London-many years ago....!

Found it- own photo 1978- Gordons Vintners (the Green door)- Home of "George, Rich Bual Madeira - Good Company" - first visited around 1963.
Now become a "modern wine bar" I understand.
The caves used to go up as far as Charing Cross overground railway station! Posted by Hello

Hungerford Bridge - Part 1.

It had become a sort of ritual. When invited, usually on a Friday, but occasionally mid-week, I would take the Tube service from Clapham South (my parents living between Wandsworth and Clapham commons), the nearest tube station, to Charing Cross tube station. All on the Northern line, even a lad of 13/14 couldn't really get lost. He just had to be sure NOT to take the tube 'via Bank', and he would arrive safely within half an hour at the Charing Cross Embankment Station.
When you leave this tube station, you are presented immediately with Hungerford Bridge, but I dare say that the majority of people using the station,day in and day out, are not aware of the fact. All they know is that their office is not far away, and that they will be back at the same point of departure in about 10 hours, tired, weary,hungry, fed-up, and with no wish to look around them.
Which is a shame, because even without actually walking the bridge, there are some lovely things to see. The Embankment gardens, which represent a green spot with lots of flowers, the Thames river, just the other side of the 4 lane wide boulevard, and many other things we will come to.
The first thing is a strange looking window, painted over in a chocolate-brown colour, so that looking-in is impossible. This is the first building going up Villiers St., on the right hand side, and has a few steps going down to the Embankment Gardens.
Take these few steps down, and immediately on your left you will find a sort of entrance door, this one painted in green!
Many years ago, a famous columnist wrote in his column for the 'Evening News' an article entitled "What's behind the Green door?"
Well - I can tell you!
Known only in intime circles as "the Green Door", this is the entrance to "Gordons Free Vintners" a paradise of wine, good manners, old-worldliness, dry biscuits, and caves going up almost to the Charing Cross overground station. At the period of which I write, the place was known only by a few thousand regulars, which in a million plus city, is few.
The entry, by the green door is the one taken by initiates, whilst the entrance by the chocolate painted upstairs door is the errant tourist entrance.
The building and the green door entrance goes back to when the river Thames actually came right up to this point, and was used for transporting wines, spirits etc.
On the first floor, Rudyard Kipling wrote chapters of his 'Jungle Book' pouring rich bual Madeira down his throat, and one talks of Samuel Pepys, and others from cultural, literature, political circles, who used these quiet surroundings to relax.
Still, in the days of which I write, the clientele are mainly journalists and writers, politicians, actors and other creative individuals. In these overwhelming surroundings, a wee Scots lad got his first taste of said " Rich Bual Madeira - Good Company", together with dry biscuits to arrange the palate, thanks and grace of his mentor, served impeccably by George.
"This", said the wee Scots laddy to himself, "is my world!"
BUT - This is, or was at the epoch, the world of George.
George, ex-soldier (I beleive he was a mess waiter or something like that), had found his niche after the war (not so long ago) by accepting the invitation of one of his officer 'customers' to return to London, with him, and become the 'good angel' of the Green Door. Since then, in his own quiet, restrained, often frowning upon fashion (it didn't matter who it was, or his age or rank in society), George had run everything which concerned the customer/management aspect of Gordons, Free Vintners.
George ported his Indian Army moustache with bravour, and recognized the ex- Sergeant-Major qualities of my companion, Bill.
This was something George loved. Here he could trot out all of his butlering qualities, what matter if the Sergeant-Majors companion was a young lad, who even spoke with a Scottish accent. We became his favourite customers, without ever dropping to the frivolities of conversation. Outside of a "Hello, Sir - Bad weather today again I'm afraid" (or something to this order) I have never heard anything else from Georges' mouth, not even later (20 years later) as a faithful client, together with my wife - but he was always there immediately when he saw that the (FREE) biscuits were running out, or when our glasses were rather low.
The fact that I was obviously VERY under-age did not disturb him in the slightest.
I think he saw in me (correctly) the future of what he considered to be HIS establishment.
Of course, all this had a price, for Bill - I didn't have a farthing - and when the Rich Bual Madeira "Good Company", 2 glasses of, had to be paid (they cost, I beleive, 2 shillings each!!) the amount given was always 2 half-crowns! This was George's share and our thanks. Even 20 years later, as a Civil Servant, when I had the occasion to pass with my wife through George's hands (he hadn't changed at all, and he recognized me immediately on my first appearance after 20 years, saying "Bad weather again, sir, nice to see you again, Sir!!!) the financial arrangement hadn't changed, except it was no longer 2 shillings the glass, but almost a pound, and the amount given for our two glasses was £2.10 shillings. This was George's share, I expected it, he expected it, my wife didn't understand it and everybody was happy. No question as where my companion, Bill was, but on one occasion I recall, going to the Green Door with my wife, Kate, and Bill!
I recall the look in George's eyes, and I heard the unspoken words -" friends always stay friends, Sirs!!"
At the beginning my wife, Kate, did not understand, and often said to me afterwards, in the train going back home, that she found George something from another age. I recall saying to her that he was indeed, but so were we, and many others. It was later, after her first encounter with the need to use the toilet at the Green Door, that she finally understood the need for people like George, and his utter, total loyalty to HIS clients, and his total devotion to their needs. Half-a-crown/10 shillings extra? What a joke!
You must understand that at the epoque, going to the Toilet was quite an event, for everybody, at the Green Door. There was only one WC, and it was in an old annex to a room which had been used as an office by Scrooge. The door was 2 doors, one to go in and another to come out. One had to enter, cross the office space, enter the secondary small room, do what one had to do, and leave by one of the two doors, locking and unlocking as one went! A complicated procedure, and in the days when we were only male guests, we didn't bother locking and unlocking, unless there was a larger question than normal in the air!!
Now, wife required relief! I called George discreetly over, and informed him. "I shall arrange that, Sir" said he, and disappeared, only to reappear at the other door to the one and only WC. He had entered by one door, locked it behind himself (despite the complaints by some uncouth customer - later ignored) and now requested "Madame's presence, Sir, all is arranged!" Madame went (somewhat red in the face) and George locked the door after her, and stood guard, until Madame knocked discreetly on the glass door insert. George opened and Madame (somewhat relieved) came out.
This became a rituel every time we went!
10 bob isn't too expensive for such treatment is it?
Another of George's miracles was the packing of  'off-licence'  sales.
Take a bottle with you had to be announced to George very early in your visit.
After all, George's customers were special, sometimes Civil Servants, politicians, soldiers, journalists etc, etc, etc.
They could not leave the establishment with a paper bag and a bottle in it!
Plastic bags didn't exist, and George wouldn't have used them anyway. The package under the arm of George's customer had to be rectangular (not bottle shape), had to be in good quality brown packaging paper, and must be tied with real TWINE string, with a little bow tied in it to put your finger in, so as to carry the bottle 'laid down'. Rather like those anonymous brown paper packets you see people coming out of sex shops nowadays.
Of course, I always had the impression that everybody in the tube train KNEW what was in my brown paper package, and that I had been to see George! I also had the impression that they were ALL jealous!!
Such was the Green Door, such was George,such was Bill, such was I, myself, such was my wife, such was my life of the times.
It's all (or mostly) dead and gone, but it's nice to recall.

