Cafe Society around the North Pole by Allan Seabridge

In the 1950s and early 60s, North Pole Road and surrounding area was a café-free zone. Teenagers could buy a bottle of pop from Kent’s and drink it hanging around a shop doorway, or venture into the North Pole pub or the Pavilion, feeling uncomfortably youthful amongst the regulars. But for a taste of sophistication or simply to spend a relaxed evening drinking coffee or tea, teenagers had to go as far as Scrubs Lane or beyond.

Location of the cafes in 1959 (Author). Not to scale

Harry’s was a large green shed with a paved floor on a cinder patch on Wormwood Scrubs near to the North Pole Road junction. The patch was used as a parking area for cars and trucks. It was close to the football pitches used by the Saturday League teams and their spectators. There were rudimentary changing rooms and cold taps in a building beside the cafe.

The Scrubs had a long association with football: Queens Park Rangers used the Gun Club area for home games in the 1890s and it’s likely that for some time after QPR moved on, players and supporters from other teams would gather at the North Pole Dining Rooms at 22 North Pole Road. A 1911 photograph of the Dining Rooms shows a large sign across the window: ‘Good Convenience for Footballers.’

North Pole Dining Rooms, 1911.

Harry’s was the obvious successor to the North Pole Dining Rooms, cavernous enough for cycle speedway riders and spectators as well as the football crowd. It was open seven days a week, daytime only, and on weekdays, when the sporting crowds were absent, it was popular with truck drivers who had space to park on the cinder patch.

Inside there was the constant chatter of groups of men sitting around tables, shouting to newly-arriving mates to join them, the clatter of football boots and the clacks and dings of the pinball machine.

Harry’s was a self-service caff. You collected your large white mug of dark brown tea, moved along the counter to help yourself to milk and sugar and paid at the till at the end of the counter. You could have a cooked breakfast and/or a pie. There were sandwiches and cakes, too. I loved the squashy moist bread pudding and the cheesecake. Harry’s version of cheesecake was a pastry case, topped with a layer of jam and an iced frangipane filling finished with shredded coconut on top. So, no, there was no cheese in this cheesecake, but then in the 50s, how many of Harry’s customers would have seen what we now know as cheesecake? Remembering this speciality recently, I began to wonder if memory played me false. But a quick Google search reassured me: the cheese-less cheesecake still exists, now known as London Cheesecake. (Sadly, it is not available in Lancashire)

Outside Harry’s was a grass covered hill on the otherwise perfectly flat Scrubs. It had deep tracks worn into the surface by cyclists who got a thrill from racing down the steep sides. Its history was a mystery to us, but we heard rumours that inside the hill was an abandoned air raid shelter.

The cinder area around the café was used as a truck park for drivers calling in for their breakfast fry-ups or mugs of tea. Some nights the whole area was bathed in lights so bright it could have been daytime, illuminating trucks and hordes of people milling around, to the background noise of thrumming generators. This was when films and TV crews were filming night-time scenes on the Scrubs, popular shows such as Z cars, for example. I remember seeing the white Ford Zephyrs and the actors from the Z cars parked there on several evenings.

At the end of the 1950s a taste of West End sophistication arrived in the area. Rosa’s Café opened in Caverswall Street close to the Pavilion pub at the junction with North Pole Road. To the teenagers of the area the steaming chrome plated coffee machine hissing and burbling on the counter was exotic but welcoming.

A small corner café, it was run Rosa and her Italian family. Rosa was short, dark haired and motherly. She ran the place with a firm hand – no swearing, no sitting too close to girls – calling out in strongly-accented English to anyone breaking the rules. She knew us all by name, knew how we liked our coffee, and knew who was most likely to need shouting at. We made one glass cup of frothy coffee (price 9d) last as long as we could. We listened to the juke box – a three-penny bit for each play or one shilling for five plays, mostly hit parade pop: Cliff Richard, Bobby Vee, Bobby Darin, Marty Wilde etc. The juke box played 45rpm discs with the centre pushed out. We could buy old records cheap and buy a plastic disc to fill the centre so that they could be played on a Dansette record player at home.

Rosa’s was a good meeting place for boys and girls. We could chat and flirt until Rosa decided that we had outstayed our welcome and demanding that we bought more coffee, which was fair enough really. The café was always busy, cool in the summer evenings with the doors open, warm and steamy in the winter. We all knew each other and it was a happy, homely place to be on winter evenings, much nicer than huddling in Ellington’s door way in North Pole Road.

Along Scrubs Lane towards Shepherd’s Bush and up a short hill was the A40 Westway, in those days a relatively quiet road. Jack’s café was on Westway where it joined Scrubs Lane at the end of a short parade of shops. Jack’s was modern with large windows, a long counter and a large coffee and espresso machine. There was a juke box but if you wanted the Top Twenty hits, you’d be disappointed. The records at Jack’s were more edgy and less mainstream pop than Rosa’s – Ray Charles ‘What I’d Say’ or Bobby Darin ‘Mack the Knife’ for example. The cafe also had two pin tables, another drain on our pocket money. The café wasn’t as relaxing as Rosa’s partly due to the layout which wasn’t conducive to talking across tables and also, perhaps, because we never saw Jack himself – if he ever existed. Nevertheless, it was busy with lots of chatter and a good place to spend a couple of hours.

Jack’s was between North Kensington and White City which gave us an opportunity to mix with kids from the White City estate. There was no tension between groups of lads on neutral ground like Jack’s, but it would probably have been a different story if we’d chatted up one of ‘their’ girls. Life was a bit edgier in the White City estate itself – it was best not to walk through there at night as part of a group – but it didn’t usually result in anything rough. We did witness a punch-up between two groups of Teds, about 30 lads engaged in some serious aggro. We stayed well out of any trouble.

We usually went to Harry’s at weekends during the day and Rosa’s in the evenings. We went to Jack’s to listen to different music or to check out a different set of young ladies. We didn’t see adults at Rosa’s or Jack’s, both cafes were far too modern for Mums and Dads, with this strange stuff called espresso and loud modern music. They were good places to escape parental supervision and to exchange views on music and fashion, although sport didn’t seem to enter into our chat.

Lyon’s Corner House and the Kardomah chain were operating nearer to the West End, they were too far away and too formal. This was long before Starbucks, Costa and Café Nero made the coffee shop ubiquitous in all shopping streets. The local cafés were places we could walk to and feel comfortable. Harry’s gave us a laddish haven at the weekends, but Rosa’s and Jacks provided something a bit more sophisticated in the evenings.

The cafés were a vital part of growing up around North Pole Road, a far more pleasant atmosphere than the pubs, and probably cheaper. They were a good place for boys and girls to mix and to sit down, rather than standing up in the pub. Cafés like Rosa’s and Jack’s were local independent places and provided a stepping stone on the route towards adulthood, showing off our recently purchased Italian style suits ‘made to measure’ at Burton’s tailors (usually on tick). In these cafés we learned to mix and to chat and how to drink coffee without pulling a face at the new fangled taste, the taste of things to come.

Allan Seabridge, 2020

P.S.

”This recent photo by Sue Snyder shows the site where Rosa’s café was located in the 50s and 60s.  Michael Cavilla commented that he remembered the café being on the corner of Caverswall Street and Scrubs Lane – and he was right. It still brings back memories today, I can still see the brightly lit windows and the condensation on a cold winter’s evening, hear the juke box and smell the coffee.”

Allan Seabridge, 2021

Posted in Before the Westway, Local industries and businesses, North Pole Road, sport, Streets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

My North Kensington schooldays Allan Seabridge

I spent my entire school life living in North Kensington and went to two schools. One was in Latimer Road, and the other in Du Cane Road, strictly speaking in Hammersmith. However, a number of pupils in the grammar school lived in various parts of North Kensington so I have described life at St Clement Danes Grammar School as it was part of my North Pole Road up-bringing.

Thomas Jones Primary School

Formerly Thomas Jones School/Latimer Road School in 2008, then used by the Pupil Support Service. The building is still in use now in 2020 standing at the end of what is now Freston Road. The other side of the building facing east had also been used during the 1980s as an annexe for St Ann’s Nursery School on St Ann’s Villas. Photo: Sue Snyder

I started my school life at Thomas Jones Primary School. The school was built in 1879 by the London School Board in what was then a densely populated and impoverished area. Its original name was Latimer Road Board School and it was one of approximately 400 schools built to provide education for working class children between 8 and 13 following Forster’s Education Act of 1870. It was an imposing, three-storey building hidden behind a high brick wall.

By 1947, when my mother walked me to school on my first day, it had been renamed Thomas Jones Primary School. I stepped through the gate marked BOYS and had my first view of the school itself. It seemed HUGE. Inside, I was overawed by the echoing stairwells, the high ceilings of the classrooms and the sound of children’s plimsolls squeaking on the parquet floors.

After that first day, I walked to school on my own, rain or shine. It was a long walk down Latimer Road, but there was very little traffic compared with today with no major roads to cross other than Oxford Gardens and Walmer Road. I only ever had one mishap: I ran across the entrance to the laundry works and got knocked down by a delivery truck. I got up, brushed myself down and continued walking to school.

Thomas Jones and Oxford Gardens seemed to be the primary schools for our part of North Kensington. The Head Mistress was Mrs Southcombe, and the only teacher I can remember was Mrs Warboys. The interior of the school was light and airy with plenty of windows and, I think, painted a light green or light blue.

We were in mixed classes of up to 30 or so in each class. A large brass bell, stored on top of the hall piano, was rung by a teacher at the end of each class time and at lunch time. Boys and girls shared a playground where I remember the chalked-out hopscotch squares. We played a variety of games: ‘jacks’, slide puzzles, a game played with ‘chippers’ – bottle tops which we slid against the wall, the nearest to the wall being the winner, and marbles, usually glass, but occasionally a steel ball bearing (much coveted).

In the first year we used slates to learn to write, later using steel nibbed dip pens and paper. The teachers wrote with chalk on blackboards perched on easels, I remember the chalk dust dancing in the sun shining through the windows.

I was so good at reading that I soon read all the school’s stock of books. Extra books were brought in from the local library for me to read. With hindsight, it shows the school as quite enlightened. I can clearly remember reading Jason and the Argonauts.

I was chosen to sit at the front of the class to help other pupils with their reading problems. My early excellence in English Literature came back to haunt me at my next school where I failed English Literature O Level.

One year, probably 1948 or 1949, I remember being given a ‘food parcel’ to take home. I think it was a gift from Australia, or maybe New Zealand or Canada. The parcels were handed out to each pupil as we left the building at home time. It was like an early Christmas. My Mum was surprised when I struggled in with a cardboard box and a paper bag. There were two tins of meat stew and red and green apples in the bag. There may have been more things, I simply can’t remember.

Later I became a milk monitor, which meant collecting milk crates from the playground and carrying them into school and distributing the 1/3 pint glass bottles to all the classrooms. The boys who were milk monitors all loved milk and a perk of the job was being allowed to keep the milk that was rejected by some pupils. We stored the extra bottles in our desks to drink later.

In winter the milk froze and pushed the caps off the bottles, so they had to be handled with care to avoid spills as the milk thawed. It never tasted quite the same after thawing. It was a great job, but horribly cold in winter, especially after a frost when the metal crates stuck to your fingers.

A messier job, which I didn’t do, was ink monitor. The ink monitor filled the ceramic ink wells in the desk tops with an enamel jug of blue/black ink. We wrote with steel nibbed, wooden handled pens. Later we were taught calligraphy using Osmiroid dip pens with italic nibs. I enjoyed the precision of that exercise – selecting the right nib and the right angle and producing straight lines of neat writing – an opportunity to discipline my usual scrawl, a skill I can still see in a Physics exercise book that survives from my secondary school.

Improving handwriting from an inscription in the Coronation booklet of 1953 and to my physics book of 1957

We were also taught how to use a jig saw to cut out animal shapes in plywood. My Dad had to buy me a jig saw and spare blades.

In 1953 we learned about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and drew pictures of the coronation coach and horses. We were introduced to another use for ‘chippers’. They were sorted into different colours and nailed to a large piece of wood to make messages and pictures which were hung across the street on Coronation day. We all received a Coronation mug and a booklet in which I wrote my name and address in extremely poor hand writing.

Coronation mug and booklet presented to pupils, 1953

In 1954 a competition was set for pupils to design and build a miniature house using our own choice of materials. My friend Roger had a building kit of house plans, small scale bricks, windows, roofs and a weak mortar. I had collaborated with him in building balsa wood and doped paper aeroplanes, most notably a rubber band driven Chipmunk and a jet powered Sabre which we set light to before its launching. He agreed that I could use his kit to make my model house and I built a two-storey house. I struggled into school carrying my precious house, opened the cardboard box and found only a pile of bricks. I had misjudged the weight of the final house and the strength of the mortar.

One year I won a prize for Best Boy, a hard-back book of colour plates with interleaved tissue paper to protect the plates. I kept that book for many years but it has now disappeared. I do, however, still have the prize given to me in 1954 for First Boy in Class, signed by R.J. Southcombe, Head Mistress – The Modern Encyclopaedia for Children, much read judging by its broken binding.

The Modern Encyclopedia for Children, school prize in 1954

I took my 11-plus in 1954 with all candidates for that year sitting at individual desks in the hall. Everyone was nervous as this was our first formal test. I passed the exam along with three other boys and one girl. I remember the names of those who passed: Alan Jewell, known as Jim, Alan Twydell, Ken Puxley and Barbara Mills. The whole school was assembled to hear the results and we were each told to stand so that the other pupils could stare – or was it glare? – at us. The boys all went to St Clement Danes Grammar School for Boys and Barbara went to Burlington Grammar School for Girls.

St Clement Danes Grammar School

St Clement Danes Grammar School was in Du Cane Road, close to North Pole Road, but just outside the North Kensington boundary. Burlington Girls School was opposite the junction of North Pole Road and Scrubs Lane. Much later the schools combined to form Burlington-Danes Mixed Grammar School. The playing fields were adjacent to each other and also next to Upper Latymer School playing fields. Thus we had a huge green area backing on to Wormwood Scrubs between Scrubs Lane and Hammersmith Hospitals.

I joined St Clement Danes in Form 2A in autumn 1954 and went through the progression of 3A, 4A, 5P, Upper 5P.

In 2A and 3A I found myself milk monitor again, no doubt due to my previous experience at Thomas Jones. It was good to see the same rules applied – the milk monitors had first dibs of left-over milk.

New pupils at St Clement Danes were known as ’Weeds’ and kept that status for the whole of their first year. Weeds were subject to certain ritual activities by the older pupils, mainly the Second Years and it was tough for a few weeks – unless you fought back. Rituals included walking through an avenue of older boys to the chant of “Weed, Weed, Weed” on the first day in the playground known as The Cage (see below), having your cap stolen and hidden, being tripped up in the playground, having balls pinched, chess sets knocked over etc. Sometimes, if you were brave enough, a threatening response including two words, ‘…. off’, meant you were likely to be left alone, though it could also mean a punch in the nose. This was much more of a risk if you were picked on by the upper form boys, but they got bored with Weed baiting quite quickly.

Our uniform was a bright green blazer and grey trousers, available from DH Evans in Oxford Street – the only approved supplier of blazer, badge, trousers, cap, tie, football shirt and socks. The school badge was a gold anchor on a blue ground, the school motto was Loyaute M’Oblige (Loyalty Binds Me), and the tie was diagonal stripes of blue, green and gold. I was placed in Temple house which had a navy blue bar as part of the badge. The other houses were: Dane (yellow), Clement (red), Clare (orange), Burleigh (maroon), Essex (purple), Exeter (light blue) and Lincoln (green). The houses were named after individuals associated with St Clement Danes’ Church in London and the Inns of Court. 

In typical schoolboy tradition, basic uniform style was tweaked to be made more fashionable. In my time the cap came with a choice of short or long peak: short peak was the choice for the first year, but I soon learned that a long peak was fashionable for older boys, with the peak deliberate broken and bent down at the front. The prefects used to monitor boys walking to school and were quick to spot pupils without hats or with broken peaks – detention for repeat offenders.

The standard white shirt could be made more fashionable by buying one with a cutaway collar. My Dad wouldn’t buy these for me as he didn’t approve of this ‘new’ style. Boys could adapt a standard shirt by bending the collar points under and smoothing them with a hot iron. By the end of the day the collar was grubby from continuous fingering to make sure it kept its shape. The cutaway style led to the adoption of the Windsor knot, a double loop tie knot forming an equilateral triangle fitting closely to the cutaway collar. Much later, as I adopted Mod styles, I went back to the more traditional knot and about this time the Windsor became derided as a “cad’s knot” because it was favoured by that well-known cad the Duke of Windsor.

Trousers had a standard 18 inch width with turn-ups. Any attempt to reduce this to 16 or 14 inches wide and to have trousers without turn-ups was vigorously policed by prefects. It didn’t matter that most boys outside school hours wore drain-pipes or mod style trousers – in school the rule had to be enforced. Another trouser variation was the wearing of a colour-striped elastic belt with a snake fastening which was reluctantly accepted because the rules didn’t specify a belt colour.

I usually walked to school, until the fifth form when I started riding my bike. I’d leave North Pole Road at eight o’clock, then along Scrubs Lane and up Du Cane Road. From the bottom of Du Cane road I walked past the playing field of Latymer Upper and then Burlington. A hedge behind iron railings lined the pavement up to the school gates. The school itself was a long two-story building. Pupils usually walked around the back, past the bicycle sheds to enter the main building, the front door being reserved for important visitors only.

