East to West

part two The Bury to Bow St Police Station

By George Skeggs

Photo:Helen & Jean McKenzie outside F Block wild St 1951

Helen & Jean McKenzie outside F Block wild St 1951

George Skeggs

Photo:The 'Bury'

The 'Bury'

George Skeggs

Photo:The 'smoking room' the long bay of windows

The 'smoking room' the long bay of windows

George Skeggs

Photo:Helen McKenzie/Skeggs with baby Frances Skeggs 5C Bedfordbury 1965

Helen McKenzie/Skeggs with baby Frances Skeggs 5C Bedfordbury 1965

George Skeggs

Photo:Helen McKenzie left Brenda Mathias outside 'L' Block Wild St Peabody 1960

Helen McKenzie left Brenda Mathias outside 'L' Block Wild St Peabody 1960

George Skeggs

Photo:Frances Skeggs & Jackie Skeggs in new Peabody flat on the Wild St 1966

Frances Skeggs & Jackie Skeggs in new Peabody flat on the Wild St 1966

George Skeggs

Photo:Alfred Hitchcock Film set in the Covent Garden Piazza 1972

Alfred Hitchcock Film set in the Covent Garden Piazza 1972

Wikipedia

Photo:Jackie Skeggs Birthday party Peabody Wild St with Frances Skeggs & Miray Kester 1970s

Jackie Skeggs Birthday party Peabody Wild St with Frances Skeggs & Miray Kester 1970s

George Skeggs

Photo:FRENZY film murder door (arrow) 2010

FRENZY film murder door (arrow) 2010

George Skeggs

Photo:Shell Mex House The Strand ( Cecil Chambers) secene of robbery 1964

Shell Mex House The Strand ( Cecil Chambers) secene of robbery 1964

George Skeggs

Photo:Report of Stamp Robbery in the Strand

Report of Stamp Robbery in the Strand

Evening News

Photo:The Strand Robbery

The Strand Robbery

The Evening Standard

Photo:Bow St Police Station now closed scene of police interview in 1964

Bow St Police Station now closed scene of police interview in 1964

George Skeggs

Photo:George Skeggs 2013 Berwick St Soho

George Skeggs 2013 Berwick St Soho

gerard macnamara.com

My family has been in the Covent Garden area for three generations- McKenzie, Skeggs, and Revell. Most having attended St Clement Danes school in Drury Lane, and been married, or christened in both St Martins in the Fields and, St Paul’s in the piazza. There had also been several births in the old Charing Cross Hospital, now a police station, which, was also the birthplace of the Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds (I say this with a sense of irony).

After Helen McKenzie and I (Helen was brought up on Peabody Wild Street) got married 1963, we moved into 3 rooms with no bath, toilet or running water, which had to be shared, with 4 other families on the same landing, if fact every tenant on the estate was in the same position. The accommodation was in the Victorian, Peabody Estate on Bedfordbury commonly known as the ‘Bury’. It has since been demolished to make way for more modern accommodation. We lived at no.5 C block, our neighbours’ at no.3 were the Mann Family who had a picture framers business in Monmouth Street. Emy and Bert Governor were also neighbours over in D block.

One day in the 1980s I was having a drink with Bert and Emy in the Seven Dials Club where Bert told me, he once worked on the 'Luna Park' a static Fairground with a Big Dipper, Coconut Shy’s and Dodgems in the 1920s on a vacant site on which now stands the Dominion Theatre. I was a bit surprised when I later found out, that it had in fact been relocated from Euston Rd, when they built the new Town Hall. I have seen a photo of the Big Dipper on the Euston Rd site facing St Pancras Chambers, its really surreal! An interesting interlude? I couldn’t imagine at the time, a Big Dipper on Euston Rd or Tottenham Court Rd for that matter!

Living on the Bury, we had to wash the landing on a rota, and also arrange our bath days too. The bath was situated in the washroom on each landing, with a thin partition around it for the sake of one’s dignity, as others on the landing might need, or be doing their weekly washing at the same time while you were having a bath!! The only modern convenience in the washhouse in those old Victorian buildings was a ... gas water heater ... which was activated by placing a sixpenny coin in a slot. You would always make sure, you took enough sixpences in with you, or you might end up sitting in a bath of lukewarm water, with a tide mark around your waist and that’s no joke! Especially if you liked reading in the bath, which was okay in the summer months, but not when it was cold!

In the wintertime those washhouses were freezing cold! believe me! In and out was my modus operandi!! Incidentally, cold water had to be carried into the flat from a big old brass tap, with a butler sink to do your washing up in (today, now a trendy sink to have in your kitchen I believe!), this was located at the end of the landing, next to the toilet which was also shared. The whole landing was paved from one end to the other with flag stones. Each tenant would take turns, scrubbing the passage once a week. The same thing applied to your windows as well!

However, we survived all the privations, and in retrospect lots of nice memories still persists from those early days of married life with our two young daughters Frances and Jackie. They had both been born over the road in Charing CrossHospital in Chandos Place. In those days people were allowed to smoke in hospital. At the end of the maternity ward was a room, (thick with smoke) where patients and their visitors could light up and have a fag and cup of tea. This room still survives, after the hospital was changed into a police station when it moved to a new modern home in Hammersmith. It looked out towards the National Portrait Gallery, a place which I visit regularly. When passing, I always look up to that window, even after all the privations we had to put up with in those early days, I still feel a pang of nostalgia, and a warm glow of satisfaction which always permeates my overactive memory on these regular excursions.