My Hungerford Bridge 'strolls' had various starting and finishing points over the years.

As a very young person (and certainly not present 'legally' in certain of the premises cited) up to an adult age, through single/married/widowed epoques.
I will start with those walks as a young person, around 14/15 years of age, recently arrived in the Capital from N. England, and with the accent of his country of origin still very strongly resounding!
For this reason, a preview is necessary, so that you may understand easier, the circumstances at the beginning.

My parents, and therefore I, had just moved down from the North of England, after the first few years in Scotland, to the Nations' capital, London.
My father, being a Minister of Religion at the time, was very occupied with his 'flock', and my mother, being a minister's wife, was interested in the minister, and his future!
Now this could have led to a rather boring existence for yours truly, but being relatively precoce and advanced, for my 13/14 years of age, I had other ideas.
I had the advantage, also, to have extremely naive parents, and when one of the neighbours (having had recourse to the spiritual/mental counselling of my father at a difficult period of his life) decided to interest himself in my education in the Capital, and accordingly asked my father's permission to invite me to various 'small events' in the Capital (like classical concerts/sports events etc) when he had occasion to obtain free entrance cards. My father was extremely pleased that this should be the case, and informed me that the neighbour "Bill" would like to occupy himself with me in my free time!
Now, I had only been in the Capital for a short period, had done nothing, gone nowhere, so I was only too pleased at this offer.
Being, as I say, relatively 'aware', it did not take me long to figure out that neighbour 'Bill' was not on the same 'wavelength' as most people.
This did not bother me terribly, and being at an impressionable age, I found it quite novel, amusing and interesting. Bill was unmarried, and was in his late 40's. An ex-professional soldier (Sergeant-major at the end) and lived next door to us, with his mother and his older sister.
Bill was not - I repeat - not, homosexual as such. He was not at ease in the company of females, and preferred the company of males, but was frightened what people may say (it was, after all, the end of the 50's/start of the 60's. He preferred therefore to have my company, knowing that I was just as much on my own as he was - if for different reasons - and he could, and did, introduce me as his nephew.
None of all this disturbed me, and absolutely nothing at all happened between myself and Bill, except that I found eventually a profound respect for this very unhappy person, who occupied himself with me and my life to an extent that not even many fathers would go to, and my father, don't forget, was in God's service, and had a flock to watch over!!
Bill became a football referee when the school team had need of one, became a cricket umpire if needs be, explained rules of athletics, tried to beat me at Tennis, took me to watch the various events which happened where he worked (he was a professional "tea-taster" for the Co-operative society in the Eastend of London, which pleased my mother, who had the right to regular FREE supplies of exceptionally good teas), and generally replaced a father, and a best friend.
It is important that the reader understands our relationship, for otherwise one could simply say "old man looking for young boy" which would not be untrue, but would be incorrect.
I finally had a great deal of respect for Bill, and took my future wife to meet him before I officially took her to meet my parents!!
I regret enormously not having kept in touch with Bill after leaving the Capital for the British Army duties, but I always recall these episodes with fondness, and certainly Part 1 is dedicated to Bill!
Only much later did they all come back into my mind, and I realised that they were really a sort of time-witness, of a time when life was easier, better, less complicated, despite the problems which existed.
Coming up - "Have you ever walked Hungerford Bridge" Part 1.

And that's the Truth - doesn't exist now! Posted by Hello

Subpages (1): Hungerford Bridge