From the Waterloo Tatooist to Charlie Brown’s Roundabout.

My trip up to Barbican Library often starts at South Woodford where my parents live, near to Charlie Browns roundabout on the A406. This is not particularly exciting but its relevance will be seen as we go along.

One of the books from my last visit to Barbican Library has again proved fascinating. A Camera on Unknown London by E O Hoppe was published in 1936 but this edition proudly displays Reissued at a cheaper price 1937. Its a collection of photographs of unusual London curiosities. The book has a feeling that I should know all these places but they all seem to need further exploration to see if they are still there. Mr Burchett the Tattooist at 72 Waterloo road. The Smugglers jugs in the cellars of the Hoop and Grapes in Aldgate. The shop selling imported skeletons for artists drawings and medical students at 18 Fitzroy street. I can seem me referring back to this book again for some further jaunts to explore the stories.

However, one entry caught my eye. A Tavern Museum. This Public House at the time of the book was known as Charlie Brown’s but had started out as The Railway Tavern  which stood on the corner of Garford Street and 114-116 West India Dock Road. The original Charlie Brown, who had been a boxer, was a successful landlord of The Railway Tavern from 1892 until his death in 1932. His funeral was a grand affair with his burial at Bow cemetery said to be attended by 16,000 people. During his time as Landlord, he’d built up a collection of curios which he displayed. People say he’d collected them from sailors and dockworkers who’d frequented the pub but actually, he was a shrewd collector who had sourced the items from dealers and built up his collection with pieces he liked. On his death, the collection was split between his son, Charlie Brown Junior and daughter, Ethel Chandler. It was Ethel who kept on The Railway Tavern with her husband Tom, displaying her half of the curios and  the name Charlie Browns. Charlie Brown Junior took his half of the curios over the road to the Blue Posts pub and opened his Charlie Browns. Confusing I know.

charliebrownsThe book gives directions to The Railways Tavern and shows this picture. I’m thinking it might be Ethel among the curios rather than over the road at the Blue Posts where Charlie was host. It gives an idea of what the place might have looked like.

In 1938, Just after the book was written, Charlie Brown Junior moved to The Roundabout Public House at Woodford. Those who know the area or Travel the A406 will see the link. On the Corner, near Raven Road, this large pub quickly became Charlie Browns and was distinctive for the Model Roundabout outside on a pole. In 1972, the Pub was demolished along with much of the area, to widen the roundabout and Southend Road as well as the flyovers for the M11.

The Railway Tavern survived a little longer but was demolished in 1989 to make way for  Westferry station on the Docklands Light Railway and the construction of the Limehouse Link Tunnel. They say that the funeral in 1932 of Charlie Brown senior has never been exceeded except for Ronnie Kray.And that gets me thinking about the rumours of a body, disposed of in the concrete pillars of the M11. Maybe I’ll walk a little faster as I walk under the subway to cross Charlie Browns.

Below is a film clip showing the area at the time. Fascinating.

The Seagull and the Harmonium

I told you in my last post that I had a half remembered story about a Harmonium and here it is. You couldn’t make it up. I had to ask my Dad for the details and here they are such as we can remember. It concerns Ivor Cutler, Scottish poet, songwriter and humourist. My Dad had always told me that the Harmonium that Ivor Cutler accompanied himself with on several recordings was his.A bold claim and one worth investigating.

Me: Dad, how is it that Ivor Cutler ended up with your Harmonium?

Dad: Well, I had a tubular bell, but I swapped it with the lady with the performing seagull for the harmonium.

Me: Why did the lady with the seagull want the tubular bell?

Dad: Well the seagull couldn’t play the harmonium.

You couldn’t make it up. It seems that in Leytonstone in the 1950’s, there lived a theatrical family. The trained seagull, called Peter after their son who died, had star roles in films. My Dad did mention Kes, but I can’t see a seagull having the acting skills to play a Kestrel with any conviction. She also had a crocodile, or so we are told.The husband was a ventriloquist who never got other the death of his son, replacing him with the dummy but I know no more than that. My Dad swapped his tubular bells (origin unknown) for this family’s harmonium. Had he kept his Tubular Bells, he might have been on Mike Oldfield’s Records. I’m guessing that the harmonium proved too much for Beachcroft Road. A friend of Dad’s, also in the film business heard that Ivor Cutler was on the hunt for a Harmonium and the deal was done.

All of this sounds rather fantastic, in the true sense of the word, but there are several things that make this sound plausible. Firstly, my mum had Ivor Cutler records in her box of singles. Secondly, as children, we were all brought up at bath time singing “I am the boo boo bird” which features on Ivor Cutler of Y’Hup released in January 1959. This was usually accompanied by drying our  parts that the bird mentions in the song, with a towel while standing on the toilet lid. When singing “I’m Invisible”, we covered ourselves completely in the towel, and for some reason added the line “They all dropped off”

If you want to listen to the Boo Boo bird and hear the Harmonium, the clip is below. I’ve emailed my aunt for more details. Did the crocodile have any parts in films or was the Seagull the bread-winner?