On the ground floor were the Hall, Dining Room, kitchens, the Headmaster’s office and a number of form and class-rooms as well as the gym. A long corridor ran the length of the building in front of the form rooms. This long straight echoing throughway would have been perfect for boys to run along before sliding to a halt in a loud squeaking of shoes, but unfortunately, in the centre of the corridor was the Headmaster’s office precinct which we were not permitted to cross either running or walking.

Also on the ground floor were the metal and wood workshops, run by the aptly named Mr Cleaver. Upstairs were more class-rooms and the library and science labs. Third and Fourth year form rooms were outside the main school building in large wooden cabins.

We were allocated to forms based on our expected career paths: science, commercial, languages etc, and we had our own form room and form master each year. We went through school life in the same form group with some minor alterations as people changed subjects between terms, but with a different room and form master each year. Within the form, we gathered into small groups: those who liked sport and worked hard in class, those who liked chess and probably worked even harder, those who preferred a smoke in the bike sheds and a few lost souls who seemed to do nothing much.

The teachers mostly seemed quite young and were enthusiastic but strict. They were supposed to wear an academic robe, but usually carried it in a bundle under their arm between classes, throwing it onto a cupboard for the duration of a lesson. One English master known as ‘Chopper’ carried a slipper for occasional light punishment, more to inflict indignity rather than pain. He was a good aim with a piece of chalk if he noticed concentration slipping. Most had a nickname – Plum, Crippin, Tadge, Frankenstein, Chopper, Cherry, Stalin etc.

Mr Barnes, known as Wally after the Arsenal footballer Wally Barnes, taught French. He had an easy and open teaching style and left me with a feel for the structure of languages which has been useful to me throughout my life. He also taught me enough conversational French for me to shine when a group of mates and I went on a day trip to Calais. Mr Cook taught maths, a more mature man, he knew a lot of shortcuts in algebra, again I found these useful later in life. Mr Cleaver ruled the workshops, Mr Kumatsu taught Physics and led the fencing class. Mr Allen taught Engineering Drawing and also sports, Mr Fogwill taught Geography and he was our form master in Form 4A. The other names have slipped my memory.

I enjoyed all the lessons, except religious instruction during which I caught up on my homework. I remember French, Maths and Chemistry especially as being well taught and filled with revelations – completely new topics.


Form 4A in 1957 outside the main entrance to the school
Back row
: Hewson, Hill, Barratt, Hudson, Rice, Jackson, Ray, Collett, Clark, Trood, Seabridge, Reeves.
Middle row:
Rudge, Bowen, Clarke, McGregor, Denton, Piper, Regis, King, Trowell, Yates, Ibbott, Napper
Front row:
Henry, Wilkins, Pritchard, Bonehill, Mr Fogwill (form master), Durban, Jewell, Hounsome, Key, Nunn

We were kept busy with school work but found time for other activities. We made bombs from mercury fulminate, which, wrapped into a brown paper parcel, made a satisfying bang when thrown at the walls. We managed to acquire copious amounts of mercury to play with which we stored in our desks. Health and safety had not been invented then.

There were school sanctioned activities such as the Debating Society, the Fencing Club and the school orchestra. The orchestra gave periodic recitals which we were forced to enjoy. One of the lads in our form, Regis played the piano in the orchestra. He was auditioned by the Bel Airs group who played at the Youth Club in the Sutton Dwellings, but his style was too jazzy for them. The school magazine ‘The Dane’ was produced by a group of boys using the library. It was printed as a small booklet and looked very professional, perhaps a local printer was involved.

The cadet group drilled in the playground after school and were able to strip and re-assemble old Lee-Enfield rifles, Sten guns and Bren guns. They used blanks to test them and were allowed to live-fire them on an indoor range near White City. Rounds were handed out and signed for and were counted back in, including the spent shell cases, to ensure that no live rounds found their way into the outside world.

Sport helped us to keep busy throughout the year. The playground was enclosed in a 3 metre high chain link fence known as The Cage. The height was not so much to keep the kids in, but to reduce the number of escaping balls. This was actually very helpful since we could play without the need to chase after the ball when it missed the goal. The Cage had handball courts marked out with painted lines and provided with nets. We played tennis at playtimes, using bare hands to hit a tennis ball. This was self-taught, mainly using the knowledge boys acquired from their older sisters.

We played cricket in the summer using portable stumps on a wooden base, hinged to fall back if hit by the ball. Football was played all year round, often using a tennis ball which was good for improving ball skills. The goal was marked out by jackets piled up against the fence. There was a craze for full size balls made of bright orange plastic. I remember going to Hammersmith to buy one from a sports shop owned by Wally Barnes. The balls punctured easily, especially when hit with force against the fence, but they could be repaired with a tool heated up on the gas cooker and pressed onto the hole, a faintly pleasant smell of melting plastic accompanied this repair (Quick someone – invent Health and Safety). When the hole was sealed the ball was pumped up again using a high-pressure bicycle pump. Hit hard and cleanly with the foot it made a pleasing “Booiiiiing” noise. A select group of more intellectual pupils played chess in a quiet corner using pocket chess boards.

In winter, The Cage was ideal for making slides on the frosty and icy surface – our form of winter sports. The corners were good for trapping the poor suffering Weeds and peppering them with snowballs.

The playing fields were used for games between form teams, house teams and other schools. The school preferred whites to be worn for cricket, but not everybody could afford them so a white shirt with grey trousers was an accepted alternative. As well as marked-out and manicured pitches there were nets and cradles for cricket practice.

For football we wore green and gold shirts with a slip-on tabard in House colours. Boots were big clunky leather with nailed-in studs, and the ball was also leather. Both boots and ball became heavy and caked in mud in wet weather. Cleaning the boots was a horrible job, a toothbrush was needed to get the soles clean. They had to be coated with ‘Dubbin’ to stop them drying out and cracking. The smell of Dubbin in winter and linseed oil in summer was constantly with us.

The annual sports day was held before school broke up for the summer holidays. Competitions were held between House teams. A running track was prepared on the grass and other field activities were laid out in the middle. I was good at the 100 yards and 220 yards, but not the longer races. A small group of boys whose parents could afford spiked shoes won most of the races, the rest of us puffed along in plimsolls. The cross country, which was mandatory, started and finished at the school but included a long section on Wormwood Scrubs reached by the lane running beside the prison.

The annual swimming gala was held at Godolphin Road open air baths in Shepherd’s Bush, near to Lime Grove studios. Because I had a ‘poorly’ chest I was excused swimming, so I went as a spectator, enjoying the sunshine.

On 19 October 1958 we visited St Clement Danes church for its re-consecration. The church had been badly damaged in May 1941 during the last air raid of the Blitz.  Following an appeal for money by the Royal Air Force the church was completely rebuilt. We went by coach to the City of London and the trip was combined with a visit to the Guild Hall.

School dinners were excellent, cooked on site and served by a cheery crowd of dinner ladies. We found that if we went to The Cage to play football as soon as the dinner bell went, and didn’t go to the dining room until we judged that most pupils were finishing, we could help ourselves to all the left-over food. Puddings included stodgy jam sponge, spotted dick, fruit crumble – all with lots of custard, or such delights as rice, semolina and tapioca. Two helpings of these was our standard. We didn’t give a thought to the dinner ladies who may well have wanted the left-overs for their own lunch

In December there was an end of year concert in the hall. The school orchestra provided most of the music and there were games, singing (Ten Green Bottles, Clementine and other traditional tunes) and attempts by the staff to act out funny sketches.

I enjoyed my time at St Clement Danes – we had good access to scientific and engineering subjects and I in 1959 I gained 6 O Levels: Maths, Chemistry, Engineering Drawing, Woodwork, French and English, failing at English Literature and, regrettably, not even being good enough to enter the Physics exam, failing the mock O level. My friends at home were amazed and I became a local celebrity for such prowess, as O level results were announced in the local paper. It was clear that my family would not be able to afford for me to do A levels and go to University, instead I was going to have to find a job.

Alan Seabridge, 2020

Posted in Schools, sport, Streets | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

North Pole Road – shopping in the 1950s

I was born in 1943 and I lived in North Kensington from 1947 until October 1964. I lived at 4 Calderon Place, a cul-de-sac off North Pole Road. These memories mainly come from the years of my youth when I spent a lot of time roaming the streets with a number of friends the same age, particularly in my primary school and early teenage years. When I went to work I spent l spent more time at the youth club in the Sutton Dwellings estate where there was music and a lively social scene, so I spent less time in North Pole Road. The memories of the shops are therefore recalled from the period 1952 to 1962 when I can claim to have walked and played in the streets around and to have used some of the shops. I left the area in October 1964, returning only for very brief periods, mainly for the funerals of my Dad and sister.

I had sketched out the street plan and filled in the names from memory when Sue Snyder sent me a plan showing a comparison of the shops between 1950 and 2005. I used the street numbers from this plan in my own description. It is clear that my memories and the plan do not exactly agree. I have also included some shops in Latimer Road as they were so close and sold essential services.

STREET PLAN

North Pole Road was a lively shopping area where most of the locals did their daily shop. Anything more exotic could be purchased in one of the many larger shopping areas such as:

  • Shepherds Bush Green and the markets in Goldhawk Road
  • King’s Street, Hammersmith
  • Acton High Street
  • Willesden High Street
  • High Street Kensington
  • Oxford Street – where my school uniform was stocked by DH Evans.

In the North Pole Road shops it was possible to buy most items for daily use. They are shown on the plan by street number. The shops and my experience and impressions of them of them are described below:

There was private housing, 3-story buildings with bay windows at Nos 1 to 11. There was residential accommodation above most of the shops for use by the shop owners, or used sometimes as rental flats, except the small row from 2 to 4 which were single story shops

At Nos 13 to 15 was the North Pole public house, a Watney’s house, I recall. Inside it was brightly lit, cosy and just the right side of scruffy. Although a couple of years too young to drink legally, my friends and I decided to try our luck and buy our first pint in the Public Bar. The room was full of lads standing at the bar and old folk sitting at tables, scowling into their glasses of barley wine or Mackeson stout. A piano clunked away, background to the muted conversations around the room. As confidently as I could, I asked the barman for a pint of Brown Ale. He quietly put me right: You mean a pint of Bitter, son.’ Er, yes, course I did. Silently, he poured our pints and we congratulated ourselves on getting away with drinking underage.

At times a stall parked outside the pub. It sold cockles, winkles and shrimps in small dishes to eat at the stall or take home.

Our preferred pub was the College Park Hotel in Harlesden, a trolley bus ride away. The College Park had a livelier atmosphere than the North Pole, perhaps because of the large Irish community in the area. The other advantage to us was that it was less likely we’d be recognised as under age.

Tony’s at no 24 was a barber’s shop, tagged on to the main terrace of shops. Tony was Italian and wore a pale blue nylon jacket and modelled a slick, modern hair-style. The shop had a row of sinks with mirrors above where customers sat to be transformed his into the Elvis look-a-likes whose images were displayed in photographs on the walls. Tony could cut and style hair while chatting to the reflections of waiting customers in the chairs behind him. Tit Bits, Picture Post, Daily Mirror and Sporting Post were stacked in an untidy pile on a small table. Tony once asked me if I required ‘something for the weekend, sir.’ I had no idea what he meant. I still wonder if he was trying to embarrass me in front of other customers or if he thought I was old enough to require the ‘something’ he was offering.

Across the road at no 17 was a ladies’ hairdressers which also cut and styled men’s hair. I can’t remember the name of this shop, but I often used it. It had a less frenetic atmosphere than Tony’s and the magazines for waiting customers included Lilliput, My Home, Punch and Reader’s Digest. Punch was a challenge at my age, but I enjoyed Reader’s Digest. At both hairdressers the finished hair style would be finished off with the application of copious amounts of a cut-price version of Brylcreem, and at Tony’s there was the alternative of a spray of blue stuff that turned you hair into a stiff crust. If you didn’t want these products, it was important to watch for the moment when the hairdresser was about to grab the grease and quickly say ‘No, thanks’.

There were two greengrocer’s shops. Bolt’s, at No 21, was small with open shelving displaying produce. The entrance was opened and closed with a large shutter. We occasionally bought penny apples with our pocket money. I remember it as a single storey building attached to the end of a terrace, close to the railway embankment. There was an earthy smell, probably from the open sacks of potatoes, along with the sweet smell of fresh fruit. It was very cold in winter. In 1983 I had a short script used on Playschool on BBC TV featuring a goat. The fictional family who owned him, the Bolt family was inspired by my memory of Bolt’s.

Silverton’s greengrocer’s shop was at No 2. The lads who served customers and humped sacks of vegetables around were older and tougher than us. They drove white Ford Zephyrs, fancy motors that cost more money than a shop assistant would be expected to earn. Their mysterious wealth caused us to treat them with respect. Silverton’s was more sophisticated than Bolt’s, a ‘proper’ shop, although penny apples were also on sale there. At one stage both shops were owned by the same family although I can’t remember whether that was Bolt or Silverton.

Hawkin’s grocers at No 4 was a large, well-stocked shop with a long wooden counter running the length of the shop on each side and an elevated cash desk at the end. It had bare floorboards. As you went into the shop you could buy bacon, cooked meats, cheese and eggs at the left hand counter. I remember being sent to buy green back bacon cut to my family’s preferred thickness. The right hand counter was for dry goods – flour, dried fruit and cereals, for example. I can’t remember how the bills from each side were managed by the cashier. It was a very orderly shop that smelled of a mixture of meat, spices, bread – the sort of smell only found in small shops in France and Italy today. The queue started at the door and two or three customers moved along the counter and were served with a lot of chat and gossip. There was no hurry in those days.

I think the manager was a Mr Bates with his wife as cashier. He parked his beige Ford Prefect every morning in Calderon Place. In the summer holidays this was very inconvenient as the car was parked in front of a tree that we used as a wicket for our games of cricket. We had to move up towards the end of the street where there were more windows in danger of being broken. We had to replace our wicket-tree with a wooden fruit box begged from Bolt’s.

Kent’s sweet shop at No 4a was a large shop that sold sweets in glass jars, for example Sharps’ Assorted Toffees, Murray Mints and Riley’s Chocolate Toffee Rolls. For a special occasion there were boxes of Cadbury’s Milk Tray, Black Magic or Terry’s All Gold. Chocolate bars I remember included Fry’s Peppermint Cream, Fry’s Chocolate Cream with a white or mixed colour filling, Fry’s Five Boys and Macintosh’s bone-shaped caramel filled chocolate bar in a red foil wrapper.

You could also buy assorted loose sweets by the quarter pound or by the pennyworth: fruit or banana split chews, flying saucers, sherbet dabs, Spanish wood, winter mixture, aniseed balls, sherbet lemons and assorted boiled sweets including large, multi-layered gob stoppers. My favourites were aniseed balls and Fry’s Peppermint Cream. Kent’s smelled of chocolate and sugar. We took our time deciding on our sweets and were never told to hurry up.

Kent’s also sold soft drinks. My favourites were Tizer, Dandelion and Burdock, and R. White’s American Cream Soda. A summer special was a glass of ice cream topped up with American Cream Soda. They sold Wall’s and Lyons Ice Cream. You could buy small bars that fitted into a wafer cone or sandwiched between two flat wafers. There were also larger blocks which, with a packet of Askey’s wafers, could be carried home wrapped in newspaper to keep them frozen. There were choc ices and home-made lollies that rapidly lost their taste. The shop sold cigarettes and tobacco. I didn’t smoke but I remember some of the brands: Woodbines, Senior Service, Players and Three Nuns. As summer came to an end fireworks arrived in the shop: boxes for families and a pick-and-mix selection including penny bangers, Catherine wheels, jumping crackers and rockets.

I think Kent’s had another small shop in a row of shops on Dalgarno Gardens near to the road that led to Sutton Dwellings. I recollect the Post Office moved into Kent’s in North Pole Road from its original location at No 8, which then became the launderette.

Barratt’s Off Licence was at No 6. Br Barratt was a tall, dark suave gentleman with a dark five o’clock shadow. My friend, Mario, from Bracewell Road, used to be sent to Barratt’s to buy a bottle of Beaujolais for his dad. He was about twelve years old, but the wine was always handed over with no question. My family very seldom drank wine, the usual drink was a quart bottle of brown ale with a screw cap. Special occasions were celebrated with a bottle of sherry.

The Launderette at No 8 was certainly there in 1964 and had been open for several years before that. It was busy as few families had washing machines and it was probably cheaper than the dry cleaners. On cold winter evenings we would linger in the warm, steamy atmosphere with the smell of soap and clean, washed clothes – if the shop assistant could be persuaded to let us stay.

Bowen and Williams Chemist was at No 10. It was a traditional chemist’s shop with a deep porch and the name of the shop picked out in dark tiles on a white-tiled background. I remember getting large cans of blackcurrant preserve there, probably as a source of Vitamin C.

It was where older lads bought condoms as there were no female assistants to cause embarrassment. Bob, a friend of mine, worked there part-time and he occasionally slipped us a packet of Durex or Ono (which came in a tin). They were no practical use to us at the time, but just like having our first pint in the North Pole pub, it was a rite of passage to have a packet of Durex in a trouser pocket.

