Live like Churchill

Gary Oldman’s Oscar nomination for his brilliant depiction of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour prompts us to check out how the corpulent war leader would spend his time when he was not striking fear into the Third Reich.

Winston Churchill would regularly round off a very comprehensive dinner with a cheese platter.

[A]ND THERE was one London fromagerie he regarded above all others: “A gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whit?eld”, Churchill once said. Fortunately for the gentlemen (and women) of today’s London, Paxton & Whit?eld is still in business located on Jermyn Street. We have it on good authority that his cheese of choice was a Swiss Gruyère. Along with countries he obviously liked his cheeses to be neutral.

For a man with a copious appetite for alcohol Winston adored soup. He’d eat a bowl of cold thin non-creamy consommé before bed, Fortnum & Masons once supplied a turtle soup for his consumption.

Champagne was Churchill’s greatest strength, as he put it: “In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it; he once quipped. The king of sparkling wines that Churchill preferred was a very speci?c one – Pol Roger – purchased at the famous St. James’s wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Winston fell in love with Havana cigars when he was a journalist in Cuba. Robert Lewis again in St James’s Street supplied him with his 5-6 cigars a day to smoke or suck. Nowadays, that shop is James J. Fox – and those very same orders can still be seen written in a big ledger. It’s reckoned that Churchill smoked in the region of 200,000 cigars in his lifetime. James J. Fox has Churchill’s chair in their small cigar museum.

Churchill’s chair at James J. Fox

Not renowned as one of the world’s greatest athletes, Churchill could have walked the 100 yards between Berry Brothers to Robert Lewis and then, should he have need of a haircut, Truefitt and Hill are opposite. They claim to be the oldest barbershop in the world and count many of the rich and famous among their clients, inside their premises they too have a chair used by, among others, Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery of Alamein.

Churchill’s chair at Truefitt and Hill

Among other Churchill haunts, a short stroll from his barbers is Browns Hotel on Albemarle Street, which was frequented by Winston so often it’s rumoured they built a bomb shelter him, and the bar here still does a Churchill Martini. During the Second World War, in Room 36, the Dutch government in exile declared war on Japan, whether Churchill was present we do not know.

We do, however, know his club – The National Liberal Club in Whitehall Place. Half-a-mile from Browns, he would almost certainly have taken a cab. Tales in the trade related to him leaving the back seat covered in cigar ash and being abrupt with the cabbie.

In the entrance lobby is a restored portrait of the young Winston Churchill in 1915, as First Lord of the Admiralty, as Churchill was a member of the club for 18 years. The painting was consigned to the basement when Churchill defected to the Tories.

There is a well-known story told of the National Liberal Club, that the Conservative politician (some say it was Churchill, it certainly sounds like him) F. E. Smith would stop off there every day on his way to Parliament, to use the club’s lavatories. One day the hall porter apprehended Smith and asked him if he was actually a member of the club, to which Smith replied “Good God! You mean it’s a club as well?”.

If you want a suit as good as Churchill’s pop along to Savile Row tailors Henry Poole, but don’t say that you are trying to emulate the great man, it transpires that Churchill once swerved a £197 invoice because he didn’t much fancy paying it. Henry Poole is still there today, as probably is his unpaid bill.

London Trivia: Vorsprung durch Technik

On 28th January 1807 German Friedrick Albert Winzer who had patented coal-gas lighting in 1804 moved to a house in Pall Mall setting up gas lamps, lighting them on this day, making Pall Mall the first gas-lit street in the world. Later with a special exhibition on 4 June, 1807, in honor of the birthday of King George III, using gaslight to superimpose images against the walls of the buildings along his street.

On 28 January 1953 Derek Bentley was executed at Wandsworth Prison for his part in the murder of PC Sidney Miles. The 19-year-old was hanged after last-minute appeals for clemency were rejected

The hanging beam from Newgate gaol was taken to Pentonville prison and used for executions there. Now bricked up in the prison’s synagogue

The IMAX cinema roundabout is the capital’s only winner of the Roundabout Appreciation Society’s prestigious Roundabout of the Year award

The Sebastopol bell at Westminster Abbey is rung only on the occasion of a sovereign’s death, tolling once for each year of their life

George VI Reservoir left empty during World War II allegedly a mock Clapham Junction Railway Station was built inside to confuse Luftwaffe bombers

When Madame Tussaud first brought her waxworks to London they were exhibited at the Lyceum where Lion King now shows

One of the ‘original’ Disney Herbie cars in red, white and blue-striped with number 53 can be seen in Volkswagen’s west London showroom close to M4

London Marathon’s youngest male winner was 22-year-old Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru in 2009, he died two years later after falling from a balcony

The Jubilee Extension was hewn out by two tunnel boring machines called Sharon and Tracy, named after the characters in Birds of a Feather

Londoner Captain Edward Vernon invented grog-a concoction made from rum, water and lemon juice-the preferred tipple of pirates and old salts

Named after Samuel Pepys: Street EC3; Road SE14; Crescent E16; Court SE18 ; a Walk; several pubs and . . . A Launderette 1 Grove Street SE8

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Down Your Alley: Old Barrack Yard and Kinnerton Street

Recently CabbieBlog featured a piece about a hostage situation played out in Knightsbridge’s Spaghetti House Restaurant.

