Record)

Apparently Arthur wanted to take over The Caravel – and Thomas wasn’t playing ball. The pub was making money from belated licenses and the drug trade was becoming too risky.

While in prison, another prominent figure in the city’s underworld published a tell-all book that detailed the event. In Villians: It Takes One to Know One, Paul Ferris (more on him later) writes, “He threw a grenade.

“Not just any grenade, but a NATO grenade capable of causing serious damage. One drinker felt a weight hit his foot and instinctively pushed it back, deeper into the pub.

“The whole future face of street crime in Glasgow, Scotland and possibly Britain was turning at their feet.”

Mugshot of Thomas 'The Licensee' McGraw (Image: Sunday Mail)
Mugshot of Thomas ‘The Licensee’ McGraw (Image: Sunday Mail)

One of the drinkers threw the grenade from the pub, and by the time the police and bomb squad arrived it became clear the pin had not been pulled. Although a failed explosion was the least of the worries in Glasgow’s underworld at the time.

Years before, in 1988, the roof of the Caravelle had been mysteriously damaged by fire. Assuming Arthur had something to do with it, Thomas knocked on his door and demanded the roof be fixed.

Arthur agreed to come and view the damage and eventually handed over £5,000 in cash to repair the building. Apparently, this could have been another attempt to take over The Caravel.

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Arthur Thompson’s son, Arthur ‘Fat Boy’ Junior, had been murdered a few weeks before the bomb threat. He had sworn revenge for his son’s death and thought he knew who to blame.

Joe “Bananas” Hanlon, who worked at The Caravel, offered his friend Bobby Glover a favor when he needed an elevator to a meeting. With Bobby’s car in the hands of the police for forensic tests, the pair left to meet William Lobban and told Bobby’s wife they would be back in 20 minutes.

The following day their bodies were found in a car in Shettleston – both found with a bullet to the head. The two were believed to have been abducted and taken to a location near the Stepps Bypass, where Arthur Senior was waiting to see them killed by one of his henchmen.

The following year, Paul Ferris was tried for the murder of Arthur Thompson junior. At the time, the trial was the most expensive criminal trial in Scottish legal history, costing £4million and lasting 54 days.

Margaret McGraw (right) greets mourners at her husband Thomas McGraw's funeral in August 2007 (Image: Daily Record)
Margaret McGraw (right) greets mourners at her husband Thomas McGraw’s funeral in August 2007 (Image: Daily Record)

With his co-defendant already deceased, Paul was found not guilty on charges of murder, drug trafficking, conspiracy and possession of firearms. In the wake of the Hanlon-Glover murders, the future looked bleak for The Caravel.

In April 1996, all that remained of the pub was rubble. After the trial, Margaret struggled to keep the business afloat with complaints that the pub was attracting ‘undesirables’.

Some involved in Glasgow’s gang world claimed the demolition of the building was intended to hide evidence of Bobby and Joe five years earlier, although the McGraws argued the decision was simply a business transaction. The couple sold the land to a development company, squashing the pub and making way for 22 homes.

Thomas McGraw died in 2007 at his Mount Vernon home after a suspected heart attack. Margaret died in 2018, after a long battle with throat cancer.

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