My friend Martin went out with Gloria, a daughter of one of the owners of Bowen and Williams. ‘Going out’ meant walking the streets with her as she took her corgi out in the evening, while I accompanied her friend Valerie. The shop entrance was our pitch of choice for ‘penny for the guy’. It was sheltered from the cold but we could be seen by passers-by on the pavement.

Davies’s Dairy was at No 14. I had a milk round using their heavy, three-wheeled delivery bike. My mother worked here cleaning the premises. I had to load the bike with bottles from the crates stacked up outside the shop and add extra bottles as people would often stop me to buy a bottle. This early morning job was followed by my paper round at Ellington’s, delivering papers on my own bike. Only then did I set off for school.

No 14, much earlier, in the 1920s. Photo: Eddie Adams Collection

Davies’s was one of the many Welsh-run dairies in London. At the top of the hill in Harlesden was Jones’s dairy. The family came for the same village in Wales as my mother. I knew their daughter Haulwen, who tried to shake off her Welsh roots by calling herself Ann.

At no 16 was Miller’s Bakers (previously Glanville’s). Miller’s had another shop in Portobello Road. My mother worked in both shops. They sold the usual bread, rolls and cakes, along with penny buns which were either currant buns or bread rolls. A school friend, Alan, who was at school with me at Thomas Jones Primary, lived over the North Pole Road shop although their house door was in Bracewell Road. I spent many evening hours chatting to his sister on their doorstep. She was probably only a year older than me but seemed much more mature than I was. She taught me to recognise Orion in the winter night sky and told me about books she had read. Under the shop was a large basement which was possibly where bread had been baked in the past. Alan and I played there using candles for light.

Ellington’s Stationers was at No 18. It was a well-stocked shop, clean and orderly. I had a paper round there and clearly remember the freezing February morning when all the paperboys were devastated to see the headlines telling us that Buddy Holly had died in an air crash. We all loved Buddy but the local rock groups, like the Bel-Airs, loved his red Fender Stratocaster more, an American guitar that they could only dream of playing. Ours was a black and white world and Buddy, with his new, truly rock and roll style, made life more colourful for us.

Ellington’s stocked greeting cards, Basildon writing paper and Conway Stewart pens. They had a good selection of board games and books. I used to buy my Biggles books there. The covered entrance was a favourite hangout for us kids on cold, windy days.

I distinctly remember a radio and electrical shop at No 20 (contradicting the street plan). The window was filled with large, dark wooden cabinets that housed radiograms, wireless sets and televisions. I’m sure my parents bought a Peto Scott radiogram from this shop. My dad was very protective of it and I was forbidden to use it in case I broke it. Towards the end of my time in North Pole Road, large plastic radios began to appear in the windows.

At No 22 there was a mysterious shop that sold surgical appliances. The window display included plastic scale models of male torsos wearing pink corset-like undergarments. Why would anyone wear these items? The local name for the shop was ‘the truss shop’ but I didn’t make the link between the nickname and the window display. It may of course been an ordinary haberdasher’s

In 1911, there was a Coffee House at no 22 run by Herbert Owen with his family living and working on the premises.

There were two butchers’ shops on North Pole Road: at No 2 and No 12. These were of no interest to me as a young boy so I don’t remember which shop my mother used. Both shops sold liver, kidneys and heart, meat that’s not often sold in modern shops. Occasionally, I feel nostalgic for the offal I used to enjoy.

The Shoe Repair shop at No 19 was where school shoes were re-soled with Philips rubber soles.

The tailor and dressmaker’s shop has no number marked on the plan. I think it was probably at the invisible junction between North Pole Road and Barlby Road. My mother went there sometimes to have my school uniform altered.

In winter the Muffin Man trudged up Latimer Road selling muffins and crumpets, crying his wares as he went. In summer Mancini’s ice cream van served Italian Ice-cream cooled by dry ice at the Wormwood Scrubs gates in Dalgarno Gardens. Sometimes, ‘Johnny Onions’ arrived from France on his bike to sell onions and a knife grinder also set up in the street, pedalling his trike on its stand to power the grinding wheel.

In 2020, as shops close, others open. No 20 North Pole Road is the newest on the block.

Latimer Road.

Some shops at the top of Latimer Road formed part of the North Pole Road shopping experience.

On the corner of North Pole Road, opposite the pub, at No 193 Latimer Road was a laundry, bag wash and dry cleaners.

There was a fishmonger, wet fish displayed on a marble slab. He also sold penny bags of crisps. These were broken bits from the Smiths Crisps factory on Great Western Road. They came complete with a blue twist of salt and we thought they tasted much better than the ‘proper’ bags of full price crisps.

There was an ironmonger’s shop sold screws, nails, hinges and a host of other items which today would be used for DIY. It also sold paraffin for room heaters: Aladdin Pink and Esso Blue – an evocative smell. Paraffin was advertised on Associated TV, the commercial station for the area. The Esso advert experimented with colour by ‘strobing’ the signal on the black and white TV to provide a weak blue, green and pink colour effect. It also featured a cartoon character famously called ‘Your Esso Blee Dooler.’ This shop also sold paint and wallpaper. The wallpaper had an edge which had to be removed on a manually-wound roller cutter to remove a strip of paper.

There was also an electrical shop selling plugs, fuse wire and light bulbs. This was a busy shop. In those days, before the standard 13 Amp flat pin plugs, houses had 3 pin 5 Amp plugs for most domestic equipment, 3 pin 15 Amp for three bar electric fires, some 2 pin sockets with no earth and even bayonet light sockets on the skirting boards. At my cousin’s house at 2 Calderon Place, I poked my fingers into a light socket on the shirting board and got my first electric shock.

Further down Latimer Road, next to the Royal Volunteer pub, was a fish and chip shop. As the only one in the area, there was always a queue. The frying oil was sieved regularly and crispy batter bits deposited in a tray so be added to customers’ orders on request. There were jars of pickled eggs and pickled onions on the counter.

St Quintin’s Avenue

The GP Surgery was in a large house at the junction of North Pole Road and St Quintin’s Avenue. My doctor was Dr Sweeney.

By Alan Seabridge, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 33 Comments

The Fourteen Pubs of Latimer Road and Norland Road

by John Henwood and Alan Bateman

This post is very much a ‘work in progress’ and is by no means comprehensive. Readers are actively encouraged to contribute their memories and we eagerly anticipate these. In particular any further factual information would be most gratefully received and can be added to the post.

Before the late 1960s, Latimer Road took you all the way from North Pole Road, southwards until it joined with Norland Road and then Shepherd’s Bush. The building of the Westway and A3220 combined with slum clearance led to wholesale redelopment of much of the area with old road patterns disappearing as well. Latimer Road was truncated under Westway and then reappeared renamed as Freston Road. From the fourteen public houses along the route, only one remains as a functioning, working pub with the others demolished, used as flats, offices, and a supermarket.

Latimer Road starting in the top left of the map heading south to become Norland Road before ending at Shepherds Bush just west of Royal Crescent. 1891 map.

1.THE NORTH POLE

North Pole, early 1900s.

13-15 North Pole Road, sited on the South east corner of Latimer Road was originally known as ‘The Globe’ when it was built in 1839 as a single storey inn. It was close to the north western edge of the Hippodrome racecourse and fronted Counters Creek which had yet to be culverted. With the Hippodrome closing in 1842, North Pole Road began to be developed. The pub was rebuilt c1872 as a three storey building forming the end of a short terrace on the south side between Latimer Road and Calderon Mews and renamed ‘The North Pole Hotel’. The first recorded reference to the new name appears in 1874 when James and Elizabeth Rutter are named as licensees. In 1844 the railway appeared running from Willesden to Kensington Olympia following the line of Counters Creek which in 1867 was incorporated into Bazalgette’s sewage system. The name change seems to have come about in a curious way; the original pub sign depicting a globe had weathered away leaving only the North Pole visible! For reasons currently unclear, the pub was rebuilt in 1892, confirmed by a date on the chimney and at this time it was referred to as the ‘New North Pole’. In the 1920’s a few doors along at 298/300 Latimer road the ‘Globe House Laundry’ was established, a clear reference to the original name.

In 1888/89 QPR had begun to play at the nearby gun club ground situated behind where Burlington Danes School now stands. Anecdotal evidence suggests that their opponents changed in the North Pole with the home team changing at the Latimer Arms further along Latimer Road. In the summer of 2012 it was bought by Riding House Properties who quickly closed it, leasing the ground floor to Tesco and converting the upper floors to residential flats.

The North Pole now Tesco’s, 2020

2. THE BRITISH VOLUNTEER

The Volunteer,1960s. Photo Hammersmith & Fulham Archives.
Ariadne’s Nektar, 2020. Photo John Henwood.

274 Latimer Road, sited on the North east corner of the junction with Latimer Place.

First referred to in 1881 when the ‘beer retailer’ (landlord) was Joel Brown. It’s status as a ‘beer only’ pub, as dictated by it’s restricted license, remained until the 1950’s when a full license was granted. This restricted license was common among London pubs in the 19th century as pubs sprang up everywhere that new areas were developed. It was owned originally by Whitbread who at that time were the biggest brewery in the world, but was sold off in the 1990’s to Enterprise Inns. Between 1996 and ’98 it was occupied by squatters. It then became a pub/restaurant styled as ‘Latimer Place’ with the restaurant on the first floor, a venture which though reasonably popular ultimately failed after a few years. In July 2012 an application was made for conversion to a five bedroom family dwelling. In support of their application the owners cited the fact that the next door property, which had been a popular fried fish shop since the 1920s, had been granted residential planning on 3rd Nov. 2009, having been closed since 1987 due to diminishing turnover precipitated by the degeneration of the area in the 1960’s.

The pub appeared in the 1976 TV thriller, ‘Kill Two Birds’ starring Dudley Sutton.

It now cannot be accurately described as a pub and enjoys a ‘mixed’ reputation operating as a ‘Greek restaurant/bar’, opening spasmodically at the whim of leaseholder, Dimitri Kotsakis and is known as ‘Ariadne’s Nektar’ which I think it’s safe to say is unique among ‘pub’ names. It is currently the subject of an enforcement order relating to an exterior structure extending onto the Latimer rd pavement and it’s day’s as a pub look numbered.

3.THE LATIMER ARMS

Latimer Arms, 1990s. photo from North Kensington Community Archive at RBK&C Archives

1 Walmer Road, changed in 1966 to 198 Latimer Road.

The pub is sited on the north westerly tip of what was previously the Hippodrome Racecourse and the entire curve of Walmer road follows the line of the Racecourse palisade.

Built c1869 as a single storey inn and rebuilt later toward the end of the 19thcentury, it served as the match day H.Q of QPR in 1888/89, when they played at the Gun Club and again in 1901/2 when they played on a pitch where St. Marks Memorial Park now stands, before moving back to Kensal Rise prior to their eventual move to Loftus Road in 1917. The first recorded landlord is John Henry LeFevre whose tenancy was registered in July 1870. Unsurprisingly given the criminal nature of Notting Dale generally, The Latimer is connected with nefarious activity throughout it’s 100 odd years history, none more so than when it was centre stage for a succession of altercations that led ultimately to the murder of regular customer Billy Smith (real name James Hannington) on May 9th 1960 in Evesham street close to the pub. The feud between the victim and his assailants, Georgie Baker and members of the notorious Bell family, had been running for some time but matters started to become really serious following an incident on Friday April 22nd in the saloon bar between aged Irish barman Mick O’Donovan and Billy Smith and his friends resulting in Mick being floored by a punch to the jaw. Georgie Baker and Markie Bell who had been present, sided with the barman (who was sacked because of the incident) and the violence escalated on Sunday May 1st when in a packed saloon bar with the band playing, Ernie Bell held a handgun to Billy’s neck. As drinkers ducked or dived for the door Bell pulled the trigger but the gun failed whereupon Billy produced an ivory handled blade lashing out at Bell cutting his shoulder and groin, narrowly missing Georgie Baker and finally sinking the knife into the arm of Bell’s younger brother, Markie. Both victims wounds were stitched at St. Charles Hospital. When interviewed there by police Markie declined to give details of the attack but advised the officer that he would be returning the knife to it’s owner without his arm in it! Eight days later in Evesham street Ernie Bell fatally shot Billy Smith with a rifle receiving 7 years for manslaughter, the charge reduced from murder as Bell’s defence claimed Smith had attempted to throw a sledgehammer at Bell prior to the fatal shot being fired… though of course Smith was unable to refute this.

Whilst being a regular haunt of the criminal fraternity things were usually more convivial and in the 1950’s/60’s and music featured regularly. This consisted mostly of a two piece makeshift band with George on piano and Danny McDermott on even more makeshift drums (hard seat chair and two beer bottles), with the duo accompanying various singers drawn from the crowd. Danny was quite the musical virtuoso as he was famed for playing the spoons (same hard chair) when he wasn’t ‘drumming’. Rumour has it that a customer took a horse into the pub on one occasion in the 60’s/70’s.

In 1966 the whole of the western end of Walmer Road, except for the pub and adjoining building, was demolished to accommodate the West Cross Route and A40 extension. (see separate post ‘1966 and all that – The demolition of Walmer Road’) The original address was 1a Walmer Road, No1 being occupied by the adjoining Bible mission house which held two services a week; see extract from Post Office directory: file:///C:/Users/J%20Henwood/Downloads/p16445coll4_30257.pdf

Scenes from an episode of ‘Steptoe and Son’ were filmed here for which it was styled ‘The Skinners Arms’ and an advert for ‘Courage Best’ was filmed here in the 1980’s with Chas n’Dave playing over it, though ironically by the time it was screened the pub has ceased to sell cask ale. In common with most pubs in the area, the Westway demolition program (which obliterated most of the surrounding streets) precipitated a exodus of customers signalling their inevitable terminal decline.

It closed in the mid 1990’s when it was initially used as offices before being converted by Thames Reach, an organisation providing accommodation for the homeless.

Fomer Latimer Arms, 2020

4. THE FORESTERS ARMS,

Originally 1 Hatfield Terrace, later (c.1880) redesignated as 271 Latimer Road when Hatfield Terrace was absorbed into Latimer Road. Believed to be built in the 1850’s and by 1892 it was closed.

5. THE BRITANNIA

Slum clearance. All that was left of the Britannia, in 1967- a hanging sign that can just be seen in the top right hand corner. Photo: Hammersmith & Fulham Archives.

217 Latimer road, north west corner of junction with Bard (formerly Wharfe) road. Built 1859/60 closed c.1966/7 and demolished as part of the general ‘slum clearance’ making way for the Westway/West Cross Route. Remarkably, at one time Kensington boasted four ‘Britannia’ pubs, the others sited at Golborne Rd, Clarendon Rd and Allen St.

Site of the Britannia pub, 2020

6. THE SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN

191 Latimer Road, used by Ceres Bakery, 2003 photo North Kensington Community Archive at RBK&C

191 Latimer Road, opened c.1862 around the same time as the nearby Latymer Mission Hall was built (opened 1863). It was short lived and in the late 1890’s it was acquired by the next door Harrow Mission (Harrow Boys Club) and converted into an associated ‘Mens Club’. For many years after it’s closure it was referred to by Harrow club regulars as ‘Chris’s building’. In 1951 the premises were sold by the club. The building remains to this day largely preserved in it’s original state.

Formerly the Sir Christopher Wren pub. 2020. Photo John Henwood

7. THE BRAMLEY ARMS

The Bramley Arms building 1996 photo Sue Snyder

Formerly ‘The Robin Hood’ sited at 1 Bramley (formerly Bromley) Road and fronting Latimer road. The present building was constructed c.1870, the first recorded tenants in 1871 being John and Rose Empson licensed victuallers, however it is marked on Wylde’s 1846 map as ‘The Robin Hood’ strongly suggesting a tavern or inn existed at that date. It would almost certainly at that time have been a single storey inn

Featured in more films than any pub in the UK, including The Lavender Hill Mob, The Blue Lamp, Betrayal, Leo the Last, and more recently Quadrophenia and in 1986, Sid and Nancy – possibly it’s last film appearance as a pub. It closed in late 1988 and was converted to a mix of residential and office use.

8. THE TRAFALGAR

The Trafalgar 1970s. Photo from Hammersmith & Fulham archives.
In 1977 at the time of Frestonia the pub building was a Law Centre. Photo Brian Assiter.

At 2, Bramley road, formerly ‘The Victory’ and known universally locally as ‘The Flag’. Situated diagonally opposite the ‘Bramley’ and fronting Latimer Road.

The first recorded landlord in Nov. 1854 was William Rogers however it existed in 1846 as it appears on Wyldes 1846 map of the area as ‘The Victory’. It seems logical that it opened sometime after the battle of Trafalgar (1805) and before Wyldes 1846 map was made however this may be a dangerous assumption as it could have existed prior to the 1805 battle and subsequently been renamed in honour of the flagship ‘Victory’. A glorious beginning maybe…but a somewhat inglorious end as sometime soon after closing in 1977 it became ‘The Notting Dale Community Law Centre’ when taken over by squatters and was finally boarded up in 1979 prior to demolition to make way for the ‘Frestonia’ rebuilding program.

