Monday, 13 August 2018

The Bird in Hand

Bird in Hand, West End Lane (Dick Weindling, August 2018)

No.12 West End Lane was the Bird in Hand, first named in 1831 as a beerhouse run by James Paty, who had just gone bankrupt. He is described in the proceedings as a retailer of beer at Kilburn, formerly a timber dealer and stagecoach proprietor of Paddington Green. From 1840 to at least 1861 the owners of the beerhouse were William and George Verey who ran the Kilburn Brewery in the High Road near today’s Brondesbury Overground station.

Members of the same family ran the Bird in Hand for 70 years. It backed onto a crowded set of mainly working-class streets between Belsize Road and West End Lane, with more of the same across the High Road in Willesden. In 1861, Ellen Lovegrove was living with her uncle, a publican in Child’s Hill. She married William Grantham in 1866 but he died three years later at the Bird in Hand where he was almost certainly the beerhouse keeper. 

Ellen took over and the following year she married again, to George Miller. He ran the business until his death aged 75 in 1922. The couple had nine children, but tragically, their four-year old daughter Rose died of blood poisoning in 1884, just a week after a new pair of boots had grazed her heel. George Miller committed suicide in a very unusual way by drowning himself in a tub containing only 8½ inches of water. He was under the delusion that he was affected by a contagious disease. The inquest jury verdict was ‘suicide while of unsound mind’.

For the second time, Ellen took over the Bird in Hand and got a full license in the late 1920s. In 1926 the pub was described as having a public and a private bar, with a tap room at the rear. For a few years after Ellen’s death in 1932, her son George and then her daughter Ada, ran the pub. Ada had left by 1938, moving to nearby Mazenod Avenue. From about 1927 and until the 1990s, it was owned by the Truman’s group.

In November 1952 the Times reported a High Court case where Mrs Lilian Alice Joan Morgan, the tenant of the Bird and Hand, lost her case against Mrs Phyllis Broom of Brixton Hill. Phyllis and her husband, were hired by Mrs Morgan to manage the pub for three months. He was the manager and she worked behind the bar and made light refreshments. There was a trap door behind the bar which concealed a lift to the cellar. In February 1950 Mrs Broom fell through the open trap and was badly injured. In court, Mrs Morgan said it was Mr Broom’s negligence for leaving the trap open, and that Mrs Broom should sue her husband. The Lord Chief Justice quoted legal precedence which said that a wife could not sue her husband, and Phyllis was awarded damages of £367 and 5 shillings from Mrs Morgan.

Until quite recently there was a plaque on the wall, which recorded the height of the water that flooded the pub on 14 August 1975. It rose about a metre up the walls. That afternoon, parts of north London were hit by a violent thunderstorm and over six inches of rain fell in a few hours. Michael Keen who was in his 60s died of a heart attack in his basement flat in Brondesbury Villas while trying to move his furniture away from the water.
Plaque about the Flood (Dick Weindling, 2012)

After heavy rain you can still hear the old Kylebourne stream rushing through the drain outside the pub. The stream rose in Hampstead and ran downhill through West Hampstead and along what is today’s Kingsgate road. It passed under the High Road and flowed on to join the Westbourne which empted into the Serpentine. This part of West End Lane was the lowest point of the stream which was culverted over in the early 1860.

After about 170 years, the Bird in Hand closed in 2003, when an application to demolish and replace it with a block of seven flats was refused.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Remarkable Raymond Way

Opposite Belsize Road, the ground floor of Nos.67-75 Kilburn High Road were occupied from 1956 by Raymond Way Motors. For many years there was also a smaller site with an office and garage at No.10, on the corner of Greville Road. Over time Way had other outlets in the area and a motorcycle department at No.36 Willesden Lane.
Site of the Raymond Way showroom, (Dick Weindling, 2012)

The famous car and motorcycle company were founded by Douglas Raymond Way (1905-1981), who came to Kilburn in 1933. He was originally based in the old Humber car repair works in Canterbury Road (previously the Saxby and Farmer railway signal factory, which has now been demolished). It was the largest used-car dealership in Europe, selling 2,000 cars and motorbikes a year. ‘Don’t delay, buy your car the Raymond Way,’ was one of his best known slogans. The firm supplied cars for the television series Z Cars, and even had an aviation department, displaying a Piper aeroplane in the Kilburn showroom.

Way had an adventurous life and a variety of careers: as a fairground barker for the Wall of Death, a Brooklands racing driver, RAF pilot, boxing and wrestling promoter, farmer, Radio Luxembourg motoring correspondent and a Lloyds underwriter. He was a tough and hardworking businessman who became a millionaire.

Likeable and vastly entertaining, but loud and brash rather like the comedian Max Miller, Way lambasted his way to riches, owning a penthouse near the BBC in Portland Place and a farm in Berkhamstead. He was driven everywhere by his chauffeur in a Rolls Royce fitted with personalised number plates and a TV set. His voice was husky and he smoked using a long cigarette holder. He wrote on the back of a photo of his motor yacht ‘White Ghost’: ‘Every kid wants to wear loud ties and get his hair waved. And every millionaire wants to own a yacht. I’ve done the lot. Here’s my yacht, with me at the helm, after I had loaned her to the Admiralty when War began. We searched the Thames and the North Sea for mines. Thank God we never found any. After all, she was a nice yacht.’  Despite his wealth, Raymond stayed on first name terms with all the street traders in Kilburn, many of whom he had known for 30 years.