Down Your Alley now looks at two of the tiny thoroughfares probably used by the police during that December 1975 siege. Off the south side of Knightsbridge, about 225 yards west of Hyde Park Corner, is Old Barrack Yard.

[U]NTIL 1834 Old Barrack Yard formed the access road to Knightsbridge Foot Barracks which occupied the site now covered by St Paul’s church, Wilton Place. When the Guards moved to their present home at Wellington Barracks in Birdcage Walk the site was donated by the Duke of Westminster to the Diocese of London. The foundation stone of St Paul’s was laid in November 1840 and at a cost of £13,000, supplemented by a contribution from the Duke of £500, the church was completed and consecrated in 1843.


Old Barrack Yard

Leaving Knightsbridge, the Yard, or passage as it would more correctly be defined, briefly widens out before reducing in width to a narrow path leading behind the church where it links with Wilton Row. Most worthy of note is the Grenadier public-house, where the Duke of Wellington is reputed to have seen the nights away drinking from a leather stirrup cup while trying his hand at a game of cards.

Displayed on the walls is a collection of prints depicting the history of the Grenadier Guards and on the ceiling a worldwide assortment of paper currency. Every old tavern worth its salt can muster up a tale of ghostly chills and the well-known spirit haunting the rooms of the Grenadier is said to be that of a soldier who expired this life while waiting for his quota in the jug-and-bottle.

This is a cheery place, but sporting your medals in the Grenadier will not guarantee the landlord saluting you with a free pint.

From Old Barrack Yard walk west along the south side of Knightsbridge turn left into Wilton Place. Take the first right turning into Kinnerton Street, which at the ‘T’ junction continues to the right and left.


Kinnerton Street

A string of charming byways branching from this unusual street – eight of them in all – illustrates why Knightsbridge is so popular (and expensive). You wouldn’t realise walking down this charming thoroughfare the busy A4 is just yards away.

Beginning in the north, right at the very end, is Duplex Ride, its origin unknown but possibly from a house split between two owners. Next is Studio Place, named from an artists’ workroom which occupied the yard until about 1940.

The two inlets of Kinnerton Place North and Kinnerton Place South come next, followed by Frederic Mews, recalling a previous resident; then comes Ann’s Close, from Ann . . . who must have lived here at one time? Then to the yard of a carpenter and undertaker, Capener’s Close, where John Capener built up his business making coffins; and so to Kinnerton Yard.

Along Kinnerton Street, between these fine mews, every single one of the tiny residential houses is a representation of elegance with their narrow doorways and shiny knobs. At number 71 the row is gently interrupted by the Wilton Arm with an abundance of plants about its frontage – but not content with one hostelry, this short secluded street boast yet another – the Nags Head, at number 53. If there is one pub in the entire expanse of central London where the country yokel would feel at home, this is surely it.

Along with a multitude of other establishments, the Nags Head claims the prize for being the smallest pub in the capital. whether it can uphold its claim against competition or not, it is certainly small. There are three bars here, all situated on different levels, but with the feet firmly on the ground, at street level is the place to be. In this room, there is a beautiful black-leaded grate and accompanying wood burner, surrounded by an ample complement of nick-nacks. Slouching on the bar in the Nags Head is totally out of the question – it stands about two feet high and the compulsion to sit down on the squat bar-stools is almost overpowering. Standing proudly on the low bar are the four Chelsea China beer-pull handles which won outstanding merit at a Brewers’ Exhibition about 150 years ago, the Nags Head would fit just as snugly on the corner of the green in a quiet village.

Picture credit: Old Barrack Yard and Kinnerton Street by Chris Gunns (CC BY-SA 2.0)


CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

Siege mentality

Like a scene from the 1975 film starring Dustin Hoffman Dog Day Afternoon, the Spaghetti House Siege went from drama to farce.

On 28th September 1975 Nigerian born Franklin Davies with two accomplices raided the Knightsbridge branch of Spaghetti House.

Almost inviting robbery the fledgling restaurant chain would summon the managers of their four branches to pay their week’s takings, a total of £13,000, in cash, to their head office in Knightsbridge.

[D]URING the raid by Davies, one of the waiters escaped and raised the alarm, prompting the robbers to take nine hostages into the basement.

