Brick Lane to Drury Lane

East to West

By George Skeggs

Photo:George Skeggs & Helen McKenzie St John's Kingsway nov 1963

George Skeggs & Helen McKenzie St John's Kingsway nov 1963

George Skeggs

Photo:Beatle Boots

Beatle Boots

Unknown Newspaper Advert

Photo:Winter Garden Theatre Drury Lane 1958

Winter Garden Theatre Drury Lane 1958

courtesy of Gerry Atkins

Travelling from Bethnal Green tube to Tottenham Crt Rd for a night out in Soho, and not having much money, my brother and a friend of ours, decided to leap over the barrier, and dodge our fare and make a dash for it, ending up in Denmark St, and then finally arriving in Monmouth St. Its quite amazing how such a small decision at that moment in time could've had, such a big impact on my future direction in life. This was in 1960 when I meet, and later married a local Covent Garden girl Helen McKenzie half modernist and half beatnik in the style stakes, who I bumped into with her friend in the ‘Farm’ Coffee bar a beatnik hang out on Monmouth St, Seven Dials, a real arty place, much to my taste being arty myself.

The 'Farm' Coffee bar was run by Brian & Susan Robins, it reminded me of ‘Le Macabre’ in Soho without the coffins. Opposite was the ‘Nucleus’ coffee bar cellar which had been run by Gary Winkler, this was an all night place for skid row drifters, and druggies whose clientle included many different characters in the music business including the Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch of the Drifters who were by then the Shadows, the backing band for Cliff Richard, all ex 2is coffee bar protégés and a few prostutes from Soho. 

We spent many an hour in its basement planning trips down to Brighton on the milk train, from Victoria, or by scooter. I had a Vespa GS 150 by then and the Modernist thing was happening all over London, and Carnaby St was the place along with Kings Rd to buy interesting clothes. By then we were being infuenced, by both, a mixture of French and Italian styling. Italian Suits were the thing and French casual, when posing on our scooters (lambrettas & vespas). We used to hang out in the Wimpy Bar on the corner of Neal St And Shaftsbury Ave posing! The French matelot blue and white stripe shirt was a favorite, worn with a black beret, and levi jeans, and either, handmade winkle pickers or buff coloured desert boots or mocassions. 

A little further along in Monmouth St was  'Mann’s' the picture framers which was damaged by shotgun pellets during a feud between duelling drugs dealers who hung out in the 'Nucleus.' The Mann family were neighbours of mine when I got married and lived in Peabody Buildings in (Bury) Befordbury in 1963, and later on, after we moved to Peabody in Wild St in 1966. I still see them around Covent Garden today.

Two buildings along from the Nucleus in Monmouth St, became Brian Epstein’s the Beatles manager first London office. Living in Covent Garden since 1963, Soho and the surrounding West End had also became part of my manor. New clubs were opening in 1960s, during the teen revolution and included Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames giging at The Flamingo. Upstairs was 'The Whiskey A Go Go', which is now an O’Neill’s chain Restaurant.

Most of my shopping was always done in Berwick St market and at others shops in Drury Lane, the 'Bakers shop', 'Jackmans Shoes', 'Richards' wet fish shop, who supplied the 'Fish & Chip'(a favorite) shop next door. 'Richards' also had another wet fish shop in Brewer St Soho. We also had 'Shortlands' butchers shop in Long Acre, which is where Dolly McKenzie my mother inlaw, worked next to 'The Freemasons Pub' which has now vanished, it's now a gift shop. Next door was Brodie Middleton, artists colourman, who suplilied the theates in the area. They can still be found in Drury Lane next to the Theatre Royal. Dolly also worked in 'The Prince of Wales' and 'The Enterpise' pub which was demolished to make way for the Oldhams Walk estate.The door into the pub was where the entrance now is to the estate in Long Acre. The pub was sandwiched between Oldhams Press magazine offices and the Dan Wuelle Banana warehouse. When they moved out to Nine Elms in the early 1970s I had an art studio (Squat) on the top floor of their empty warehouse with a group of students from St Martins School of Art.

The entrance was on the corner of Neal St facing M&S which was also a fruit warehouse now refurbished. We were evicted around 1975 when the whole site was demolished and cleared, which also included the commuinty Japanese garden, to make way for The Odhams Walk Project.