Former Bramley Arms on left, site of the Trafalgar on right, 2020

9. THE VICTORIA

The Victoria, 61 Latimer Road. Photo Hammersmith & Fulham Archives

At 61 Latimer Road, sited on the south west corner of the junction with Hunt Street. The Victoria was first recorded in the 1871 census naming Joseph Bethell as the landlord. Probably built c.1870 to serve the Victorian cottages being constructed at the time along that part of Latimer rd. It featured in the 1968 film ‘Secret Ceremony’, starring Elizabeth Taylor. In 1979 it was demolished when it was absorbed into the ‘Frestonia’ rebuilding programme marking the southern end of that development with the rebuilt Hunt Street becoming Hunt Close which stands broadly on the same site but not occupying precisely the same footprint.

Hunt Close, site of the Victoria pub, 2020. Photo John Henwood

10. THE DUKE OF SUSSEX

Duke of Sussex, 1965. Photo Hammersmith & Fulham Archives

27 Latimer Road, sited on the north west corner of the junction with Poynter Street (formerly Clifton St. changed c.1945)

Believed to have been built c.1854, a substantial and rather handsome white stucco building, the first recorded landlord in 1855 is S. Williams when it was owned by The Isleworth Brewery (St. Johns rd Isleworth est.1726) When in November 1923 this company was liquidated it was acquired by Watney Mann in whose ownership it remained until it’s closure. It was a very popular hostelry in the period before WW1, a fact highlighted in evidence given by the pub manager at an Old Bailey trial of a customer (William Frederick Jones of nearby Bomore road) on charges of fraud and deception involving jewellery:

HENRY DAWSON . I am a clerk, of 20, Bomore Road, North Kensington—I first met Jones on December 23rd, 1905, when he came to my room—he was living in the same house—I had seen him a month or six weeks before that, but had not known him—I have not seen him with Wilson before December 23rd; I have since—the day Jones came to my room he was brought by a woman who lived in the back room, whose husband is in the asylum, and who is living with another man—Jones then told me he had pawned a chain for £3 10s.—he showed me the pawn-ticket in the name of De Vere—he showed me another chain in tissue paper—I went out with him that evening—he had the chain then—he was wearing it the latter part of the evening—we went to the ‘Bush Hotel’, ‘The Telegraph’, and several houses in the neighbourhood of Shepherd’s Bush—at the Telegraph I saw Wilson and two others—Jones and Wilson talked together—on Christmas Day Jones and I went out—we had no money—Jones asked if I had got enough money to pay for a drink, and he would pay me back if he could sell this chain—we went into the Duke of Sussex, but the house was too full—Jones said he could not see the man he wanted to—he asked if we could get two dinners from the landlady, and he would pay me when he got money on the chain—between 1 and 3 o’clock we came out and went again to the Duke of Sussex about 6.30 or 7 p.m.—Jones handed the chain over the bar—we came out and walked up Latimer Road and came back, and I waited outside……..

On 27th Aug. 1963 the pub was ‘registered’ by H. M. Land registry and soon after was subject to a compulsory purchase order leading to it’s later closure and demolition in 1964 when the site was absorbed into the ‘Edward Woods Estate’. The original site of the pub is c.20 meters north west of the western flank of Stebbing House. RBKC recognised that with the necessary closure of two other local pubs (The ‘little’ Latimer and The Queens Arms) for the same reason, incoming residents of the new development would be without a ‘local’ so an alternative site for The Duke of Sussex was found at 27 St Annes Road. The new pub opened in 1965 and immediately became very popular with a young crowd however soon it’s customer base rapidly diminished due to the demolition (from 1966 onward) of large swathes of nearby housing to make way for the Westway. With it’s star firmly in the descendancy it was renamed ‘The Favourite’ but it’s brief period of renaissance had passed and it closed in 2011 and was listed for sale for £1.8m by Enterprise Inns (who had acquired Watney Reid Mann) with AG&G, (a specialist agents for licensed premises) in an endeavour to find someone willing to continue with it as a pub. Unsurprisingly this failed to attract a buyer and it’s demise was completed in May 2012 when it was marketed by Goldcrest Land for £2.2m-£2.4m with full detailed planning application for a six storey building comprising 84 student housing studios with one retail unit on the ground floor. It is currently owned by ‘Yara Central, Holland Park’ with rents ranging from £14.2k to £15.3k p.a.

11. THE LATIMER ARMS OR THE LITTLE LATIMER

Latimer Arms in 1934

Formerly the Latymer Arms, also known as ‘The ‘Little’ Latimer’, at 79 Norland Road, sited on south west corner of the junction with Swanscombe Road (formerly Boundary Lane, then Boundary Road).

It is probably the oldest pub in Latimer Road and is one of three pubs marked on J. Wyld’s map of 1846 (The Globe and The Duke of Sussex are the others). A single storey inn on the corner of Boundary Lane is mentioned by ‘The Old Inhabitant’ (whose identity is sadly unknown) in his earliest history of the area (1882 Kensington, Notting Hill & Paddington). In the mid 1830’s the West London Railway was under construction at the western end of Boundary Lane and maybe this inn served the men engaged in the works. When the inn was transformed into a typical Victorian three storey pub the quartered arms of Latymer and Wolverton feature in a prominent high position on the facade above the main entrance. This is in clear deference to Edward Latymer, after whom Latimer Road is named, who before his death in 1626, bequeathed 35 acres of field land north of Shepherds Bush ‘for the support of six poor men and the education of eight poor boys’ in the Charity school he founded in 1624. The precise location of the school remains unknown but the evidence points to it being sited broadly in the area of the Latymer Arms. There further remains the possibility that the Inn existed in the 18th or even 17th century. It is known that in the mid 19th century a large gipsy encampment of some 40 or 50 families occupied a nearby site where later St Clements Church was built, so the demand for an inn was obvious and it may be that this encampment was established even earlier. The first recorded landlord (in1881) is Henry Barwell, possibly a relation of Sid Barwell the owner of the large cafe on Wormwood Scrubs in the 1950’s/60’s. In 1965 the pub closed and was demolished to make way for the ‘Edward Woods’ Estate’. The site where it stood is a few yards north of the western flank of Boxmoor House.

Site of the Little Latimer 2020. photo John Henwood

12. QUEENS ARMS

Norland Road shops with the Queens Arms on right. Photo Hammersmith & Fulham Archives.

Originally 26 then 49, Norland Road (the numbers changed in the 1940’s). On the south west corner of the junction with Hume Road. The first recorded landlord in 1854 was John Greaves Nicholson with the entry describing Mary Thornton Steele as the ‘outgoing tenant’ thus giving rise to the belief that the pub existed before 1854. Beyond that very little information exists regarding this pub. It is believed to have been demolished c1964/5 when it became part of the Edward Woods estate, namely Hume House which stands squarely on the site of the former pub.

Site of the Queen’s Arms, 2020. photo John Henwood.

13. STEWART ARMS

Originally at 11, then 26 Norland Road. (numbers on Norland Road changed in the 1940’s)

Sited on the east side of Norland Road, the first recorded mention of a landlord occurs in Feb 1867 when the late Thomas Verry is described as the outgoing tenant and Thomas Smith the incoming thus indicating it existed pre-1867. It is named after Charles Stewart, a wealthy barrister and M.P. who between 1841-45 was the principle developer of the entire Norland estate along with a solicitor, Charles Richardson who in Jan 1839 had purchased the 52 acres of land for £19,990. On New Years Eve,1888 it witnessed a violent robbery when three local young men followed a customer, Edward Savage from the pub into the street where they attacked him, beating him with a stick and robbing him of 5 shillings. At the Old Bailey on Feb 4th 1889, William Green, William Blake and Robert Wilkinson were found guilty and all sentenced to 18 months hard labour with 20 strokes of the cat.

The present attractive building dates from the late 1930’s built in typical style of the period though unusually for London it is constructed of red brick rather than yellow stocks or stucco finish. Originally owned by Courage and now owned by Enterprise Inns, it stands alone as the sole survivor of the fourteen pubs of Latimer road and as such assumes almost the status of an historical monument. It doubtless draws its current customer base largely from the nearby 746 homes of the Edward Woods estate. Recent customer views are positive and it was described by one as: “This not a restaurant but an amazing pub located a stones throw from the Hilton Kensington, it is a great escape from the Hilton world at a fraction of the cost. Happy hour goes on for hours.

The staff and patronage totally welcoming and I cannot recommend this pub highly enough for its atmosphere.”

Unusually for modern times the pub is still a three room pub albeit with openings in place of doors between rooms. Sadly it does not sell cask ale but we live in hope…..

The Stewart Arms, 2020. Photo John Henwood

14. THE ROYAL HOTEL

Royal Hotel, 1 Norland Road. 1965. photo Hammersmith & Fulham Archives.

1 Norland Road, sited on the far south western corner of Norland Road and built in the late1840’s as part of the 52 acre Norland Estate development (1841-46). It is worth mentioning that up to the 1960’s Norland Road was home to a thriving market, a fact that doubtless helped support the five pubs within a few hundred yards. It was in fact the original ‘Shepherds Bush Market’ pre-dating the current market (established in 1914) by over fifty years and even pre-dating the arrival of the railway by ten. It was referred to as such by policeman John Searle giving evidence on 24th Oct 1853 at the Old Bailey trial of James Haynes for the murder of his wife (oh no, here we go again!). P.C Searle told the court: ”My beat is at Shepherd’s Bush, in the parish of Hammersmith. On Sunday evening, 11th September, I was on duty at the top of Shepherd’s Bush Market, near the Royal Hotel”. Sparing readers the grim details, Haynes was found guilty of manslaughter (on account of the evidence being circumstantial) and sentenced to transportation for life. The first recorded entry of a landlord appears in 1854 when Francis Edward Steele is named as the outgoing tenant, replaced by John Nesmith. The hotel was demolished in 1966 to accommodate the West Cross route though in the event the land upon which it stood was not used and later in the 1980’s the plot was subject of residential development into a house bearing the original address, 1 Norland Road.

1 Norland Road, site of the Royal Hotel. 2020 Photo John Henwood.

PUBS – AN OVERVIEW: A VERY BRITISH INSTITUTION, WOVEN DEEP INTO THE SOCIAL FABRIC OF BRITAIN ….ETCHED INDELIBLY INTO OUR DNA…..SOME WOULD SAY THE VERITABLE LIFE BLOOD OF SOCIETY …..AS SOON AS ANY AREA BEGINS TO BE DEVELOPED WE SEE PUBS APPEAR…IT WOULD BE HARD TO FIND A TRUE BRITON WHO HAS NOT BEEN IN A PUB…. SOME OF US HAVE BEEN IN SEVERAL….PUBS – AN OVERVIEW: A VERY BRITISH INSTITUTION, WOVEN DEEP INTO THE SOCIAL FABRIC OF BRITAIN ….ETCHED INDELIBLY INTO OUR DNA…..SOME WOULD SAY THE VERITABLE LIFE BLOOD OF SOCIETY …..AS SOON AS ANY AREA BEGINS TO BE DEVELOPED WE SEE PUBS APPEAR…IT WOULD BE HARD TO FIND A TRUE BRITON WHO HAS NOT BEEN IN A PUB…. SOME OF US HAVE BEEN IN SEVERAL….

PUBS – AN OVERVIEW: A VERY BRITISH INSTITUTION, WOVEN DEEP INTO THE SOCIAL FABRIC OF BRITAIN ….ETCHED INDELIBLY INTO OUR DNA…..SOME WOULD SAY THE VERITABLE LIFE BLOOD OF SOCIETY …..AS SOON AS ANY AREA BEGINS TO BE DEVELOPED WE SEE PUBS APPEAR…IT WOULD BE HARD TO FIND A TRUE BRITON WHO HAS NOT BEEN IN A PUB…. SOME OF US HAVE BEEN IN SEVERAL….

John Henwood and Alan Bateman, 2020.

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Jenny Barton’s memories of the 1950s – living in Portland Road and working at the Troubadour, Earls Court.

Earls Court is not exactly North Kensington but the memories of a former resident of Portland Road are too good not to include. If you were into Folk Music at that time, the names will all be familiar to you. Please add a comment if you have memories of either the Troubadour or of Portland Road at that time.

The Troubadour, as recalled by Jenny Barton

The Troubadour in Brompton Road, Earls Court had been founded by Michael and Sheila Van Bloemen in 1954 and became a prime venue for musicians from the British Folk Revival.

In late February 1958, Shirley Collins was running Wednesday night and an American, Sandy Paton had the Saturday night. Then Sandy went back to the States and Shirley took over Saturday. At the end of the summer Shirley went off to America to do a collecting trip with Alan Lomax.  So Mike Van Bloeman asked me to organise Saturday nights. He said he was getting sick of finding singers who would run the evening and how about it if I found a singer and instead of Mike paying them seven and six and a plate of spaghetti, I would take some money on the door and pay them? At this stage we were a small club with a small audience. Robin Hall and others dropped in now and again. I remember him bringing Martin Carthy along just before Christmas.That was a great night.

We had a bit of a thin time at first as I hadn’t enough money to get really good singers and then in the summer of 1959 Jack Elliot (Rambling Jack) came over and said to Mike Van Bloeman who owned the lease, that he was looking for somewhere to sing for two or three months. Mike said to me “How about it if we have Jack here?” Wonderful! That saved me from having to look for people. We didn’t have much of an audience when he started but by the time he left we were packed. He was there every Saturday night and he played the same material every bloody time, but the audience simply loved it. His wife sat in the audience keeping a beady eye on him.

When Jack went back to the States I got in touch with Martin again and other singers started to appear – Bob Davenport, the Liverpool Spinners, Shirley Collins was back, John Pearce, Frank Purslow, Jimmie Macgregor, Shirley Bland, Seamus Ennis at least once. By 1961 I had added Enoch Kent, Alex Campbell, the Thameside Four, Louis Killen, Cyril Tawney and the Ian Campbell Group. By 1962 we were booking the odd trad singer – the McPeake Family, Jeanie Robertson, Belle and Alex Stewart, Rory McEwan and the odd American such as Carolyn Hester and Dick Farina.

Pete Seeger was in political trouble in the States and he came over for a visit. To raise funds for him, twenty clubs booked the Albert Hall and put him on. We didn’t sell out but we did make a sizeable contribution. Afterwards he worked his way round all the clubs in turn doing a thank-you appearance. When he came to the Troubadour we crammed in about 130, God knows how we did it. I remember feeling rather disappointed that he sounded just like he did on record! It wasn’t like a live performance.

Troubadour. Jenny Barton

The basement room was probably no more than 16′ by 16′ and it had an area at the back where the coffee machine and other people would be. We started at 10 and if you got there by 8 you might get a seat. We didn’t have that many seats because they took up room. If you didn’t get there early enough for a seat you sat on the floor or on top of someone else or you didn’t sit at all. I’m sure it contravened every health and safety regulation going.

It ended when the singers were too tired to go on. Towards the end we were stopping at about 2 or 3 am but in the early days some of us were kipping on the floor and going home at 6 am!

Martin Carthy

In theory we didn’t have a resident but in actual fact Martin was usually there because he’d come on from somewhere else or because he’d been booked which was a bit more frequent than other people because he was the best singer we had by miles, and the best at handling an audience. I was lucky to have Martin as a frequent and paid singer, often at very short notice. He helped me out of many and various holes, and as an unpaid singer when he just turned up. He acted as a magnet to other singers and musicians and his cheerfulness was infectious. He was a godsend to a club organiser.

By the end of the night Diz Disley would show up and he would always do a bit of an instrumental if there was someone to do it with. He’d do one of his monologues and the audience knew every word of it and absolutely loved it. Diz, Martin and Swarb (Dave Swarbrick) were a terrific impromptu threesome.

Only the people we booked were paid. We had some very reliable floor singers – Gerry Tobia comes to mind. We had a way-out group called the Southampton Balladeers, Ray and Archie Fisher the odd time, Dave Brady quite often, the Watersons once or twice in their early days, Nigel Denver, Paul McNeill and Isobel Sutherland.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan turned up with his manager Grossman. At the end of the evening my younger sister, who I was desperately trying to keep an eye on, disappeared on the arm of that toad Grossman. No taste that girl, absolutely none. Dylan was all right as a singer but he didn’t like people talking when he sang and then talked non-stop when other people sang. And he locked himself into the loo to smoke pot so I had people dancing up and down in the corridors so you can imagine he wasn’t my favourite visitor – far from! I do know that some of the singers thought he was wonderful.

Drugs.

I spent a lot of time trying to keep drugs out of my night. We didn’t get raided, unlike our chums, mostly because we had three keen folkie policemen in the audience. The deal was that we kept drugs out and they kept their chums out.

Last days

I finished at the Troubador at the beginning of October 1964. Martin Winsor and Redd Sullivan took over with Seamus Ewans in charge of bookings, paperwork and organising the door. I was expecting my first baby and the doctor told me I’d got to spend all day in bed. My husband said that’s it! I didn’t go to the Troubadour much after that, maybe just a couple of times later on. I was up to my ears with a child and a husband.

Meanwhile. while working at the Troubadour, Jenny had bought a house in what was then a very rundown Portland Road, near Clarendon Cross.

Moving to Portland Road

Portland Road 141-145, 1971. RBKC Local Studies

Back in 1959, I was living in a cramped bedsitter. I wondered if I would ever manage to find a house I could afford. My boyfriend thought he might have heard of one in Notting Hill. It proved to be a run-down slum, previously a brothel! My solicitor said it was pretty awful but added, if I was you I would buy it. It was £2,000 freehold, which I could just afford, on Portland Road, and probably due for slum clearance unless several of us could get half the road renovated.