In the early 1960s Way sold his company to Kings Motors (Oxford) for £650,000, but the venture was not a success and he bought the firm back in 1967 for £400,000. He finally sold out to Moons Motors in 1973 for £750,000.

Douglas Raymond Way was born in 1905, the fourth in a family of five children of a bank clerk in Sutton. He went to the local primary school where he said he did as little work as possible. In contrast, his youngest brother studied hard, earned a scholarship to Cambridge, and became a stock broker.

Aged 16, Raymond found his first job as a ‘grease boy’ at a local garage for 15s a week. For a time he drove a ‘stop me and buy one’ pie van. He saved some money and with a friend, opened a small garage in Croydon but it failed to make money and they sold it after a year. Then he worked as a fairground ‘barker’ for a Globe of Death motorcycle show. He strongly believes his experience as a showman led to his future business success. He learned the value of exaggerating, shouting “Come and see the most amazing show on earth. Lady, I bet you’ve never seen a motor cyclist hurtling around a perpendicular wall at a hundred miles an hour! It’s the most thrilling sight in the world and it only costs you sixpence,’ Later he said, ‘Nobody ever got killed—there wasn’t far to fall and they don’t go fast really, you know.’

Way’s motor racing career started as an amateur driver of an Austin Seven at Brooklands in the early 1930s’. He later became a member of the pre-war Rover team competing in reliability trials. After WWII he gained success with his BMW 328 racing car competing in sprints and hill climbs.

BMW 328 (Wiki Commons, Lothar Spurzem)

In 1931 Way set up a second hand car business in Hamilton Mews in St Johns Wood (today it is called Hamilton Close, off St John’s Wood Road). His starting capital was just £50 and he bought four used cars. This was the time of the Great Slump with over 2.5M men unemployed. But he was sure people would still buy cars - if they were cheap enough. He needed a gimmick so he adapted Woolworths slogan at the time of ‘Nothing over 6d’, and said ‘Nothing Over Ten Pounds’. Gradually, he sold the cars and used the profit to buy more stock. The rain leaked through the roof, the plaster walls were cracked and the paint was peeling off the doors. He used the poor state of the building as part of his sales pitch. ‘There is nothing fancy about us. We don’t even paint the place! That’s why the prices are the lowest in London.’ He put up a sign on the old corrugated iron shed; ‘Please don’t come to buy cars when it’s raining as the roof leaks and I get my suit wet’.
1890s Map St Johns Wood showing Hamilton Mews in Red

Success meant he soon quit Hamilton Mews for somewhere bigger. He moved into the old Humber car works in 1933. As the business continued to expand he moved again, to Nos.67-75 Kilburn High Road and several other sites in the area.

By 1957 he had a 36 year old personal assistant called Mr Warrell who he had appointed from a major finance company. Interviewed by Robin Hancock for the Spectator, Way said: ‘I have 300 cars under one roof and at Willesden I’ve 700 motor- bikes on three floors. I’m selling 200 cars a week and seventy-five motor-bikes.’ As part of his millionaire manner each customer served by Mr. Way was given a cigar. These were Jamaican: ‘Set me back 4s. 6d. each; am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell? Right, Guv’nor.’ The previous year, he gave away 10,000 boxes of cigars. Each cigar was in a metal container on which was printed in red ‘Jolly Good Luck! Raymond Way of Kilburn.’ He said, ‘Sure they are good cigars, why I smoke them myself!’

Way liked the sight and sound of his own name. He spent £150,000 a year on press, poster and TV advertising and he was the motoring reporter for Radio Luxembourg. ‘My poster at Cricklewood - I think it just says, Two miles to Raymond Way—takes some beating for length. It’s 160 feet long.’

There was even a free coach to deliver people from the suburbs to the Kilburn showroom.

Way loved to buy the cars of the rich and famous. He had the black Buick in which the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson travelled during their honeymoon (bought for £455). He also owned the eight-ton Mercedes armoured car Field-Marshal Goering which was purchased for £1,050. Way said, ‘Couldn’t get rid of it, I had to sell it to the Montagu Motor Museum in the end’.

Other cars of his had belonged to George Bernard Shaw, Earl Mountbatten, Eva Braun, Marilyn Monroe and Sir Winston Churchill. He said oil financier Calouste Gulbenkian’s London taxi was, ‘The dearest taxi in the world at £6,300'. It was built by Rolls-Royce on a standard taxi base. He exhibited the cars which made the name of Raymond Way well-known around the country, but they also raised money for charity. ‘We got £10,000 for charities last year by charging a bob a nob to see ‘em. Am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell? ‘Right, Guv’nor.’

The Guv’nor was a great car collector himself. ‘Just now I have seven and they range from Rolls-Royces to a Land-Rover.’ His most spectacular was a 23-ft.-long, all-white Cadillac, known to all at Kilburn as ‘The Creep’ which he hired to film companies.

