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.

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8 Responses to SEEDY CLUBS AND DIVES OF NOTTING HILL 1956 – 1970

  1. Liamglynn Glynn says:

    Hi we lived on this road in the 70s Irish family of 5 sons. We grew up fast on the bello area .. thanks for your email. .liam Glynn. .

    On Thu 20 Sep 2018, 3:57 PM North Kensington Histories wrote:

    > northkenhistories posted: ” 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 encoura” >

  2. purrpuss1 says:

    Great commentary. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Rita Fleming says:

    LOVE THE OLD PICS!

  4. Alan White says:

    Fascinating. Many thanks for writing this.
    You mention the KPH – if you have any memories of the pub over the years that you would be willing to share, please do join the Facebook group, The Kensington Park Hotel (KPH) Appreciation Society,
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/10150111829785584/

  5. Jordan Reynolds says:

    Bavaria Beer was very evident

  6. john henwood says:

    Thanks Alan, will pass this request on. Glad you enjoyed this blog.

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