There were three brothels opposite me and several families of totters with horses and carts – a perfect Steptoe district. Just down the road Mr Osborne would come home on a Saturday night somewhat worse for wear. His daughter-in-law waited at an upper window with a pail of cold water. When sufficiently sober she would let him in.

We had a few shops at Clarendon Cross There was the Welsh Dairy that offered to lend us their milk float to get home armchairs from Portobello Road but it proved easier to push the armchairs on their castors. There was a shop called Maureen’s where you could find tables for £2.50 to a fiver, chairs for ten shillings and even beds. But we could usually find discarded bed frames on bomb sites. With folded army blankets laid over the springs it was not a luxury. I offered such a bed to a friend from Glasgow, homeless. He laughed himself silly but accepted the offer. We were a nice, quiet working class area, bar the odd drunk weaving their way home. Mr Seall, our greengrocer, said he hadn’t heard language as ripe as that since he was in Egypt during the war. I spasmodically fed soup and bread to two poverty stricken art students. Now, fifty years later, Ian Logan makes all sorts of tin boxes for soap etc for stately homes and Harrods etc. He is still cheerful but no longer poverty stricken.

Portland Road 133-135 1971. RBKC Local Studies

Eventually, Julie’s opened as a bistro. Nightly peace was shattered. The green welly brigade don’t understand peace and quiet. My husband, the kids and myself put the house up for sale, got £20,000 a few days later and departed to rural Kent. The house was ancient and delightful, but the district not so. We now live peacefully in west Ulster and the new house is also delightful.

Jenny Barton, 2019.

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The Harrow Club and Lew Ashman

Neil Clark remembers.

Junior football team 1961

My mother and I moved into 5 Moreland House, Lancaster Road, just in time for the Coronation in 1953. For about 6 months I attended the Infants School of St Clements. In the Autumn I moved to Oxford Gardens Primary School for boys where I learned to play cricket, indeed became a bowler, under the guidance of Mr Lusby. In 1958 I joined Isaac Newton Comprehensive School in its inaugural year and left in 1965, aged eighteen. Although I enjoyed and benefited from attending both schools there was no choice available to me. Having failed the 11-plus, pupils, and parents followed the dictates of the London County Council.

However, at the age of eleven I made the wisest decision of my young life; I joined the Harrow Boys Club. This was one of many such institutions set up by public schools in the late-Victorian era to help the poor, most established in areas of poverty, like Notting Hill. In fact, I had another choice available: the Rugby Club. Not only was it closer to my home but it had just re-opened in a new building with excellent facilities. But there was no contest. In my judgment the more civilized boys attended the Harrow Boys Club, and the main reason for that was the man who was in charge. A man who was to have an incalculable influence on my life.

The Harrow Club

The Club building still stands, but now functions as a community centre offering a range of valuable services to a still-impoverished community. The centre has received large sums from charitable bodies that have provided it with a range of extensive facilities and refurbishing. Back in the 1950’s the entrances were on the other side of the building, that which now faces the elevated motorway that stretches from Shepherds Bush to the Marylebone Road. The construction of this fly-over in the 1960’s was to have a devastating effect on the immediate community. It was to sever the link between the Club members of my generation.

The stairs at the back of the building that used to be the entrance to the Club

The main entrance to the Club led up a short flight of stairs from the street level. The door opened onto a hallway at the end of which was the manager’s office. The desk inside was lost under a sea of papers. The office belonged to Lewis Ashman or ‘Lew’ as he was commonly called. On the left-hand side of the hallway was a door into the main hall. This housed a full-size snooker table, and then three table tennis tables of variable quality. The best was always at the far-end of the hall and was therefore the property of the better players. Just beyond this table, at the end farthest from the door, was a stage on which stood a small snooker table and two dartboards. On a busy night movement on the stage could become extremely complicated for everyone, unless carefully choreographed.

At the front edge of the stage was one of the key features of Club life: the Dansette record player. This was in use most nights, and my memory insists that it was the same small collection of LPs that were always played during those eight years. This was Lew’s music, and shaped the taste for good or ill, of my generation at the club. The collection included Oklahoma! and Oliver, but the overwhelming favourite was the stage version of West Side Story. Night after night, year after year, I absorbed the same melodies. It shaped the repertoire of songs sung in the Club van on our ways to matches or holidays. Even now, when I hear the opening notes of the Prologue, I am immediately pitched back to the age of 14; table tennis bat in hand, dancing around the floor developing my backhand drive, “ a Jet all the way from my first cigarette to my last dying day”.

There was a small mezzanine floor above the hall and Lew’s office. The room situated here was only ever used for the construction of kayak canoes. Canoeing was a strong feature of Club life, and some of the keener members would pay for, and build, their own canoes. Although I started to canoe in my later years at the Club, I only visited this room about three times. I had no desire to master the skills required to build a canoe. Largely, because my attendance at both wood and metal work classes at school had demonstrated that these skills were as elusive as my patience.

The second entrance from the street led down to the basement. The external door led straight into our ‘sports hall’, in which we practised 5-a-side football. The hall was tiny and made worse by having a low ceiling and a set of wall-bars down one of the long walls. The skills required to simply run and turn without dashing your brains against the fixtures and fittings was demanding enough. To have to also practise passing, shooting and tackling, required acute survival skills. When we had to practise heading skills a ball was suspended from one of the metal girders of the roof, and the height was varied by the trainer, Albert Whelan, tugging on the rope, every time we jumped. As this took place no more than 4 feet away from the back wall it was a miracle that we all managed to avoid being embedded in the masonry.

The very sight of this facility would have bought a Health and Safety inspector out in a cold sweat, and the club would have been condemned on the spot. But for us, the room had the allure of Wembley.

Just off the hall was a small room with three showers. My memories of this room are anchored by a discarded jock strap. I would swear that it remained on a wall hook, unclaimed, for the whole eight years of my membership. In some way it symbolised, for me at least, a memorial to the Unknown Sportsman.

On the other side of the hall was a coffee bar, which housed the television. This was only ever used for watching mid-week football matches, or, events of great importance, like the General Election of 1964 or the assassination of President Kennedy. Generally, the club was for doing things rather than watching others do them.

This room connected with the table tennis room above by a long dark staircase, which had the effect of muffling sound. Lew would occupy this room later in the evening. When the Club opened on a Friday his place would be by the large snooker table on the first floor. He would stand next to the ‘Forthcoming Events’ board, welcoming each member as they arrived, collecting weekly subscriptions, and seeking to enrol members into some representative activity for the Club. “Ah, Dear Boy”, he would say, “We are trying to get up a cross-country team for Saturday. Can I put your name down?” He always called me “Sunshine”. I was probably the least sunny adolescent in West London, but I would always smile in response. If Lew was being ironic, I chose to miss it completely.

The building was merely a shell: for Lew was the Harrow Boys Club. He was the force of nature that gave it life, shape and value. He devoted most of his waking hours to the Club and the boys, and we knew what it cost him. His commitment to us was never discussed or acknowledged publicly, but we returned it with a respect that was no less binding. When he asked you if you were free this weekend for a canoe race, you said “Yes”, and thought about it after. It was only usually on the Saturday that I started to question what I had let myself in for. We volunteered because Lew asked us, and because we were members of the ’Arrer.

Taking part in a canoe race from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge on a freezing wet Sunday in December requires commitment. Trying to light and smoke a Players Weight cigarette while paddling the canoe in a snow demands a level of personal creativity that only the desperate can manage. When I was eventually hauled out of the canoe by the river police suffering what felt like hypothermia, I saw this as my failing. None of the other boys or Lew had to be rescued. I just felt sorry that I had let the team down. It was simply another example that would have sent a Safety Officer into a state of apoplexy.

When I first met Lew he was about 35 years old. He was around 5ft 10 inches tall, well built, with dark curly hair that was always immaculately groomed. He had a well-muscled body which he enjoyed showing off. Periodically he would grow a full-set beard, reduce it then to a moustache, or return to being clean-shaven. These changes were as frequent as his attempts to give up smoking. Lew was a heavy smoker who despised the habit. He therefore gave himself the worst of both worlds. He also gave us hell about our smoking, particularly when he was smoking himself. He would use his own addiction as a moral example of why we should not smoke. He would stop us smoking until we reached the magic age of fifteen. But he never stopped nagging us about the habit whatever our age. This was the only kind of explicit censure that he offered. Apart from when he officiated as a referee or umpire when his “Oh, Dear Boy” would greet a bad pass or a stroke. Such remarks would penetrate me like sling shot.

He was very handsome in a square-jawed English hero fashion. In certain lights he looked like Ronald Coleman, other times like Errol Flynn. What really distinguished him in our company was his accent and language. He sounded and spoke like David Niven. He would address me as “Dear Boy”, as a variant of “Sunshine”.

I, like the other boys, simply accepted this old-world charm because it was Lew. Other adults would not have dreamed of speaking in this way to us. Nor would we have accepted such liberties. But we accepted Lew for who he was. It was the least we could do. Such acceptance was a rare experience. Like most adolescents we lacked tolerance for others who happened to be different. Our ability to tolerate such a well-spoken and well-mannered person was remarkable. The amazing thing about Lew was how accepting he was of each of us, and through this, helped me, and I suspect others, to value people for who they were and what they did rather than for their colour, sexual orientation, or religion. His toleration was remarkable. Without spelling out his expectations we respected and honoured his standards of good behaviour. In all my time at the Club I knew of only one fist fight between members. Whereas, both schools I attended, with many of the same boys attending, fighting was a daily occurrence.

Isle of Wight Camp 1962. Lew in the centre in shorts, next to Mrs Pithers
Isle of Wight Camp 1958/9. Lew is seated next to Mrs Pithers.

Lew did have his moments, however. When disappointed by others he could sulk. And if he felt ‘abused’, he would seek revenge. For example, once at the annual camp on the Isle of Wight, six or seven of us pinned him to the ground and splashed some cold water in his face as a joke. He avoided the perpetrators for the rest of the day. The next morning, he awoke each of us in turn with a wet sponge in the face. Having evened the score, he could then return to normal.

It was hard to let him down. One Saturday afternoon we played a cup match in North London. It must have rained one whole week before the match because the ground was like the Somme. Although we had an excellent team that year and the opposition was obviously inferior we were unable to score. No matter how hard we kicked the ball it hardly moved. At half-time Lew explained that a replay would cause havoc with our schedule and that we must win today. The half-time talk made matters worse. Our performance was risible. At the end an infuriated Lew insisted that we did not have time for a shower because he needed to get back to the Club. We collected our clothes from the dressing-room, and we returned in silence. He allowed us to shower at the Club but that was also undertaken in silence.

Junior Football team 1962.

Similarly, one year on a holiday in Sitges I, and another boy, managed to lose the teapot while we were doing the washing up. The loss was not discovered until next evening at a campsite some miles away. On this occasion he treated the pair of us like criminals for two days, taking every opportunity to complain about his loss. Given Lew’s need for tea this was a serious privation. We should have been more careful to a man who drive the van from North Kensington to Sitges.

Near the end of his life I asked him where his commitment to the Club came from. He said that his values derived from his experiences in the Air Force, and that his aim was to help each boy achieve his full potential whether it was physical, mental, or spiritual. Generally, he was reticent about talking about himself and his history. I knew that he had a sister in Wales, and I would eventually meet his nephew and niece when they joined us on the second trip I attended in Spain in 1966.

It is now impossible for me to think about Lou without also thinking about music. Not only did he love song, but he had a beautiful voice and took great delight in sharing his gift with us.

His voice had the pitch and timbre of Gordon McRae or Howard Keel. He would sing all the time. But for me, best of all, were journeys in the van. Then we would hear his repertoire: The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, Maria, Tonight, and, The Foggy, Foggy Dew among others. Every time he would start to sing the boys would ritually groan “Oh, turn it in, Lew!” But, within minutes the protests would stop and some of the braver – more musical – boys, like Alan Eames, would join in with the song. As I got older and more confident, I would ask him to sing two of my favourites, Oh What a Beautiful Morning, or, The Soliloquy from ‘Carousel’. To listen to those tunes being sung by a man was to receive a precious gift. The gift was not just the song but also his delight.

He is the only person I have ever met who could take such obvious delight in all around him. The object may have been a song, or sunlight on the river, but when he felt it, he wanted you to share the experience. Not only did his face shine with joy, but he would invite you in with his characteristic, “My stars and garters, look at that!”

One of his declared aims was to bring the worlds of Harrow School and Harrow Boys Club together. Each year members from the School would attend summer camp on the Isle of Wight. At the two camps I attended there was no problem with the integration. Within a couple of days new social groupings quickly formed which crossed the boundaries of School and Club. It was clear that both sides enjoyed and learned from this experience.

Waiting for the Sandown to Ryde train returning from camp 1962

In return a selected few would attend various activities at the School or use their facilities. During the summer, small groups of us would go up in the evening and use their swimming pool, ‘The Ducker’. This had a curved kidney-shape that had the deep-end in the middle. It also had changing rooms like bike sheds, open to all the elements. The tradition was to swim nude in the pool.

I was also fortunate enough to play a cricket match at the School. My memory of the match was over-awed by the Pavilion in which we took tea. Even the watercress in the sandwiches seemed doused in history. I look on this afternoon as my Rupert Brooke period.

I was also invited, with Lew, to attend a performance of ‘The Tempest’ by the Old Harrovians in their Elizabethan-style theatre. I even visited the tomb on which Byron supposedly lay when composing his poems.

During my last two years at school Lew proved to be my lifeline to some degree of normality. During this time the boys I had grown up with had left school or moved away from the area. My immediate family were either indifferent or actively hostile to the fact that I stayed on at school. Lew was the only person who spoke to me about my new interests – classical music, literature, history, philosophy and religion. We shared records and books. Without that relationship I would have been lost in the empty space between two worlds.

It would be 30 years before I saw Lou again. A local historian was commissioned to put together an exhibition to re-launch the Club after a major development programme was funded by the Prince’s Trust. She contacted me and I offered pictures as well as stories about Lew and the Club. Near the end of our meeting she said that she was visiting Lew the following week to collect his memories. Astonished, I petitioned her to ask Lew whether he would be happy to see me. The reason for this formality is that I knew that Lew was extraordinarily private. However, my concern proved ill-judged, and we agreed to meet at his flat in Windsor. I was delighted beyond belief. For years I had bored my wife, Sylvia, and the children with my stories of Lew, and now I was going to meet him again. On the journey over from Horsham, where we then lived, my delight was beginning to fracture into fear. Would it/he/me be OK? Can you pick up after all that time?

Within 15 minutes of meeting all the years dropped away and we could have been bridging a gap of two weeks. Lew was now living in a one-bedroom flat and at the age of 76 was suffering major health problems. Having lived always such an active life being housebound was a great trial. Amazingly, he still had a kayak canoe in his bedroom which he had used on the Thames before his problems started.

I was now able to return a fraction of the favours that I had received. I would drive him out to his favourite places along the Thames, and he could recount stories of outings with Club boys. Over the next three years we took him out to Bourne End, a Community Centre he became Warden of after his time at the Harrow Club. We also took him on visits to Brighton sea front, West Wittering, and Henley, among other places. We also visited some great restaurants. He came to our house for dinner and met the family. And I am especially grateful that he spent the last three Christmas days of his life with my family. Sylvia and the children fell under his spell and he became fascinated by their lives and interests. I took a photo of him in our garden and with his white hair and beard he actually looks like a benevolent Father Christmas.

Apart from recalling joint memories of times and the boys we had known, Lew mentioned some of the things that had happened to him since leaving the Club. Not only was he very happy as a Warden at Bourne End, but he had also been able to develop his interest in singing. Having written to John Hanson, the popular West End star, he was encouraged enough by the reply to join amateur groups who put on operettas. Later he became part of a trio who performed recitals of songs and poems.

He also spoke briefly of his war experiences as a bomber in Bomber Command. He spoke of his deep regret about his part in the war. However, he spoke with great affection about being trained in Oklahoma by the USAF. Many years later he attended a reunion at the air base and chose to serenade them with, what else, but “Oklahoma!”.

Unfortunately, his health continued to decline. He was already suffering from deep vein thrombosis, he believed a legacy of his flight to Oklahoma, and then suffered a heart attack. He survived until major intestine problems led to his bowel being removed. This was just too much. When I visited him after surgery he simply said, “Now, I want to die”. All I could say was, “I understand”. He accomplished his mission within three weeks. The last time I saw him was at the hospital in Reading

Lew died on 18th June 2002 having been born on 9th November 1923. The funeral took place At Holy Trinity Parish and Garrison Church, Windsor. His executors asked me to speak for no more than 3 minutes as there would also be other speakers covering different parts of his life. An impossible task: not least because I felt that I should represent all the Club boys. This was the best that I could do:

“I want to tell you about a gifted man called Lew Ashman. I met him at the Harrow Boys Club in 1958 when I was 11. 44 years later I am still a member of that Club. Lew was very handsome, with dark curly hair and beard. Recently I told Lew that he used to look like Errol Flynn and speak like David Niven. He dismissed the comparison, but then told me that it used to be said by others that he looked like Laurence Olivier. Only Lew could combine modesty and vanity in the same sentence. Lew made absolutely no concession to the difference in class and background between himself and most of us. He had the gift of treating with respect a group of teenagers who believed that they were out to change the world. Of course, he changed our worlds. In addition to the vast range of sporting activities, Lew made possible so many new experiences. In my case, this included many first visits:

to a West End theatre
to the Proms
Covent Garden opera
abroad

Perhaps Lew’s greatest gift was that of sharing his delight and wonder in all around him. He found delight in everything. Sunlight on the river. A glass of wine. Tiramasu or ginger ice cream.