All the cars used regularly by Raymond Way had built-in tape recorders. This enabled him to dictate letters and memoranda between jobs and on the way to work. It was part of Mr. Warrell’s job to turn these terse, taped messages into the banalities of business. So Mr. Way’s command, ‘Tell this bastard to take a jump,’ emerges on notepaper headed ‘From the Desk of the Managing Director’ as something like ‘Mr. Way thanks you for your kind letter but he regrets …..

With nostalgia Way recalled some of the car-buyers of pre-war days. ‘Lord Flapdoodle would come in with his girlfriend and buy her a big car. Next day she would be round to flog it again for £300 less than the old cock gave. Then you could sell it again to her when she brought a new punter in. I’ve sold a motor three times in one day without taking it out of the showroom.’

In 2001 Andrew English interviewed Fred Way, Raymond’s son, for the Daily Telegraph. Raymond Way found time for three marriages at the same time working seven-days a week trading cars. ‘He had complete devotion to the business,’ says Fred, who started working with his hard-nosed father for 30 shillings a week at the Canterbury Road showroom. ‘He attracted tremendous loyalty from the staff, who were paid a basic wage of one pound a week, plus one pound commission on every car sold.’

Bizarrely, there was a full size mechanical elephant in the showroom, which fascinated children, but the staff complained was always breaking down.

He employed ex-wrestler ‘Man Mountain’ Ray St Bernard at the showrooms, from his days as a promoter.

‘There was a huge mirror on the back wall of the showroom in Kilburn High Road to make it seem enormous," recalls Fred. ‘That was one of dad’s ideas.’ He was bursting with promotional ideas - nothing illegal, but he wasn’t above easing the wool over a few punters’ eyes on occasions. Prices were always in guineas to give a sense of class. ‘If you’d made a mistake buying a car in too expensively, he’d stick a star in the windscreen,’ said Fred. ‘Customers thought it meant the car was a star buy, but in fact it meant the car had to be sold quickly.’

New Year 1939 advert
Way wrote all the press adverts, promoting an almost permanent sale at the showroom. He talked about his more bizarre part exchanges for cars: pianos, parrots in cages, dray horses, radiograms, even crockery sets were taken in.

In 1951, a motorcycle showroom was opened in Willesden Lane. Local celebrities were serenaded by the famous band leader Harry Roy at a big opening party that Way managed to combine with the Festival of Britain celebration. At one point the band leader was seen dancing with the girls, but Way was having none of it. Fred said, ‘My father strode up and asked him what he thought he was doing,’ Harry Roy replied, ‘I’m dancing’. But my dad said, ‘I don’t pay you to dance. Now get up on stage and stay there if you want paying.’

Raymond Way died on 15 Oct 1981 and left £889,135 (today worth about £3.25M) to his widow Mary. She was his third wife who died in 1996.

There is a British Pathe film clip about Goering’s armoured car:

Today, the name of Raymond Way is largely forgotten, but as we have shown he was a great showman and a major figure in Kilburn.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Old Swimming Baths in Kilburn

Today there are no swimming baths in Kilburn and the nearest is at Swiss Cottage. If you are old enough you may remember the Granville Road Baths, but there were two older baths which have now been completely forgotten. One was on the Hampstead (Camden) side of the Kilburn High Road and the other, on the Willesden (Brent) side.

The Kilburn Baths
The first to open on 1 April 1868 were in a small building constructed by local builder John Cawley in Osborne Terrace, Goldsmiths Place on the Hampstead side. Today their site lies under the rear of the SO Quartier Maida Vale block at 34a-36 Kilburn High Road, near the Old Bell pub.
Advert for Kilburn Baths (c 1870)

In 1870 Dr Dudgeon described the pool as follows:
‘It is 15 yards long by 6 yards wide; constructed of cement rounded off at the angles. Its depth is from 3 to 4 and a half feet. The boxes are at the entrance end, 12 in number, with three quarter doors, plainly painted buff, without mirrors. The floor here is of cement or asphalte (sic). Round the other side of the bath is a narrow ledge, and at the further and deeper end is a spring-board. The walls, coloured with light blue size, (then used to prepare plastered walls for decoration) rise up from this ledge and support a doubled sloped ceiling braced with light iron rods. The top of the ceiling is of glass along its whole length, giving sufficient illumination. The water is tolerably clear and fresh; but the cement of which the bath is constructed, being discoloured, gives it a dirty look. The ventilation is not good; it has a stuffy feeling. This bath is reserved for ladies on Monday till 2 o’clock. It is first class on three days of the week, second class on the other three.’

At the time it was rented by Sidney Fuller from Cawley but he only stayed a few years and left to become a coffee house keeper in Whitechapel. The next proprietor was a interesting man called Alfred William Ward, who was a professional swimmer and diver. He had various trades before becoming a teacher of swimming about 1876.