Other vanished shops include Amos Jones the Chemist on the corner of Long Acre & Drury Lane, and also the Nettlefords ironmoners and oil shop on the corner of Dryden St now the Brides Shop, and later Anello & David Ballet who supplied ballet shoes for the Oprea House and the theatrical trade in the West End. Anello also had several other shops in the West End one in Oxford St and another one in Charing Cross Rd on the corner of New Compton St. Their flagship and workshop was in Drury Lane opposite the 'Wintergarden Theatre'. Anello also made bespoke shoes for many famous people including the Old Queen Mother. My wife to be Helen McKenzie worked there with the boss Mr Rico, just before we got married, during ‘Beatle Boot Mania‘ in the early sixities with my sister Pamela Skeggs. Crowds of youngsters from all over the country would come to Drury Lane and queue for hours to get their hands on this must have fashion item. They were basically Chelsea boots, which had elasicated sides, and Cuban heels much favored by the rock bands at the time she fitted many of the new rock bands, with this latest fashion accessory; The Animals, Manfred Mann, The Kinks, Bob Dylan to name a few and myself.

Our wedding recption was held in 'Milo's Resturant, downstairs in the 'Members Only' drinking club which was next door to the 'Sun' Pub in Drury Lane and opposite the 'Winter garden Theatre' which was still standing in 1963, to be replaced by the 'New London Theatre'. 

In the 1920s-1950s my old grandad came upto the flower market (now London transport Museum) on his pony and trap from Bethnal Green to buy his stock which he would peddle around all the main London markets, he also used Spitalfields Market as well. My mothers job was to write out the labels for his plants and climbers. She would ask him what colours they were, and he would say,' never mind that! write down any colour you like, no one will know'  He would often be drunk after many a session after drinking in the 'Market Tavern' and other pubs on his rounds. More often than not the poor old donkey would bring him home, when he was to drunk, to know where he was!

By the 1940s he had produced 15 children, and families which had a large number of offspring were referred to as beer babies and were not that uncommon. He was a man who thought more of his horse or pony (the horse came later) than his wife and kids. If he caught any one mistreating a horse -- whipping it--- he would give them a right hander. Mind you we alway got a Christmas tree every year! ... more to follow

This page was added by George Skeggs on 22/05/2013.
Comments about this page

Great to read your memories of Covent Garden and the surrounding area. My dad, Brian Webb, met my step mum, Irish Anne, in 'Whiskey A GO GO' when she worked there in the 60s. I then ended up clubbing there when it became the 'Wag Club' in the 80s. Great memories, thank you!

By Camilla
On 22/05/2013

well written piece by my dad .... a very informative and interesting read

By jackie revell
On 29/05/2013

Wow George, this article really has brought back memories, and strangely enough, only recently I came across the bridesmaid's dress that I wore at your wedding, I bet Helen would love to see it again lol. I remember the Theatre opposite Anello and Davide's, and also directly opposite was a little, I think Newsagent/Sweet shop, sometimes memories can be sad when you think of all the changes that are made.Well done George great piece of nostalgia.

By Pamela Skeggs
On 29/05/2013

Enjoyed reading this.Must mention St. Clement Danes school as well. Three generations of our family went there - my sister Jean and myself, Frances and Jackie our daughters and Georgina our granddaughter. We spent a lot of our early childhood over the Swing Gardens and Lincoln's Inn Fields. Lots of families have moved out of the area due to lack of housing and properties being bought and then rented out to people from out of the area.Such a pity as the community is not as it was.

By helen thompson
On 04/08/2013

I have searched everywhere for info on the pub "The Enterprise" Longacre as I lived there in the 60's. I have very fond memories and enjoyed reading your article.

By Olive Blunt
On 03/04/2014

George, I am not sure but i think i may be related, my late father was called Walter Thomas George and was born in St Olave, Rotherhithe. The reason i say this is because seeing your marriage photograph, you look like my father. I am tracing my family tree and have found that my grandfather was Alexander and he had brothers William, Albert, Emma and that William settled in Bethnal Green. I have traced Williams granddaughter who now lived in Braintree. My father married my mother in 1957 after moving up to Bradford West Yorkshire where i am originally from however now live in London. If any of this makes sense to you and there is a possible link, then please email me at Regards Allan.

By Allan Skeggs
On 03/04/2014

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