The media were in their element: prime location, multi-ethnic case (many of the staff were Italian); with Davies claiming to be a member of the Black Liberation Army (an organisation which did not exist in Britain), demanding a plane to fly them to Jamaica.

The police managed to get to use a new toy – fibre-optic surveillance. The authorities were not likely to accede to the robber’s demands. After all nine had been murdered in Northern Ireland the previous day, and the IRA had been taking pot shots at the porticos of gentlemen’s clubs in St. James’s, an outrageous assault on the establishment.

The siege lasted six days before they gave up and were arrested, partly due to being given false information that one of Davies’s accomplices as selling information to the newspapers.

They received a total of 57 years for their failed endeavour.


Winston Churchill in top hat at the Siege of Sidney Street

The Siege of Sidney Street wasn’t such an overwhelming success. Home Secretary Winston Churchill ever keen to be seen taking control, especially as it was the first ‘breaking news’ story, played out in front of the media.

A fortnight earlier when the police disturbed a burglary at a jewellers shop in Houndsditch, three officers had been shot dead by one of the burglars.. His body was found the next day, murdered by his accomplices.

Following a tip-off, the police arrived at Sidney Street and having awoken the culprits by throwing stones at their bedroom window, they soon realised that their pistols were not matched in range or power to their adversaries’ arms. Churchill called in the Scots Guards from the Tower of London and Royal Engineers to blow up the house.

One policeman was shot in the chest and following the fire that ensued a fireman was fatally injured by falling masonry, and two bodies were found in the rubble. Seven men were put on trial but were acquitted for lack of evidence. The suspected ringleader Peter the Painter returned to Russia rising to become deputy head of the Cheka, the Soviet Secret Police.

Well-known is the Iranian siege, again in Knightsbridge, when the public first realised that we had an elite army regiment.


The Balcombe Street Siege

The Balcombe Street Siege by political dissidents is not so well known. Again it’s 1975, what was it with that year? Ross McWhirter, one of the twins who had started the Guinness Book of Records, an outspoken opponent of Irish republican movement, had been murdered by the IRA, and within 14 months, 40 bombs had exploded within the M25.

The expensive Scotts Restaurant in Mount Street had had gunshots fired through its windows, the police had been expecting a second attack on the restaurant and had flooded the Mayfair area.

Hailing a cab two policemen gave chase after the gunman’s stolen Ford Cortina. After many miles (hopefully, the cabbie had started the meter) they ended up not far from the terrorist’s original target near Marylebone Station.

Breaking into number 22b Balcolme Street they took the council tenants John and Sheila Matthews hostage and demanded a plane to fly them to Ireland. Negotiating was Peter Imbert, later to be made Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who after six days persuaded the gang to surrender, with no loss of life.

Rumour at the time had it that the aforementioned use of the SAS had been suggested to the terrorists as a means of extricating them, and this focussed their minds, prompting surrender.

London Trivia: Falling on deaf ears

On 21 January 1670 Claude Duval the ‘Gallant Highwayman’ was hanged. Caught drunk at Mother Maberley’s Tavern in Chandos Street. When passing judgement Sir William Morton refused to commute the death sentence, and threatened to resign rather than sparing the highwayman despite mercy pleas from Ladies’ of the Court and even King Charles II himself. Duval was buried in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.

On 21 January 2006 a juvenile botlenose whale was spotted swimming up the Thames, she beached near Albert Bridge, watched by thousands efforts were made to return her back to the sea – it died

For writing ‘this Adonis in loveliness is a corpulent man of 50’ Leigh Hunt was imprisoned for 2 years in 1813 for libelling the Prince Regent

The last wolf in the City of London is commemorated at the spot it was killed, where a wolf’s head forms the waterspout of the Aldgate pump

On 21 January 1950 George Orwell, author of 1984 who penned the idea of Big Brother, died at University College Hospital aged 46

Henry I decreed that a street could not be named a Street unless it was paved and wide enough for 16 knights to ride abreast

The 1949 Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico was shot in Lambeth starring Stanley Holloway documents revealed Pimlico an independent nation

The Lamb in Lamb’s Conduit Street had etched glass partitions preventing wealthy drinkers having to watch common men drinking in next bar

When Billy (the police horse who controlled spectators at the 1923 FA Cup final) died, his rider was given one of his hooves as an inkwell

On 21 January 1976 the first two Concordes entered service. BA’s from Heathrow to Bahrain while Air France’s from Paris to Rio de Janeiro

Jack Dee once worked in the Ritz’s kitchen. One night he cooked a doorman’s dinner, got a 50p tip. Made him realise his life was in a mess

London’s shortest street name is Hide, not Hide Street or Hide Lane, just Hide. At 150ft in length the street’s not so terribly long either

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.