The Regents Park Disaster
In January 1867, before he came to Kilburn, Ward worked for the Royal Humane Society (RHS) as an ‘iceman’, someone who tried to keep people safe and help skaters in trouble. As soon as rivers or lakes froze over hundreds of people took to the ice. Heavy snow had blanketed London during early January 1867. The lake in Regent’s Park was thronged with skaters and sliders but by late afternoon on the 14 January, their numbers had dwindled to a few hundred. The centre of activity was a broad sheet of ice in front of Hanover Gate. Hundreds of spectators lined the shore to watch friends and family, as enterprising salesmen hired skates to eager customers. But the condition of the ice wasn’t good and it was getting worse. That afternoon, several people had fallen through into the water. They had got out safely but groups of skaters rushing to see what had happened put the ice under more stress. The icemen on duty repeatedly tried to get people to leave the ice. Alfred Ward had warned skaters in no uncertain terms, ‘For God Almighty’s sake go off, or there will be a general calamity before long.’ In return, all he got was insults. Disaster struck soon after 4pm: the ice collapsed, plunging about 200 skaters into the lake, which was 12 feet deep in places, with a thick layer of mud on the bottom.
The Regents Park Ice Disaster (IPN 19 January 1867)

There was complete chaos as the terrified skaters thrashed about in the freezing water, weighed down by heavy clothes and skates. Within minutes around 100 people had struggled to the shore or one of the islands where they waited to be rescued while others lay flat or clung to pieces of ice and floated to the edge. But some became chilled and let go, with ‘the most piteous calls for help and then sinking with dismal wailings to their death.’ A joined-up rope was stretched from shore to shore, and a few skaters managed to grab it. The RHS had a couple of wicker boats and there were other beached pleasure craft that were launched, but it was hard to push them through the partially broken ice. It was in the middle of the lake that the tragedy played out, where rescue ladders were useless and the broken, lumpy ice hindered the passage of any boat.

‘Women rushed about on the banks screaming out that their children or husbands, or brothers were drowning, and imploring the bystanders to save them. Boys and girls stood hysterically crying and wringing their hands, and between their sobs exclaiming, “Oh, look at father!” Strong men appealed to those who had no had no means of help and pointed out friends and relations struggling in the agonies of death’. Once enough ice had been cleared, the grim task of recovering those who had drowned could begin and went on for several days: ‘All that remained was floating hats and sticks’.

40 skaters and sliders died making this the worst ice accident in the UK’s history. Ward rescued a number of people from the freezing water and was one of several men paid a reward by the RHS. Others were awarded medals. There were no women or girls among the dead, most of whom came from Marylebone, Islington, Camden and Kentish Towns: working men, students and a few professionals. The youngest was Charles Jukes, age 9; the oldest 40. Nearly half were under 20. A black retriever dog, thought to belong to one of the dead, remained by the lake for several days, in great distress and refusing food.

In the 1881 census Alfred Ward aged 37, a teacher of swimming and dancing, was living at 8 Prospect Place, which was later numbered as No.62 Kilburn High Road. Ward and seven or eight of his children became professional entertainers as ‘Ward’s Water Wonders’, swimmers and tank divers, appearing at many venues including Hengler’s Circus in Argyle Street on the site of the later London Palladium.

In 1883 Ward and his 9 year old son Alfred junior, who was wearing Ward’s patent waterproof life saving dress, attempted to cross the Channel. A newspaper gave a report:

‘At 2.15 on the afternoon of the 12th September a lad named Alfred Ward landed at Folkestone, having paddled in a lifesaving dress from Dover. He left Admiralty Pier at 10.30 and consequently was nearly four hours on the journey. The boy was accompanied by his father and a Dover pilot, Thomas Betts. The temperature of the boy’s body was well sustained but be appeared much fatigued. He had intended to try to cross the Channel but has now given up the idea.

The apparatus somewhat resembles that used by divers, only it is much lighter. Made in one piece, it closes round the neck, a thin elastic helmet fitting down over the head and partly hiding the face. Beside this there are a thin pair of India rubber half shoes, a pair of gloves and a paddle. The lad is held up in the water in an upright posture by a cork life buoy.’

Alfred’s daughter Minnie Ward became a famous swimmer who appeared in ‘Professor’ Frederick Beckwith’s (champion of England in 1861), ornamental swimming show with other female swimmers. She toured around the country with the show between 1889 and 1893.

Alfred Ward was at the Kilburn Baths from at least 1875 to about 1886. It had struggled to make money, closed and was eventually taken over by Ropers, the large Bon Marche store on the High Road.

The Pembroke Road Baths
The second baths in Kilburn were built in 1882 in Pembroke Road by Charles Kellond. It was described as a large swimming bath, 64ft by 33ft with an average depth of 6ft. Pembroke Road, which had been laid out in the 1860s, was renamed as Granville Road and the baths were renumbered as Nos.56-58. In November 1893 after refitting, it became the ‘Kilburn Gymnasium and Athletic Institute’ for physical exercise and boxing, both professional and amateur. Boxing was very popular in the heavily working class area of Kilburn. There was seating for 700 people and large crowds turned up to see local fighters. Ned Flynn, an omnibus driver who was also a competitive race walker, ran the Kilburn Gymnasium. In 1898 a local committee held a benefit concert to raise money for Ned who had been unwell and off work for several months.
The empty Pembroke Road Baths in 1901 (Martin Percival)

In 1901 the building was bought by the Kilburn Times who published their paper from there. In September 1944 the print works was hit by an incendiary bomb. In 1952 the company decided to move to Newspaper House at 313 Kilburn Lane, and the first issue was printed there in March 1955.