He would stop suddenly, his face alight, a smile of pleasure on his lips, and then invite you with, “My stars and garters, did you ever see, taste, hear…?” And you stopped what you were doing to enjoy not just the experience but Lew’s delight in the experience.

He disappeared from my life for 30 years…1969-1999. Then through a third party we met once more, and he took me to his favourite Pizza restaurant in Windsor, and, it was the Lew of old. He met my family and they all fell under his charm.

For, as we know, music has charm. When driving the Club van to events Lew used to sing. And I particularly enjoyed, “O, what a beautiful morning”. And it always was a beautiful morning, even when it was raining, even when it was afternoon, because we were with Lew. And we used to sing a Club song back to him. I would like you to imagine a van full of boys, in muddy football kit, returning from a match, and singing,

We are the ‘Arrer boys
We know our manners
We fight with spanners
We are respected
Wherever we go.
Doors and winders open wide.
Ever seen a monkey eat brown bread
Ever seen Lew-Lew’s curly head
We are the ‘Arrer Boys

We sang it with love and respect. Thank you, Lew from us all. There were a couple of other boys from the Club at the event. Afterwards they told me that they would have said the same. I felt so privileged.On Saturday 9th November I attended a Memorial Evensong for Lew at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in recognition of his service as a Voluntary Steward of the Chapel. To sum up what Lew still means for me, and I suspect hundreds of other boys, I can only offer the following. When I die, and if I am lucky enough to get to heaven, the gate may well be opened by St Peter or some other dignitary. For me that is not important. What I do know, however, is that Lew will be standing just on the inside of the gate, next to a large notice board covered with details of forthcoming events.

Lew on left with Neil on the steps of the Harrrow Club, 2000

Although my journey to heaven may have been taxing and I enter tired and weary he will smile and say, “Good evening, Sunshine! Let me draw your attention to some key events. There is a cross-country race this Saturday on Dartmoor; and I am also looking for a team, the following day, to take part in a canoe race down the Wye Valley. Can I put your name down for both events?”

And I will smile and say, “I’ll be delighted”. And I will be. Because I always was.”

Neil Clark 2020

Posted in Before the Westway, sport, Youth Clubs | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

80 Years Ago

PIC038

Children from North Kensington Community Nursery in the months  before the outbreak of World War Two.

September 3rd 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2. Two days earlier on 1st September 1939, thousands of children from all over London were evacuated away from the dangers of the city. Most of them left their families to go and live with complete strangers. In 2006 thanks to a National Lottery award, I led a project to collect the memories of those who were children at the time in Kensington & Chelsea. The outcome was an exhibition which was available for schools to borrow. I have reprinted some of the stories here, in particular of those that relate to North Kensington. The exhibition will be on show again from early September 2019 at Kensington & Chelsea Central Library in the Local Studies section (check on opening times before visiting).

War is Declared

When war broke out I was 7 years old and living with my Mum, Dad and little sister in Hume Road, Shepherds Bush just off Norland Market. I went to Saunders Grove School.

The day war was declared, we had just come back from a Hop picking holiday in Kent and we heard a really loud noise that rang out through the streets. It was an air raid signal but I had never heard it before and had no idea what it was. I remember my Mum heard the signal and she had tears in her eyes and I asked her ‘What are you crying for?’ but she wouldn’t tell me.      

George Hewitt

 

In North Kensington, the head teacher of St Clement’s School, Miss Shuck gathered parents together to prepare them for departure. She was to end up staying with the children throughout the war. This is what she said to the parents, recorded in writing.

I have called you together because none of you who read the newspapers can fail to know that the country might be faced, and faced all too quickly, with a very serious position…

The first question is this – suppose war were to come… what would you do with your children? We have got, I am afraid, to assume – that aeroplanes would come over London dropping bombs… The bombs might, and probably would, be aimed at military objectives…but there is no knowing where some of them might land. What is more an aeroplane that has carried a load of bombs all the way to London is not going to carry them back if it fails to drop where it wants to, it is going to dump them anywhere.

That means that schools will have to be shut. They cannot be kept open, we cannot risk having perhaps of children hurt by a single hit. Even in the last war one school was hit and nineteen children were killed. What then are you going to do with your children? Some of you may be lucky enough to be able to get away into the country with them the moment an emergency is declared. But many of you are at work and many more of you could not get away in the first few days. If you were at work you would be thinking of your children every time you heard a bomb fall.

Would you be ready to entrust your children to their teachers to take them away into the country? If you entrusted them to us we might be able to start right away with them on the first morning.

 

Nobody wants us”

I was 11 when the war started, my sister was 10 and my brother 9. So we were all evacuated together with our school St Clement’s to Whitley near Oxford. My other brothers and sisters were older than us and didn’t go, but our parents said we had to go.

It seemed as if it took us all day on the train, I thought we were never going to get there, though it’s really not very far away, about an hour it takes now. Anyway, we finally did get there and we got taken to this hall, a school hall, and people came and took us children to their own homes.

My sister and me, we were never parted, but, do you know what? We were the last two left in the hall, her and me. We thought, gosh, nobody wants us. I mean you would think that, wouldn’t you?

Anyway this lady – we were very lucky, she was a lovely lady – she took us for a short time, but she didn’t keep us, because she had a son who was in the forces and she didn’t really want evacuees, but she was very lovely. My father came down the first Sunday to visit us. I knew he would.

Olive Mundy, evacuated with St Clement’s School.

“We thought we were going on holiday”

I was evacuated from Wornington Road School in North Kensington on Friday 1st September 1939. I was 12 years old and I had to look after my little sister who was 2 1/2 years younger than me.

I think we started our journey at 7 a.m. I can vividly remember us all lining up in two’s with our haversacks on our backs. Most of the haversacks contained a towel, a facecloth, toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of toilet soap, a change of underwear, night clothes, a brush and comb, a slab of chocolate and a packet of biscuits. We also had gas masks across our backs. The children on the whole were quite cheerful as we left the school gates. We thought we were going on holiday for a few weeks.

When we finally arrived at the station in Bath I was horrified to see it all sandbagged. I said to my sister that I thought we had come here for safety, but they seemed to be expecting bombs too. We all got onto buses to go to Oldfield School (which I later attended). It was in the hall there that we would find out where we were billeted.

When we were in the hall I remember feeling that everyone was vanishing. My sister said she wanted to spend a penny so we found toilets in the playground. Coming out we felt a bit lost but luckily I saw my own classroom teacher and went up to her. Just as she was taking us back inside the school a lady came running up to her and said “I am Mrs Scott-Reid, wife of Dr Scott-Reid. I want two nice little girls.” My teacher looked at us and smiled saying “I have just the two for you.” With that we were led back into the hall for all the correspondence to be dealt with.

Mrs Ford

“All the mothers were on the platform”

On the day of the evacuation, we all assembled at the school and then were taken by coach to Paddington station. We all had labels like on a parcel made with thin cardboard with two corners cut off. On one side was our address where we were going to and on the other, where we had come from. We also had our own school badge – ours was diamond shaped, green with a pearl button – which was sewn onto our coat.

We took as many clothes as we could carry. I had an old case; I think it was probably canvas. We had a separate paper parcel with food stuff in it, which each parent had been advised to buy. It consisted of corn beef, carnation milk, condensed milk, a biggish bar of chocolate and some sweets – I had a packet of rollos. We also all had a gas mask of course, which was carried on a piece of string, hanging in a cardboard box.

There were probably about 120 of us from my school. I was of average age, slightly older than most. When we said goodbye, there were tears from some of the younger ones. All the mothers were on the platform and my mother came to wave me off.

Alec McAllister evacuated with Oxford Gardens School

From the local newspaper in Trowbridge, destination for children from Middle Row School.

middle row

Reception and Distribution

The children on the first day were a bright and cheerful party, many obviously regarding the experience as a holiday……….

After they had rested and been refreshed with tea, coffee etc. At the schools, the Billeting Officers set out with parties of children, armed with lists of householders who had volunteered to receive them. At most house the promises made were cheerfully fulfilled. At others the reception was not so cordial and at a few houses they were met with blank refusals.

 

From the Wiltshire Times, Saturday September 9th 1939

A Headmaster’s Thanks (To the Editor of the Wiltshire Times)

Sir :

Last Friday, 404 children evacuated from North Kensington arrived at Trowbridge under the care of their teachers.

We all thought that we had had a difficult task in planning the evacuation from the London end, but now we have been convinced that the task of billeting evacuees is far more difficult and has required most careful planning. All the teachers wish to express most sincerely their appreciation of the tireless labours of the Reception committee and the billeting officers.

Above all we wish to thank the kind friends we have found in Trowbridge for the really wonderful welcome offered to our children. We are truly thankful that We have of course, found a number of difficulties, but these, happily are already in hand, while others will be dealt with by the weekend. We have already heard from the parents of some of our children, and the letters are full of appreciation of all that has been down.

I am, sir, yours faithfully,

ERNEST.S. BURNETT, Headmaster, L.C.C School 445 (Middle Row)

From the Wiltshire Times, Saturday, September 16th 1939.

“I want two boys for a farm”

I was apprehensive because I had no idea where we were going and we were not told a lot. We were told we were being evacuated out of London because of bombing, but that was all. We didn’t know how long we were going to be there. People spoke about the war being over in six months, by Christmas. Time didn’t come into it. We had no idea how long we would be away.

We got to Melksham in Wiltshire and from there we were coached into three villages. On arrival in the village we were taken to the local school and into the school hall. A lady came around with a clipboard. Myself and a friend were the last to be picked. “I want two boys for a farm,” she said. We were taken in a car to the farm where we met the family. The family consisted of Mister and Missus and a son who worked on the farm; he was probably nineteen or so. There was also a daughter who didn’t work on the farm and another son in the RAF.

I think the only Jewish people my foster family had met were people who went to the farm to buy poultry, which they would sell at markets in London. I don’t think they thought much of them but we had no problem at all. The family asked me if I would go to chapel with them on Sundays. They didn’t want me to feel that I had been left behind. I said “No”, but by the same token I wasn’t so keen on going to synagogue either. We used the chapel for synagogue on Saturday mornings and that’s where I had my bar mitzvah. My mother came down from London with a bottle and cakes of some sort so we had a sort of kiddish after the service. There wasn’t much food because of the rationing.

Ken Smith evacuated with the Jewish School, Lancaster Road, aged12.

 

Stay together”

Before leaving London our mother told us to stay together. This caused problems as very few were willing to take 3 evacuees. Therefore we were the last to be allocated. Then a lady, Mrs Lloyd from Beechingstoke, agreed to take the 3 of us. We walked to the Lloyds’ house where we met Mr Lloyd and their son Stephen. The house had no running water, only a deep well, no electric lighting, only oil lamps, and the toilet was an earth closet.

John Hughes, evacuated with Oxford Gardens School, aged 6

“We all got fleas”

My Mum put me on a bus, which took us to Winchester.  I remember there were other children from various schools, and there were some children from my school there, so I wasn’t alone.

kumara,chrstmas card

I remember us being taken by government officials to people’s homes.  Every child was taken in, one by one, and I was last.  Noone wanted to take a black child. But eventually a place was found, and that was in Marlow, but I only stayed there for a short time. I was then taken to a lady with three other evacuee children.  It was an ordinary house where there was one room with three beds in it.  These beds were used during the day by workman and by night they were our beds.  I remember the lady didn’t change the bed sheets on a regular basis, so I had to endure the smell of the workman. I remember we all got fleas, but then the authorities found out and us kids were taken away! If I travel on buses or trains and workman come near me, it takes me straight back to that time.

Marie Kumara

 

Letter written to the parents of David and Mary Dyett, evacuated to Cornwall with Middle Row School,

Dear Mrs Dyett,

Thank you very much for the parcel received safely and all enclosed for the children, they were so excited over the contents of the parcel. I should like you to have seen them, Mary is delighted with her dolly and has been dressing it in different clothes and has been quite amused with it. The clothes and boots will be useful for her, also David’s coat is quite alright for here and also the pullover. They were also pleased with their letters and pocket money. Mary is here now using her crayons book, which they were both glad to have. They go to school in the mornings this week; most weeks they will go afternoons. They are both very well and are very happy here, quite at home with us.

I will explain how the children came to us. Mrs Ould is the lady next door, and she and I are just like sisters, so when the children came, she said she would take David, as I could not undertake two, as I am not very strong, so I took Mary; they came here together first and slept here together for the first week or so, and now David sleeps  next door with Mrs Ould’s boy who is 15 years and is nice company for him, but they often have their meals together and both of them in and out of the both houses to play with each other and go to school together, so they are not parted, and are quite happy here and Mrs Ould and I are doing all we can to make them comfortable. So you need not worry about them, they are quite all right. The children send their love to you both; they are busy playing now. So I will close now with fondest regards to you both,

From yours sincerely,

J.M. McGregor

 

No gas, no electrics, no toilet”

No gas, no electrics, no toilet – you name it, we didn’t have it. In London, we had had all these things including flushing water. There were none of these things at the Perrys. The toilet was a privy in the back of the garden. The toilet paper was old newspaper which I had to cut up into squares, poke a hole through the corner with a meat skewer, push string through and hang on a nail inside the privy. The bucket had to be emptied fairly frequently – by digging a hole in the ground and putting the contents in there. I did the job a few times. The privy had bare stone walls with concrete and a bucket with a wooden toilet seat. It was pretty grim and very cold – there was no heating of any sort. You took a candle in with you to see in the dark.

To get the drinking water, we had to go out the cottage door, across the main road, through a gate, into the field to a well. I would think it was about 70 or 80 yards away. We went with two buckets, tied them onto a hook and shoot the chain around till they submerged. Then we carried the water back with a bucket in each hand. We had to do that twice a day. It was marvellous spring water, always cold.

Alec McAllister evacuated with Oxford Gardens School

Oxford Gardens School

The exodus of the children from Oxford Gardens School was particularly well documented as many of the former children kept in touch in later years. One of them, John Wittering faithfully documented the evacuation with photos and a record of the names of many of the children who came not only from Oxford Gardens School but as war progressed from other parts of London too. I have attached here in pdf format copy of part of his record that shows photographs and names of children plus their teacher.

WW2 evacuees Worton and Marston. J. Wittering.

With thanks to those who participated in this project back in 2006.

Thanks also to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies.

 

Posted in Schools, Uncategorized, World War Two | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Memories of Solomon Woolfson School from Earl Okin

I was in the same year as Harvey (see previous blog posts on Schooldays in Lancaster Road). Living directly across the road, I was naturally almost always late…well…almost. I wrote about the school in my autobiography. I only live about 200 yards from it now, here in the Portobello Road. The Solomon Wolfson School building is now ‘The Lighthouse’. Here are my memories as in my autobiography. After those, I’ll list a few of the people in my year whose names I remember.

At my 8th birthday party in 1955. The children, starting at the back and going anti-clockwise are…my cousin, Susan Awkin, then Geoffrey, Bernard and Barry (can’t remember their surnames) and the Whitesman brothers. The grown-ups are Pat Slifkin, mother of my friend Lawrence, and my own grandmother.
All were students at SWJS.

They always talk of school-days being the happiest days of your life. Well, unlike my secondary school-days, primary school really was. The Solomon Wolfson Jewish School was a normal London County Council school with a couple of exceptions.

Firstly, it was indeed a Jewish school, so that we had a Jewish assembly, with hymns sung in Hebrew, alongside a daily Hebrew class, just before lunch, I seem to remember. This part of school life was the only part which did not interest me in the slightest. I never became much of a Hebrew scholar and, since I became an Atheist by the age of eight, my attitude to the usual school religious indoctrination wasn’t very co-operative.

The other difference was that Isaac Wolfson, a major businessman, gave a regular grant to the school in recognition that the school had been named after his father (I believe that the original name of the school had been the Bayswater Jewish School), so we certainly had superior furniture and so on.

I think that it’s fair to say that it was a happy school. I can remember no bullying in the playground, for instance. Boys played football, while girls, for some unknown reason, liked to tuck their skirts into their dark blue underpants and do hand-stands against the wall.

We also had occasional games of kiss-chase, with some rather smelly outside loos as ‘home’ or ‘safe’ and there were sprinting races the length of the side playground. There were also occasional crazes, such as yo-yos, the annual conker tournaments and various forms of marble games adapted to respective designs of drains dotted across the playground.

I remember well, all of the teachers who taught ‘upstairs’, where older children were taught and they tended to stay for a long time and, to us, seemed as timeless as the building itself.

There was Mr. Rodney (I was never in his class, but he signed my autograph book when I left the school, nevertheless), Mr. Lipschitz, an elegant man with grey hair who played piano, ran the school choir, kept his handkerchief up the sleeve of his jacket and threw pieces of chalk at children who were talking and Mr. Jay, a strict but warm man who occasionally suffered badly from lumbago but came in to teach anyhow.