During this period, The Peabody flats on Wild Street were being modernized. This was where my in laws the McKenzie’s, Danny and Dolly lived. Every Sunday, we had our Sunday dinner at their flat on Wild Street. I would often leave Helen at 5C to tidy up, while I took the two kids, Frances and Jackie across to Wild St in the Basinet (posh pram). Most men then (even today) would not be seen dead wheeling a pram. I couldn’t care less they’re my kids and my responsibility!! And I have always enjoyed taken them out on excursions to St James Park, for duck feeding expeditions, and the changing of the guard, in Whitehall, and many other places, usually for fun, and educational. It's something I continued to do with my grandchildren, who are now too old for such pleasures!!

Walking through the market buildings you would sometimes come across enough vegetables which were the result of spillages, to take and use at home, which we often did. You would often see members of the Hare Krishna Sect collecting discarded fruit and vegetables for their restaurant kitchen, and even Nuns. Anyway, walking through central market buildings could be quite creepy when there was nobody working. You could even hear your own footsteps echoing along those draffy flagstones thinking someone was following you. When it was quiet the whole place was atmospheric (The master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock had shot one of his films ’FREEZY’ in 1972 nearby, at this location), in fact there’s a photo of him standing outside the Globe Pub on Bow Street during takes. Interestingly, this location was a hangout for many of the kids on the Wild Street Estate, as I’m sure, many can testify to, or maybe, they might have forgotten although, my kids haven’t. The reason ... was the … 'Milk Machine'... which also contained ... orange squash  .... It was situated in between the Globe, and the Marquis pubs. It came in very handy at times when we ran out of milk; there were no local supermarkets then. Looking back, we always seemed to manage somehow! When we moved into the flat in Wild Street in 1966 we would often send the kids out to get a carton of milk, which was wrapped up in one of those wax proof cartons from the machine, and a carton of orange squash for them as a treat for going. How times have changed everything now is on tap, or a click away on a mouse!

Before we moved to our new modernized flat on the Wild Street Estate, and still living on the Bury, drama suddenly entered my life ... from The Bury to Bow Street Police Station. At the time,1964, I was working doing maintenance work at Shell Mex House in the Strand and at B.P House No 1 Kingsway, now a posh restaurant. What occurred happened a few months after the Great Train Robbery. Working in Shell Mex house, doing what we called a ghoster (working all through the night). Myself, and a colleague were asked to go B.P. House at No.1 Kingsway Aldwych, to do a major repair on the water system. This required the use of oxyacetylene equipment used for burning through steel plate. On checking the work to be done, we both concluded the logistics need to be clarified, so it had to be rescheduled for a later date. In the meantime, we had to take our oxyacetylene equipment back, via the Aldwych, on a two wheeled trolley passing many theatre goers, and people out for the night on the town, to Shell Mex House, via the Cecil Chambers entrance on the Strand, after which we got our heads down for an uneventful night and a few hours kip. However, arriving for work the following day, we were told by colleagues that there had been a Big Robbery in Cecil Chambers, on the first floor offices of Stamp Dealers, Bridger & Kay. We were both cordially invited into the office, and both greeted by two plain clothed police officers from Bow St Police Station. “Could we give an account,” they said, “of what we were both doing in the early hours of the previous night entering, Cecil Chambers with Oxyacetylene bottles” (we had been seen by witnesses). What happened, was a gang of safe crackers that same night, had entered the building, through the same door we had entered, with similar equipment (what a coincidence!!) and had burnt open the safe in the office making off with £250,000 worth of valuable stamps, 250,000 grand was a lot of dough in 1964. Me and my mate were well in the frame. The following day we were both escorted to Bow St Police Station to be given the 3rd degree, which was not very pleasant, although, I found it all quite amusing. At this point we both thought were dreaming! They finally, let us leave after a good grilling, he in one room, and myself in another. They kept telling us how we carried out the job. We did, indeed, have the expertise to cut open safes with the equipment; we were seen taking, completely innocently, into the building, after our aborted job on the Aldwych, this was all circumstantial!!! What bad timing on our part, and, the gangs good luck. To add insult to injury the story appeared that evening on the ITV crime series Police 5, similar to today’s ‘Crimewatch’ and fronted by Shaw Taylor, which was filmed from the scene of the crime, claiming it must have been an inside job (Ah thanks for that Shaw!!!) and he concluded his report with “TWO MEN ARE BEING QUESTIONED AT BOW ST POLICE STATION” … What!! … I nearly fell off the chair, they talking about me and my mate!!! By now it was in all the papers BIG BLACK HEADLINES. Scotland Yard even called in INTERPOL (European Police Agency)!!! The following day a detective arrived at No.5 my flat, on the Bury to begin a search. He claimed he was checking out what tools I had. Being satisfied, he left, and that was the last I, or my mate, heard about it. My mate was so ill he had to take 8 weeks of work to recover. He always looked as white as sheet when I saw him, I don’t think he ever recovered properly. There was never an apology, and the case was never solved, maybe that’s why. It was like the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads for many years on. You can certainly be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, but the circumstances in this case, were beyond belief! We were, more than likely, working at B.P House when the crime was being committed.

This page was added by George Skeggs on 14/06/2013.
Comments about this page

good to see George doing well and his family have not seen him since maybe 1960 Bob Poole

By bob poole
On 14/03/2017

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