The Granville Baths
Co-incidentally the third baths were also in Granville Road, these were the last to be built in Kilburn. Many houses in this congested area did not possess bathrooms and Willesden Council decided they would build a swimming pool for leisure and exercise but also provide a laundry and 48 slipper baths for washing. Eventually by means of a compulsory purchase order, the Council acquired a row of terraces with stables and cottages at the rear, and the building was designed specifically for this confined site.
1950s Map, with the old Pembroke Baths now Kilburn Times Print Works (Red), and the Granville Road Baths (Blue)

The baths were next to the Duke of Cambridge pub on the corner with Cambridge Road. The swimming pool was opened 3 July 1937. Dimensions were 100ft x 33ft with depth of 10ft at the deep end. The pool had a 5 metre board, 3 metre and 2.5 metre platform boards, plus 1 and 3 metre springboards. The Southern Counties Diving Competition was held here. In 1949 Willesden Council published a user survey showing the slipper baths were not well patronised by residents, nor were the swimming facilities here and elsewhere in the Borough, but the laundry was popular.
Granville Road Baths (nd)

The Granville Road Baths were demolished in 1990. Flats were built together with the Tabot Centre (1998), a youth centre for after school hours projects. Most of Granville Road has been redeveloped apart from the Duke of Cambridge pub, which today is a residential property.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Kilburn State Cinema

Most people who live here know the local landmark the Kilburn State and its 120 feet tower. When it opened in December 1937 as the Gaumont State, it was the largest purpose built cinema in Europe with 4,004 seats. Today it is a Grade II* listed building.
Kilburn State, 2015, (Dick Weindling)

What was there before the cinema was built? 
Stand and Deliver!
Originally there was a large house on the site called The Elms, which was home to a number of wealthy people. These included the widower John Ebbers who moved in with his two daughters in 1832. He was a publisher in Old Bond Street and the manager of the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (which is now Her Majesty’s Theatre). In 1826 he met a young writer called William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882) who had moved to London from Manchester. It was an eventful year for Ainsworth; Ebbers published his first novel ‘Sir John Chiverton’ and he married Ann Frances or ‘Fanny’, Ebbers’ youngest daughter.

While living at The Elms with the Ebbers, Ainsworth began to write a novel called ‘Rookwood’ which was published in 1834. It is a fictitious story of Dick Turpin, but includes the story many of us heard at school, about his famous ride to York on Black Bess. Ainsworth also includes a scene in the novel which he sets at Kilburn, at the ‘Jack Falstaff’ pub, which he modelled on The Cock Inn. But there is no evidence that Turpin was ever in Kilburn or Hampstead, most of his robberies were in Essex.

The novel sold extremely well and Ainsworth followed it up with more stories including one about Jack Sheppard, another famous highwayman. In 1835 his marriage to Fanny failed and the couple separated, Ainsworth moving with his three daughters to Kensal Lodge. Fanny died on 6 March 1838 in Notting Hill. Ainsworth died in 1882 while living at Reigate and he is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Allen and Sons
John Allen and his sons built many of the houses in the Hemstal and Lowfield Road area. In 1887 they constructed the large building in Kingsgate Road, which today is the Kingsgate Workshops, home to more than 50 artists. About 1894 Allen and Sons left Kingsgate Road and moved across the Kilburn High Road to The Elms site. The old house was converted into offices and they built a factory in the grounds called the Palmerston Works. The building firm prospered and in 1901 it obtained a large contract to build the new stands at Ascot Race Course, where they employed 500 men.

1894 map, showing Kingsgate Workshops in Red, and Palmerston Works in Blue

Kilburn Aerodrome and the Central Aircraft Company
In November 1916 Richard Cattle, another London carpentry firm, combined with the Allens, and opened the Central Aircraft Company at No.179 High Road, Kilburn. They build wooden Centaur aircraft which they initially flew from ‘Kilburn Aerodrome’ (as it was jokingly called, but which was really a nearby field on Willesden Lane), before offering flying courses and joy rides from Northholt Aerodrome. The company was very successful and sold flights over London, Kent and the Welsh beauty spots, even going as far as the Belgian battlefields, with prices ranging from £2/3/6 up to £60. By June 1920 there were 100 flights a week over London.

A Centaur Aircraft, built by CAC

CAC thought that people would have their own private aircraft, just as they had cars. You could buy a Centaur for £250 (the equivalent of over £7,000 today). But the project wasn’t a success. A further setback occurred in September 1920. Seven people died when a twin-engine Centaur hit the ground soon after taking off from Northolt. The aircraft company closed in May 1926 and went back to furniture making.

The State Cinema
In August 1937 the Palmerston Works on Kilburn High Road and Willesden Lane was bought by the Gaumont Super Cinemas Ltd who were looking for a site for a large cinema.