I was born as part of the post-war ‘bulge’ and so there were two top classes when I reached my final year in the school. One was in the charge of Mrs. Walker, the only non-Jewish teacher (she took all of the non-Jewish children, when it came to religious lessons). Ironically, I believe that she as the longest serving teacher of them all. She still taught at ‘Solly Woolly’, as we affectionately called our school even when I had become a school-master myself!

Last but not least was Mr. Shenfield, a medium sized man with a prominently bald head, who always seemed to wear the same suit and could be very funny when he wanted to be.

In general, we were pretty well-behaved children and, despite the odd grumble, were fond of all of our teachers.

The headmaster was Mr. Somper, who seemed to spend most of his time in his office, smoking a pipe. He was quite a kindly man, I think, but seemed very remote to children and when you were sent to him for any reason, you had to knock at his door and wait for that ‘ENTER’ sign to be lit, before daring to turn the handle and go in. However, his reaction did not please my mother at all when, early on, I had an accident, playing ‘had’ or ‘it’ soon after first joining the school.

I remember someone calling ‘had’ and pushing me in the back. The next thing I remember was colliding with a brick wall and having to get bits of my recently half-grown front tooth removed from my lower lip.

My mother went to complain about lack of supervision in the playground and Mr. Somper, after expressing sympathy then came out with what these days would not be regarded as a very PC remark, by way of comfort. ’Think how more upset you would have been, had he been a girl’. My mother was furious.

However, I wasn’t really upset and the experience certainly didn’t stop me running around the playground like a complete lunatic playing football, either during playtimes or after school, when I joined the Jewish Lad’s Brigade, a sort of Jewish Scout movement. It seems that my knees were permanently grazed or cut for the next four or five years in that short-trousered period of my life.

As well as I remember the teachers, I remember many of my fellow pupils. Here are a few of them; Henry Magrill and Michael Rath, my chief rivals when it came to exams and tests. At time of writing, I’m due to see Michael when I perform in Devon next week, where Michael now lives. Then there was Michael Levi, also very bright and who, along with the others, followed me to the same grammar school after I left Solomon Wolfson.

Judith Lowenstein, Michael Rath’s cousin wore plaits, and was dubbed the sex-symbol of the school among the other 10 year olds. Rumours as to whom she might have chosen as her ‘boyfriend’ went around the playground in a fashion that would do credit to today’s ‘celebrity’ magazines.

By contrast, and I won’t mention her name, there was a girl whom everyone decided was ‘smelly’. Behind her back, there were ‘stinky’ jokes and you were laughed at if you had to have your desk next to hers. The probability is that the whole thing was a complete fabrication.

Then there was Yvonne Wales, a pretty blonde girl, (who was some sort of relation of a then current TV celebrity called Ronnie Waldes, I remember), her friend Evelyn Schmulewicz, whose mother had survived one of the concentration camps, Jacqui Waterman, another very bright pupil who most impressed me, however, with the fact that she was one of the fastest in our playground sprint races.

Marion Mandel, was another girl with plaits, though I was chiefly jealous of her national health glasses with white frames! I couldn’t wait to wear glasses, I remember, but it was some time before I was given the chance.

Among the boys there was also Martin Atkins, whom we thought was a bit of a show off, John Krushner (I hope I have his name correct) who was the Stanley Matthews of the playground and always got picked first when we played football, and an amazing family with the surname of Moses.

Poor kids! Their parents had named them Miriam Moses, Aaron Moses and, I believe there was even a Moses Moses! Such was the standard of our school that Aaron Moses, the one in my year, (whom I remember as quite small and with dark wavy red hair), was regarded as not very bright. The last time I heard about him, he’d become a University lecturer!

Among those who were my closer friends was Wayne Alston, a little boy with impeccable manners (which impressed my grandfather very much; he would always shake hands with everyone most gravely whenever he came to my home). He had a mother who taught piano and an elder brother who actually played classical piano!

However, what I found much more fascinating was the fact that this elder brother also possessed a single eyebrow that went from one side of his face to the other without a break! This was much more impressive!

Wayne himself was surely destined to be a businessman, we thought, or perhaps a crook. There was a cinema next to the school, called the Royalty. It offered little postcards listing next month’s attractions. These were free. So Wayne, at the age of about eight, would take a handful and go around the corner and sell them to grown-ups passing by for a ha’penny each!

Then there was Graham Winefolk, always very bright but who could be a bit wild at that age. He later changed his name to Wines and, alongside his elder sister, emigrated to Australia, where he is now a leading architect. I caught up with him again when I started performing over there in the 1990s.

By contrast, I lost track of Norman Waidhofer completely. He was a very kindhearted sort of boy and another who went on to the same grammar school as I, later on. I remember going to his home where his parents seemed older than others. His father, I remember, had a strong accent, Viennese, I think, and had a limp. He also had a wonderfully warm personality and I always liked to visit them for tea. Then there was Maxie Marks, but more of him later.

I could continue with this list, but I’ll add just two more. Firstly, Yves Schama suddenly appeared at our school after the Suez crisis, when his family had fled to London. He had been born in Egypt and spoke French. He was put next to me and we started teaching each other our respective languages.

We got on well, but I lost touch with him until only a couple of years ago when I traced him through one of those Internet ‘where are they now?’ Web sites. He turned out to live only a couple of miles from me and I recognized him instantly, despite the 40 plus year gap. Incidentally, I also got to meet Wayne Alston again in the same way. He now runs a computer business with his son.

Last but not least was my best friend, Laurence Slifkin. He was small and slim with a shock of light red wavy hair. Had he been a girl, you would have called him a strawberry blonde.

Why we got on so well I can no longer remember and didn’t seen him for decades, but for a few years we were inseparable, playing cricket in the park, going out with our parents, taking the tube to Stamford Hill to go tenpin bowling, sneaking into bus and train depots where we weren’t supposed to be at all, to collect numbers (we were avid London Transport bus and train-spotters) and goodness knows what else.

In Stamford Hill, since we went on Saturday mornings, we used to watch all the ultra-religious Jewish families on the way to Synagogue, still dressed in 19th century clothing. With their wide-brimmed hats, we immediately dubbed them ‘Cowboys’.

Laurence’s father was some sort of businessman and drove what we at the time thought was quite a large limousine, unlike the Morris Minor that the headmaster drove or the tiny Fiat 600 that my father bought about that time. Laurence’s mother was rather pretty, very warmhearted and always impeccably dressed but perhaps not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

I remember once, for instance, when somebody had used the phrase ‘taking umbrage’ her remarking that Umbrage was a very strange name to give to a Jewish boy. Likewise, she would refer to ‘Hermesetas’, one of the brand names for saccharine pills, as ‘Homosexuals’, with no idea of the mistake that she was making.

Laurence went on to a different secondary school and I lost track of him completely after that. Somehow, we’d outgrown one another. Only recently have I found him again. By pure coincidence, he was in the audience at a show I gave in Shepherd’s Bush a few months ago. Like his father, he became a businessman. We are due to have a proper reunion very soon, maybe with another couple of ex-Solomon Wolfson pupils.

At this point in time, I can’t remember quite when, we moved from Arundel Gardens, though it’s quite possible that it was soon after the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the resultant trouble in the building below us.

Suffice to say, however, that we did finally move to Lancaster Road, bang across the road to my school and into a flat of four rooms which also sported what must have been another ancient bathroom with a water geyser that made a noise like the Titanic sinking as it gulped out hot water but we did at least have a proper working bathroom!

The landlady lived in the basement. Her name was Mrs. Hocking. She seemed ancient to me and was certainly crippled with arthritis. I remember now her swollen knuckles. Her pride and joy was a massive, impassive and somewhat lazy cat called Peter who enjoyed the unspoiled splendour of the unkempt jungle, otherwise known as the back garden.

Naturally, despite the proximity to my school, I was always either late or only just arriving in the playground as they blew the whistle.

It’s strange now, when Notting Hill has such a different image that, at the time, people would look extremely worried when we told them where we lived, for this was the era of race riots.

Indeed, I remember once watching from my bedroom window on the top floor a frightened looking West Indian running down the road, followed by a large group of racialist thugs who were throwing bottles at him. I never knew if they caught him. I hope not.

These thugs, however, were not local. They were bussed in from South London by right wing organizations. We called them all Mosleyites, after Sir Oswald Mosley, the ex-leader of the British Fascist Party who seemed to be the centre of such racialist activity at the time. As Jews, only a decade or so after the end of World War Two, we were naturally all very anti-Mosley!

Anyhow, all of this may explain why, one day, a tall black girl appeared in my class. Her name was Miriam. Probably, her mother thought that Jews would understand the problems of being a minority group and wanted her daughter to attend our school. Of-course, this didn’t work.

None of the kids worried about her being black, mind you. No, they excluded her from games because she admitted to eating bacon! Religious indoctrination had led them to believe that this was a sin little short of murder!

I remember someone else innocently mentioning that he’d eaten bacon in class one day. Oh my goodness! His life was made a misery for some time afterwards! (I quite liked bacon, myself, but kept this fact pretty quiet).

Well, young Socialist that I was, I wasn’t having this and made sure that Miriam and I became friends. She told me that she’d come from Spain, which I found a little confusing, but her mother later told me that they had actually come from Port Of Spain in the West Indies!

My sympathy for Miriam was increased when I found out that her mother (there was no father around) didn’t get back from work every day until long after school. Miriam had to let herself into her own empty home at the end of Ladbroke Grove with a key that she wore on a string around her neck.

She was, in short, a ‘latch-key child’! (I’d heard this phrase on some TV documentary of the time, regarded this state of being as the epitome of suffering and was convinced that I should help in some way).

So, I often invited her across the road for tea and she would stay until her mother had got home an hour or two after school ended. For this, I was rewarded with an invitation to her birthday party some months later. I remember even now all the highly coloured party dresses of the West Indian girls; bright pink, blue, green and yellow.

However, one winter’s rainy afternoon, my mother began to be alarmed when I didn’t show up. It was 5:30 at least when she came across to the school playground to look for me, and found me in the dark. When asked what I was doing, I replied simply that I was playing marbles with Miriam.

My mother was not impressed.
‘Well’, she said, ‘I see that Miriam’s had the sense to go home’.

Out of the darkness came a voice. ‘No I haven’t Mrs. Okin. Here I am’.

Miriam was very dark-skinned and was wearing a black duffel coat. My mother hadn’t seen her at all in the gloom and was very embarrassed. Naturally, we both went across the road for tea!

Miriam left the country after a while and I heard years later on that she’d had a child of her own, though I believe that the child sadly became a victim of sickle cell anemia.

Some of the people in my year were Harvey Groffman, Susan Awkin (my cousin), Michael Rath, Michael Levi, Judith Lowenstein, Marion Mandel, Yvonne Wales, Evelyn Schmulewitz, Henry Magrill, John Krushner, Wayne Alston, Jacqui Waterman, Janet Girsman, Laurence Slifkin, Yves Schama, Martin Atkins, Grahm Winefolk, Norman Waidhofer..and then there was Bernard and Geoffrey (whose surnames I can’t remember).

Earl Okin

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SEEDY CLUBS AND DIVES OF NOTTING HILL 1956 – 1970

Blenheim Crescent looking west from Portobello Rd 1971. Photo RBKC Local Studies.

Prologue:

In June I curated and led a walk around W.10 and W.11 focusing on this topic. I was conscious that the establishments we covered by no means constituted a comprehensive list so I am posting my working notes from the walk and sincerely encourage readers to respond with comments/anecdotes/recollections both on the establishments described and information/stories about clubs/dives not listed here. Hopefully some forgotten ‘gems’ will surface.

I have commented on the individual premises in the order we visited them so that anyone wishing to replicate this walk can readily do so.

Introduction

During this period the activity surrounding the clubs played out against a background of rapid and far reaching social change which in this area was allied to an influx of West Indian immigrants bringing with them a different culture…….So there was a lot happening! For the first time, the youth developed it’s own identity and voice … and had money to spend, which in itself was at counterpoint with the austerity following on from the end of the war.

To quote Philip Larkin, “Sexual intercourse began in 1963, between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP”.

Many clubs opened and closed for a variety of reasons. The clubs varied greatly but generally supplied a demand for OUT OF HOURS DRINKING, GAMBLING, MUSIC, PROSTITUTION AND DRUGS or a combination of these. …..running through the types of establishments, some were simply ‘drinkers’ making alcohol available outside of pub hours (11am-2pm, 5.30 – 11pm, 10.30 Sundays) These often offered the facility to place cash bets (illegal until the 1960 Act legalised betting shops) and, at least prior to c.1956, catered largely to the indigenous white population. Were they legal? Ostensibly ‘yes’ as usually initially a ‘club’ license was obtained permitting alcohol to be sold to ‘members’ outside pub hours and to 2 am…..however usually these restrictions were ignored or abused causing them to be closed only for a replacement to be quickly opened nearby prompting the police to dub them ‘mushroom clubs’.

The West Indians soon opened their own versions of these, many around the Colville area, christened Shebeens (and usually wholly illegal) after the Irish name for such establishments. These generally charged c.2/6 entrance and sold Red Stripe West Indian beer @ 2/6 a can/bottle.

Some spots lacked an alcohol license and were simply extended hours coffee bars with music and/or a drug supply, some spots offered food with some of the aforementioned vices added on, most provided a convenient meeting place for the criminal fraternity. All had at least some connection to criminals and criminality and some were wholly criminally owned and run, attracting a similar clientele. We will talk more about the drugs available as we go along. The sites we visit is by no means a comprehensive list….there were many other places most short lived, providing a variety of ‘entertainment’

The walk starts on Blenheim Crescent near Kensington Park Road.

THE BLUE MOON (Ex.THE BABY DOLL), 19 BLENHEIM CRESCENT (entrance via door leading to the basement – which remains to this day).

As the Baby Doll, it was owned and run by white criminals for white criminals including the ‘heavy mob’, then c.1962 it was taken over by Jamaican Roy Edwards who ran it together with the violent Dennis Matis on the door and Noel Walsh on the sounds.The latter was known as ‘two-gun Cassidy’ on account of him shooting a policeman in Liverpool in the 50’s. All three had criminal records for violence. It retained the patronage of the white criminal element (including members of notorious Notting Hill families) who were joined by the West Indian equivalent and gays of both sexes (remembering this was still illegal). It was a veritable den of inequity. Fights were very common both inside and outside but they were never racial. Comically the sign on the door read ‘hours 9-5’… omitting to mention this was 9pm to 5am. The police raided frequently making arrests, the most common offences being ‘living off immoral earnings’ ( which increased after a condom machine was installed in the Ladies), or drugs (in the club or close by). Eventually a large raid resulted in the arrest of many including the three Jamaicans with ‘2-gun Cassidy’ receiving 3 ½ years (!) for possession of a small amount of cannabis. Many believed this was planted on him because of his earlier non-fatal shooting of the policeman.

walk towards Portobello Road

Incredibly there were two more clubs on Blenheim Crescent between the Blue Moon and and the junction with Portobello Rd……………………

At 15a, ‘CAFE CONTINENTAL’, a basement club attracting a mixed (black/white clientele).

blenheim-crescent-south-side-1-3-1971-ks3002-e1537454366128.jpg

1-9 Blenheim Crescent, 1971. Photo RBKC Local Studies

At no.9 ‘THE NUMBER 9’ (formerly Totobags cafe). This was almost exclusively black. As ‘Totobags’ it had served as a meeting place/refuge for West Indians during the Race riots (Aug 29-Sept 2 ’58). All these clubs attracted prostitutes (as did the KPH) but not necessarily for business….even sex workers need ‘downtime’.

turn left into Portobello Road stopping opposite Alba Place..

Here at 218 was ‘BONAS’ (always pronounced ‘bonners’) a cafe on street level with a ‘drinker’ in the basement used mainly afternoons by older whites including many stallholders among them Johnny Spencer who had a stall outside and The Cains whose stall was on the corner of Westbourne Park Road.

continue along Portobello turning left into Lancaster Rd….50 yards down stop outside 77…..

77 Lancaster Road, 2018. Photo by D. Hucker

Here was the ‘SEVENTY SEVEN’, a West Indian restaurant and club used by (mainly) blacks and whites of various ages.

turn around continuing back along Portobello Rd stopping opposite ‘Makan’ (ex.No. 262)…..this is broadly the site of:

EL PORTOBELLO’ on the ground floor (most were basement premises). Young mixed race clientele, juke box music, no alcohol, only coffee…open until 2am attracting most of the local ne’er do wells’ serving as a well known pill distribution centre…outside was a sign that read’ Your late night Rendezvous’ which was ironic as nobody knew what a ‘rendezvous’ was. C.1964 it morphed into ‘BOBO’S‘ (sited at the rear) which was similar attracting a ‘MOD’ crowd eager for pills.

 

NB. NOTES ON THE DRUG SCENE AT THE TIME:

‘Pep pills’ were the drugs used by young whites (and younger blacks joining in with the MOD movement.) In reality these were slimming pills that only became ‘pep pills’ when taken in treble or more of the recommended (1 a day) dosage, the effect increasing with the dose. Until 1960 these were readily available over the counter from chemists and were taken routinely by air hostesses to keep them awake on long flights..but there was a murder committed on the South coast in the course of a robbery by a teenager found to be high on his Mums slimming pills which led to them being made ‘prescription only’ by law…..thereby creating an overnight industry among young entrepreneurs looking to make a fast buck and providing regular work for burglars breaking into chemists shops……Very conveniently for the smarter of these young entrepreneurs a Drug factory had opened on nearby Kensal Road (British Drug Houses) from where supplies were readily obtained via ‘the back door’. Supplies were further supplemented by obliging chemist shop workers & pharmacists eager to make a few quid on the side.

