John who grew up on Walmer Road asked if any of us remembered seeing Bette Davis there.
“In the spring of 1965 Bette Davis came to Walmer Road to film a scene for ‘The Nanny’. I recall there being great excitement and my Mother wondering why on earth a scene from a Bette Davis film was being made in such a down at heel location. The reason for this became apparent later upon seeing the film. At first, as the scene was being prepared I harboured hopes of being a child playing in the background but I was 16 and they wanted younger children and so my hopes of stardom were dashed! They began filming around numbers 45-55 on the same side of the road as I lived (no77) but eventually shot the scene that appears in the film exactly opposite my house with Miss Davis walking past nos.60-68 which were adjacent to the particularly nefarious looking Silchester Mews (I loved it down there!). I recall the excitement rose to fever pitch when after hours, Miss Davis finally appeared – you could have heard a pin drop. She looked terrifying to me and I didn’t scare that easily!! I managed to take a photo of her with my Brownie camera which proved rather grainy and distant. Naturally when the film appeared amid much publicity I couldn’t wait to see it.”
During the following week, on the internet, we found the scenes as shown here on a website that identifies film locations. However these particular scenes of Bette Davis visiting a run down house, where a woman has just had an abortion, remained unidentified. We watched the relevant section of the film (parts 8/9) which at that time you could find on Youtube.
“The proprietor was Fred Hannington, a nice gentle man and I watched him build a horsebox on a Rolls Royce chassis in that yard. Fred Hannington must have been the only man to specialise in breaking Rolls Royces and customers came from all over. One day a man pulled up in a nice yellow and black 1925 Doctors Coupe and asked if I knew where Hanningtons Breakers Yard was (there were no signs as you can see from the photograph) He was about 10 yards away. I told him if he gave me a ride in the Rolls I would show him where the yard was. I jumped in and took him up St.Helens Gardens around Oxford Gardens, up to the ‘Latimer’ and back down Walmer Road to where we started and pointed to the yard ! He saw the funny side.
Most (sane) people wouldn’t have dreamt of walking down the Mews – it smelt for a start and looked decidedly tricky – I practically lived there some days – all along the side following on from Fred’s Yard, were Totters stables where their horses were kept, so naturally there was always that horsey smell. I used to go in the stables when the horses were being fed and put to bed. It also served as a general dump, particularly the half mews which was obscured from view from Walmer Road – there were always TVs and radios being dumped and so I developed a nice little business stripping all the copper wire from them and selling to the scrap merchants. There were two or three in the immediate area. It was more lucrative than my earlier business trawling around streets collecting waste newspaper, which was heavy and much less valuable.
Also whilst in the area Ms Davis went to White City dogs – probably the same evening – had a meal in the restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed herself backing a dog called ‘I’M CRAZY’ which she thought appropriate (so do I!!) and got very excited and cheered it home all the way around the track until it crossed the line in front. She won £16 7 shillings and was delighted.
The above are all guaranteed facts and come from Bette herself.”
The location of the drab house next to a railway bridge proved more challenging. John initially thought that it was Blechynden Street. However I had sent the information to Maggie Tyler who runs the Gloucester Court Reminiscence Group and former residents of Bramley Road identified the bridge scene as Lockton Street – a very small street that ran from Bramley Road opposite Latimer Road station and next to the Station Tavern. A photo of Lockton Street from the London Metropolitan Achives online photo archive revealed the same houses with steps and railings next to a bridge.
John made a positive identification of Walmer Road for the shots of Bette Davis walking along the street. The Robinson’s lorry is seen parked in Harrington’s Breakers Yard, on Silchester Mews, a favourite spot for John, prompting vivid recollections.
The following week, we ended up on Bramley Road next to the Station Tavern looking up at a railway arch that was once the bridge under which Lockton Street went. The road sign was even there, despite the fact that there was no street left!
What clinched it for us was the view through the bridge towards Bramley Road which Alan and John instantly remembered. A row of shops ending at the corner of Barandon Street and Bramley Road with Tomlin the Bakery. We had a good photo of the shops taken in 1972 that confirmed their memory. We had solved the puzzle. We are now just waiting for John to unearth his own photo of Bette Davis walking along Walmer Road! He is sure it exists somewhere!
Useful websites :
www.reelstreets.com for identifying streets in films.
Sue Snyder and John Henwood