The State, designed by the renowned cinema architect George Coles, and reminiscent of the Empire State building in New York (1931), opened in December 1937 at a cost of £320,000 (about £19M today). The opulent decorations included black marble pillars, pink mirrors, and candelabra which was a replica of one in Buckingham Palace. Queen Mary (grandmother of Queen Elizabeth), paid regular visits to the Gaumont State matinee performances, saying it was her favourite cinema and she preferred to go there rather than the West End.

Regular film prices were 9d and 1/- for the stalls, and from 1/6 to 3/6d for the circle.

Gaumount State, c1938, (English Heritage)

There was a magnificent Wurlitzer organ that rose from beneath the large stage which still survives today. A special broadcasting room was built in the tower and this allowed Van Dam and his State Orchestra and Sidney Torch the organist, to be heard regularly on the radio. In January 1939 Sidney Torch played a special programme of music which the Nazi had banned in Germany, to raise funds for refugees. The following year in February Torch was playing his selection of classical music to a large audience during the interval between films. What they didn’t realise was that his foot had become trapped between the steel stage and the half-ton organ. After he finished playing, Sidney bowed to the audience and pressed the button for the organ to descend. In hospital it was found that he had broken his big toe and damaged his foot. He was unable to play for several weeks.

The opening night was a major event with huge crowds. The programme had the band of the Grenadier Guards and featured major stars of the day: Gracie Fields, George Formby, Henry Hall, Vic Oliver and Larry Adler. 

Opening night programme, 20 December 1937

The excellent Arthur Lloyd site has a full copy of the opening night programme here:

As a large London venue, the cinema was ideal for major concerts, ballet and musicals. Here are a few of the people who have played at The State:

  • Paul Robeson, the famous American singer and equal rights activist, 1937.

  • On 23 July 1938 the Hyams brothers who ran the State, organised a midnight performance to raise money for Eddie Cantor’s fund for refugee children from Nazi Germany. This was an amazing show with Paul Robeson, Max Miller, George Formby, Gracie Fields, Lupino Lane, and many other stars of the day. Eddie Cantor was the compere; he told jokes, sang songs and even appeared in golden curls and rompers to imitate Shirley Temple singing ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’. The show was a great success.

Hot Club of Paris

  • Django Reinhardt, the gypsy jazz guitarist, with violinist Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of Paris, July 1938 and August 1940.

  • In the 1940s there was the ‘Jazz Jamboree’ shows with British musicians, such Geraldo and his orchestra, and Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, (the first UK black band leader), who was tragically killed by a bomb which fell through the Café de Paris where he was appearing on 8 March 1941.

  • Frank Sinatra, 21 June 1953 as part of his UK tour.

  • The Count Basie band, 24 November 1957, and March 1962.

  • Harry Belafonte, 10 August 1958. He had a huge hit with ‘Day-O’, better known as ‘The Banana Boat Song’ (1957). He starred in several films and was an early supporter for US civil rights.

  • More ‘Jazz Jamboree’s followed in the 1950s with English bands such as Tubby Hayes, Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth, and Humphrey Lyttelton.

  • ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ had the top American stars, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane in the late 1950s and 1960s.

  • During the rock and roll era all the major bands played at the State. I was at two of these gigs: Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Buddy Holly

  • During their tour of England, Buddy Holly and the Crickets performed at the State to a sell-out audience on 2 March 1958. It was a punishing tour lasting from 1-25 March, with two shows every night. Less than a year later on 3 February 1959, tragically Buddy died in a plane crash which also killed Ritchie Valens and the ‘Big Bopper’ (J.P. Richardson). This became known as ‘The Day The Music Died’ from Don Mclean’s song ‘American Pie’.

Jerry Lee Lewis with his young wife Myra, May 1958

  • On 25 May 1958 Jerry Lee Lewis played the second night of his UK tour at the State. But that day the press headlines revealed he had married his 13 year old cousin Myra. Some of the audience screamed for his big hit ‘Great Balls of Fire’, others shouted ‘Go home cradle snatcher!’ The noise was so loud Lewis stopped the show and walked off. The tour had to be abandoned and the subsequent media storm ruined Jerry’s career for many years. Cliff Richard and the Shadows were in the audience and got to meet Jerry backstage.

  • Duke Ellington, 15 August 1958 and 26 Oct 1958 at the beginning and end of the UK tour.

  • Louis Armstrong, 28 April and 1 March 1959.
Cliff Richard programme, 1959

  • Cliff Richard and The Shadows, 16-21 Nov 1959.
Beatles on the stairs of the State, 1964

  • The Beatles, 9 April 1963 and 23 October 1964.

  • The Rolling Stones, 19 November 1963.

  • David Bowie, 13 June 1973.

  • Deep Purple, 22 May 1974, live album recorded.

  • Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart, Keith Richards, billed as 'Woody and Friends', 14 July 1974. ‘The Return of Woody Wood Breaker’ was recorded live and released in 1992. In 2007 a DVD of the show called the 'The First Barbarians: Live from Kilburn' was released.

  • Ian Dury and the Blockheads, 22 December 1978.
His band ‘Kilburn and the High Roads’ formed in 1970/1971, has led many people to believe that Ian was from Kilburn. Although his parents briefly lived at 1b Belsize Road when they married in 1938, they moved to Harrow Weald where Ian was born in May 1942. He never lived in Kilburn, but liked the name. In 1970 he and his friend the pianist Russell Hardy, were driving up the High Road when Ian said, ‘I’ve thought of a great name for the band. What about Kilburn and the High Roads’. The Kilburns played their first gig in December 1971 in Croydon.

Plus many more.

Decline of The Kilburn State
With the rising popularity of TV, the number of people going out to films declined. In September 1957, some seats in the State cinema were removed to provide a ballroom, and the Victor Sylvester dance studio. About 1960 the main cinema was reduced further to 2,800 seats and the building divided to form a bingo hall. A second smaller film screen was added in 1975. The main cinema closed in September 1980 and the smaller screen the following year. After a gap of several years, the smaller cinema became the Odeon Kilburn from 1985 to June 1990. After which the State was only used for Top Rank bingo. Later this became the Mecca bingo club which closed in 2007. The building was sold in December 2007 to Ruach Ministries reputedly for £5.5M. They opened it in 2009 and are still there today.

On 20 April 2018 Andrew Holness, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, addressed a packed audience at the State. He told them he had just met Theresa May who reassured him about the future of the ‘Windrush’ generation in Britain.

You can see Anna Bowman’s 2007 film of 70 years at the State here:

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Widow and the Mysterious Marquis

Grace Maud Babb was born in Plaistow West Ham in 1896, the daughter of a boilermaker. In the June quarter of 1915 she married Charles Robert Ewbank Edmundson. This was a marriage of different classes as he was the son of a wealthy solicitor living in Nutwith House, Masham Yorkshire, who was clerk to various councils and organisations. Grace and Charles’ daughter Grace Elizabeth was born on 13 September 1915 in Hitchen, so Grace may have been pregnant when they married.
Charles was educated at Asygarth School and Marlborough College and in 1913 he became a solicitor in his father’s office. When War broke out he joined the York and Lancaster Regiment where he became a Captain in July 1915 and was sent to the Front on 27 August. Aged 24, Charles died on 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle of Somme. This was the worst day in the history of the British Army when 57,470 men were injured, of whom 19,240 died. He is buried in the Adanac Military Cemetery in Miraumont in Northern France, (the name of the cemetery is Canada reversed, and the bodies of many Canadian troops were moved here). Despite such a tragically short marriage, Charles left Grace well provided with £3,281, (worth over £204K today). At the time Grace and her young daughter were living at 14 Cathcart Hill in Tufnell Park.
Charles Edmundson in Army uniform
By 1921 Grace had moved to Hampstead and was living at 48 Willoughby Road. In 1927 she inherited about £60,000 (worth over £3M today) from 57 year old Edward Grattan Foley, who died from a heart attack on 8 May at Grace’s new home, 27 Highcroft Gardens in Golders Green. He had been living with her for the past 18 months, and was the son of Patrick Foley who had founded the Pearl Assurance Company in 1864. 

By 1930 Grace had moved to ‘Frimley’ 554 Finchley Road. She was living here when she was introduced to the Marquis de Mont-Falcon on 29 July 1934 at a tea party in Shepperton. Grace said, ‘Within two hours he said he loved me. That was typical of the man – an amazing and overwhelming personality. After that he courted me at a whirlwind pace. I confess that he made a deep impression on me’. Within a week they became lovers; he moved into her house and promised to marry her. 

He told Grace many stories about his past life: that his father was a general in the British Army and his mother was an Arabian princess, and his ancestral home was Goldstone in Shropshire. He said he was in the Secret Service and in 1931 had taken letters to King Alfonso of Spain which helped him to escape the revolution. For this service the Marquis had been given £500 by the King’s secretary, who said he wished it could have been £5,000. He told Grace that he was an intimate friend of kings and princes, and his diamond tie pin was a gift from the King of England. The Marquis also told Grace he had been the Chief of Police in Cairo and served in the Australian Light Horse cavalry during the War. Grace said that when he wore uniform or evening dress he always had a string of medals.

But the Marquis was a fake. In April 1935 Maurice Mount (or Mont) Falcon, The Marquis de Goldstone, a 35 year old metallurgical engineer of the Mount Royal Hotel in Oxford Street, appeared in court. He was charged with obtaining £3,000 by false pretences from Grace Maud Edmundson of 554 Finchley Road. He said his real name was Maurice Joseph Goldstone and admitted he used the various titles out of vanity. Mrs Edmundson had given him the money to start a monthly magazine called ‘Diplomatic and Political News’, which would give details of the activities of people in Embassies and Legations. He believed this would make a lot of money from the adverts placed in it. 

He had a coronet on his card, cigarette case, and even his many pairs of silk pyjamas. The motto of his crest translated as, ‘I do not change until I die’ and laughter burst out in court when the ‘crested’ pyjamas were mentioned. Maurice had also told Grace that the order he wore around his neck, was that of a Knight of the Grand Cross of Danilo, presented to him by the Prince of Montenegro. Further laughter greeted the counsel’s quick response, ‘Are you sure that it wasn’t the order of Dan Leno, the popular comedian’. In all, sixty-eight medals were found when his flat was searched by the police.

Grace said Maurice had changed after she gave him the £3,000. He became very quarrelsome and jealous: he wrote out a list of all the men she knew which included butchers, bakers and milkmen. She described Mont-Falcon as evil-minded. There was a scene at the Café Royal when she called him a crook and a blackmailer and hit him with her handbag. He tried to gas himself in her bathroom to frighten her. They split up several times, but Maurice phoned her and said he would cut his wrists and die on her doorstep if she did not see him again. 

Grace said things got particularly bad after she had gone to see the famous American spiritualist medium Miss Gene Dennis, who appeared at the London Palladium in April 1934 on her English tour. In America Dennis gave readings for movie stars like Joan Crawford and Lionel Barrymore, and even President Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. Maurice was afraid of what had been said; they had a heated argument and Grace asked for the £3,000 back. He replied, ‘You won’t get your money, I have gambled it all away’. A few days later, after she consulted her solicitor, he gave her a cheque for £2,000, but it was refused by the bank when she tried to draw the money. In Maurice’s defence, his counsel said Grace frequently gave money to men she was in love with. He questioned her about an incident in 1931 when she had given £5,000 to a man in Paris. Grace replied, ‘These men find I am not a poor woman, they swear their love for me and then exploit me’.

After the four-day trial at the Old Bailey, Maurice Goldstone was found guilty and sentenced to three years imprisonment with 12 months of hard labour. 

Who was the Marquis?
As a con man he has been difficult to trace. He was born in Egypt in 1900, as Maurice Joseph Goldstein, but he used Goldstone and several other aliases. His parents were Jewish; rather than a general, his father was a jeweller and dealer in precious stones in Cairo. Aged 16 Maurice joined the Jewish volunteers known as the Zion Mule Corps. In 1923 he had been in the Cairo police, but only as a constable for three months. Frederick Walters said he knew him as Morris Joe Goldstein, but when he came back from France he had changed his name to Goldstone.

At his bankruptcy hearing on 8 Aug 1932, he was called Maurice Jay d’Avison de Goldstone, of No.9 Cleveland Gardens Hyde Park, and he gave his occupation as a secret service agent. His debts were £354. In 1932 in Paris he was known as the Duc de Montfaucon and sentenced to two months imprisonment for issuing a worthless cheque. The following year in Brussels he was imprisoned for a month and eight days for using a false name and assuming a noble title. He was expelled from France and Belgium.

In February 1932 a newspaper item appeared concerning Captain Marquis de Goldstone, Count D’Avison, the secretary-general of the Royal Stuart Society, which aimed to preserve the monarchies of Europe. He took part in a procession to the statue of King Charles I in Whitehall. As Maurice spoke fluent French, German and Italian, he acted as the master of ceremonies at the annual Royal Stuart dinner at Grosvenor House. 

The 1932 Royal Stuart dinner

When the Society received ‘certain information’ about him he was dismissed, and he dropped out of fashionable society. He was described as resembling the actor and film director Erich von Stroheim, complete with monocle, but much better looking.

In 1917 he worked as a translator for Prince Peter of Montenegro, and seems to have obtained finances for him when he was impoverished. The Prince died in May 1932. It appears that Maurice was telling the truth when he said was given the Order of Danilo by the Prince for his help. Goldstone liked women and had mistresses in Cairo, Paris, Brussels and London. A friend said when he got some money for his life story he bought a fast car and wanted to earn his living on the race track at Brooklands. 

From 1929 to 1932 Goldstone worked for Maundy Gregory, as the foreign correspondent of the ‘St James Review and the Pall Mall Gazette’. He had taken letters from Gregory to several ministers in foreign cabinets but refused to give any details, claiming the international Secrets Acts, and worried that he might be killed as a spy. In court he said the fake title of Marquis, and the others he used, had been helpful in his work. Maundy Gregory had a network of informants in all the London hotels, and during WWI he supplied information to Basil Thompson at Special Branch about potential German spies. 

Gregory worked for David Lloyd George to raise money for the Liberal Party: one of many ‘honour touts’. But in 1933 he was found guilty of selling honours: the only man ever convicted on this offence. It appears that Gregory did use Maurice Goldstone for diplomatic espionage work, so his occupation of secret service agent during his bankruptcy hearing was probably correct.

After the Trial
In 1939 Mrs Edmundson’s daughter Grace Elizabeth, married Frederick Pleasants, a surveyor and partner in a firm of estate agents, who was the captain of the Hendon Rugby Club. Grace Maud moved to Hendon in the 1940s and 50s and then to Hove by 1957. When she died on 5 February 1974, Grace was living at 279 Kingsway, Hove. She was still a wealthy woman and left £67,932 worth about £650K today.

The ‘Marquis’ disappeared after he came out of prison, and unfortunately we have not been able to trace what happened to him.