THE DRUGS CONCERNED WERE:

DRINAMYL – ‘PURPLE HEARTS’ The most common – I think these were prescribed for ‘anxiety and lethagy’ …When he authorities realised their alternative usage as pep pills they changed the shape to round…..needless to say they were on the streets the next day as ‘FRENCH BLUES’.

DEXEDRINE (yellow tab) – ‘YELLOW DEX’

DEXEDRINE (white tab imprinted ‘P’ for Preludin) ‘P’s’

DUROPHET – BLACK BOMBERS(came in black capsules)

DUROPHET (lesser strength) BLACK&WHITE BOMBERS

The above were traded generally at 6d though Black Bombers were 9d – 1/-

CANNABIS – generally not used by young local whites until the early 60’s when the hippies discovered it, .. from the early 50’s it was imported and used by West Indians and sold in the clubs alongside the pills at 5/- per newspaper wrap….I think slighter older, more sophisticated whites, not local, used it…..but not the MODS.

proceed along Portobello Rd, turning right into Golborne Rd stopping outside no. 101…here was the ………THE BLUE ROSE CLUB.….

101 Golborne Road, 2018. Photo D.Hucker.

An ‘all nighter’ pill type club attracting plenty of ne’er do wells’ …..someone was shot outside here in 1963 thus heightening interest.

continue along Golborne rd, turning right into St Ervans Road

….here just into St Ervans Road at c.no.6 was….

St Ervan’s Road looking north towards Golborne Rd 1970. Photo RBKC Local Studies

‘THE AMERICANO’ opened and run by Dizzy a Jamaican from Kensal Green. It became popular playing good music and attracting customers from the aforementioned BLUE MOON which didn’t go down well with the B.M. ‘management’ ….. one night a Ford Anglia pulled up with a couple of B.M. ‘staff’ accompanied by two local white tearaways Frank Chopin and Bill Sykes M (known as, not his real name) ..they smashed the place to pieces and stabbed Dizzy in the top of the head. Dizzy was somewhat dismayed by this incident and it never reopened, Dizzy returning to an easier life in Kensal Green.

continue to the end of St Ervan’s Road, through the flats, over the Westway and railway bridge turning right onto Tavistock Crescent…continue along into All Saints Road passing what was ‘The Pelican’ (now the ‘Italian Job’) on the corner at the junction with Tavistock Rd. Stop at no.24.

Here HARRY WRAGGS …. an all nighter owned by West Indians but safe for whites….club in the basement…no alcohol but plenty of drugs. Also a convenient HQ for prostitutes and their ponces.

pause at the junction with Lancaster Rd…..

At this point it is worth remembering the ‘JACK THE STRIPPER MURDERS’ Between ’59 and ’65 eight prostitutes were murdered and their bodies dumped in various W.London locations. Nobody was charged. This area reeks of these murders….several lived here, all worked in the area using the clubs. Victim no 3,  Hannah Tailford lived at Pembridge Villas. Victim no 5 , Helen Barthelemy, was last seen alive in the Jazz club at 207 Westbourne Park Rd. Victim no 6, Mary Fleming, known locally as Gummy Mary lived at 44 Lancaster Rd and was last seen alive in an unlicensed ‘drinker’ at 32a Powis Square. Victim no 7,  Francis Brown had lived at Westbourne Park Rd and was last seen alive in the Warwick Castle at 225 Portobello Rd. It seems likely that the killer lived or worked in the area.

proceed along All Saints Rd stopping outside No.8………

Formerly the Mangrove, All Saints Road.  2018. Photo D.Hucker.

THE MANGROVE….owned by Frank Critchlow, it opened in ’68 as a restaurant with a 24 hour license and the successor to the El Rio. It soon became a drug distribution centre despite Critchlow effecting an anti-drug stance & claiming he had nothing to do with them….he twice faced drug charges while at the Mangrove and was twice acquitted. After a year the 24 hour license was revoked after police officers testified that cannabis was often in evidence however the restaurant continued to operate with a total disregard of the licensing laws. Police raids continued attempting to curb the flagrant licensing breaches and during one in May ’70 Critchlow and his brother Victor were arrested,charged and later convicted of assaulting a police officer. Critchlow was sentenced to four months, reduced on appeal to a £25 fine. His brother was fined £20. There were several subsequent convictions for Critchlow and various managers for running a late night cafe without a license. Amongst the customers were; Vanessa Redgrave, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis Jnr, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Richard Neville (‘OZ’ mag editor) Diana Ross, Sarah Vaughn and Paula Yates

proceed to the end of All Saints Road turn left into Westbourne Park Road, stopping at 207 at junction with Ledbury Road. Here is:

THE FIESTA/THE JAZZ CLUB.. on the corner of Westbourne Park Road and Ledbury Road (opposite corner to the {ex} pub) – club entrance in Ledbury Rd The Fiesta opened in ’61 by Trinidadian Larry Ford and later, c.1963, became ‘The Jazz club’.  Music, dancing, alcohol & drugs…popular with prostitutes for business and pleasure and known to be be frequented by Helen Barthelemy, the 5th victim of ‘Jack the Stripper’ in ’64. Ford quickly racked up a string of convictions for selling alcohol without a license.

Next door in Ledbury Road was…….

THE CALYPSO.…opened in ’57 styled as The Calypso Dance and Social club, it was used by West Indians to hold a ‘council of war’ on day two of the ’58 riots (Sept 1st).

At 32a Powis Square was an unlicensed drinker frequented by ‘Gummy Mary’ Fleming, the 6th victim of Jack the Stripper Run by Roy Stewart who worked as a film extra/ stuntman.

Continue on to 127, pausing just past the junction with Great Western Rd to point out

THE GIGI at 32 St Stephen’s Gardens. (building now demolished). This was mainly a ‘spieler’ run by Michael DeFreitas.

Stop opposite127…Here was:

Rios Westbourne Park Rd. 2018 Dave copy

127 Westbourne Park Road, 2018. Photo D.Hucker.

THE EL RIO...opened in 1959 by Frank Critchlow notionally as a ‘coffee bar’ but open 24 hours included alcohol, dancing and drugs putting Crichlow on a collision course with the police…he was convicted 9 times in the 7 years it remained open, usually for selling alcohol, contravening opening hours etc… Originally it attracted a black clientele incl. all the activists/hustlers… Michael DeFreitas Lucky Gordon, Darcus Howe, Johnny Edgecombe etc. but it’s notoriety began to attract a bohemian, intellectual arty crowd curious to sample the wilder more hedonistic side of life, including amongst these were Colin McInnes (looking for boys – he was openly gay when it was still illegal,and was related to Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin), Brian Jones, Stephen Ward, Guinness heir Tara Browne, barrister Lord Tony Gifford. It’s attraction was considerably aided by Vincent Bute, the sounds man who sourced all the latest ‘blue note’ label records which were hard to obtain then.

It’s place in history was sealed when Stephen Ward introduced Christine Keeler to the two West Indians Aloysius ‘lucky’ Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe who both became her lovers, couplings which resulted in jail terms for both of them and the downfall of Secretary of State for War, John Profumo (another lover) and ultimately the collapse of the Macmillan government. The famous Mandy Rice-Davis quote from the trial, ‘he would wouldn’t he’, appears today inset into the pavement on the opposite side of the road to the club premises at 127.

The end.

With grateful and appreciative thanks to Bobby Kirkham who provided much invaluable help, information and assistance.

John Henwood, 2018.

Posted in Before the Westway, Golborne, Shops, Streets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

The Mews of North Kensington – Dave Hucker

Denbigh mews.Hucker

Denbigh Mews, 2018 (Hucker).

Mewed is a French word describing a building where Falcons were Mewed, or left to shed their plumage. The first use in London was for the Royal Mews which were round about where the National Gallery is on Trafalgar Square. That is where the Royal falcons were kept.

After a fire at his stables in Bloomsbury in 1537, Henry VIII rebuilt the buildings in Trafalgar Square and used them as stables. The birds were evicted but the buildings still kept the name the Royal Mews. So Mews eventually became a generic name for coach houses and stabling.

In this blog I am deliberately only looking at the area within the Parish Boundary of Kensington, from Notting Hill Gate/Holland Park Ave northwards to the Canal/Harrow Road and eastwards to the peripheries of the boundary and west to Latimer/Norland Roads where the boundary ran down Counters Creek.

It was said by the Victorian social researcher Henry Mayhew that “The Mews of London constitute a world of their own”.  There are 433 original stabling Mews left in the whole of London and 70 are in W11 and W10, which is a reasonable number for such a small area. The Mews always seem to have given W10/W11 quite a large part of the area’s identity.

The humble Mews represented one side of the aspirations of the land owners, developers and speculative builders who constructed the estates and houses in W11 in the 1850’s & later in W10. Often it was Wild West frontier capitalism. Then everything was Leasehold and a lot of the Mews still are.

When development started the owners sold off blocks of land, or even singular plots to speculative builders, who constructed the houses at their own expense. The land owner stipulated how the buildings would look and also had their surveyors approve the details when the houses had been built. The builder got his money from the lease while the land owner got a ground rent which made them money from what had previously been fields and pasture, or for example – a failed racecourse. When the 99 year leases were finished the property reverted to the land owner.

The builders and speculators were building single family dwellings for the new metropolitan middle class, who had moved from places near the edge of city, like Bloomsbury – to the leafy suburbs developing round the Hippodrome Racecourse above Notting Dale. These new estates were designed with everything that this new metro group would want. There were shops nearby and the Mews were hidden away round the back.

The Mews were built for the residents who had leased a house, to stable their horse, carriage and driver, who would transport them to the City or wherever else they wanted to go. The Mews also housed the horses and carts needed to move goods around and the Hansom cabs for moving people.

Mr and Mrs T.A.Bunn LionelMews

Mr and Mrs T.A.Bunn outside the family farriers/blacksmiths at 5 Lionel Mews (since demolished). The mews ran off Telford Road.   Photo : Darren Windsor.

Mews were part of the support system for the new inhabitants of the area. They also provided all the transport business’s needs, supporting everything the stabling trade required such as blacksmiths, chandlers, bridle repairers. And who supplied the feed for the horses? If you were one of our many Welsh Dairies you needed stabling for the transport that went everyday to Paddington to collect the churns of fresh milk. This would then be sold from the shop or decanted into bottles and delivered round by horse and cart. When you were a self – employed Hansom Cab driver, where did you rent a place to keep your cab and the horse? How did you pay the rent, weekly or monthly?

The Mews had been thrown together really cheaply and for most of the time, pretty badly. They were shoddy, small, cold, cramped and draughty places, always damp, with very little natural light. The coachman might live upstairs in quite primitive conditions, with probably just a cold water supply.

The Mews were always on cobbled streets sloping steeply to the centre, to easily allow mucking out the stables and wash everything down to where the drains and sewers were in the middle of the road. Given the nature of life then, probably very little was wasted. Straw and horse manure was probably moved on…. by horse and cart.

In posh places like Horbury Mews, which was probably the Mews for the very large houses in Ladbroke Square, there was definitely superior accommodation commensurate with the status of the owner of the house. In less swanky parts it was not so top notch.

horbury-mews-hucker.jpg

Horbury Mews 2018 (Hucker)

This worked well until a number of things happened. Inhabitants of the new developments in the northern end of Ladbroke Grove used the recently opened omnibus routes and Ladbroke Grove station to get around and connect to other parts of London. These residents were the modern Metropolitans and had no need for a horse and carriage.

There already had been an awareness by the developers that less Mews were needed in the north of the borough. The Mews would have seen a subtle evolution of use. They have always changed to suit the needs of the people who use and live there. So they drifted into light industrial, storage – like for some of our Portobello Stall holders and their carts.

The Mews in North Ken were generally quite mundane compared to the opulent ones down in the south of the Borough. Those often had elaborate arches over the entrance. Up in the North no space was wasted and sometimes the entrance to the Mews were built over, to maximise income.

Nineteen Century reformer Charles Booth commented that the Mews were “more generally occupied by poor families carrying on little trades, and by profligate and destitute persons, than used as stables” He marked Bolton Mews off Portobello Rd as dark blue in his poverty map. Which is “Very poor, casual, Chronic want”. As was Talbot Mews, a particularly malodorous place.

Talbot Mews (2) - 1932 copy

Talbot Mews 1932 (RBKC Local Studies)

World War One changed everything. We lost so much of the population from all classes, the demographics of our life totally changed. A surplus of ex WW1 army trucks helped to replace the vast number of horses requisitioned and killed in the Great War.  And so equine power was replaced by horsepower. The internal combustion engine became the prime power source, which also coincided with the big houses being split up into flats. There was just not the need for the big family houses and their servants and separate Mews any more.

Not a lot changed physically with the Mews but sometimes the use evolved. Small industries moved in. They changed to automotive use, mechanics and car showrooms, an example being the Sports Cars adverts in Pembridge Mews.

Blechynden Mews looking west with Ford Zephyr 1969 KS1274 copy

Blechynden Mews, 1969, demolished. (RBKC Local Studies)

In the 50’s many Mews had become a dump, but sometimes cheap bijou dumps. Places hidden away, a dead end, a no through route. Although also providing you with a space to park your car – cars needed to be garaged more at that time.

railway mews. hucker

Railway Mews (from Everchanging Mews)

In the 60’s, TV series like The Avengers and The Saint, made Mews hip places to be. There was also the 1980’s famous VW Golf advert that featured a Mews with the actress who looked like Princess Diana. If you wanted a home in a fashionable area but did not want or could not afford a whole house then the Mews became an option. What they lacked in convenience they made up for in novelty.

Mews are fascinating and frustrating. There are a number of areas, which so far I really have failed to find definitive answers to certain arcane questions; did the speculative builders who constructed the houses build the Mews as well? Probably – yes. So when you bought a lease on one of these nice big houses, did it include a space in the Mews? Or was that a separate lease or rental? I assume a separate lease/rental. Why did/do the Mews have a different ownership from the leasehold tenants? Does that explain why quite a few Mews are private, gated and unadopted?

Mews have frequently been private but when parking regulations came in, sometimes it gave the owners reason to gate it. And as the mews were always quite narrow, parking generally had caused a lot of problems. There are quite a few where the Council did not adopt the road and so do not maintain it. These generally are the private ones. Ruston Mews is one, the residents paid to be connected to the sewer system, while the Council charge them for electricity for their street lights.

There are very few totally original Mews left. Many have been reconstructed, rebuilt, altered and often a pastiche of what a Mews should be. My personal favourite is Portobello Mews a genuine throwback to the old days. It has not been substantially altered, mucked around with or gussied up and still retains a 70’s bohemian feel.

Portobello Mews.Hucker

Portobello Mews 2018 (Hucker)

All kind of businesses and houses are hidden away in Mews these days. Going round you see how the buildings have adopted to the modern times, service industry, light engineering, Internet, shops. You see small and larger business operating out of the spaces now.

Codrington Mews 2006 copy

Codrington Mews 2006 (Snyder)

Some Mews have even been transformed into mega houses. Certainly the Mews have moved on with the times. The history of the mews tells the story of how we have gone from the working class to the well off.

List of mews in W10 and W11 (Alphabetical)

Addison Mews (now Addison Place)

Angola Mews (demolished)
Archer Mews (demolished)
Albert Mews (now Bulmer)
Albion Place (now Alba Place)
Boundary Mews (now Powis Mews)
Bolton Mews (demolished)
Blechynden Mews (demolished)
Bramley Mews (demolished)
Bramley Mews (demolished)
Bourne End Mews

Christopher Mews
Colville Mews
Clydesdale Mews (demolished)
Camborne Mews (new build)
Codrington Mews
Dunworth Mews
Denbigh Mews (now Close)
Elgin Mews
East Mews Road (demolished)
Edenham Mews (demolished)
Folly Mews
Garden Mews
Golden Cross Mews
Gadsden Mews
Golborne Mews
Hippodrome Mews
Hayden Place
Horbury Mews
Holland Park Mews
Head’s Mews
Kelfield Mews
Kensington Park Mews

Latimer Mews

Lavie Mews (demolished)
Lonsdale Mews
Ledbury Mews North
Ledbury Mews West.
Lionel Mews (demolished)
Lansdown Mews (previously Ladbroke Terrace Mews)
Lambton Mews (now Place)
Ladbroke Stables (now Mews)
Ladbroke Walk
Linden Mews
Munro Mews
Norland Stables (now Place)
Oxford Mews (now Malton Mews)
Portobello Mews
Pembridge Mews
Pelham Mews (now Simons Close)
Phoenix Place
Pottery Lane
Princedale Mews (now Princes Place)
Ruston Mews
Railway Mews
Roseland Place
Royal Crescent Mews
Sylvester Mews (demolished)
Scrampston Mews
Silchester Mews (demolished)
Stanley Garden Mews (lost to development)
Symphony Mews (new build)
St Johns Mews
St Lukes Mews
Tavistock Mews
Trinity Mews
Talbot Mews
Thorpe Mews (now Close)
Vernon Mews (now Yard)
Victoria Grove Mews
Wilby Mews
Wellington Close

Dave Hucker 2018

Posted in Local industries and businesses, Streets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments