Bignell at the pub

Last week’s pictures took us back to a time when there were still dozen of pubs in Chelsea. It’s true that they were changing in the early 1970s. The Lord Nelson in the King’s Road changed its name to the Trafalgar and became a “pub-discotheque” with a fairground theme. (The opening ceremony in 1970 featured the then up and coming British film star Julie Ege and George Lazenby pulling the first pint)The nearby Six Bells (featured in this post) also underwent a transformation which might not be to modern tastes. But at least these pubs were still there. Those two pubs are two of the survivors.

Here’s the Six Bells in its 70s guise as the Bird’s Nest (zoom in on the name):

Six Bells

But this week’s post is not about the 1970s. The heyday of Chelsea pub life was in the 1950s and 1960s, and John Bignell can take us back there.

pub scene 1564

It’s a world of men wearing suits where all the cool kids (and everyone else) smoked.

When pubs were popular:

Kings Head and Eight Bells 1950 1840A

The food was minimal.

pub interior_jb_313

But the staff were friendly:

Freda - barmaid at the Potter jb92

[Freda, barmaid at the Chelsea Potter]

The conversation was good:

The Commercial later Chelsea potter 1955 jb207

[Also the Potter, in 1955 when it was still called the Commercial]

Young and old all went to the same establishments:

Chelsea pub interior 2562

[As is often the case with 1950s fashion, this couple could walk around today without attracting much commentbut you seldom see women with fur stoles over their shoulders]

And there were characters:

Stratford Johns_jb_344

[Stratford Johns, television actor, star of crime dramas Z-cars and Softly, Softly]

Landlady of Lord Nelson fac_rbkc_jb_95

[The landlady of the Lord Nelson before its transformation]

Gina Warr proprieter of the Gateways Club jb54

Gina Warr, not strictly speaking a pub landlady but the manager/co-owner of the Gateways Club in Bramerton Street, the legendary lesbian club. She was definitely a character.

Not to mention Bignell himself of course:

JB at the Six Bells jb205 (2)

He’s at the Six Bells, one of his favourite haunts, where he could pull a pint, or just get back to what he did best:

Six Bells garden 1954

An unusual view of the Six Bells garden, with some affluent looking Chelsea residents sitting in the sun.

My favourite of Bignell’s pub interiors though is this one:

Chelsea pub interior 2433

I’m not sure where it is – all there is on the back of the print is “Chelsea pub interior”, but it catches something not only about the period – the intense young man in the suit juggling with half empty glasses and the woman in dark glasses listening to the man next to her  – but also about pub life in general, the moments of quietness in the midst of a crowd of convivial drinkers.

This era was ending of course but there was something else starting.

Chelsea Potter 1960s

Back at the Chelsea Potter the 50s was giving way to the 60s. That’s another story of course.


I was preoccupied with medical matters again this week, so my apologies if this post looks like it was put together quickly from a vague idea I had at the back of my mind – it was. Regular readers will spot a couple of pictures I’ve used before, but they did fit the theme. Thanks to all the people who liked last week’s post (lots of you). I’ll be getting around to part 2 as soon as I can.

The picture of the Bird’s Nest is by John Rogers. All the others are by John Bignell.

20 responses to “Bignell at the pub

  • Skipping Stars Productions LLC

    Reblogged this on British Isles Society and commented:
    Chelea Potter, Chelsea, John Bignell, John Rogers, King’s Road, Photographs, Pubs, The Commercial, The King’s Head and Eight Bells, The Six Bell and posted in 20th Century, Chelsea, John Bignell.


    I hope you are better. Always look forward to your posts.

    Thank you, Nina Bonfante

    Sent from my HTC EVO 4G LTE exclusively from Sprint

  • Job Weessies

    As a diorama modeler your posts are very usefull for me.
    I model a fictive neighbourhood in the late 1950’s in western part of Greaten London.
    Loved the last one and this one.

  • Chris Pain

    Hello Dave! Having misspent a period of my youth therein, I am able to identify the pub in the penultimate picture as Finch’s, 190 Fulham Road, now known as the King’s Arms. Well worth a visit, this pub is well-known for the distinctive coloured ceramic tiles which embellish its walls, which can be seen in Bignell’s photo in the background, and also for the large mirrors advertising a variety of things, which may have been taken down in renovation, as I can see them in this gallery of images on the pub’s website.

  • Chris Pain

    PS The interior of the King’s Arms/Finch’s can also be viewed in this clip from the 1970 movie Goodbye Gemini.

  • Andrew B

    I too recognised Finch’s. I wonder what it’s like now. I haven’t been for 20 years. Full of oligarchs and hedge-founders perhaps…

  • Andrew B

    Thanks for the great pics!

  • Andrew B

    Of course the Queen’s Elm is no longer, sadly – featured in The Servant. And I forget the name of the pub further west up the Fulham road. The Rose, was it? I think it might be an antiques shop or something now.

  • Debbie Robson

    Love John Bignell and that third photo of people on the street is particularly fascinating!

  • Chris Pain

    The Queen’s Elm was also famous in the 70s for being Laurie Lee’s local.

    • Reg Francis

      Yes ,dear Chris,when he was living in Elm Park Gardens.Not sure if that delightful man,known to my Father, ever graced The Finches.My Dad was born in 1902 in Castle Carey Somerset where there is a Francis House in the High Street,I guess that’s when we had a few bob. Yrs, Reg

  • Paul Taylor

    I’m quite sure the well-known b&w photograph of a young Marianne Faithfull seated in a pub with the cut-glass mirrors was taken at the Queens Elm. The one thing that I remember from visiting these places, from looking at this post, was that if you visited frequently, which I did during the 1980’s and 90’s, how quickly you could become acquainted with other regulars and always, mostly, have a chat with someone. I used to go to the Cross-Keys in the 80’s before it was taken over, when it was just a quiet, normal, cosy pub. No music, no tv, no fruit machines. Apparently Lauren Bacall’s favourite lunchtime meal at the Cross-Keys was bangers and mash, I remember the barman telling me that one.

  • john

    I have drunk in all the pubs mentioned but was a real regular in the X Keys.
    One of our regulars, Ted Whitehead, after much prompting, wrote a pilot series about the goings on in the pub….fictional but based on the type of going’s on at the time. IT was called The World’s End.
    The BBC reproduced the pub in the studio and there were also outside and in-flat scenes. The well known cockney Harry Fowler was a regular so he played himself but it was actors playing other parts including myself. (My name was Space in the series though my own nickname was Sleepy and Space was my best pal from long before. My dog had a dog play him with his real name of Blue).
    Anyway I didn’t think it was a very good series and it never took off but hey.
    Someone mentioned Lauren Bacall one of the world’s most beautiful women and what class. She frequented the Keys when she would be rehearsing in the RC Church Hall up the road.
    I in fact used to arrive back from regular trips abroad and could go upstairs in the Keys for a shower!
    Sean Tracy of the Queens Elm a lovely friend missed now along with many others.
    Cheers to all
    “Sleepy” John Wickenden

  • anglosardo

    John, there don’t seem to be any episodes of World’s End available on the internet, but the opening credits and theme song by Alan Price are:

  • john

    Hi Anglosardo
    sorry for the tardy response just saw it…and thanks for looking it up.
    Most of the shots were nearer World’s End but I noticed the first one of a pretty little dead end lane was at the top of Lawrence St (Cross Keys street) where it becomes Upper Cheyne Row.

    The great friendships started in the Cross Keys are still going now though sadly lost a couple yes to liver failure. Be careful out there.
    Speaking of which it was a sad day when the Keys changed style our little gang mostly used the Phene after that. There we lost another one George Best who lived just round the corner in Oakley St.
    A couple of my pals are interviewed there in a docu about George. I see The Phene is now done up fancier than a Swedish brothel.
    cheers !

  • john

    Forget to say!
    Bramerton St was mentioned.
    We lived there a few doors down on the right, other side from the Gateways. opposite live Roland Joffe who directed the Killing Fields.
    Oh another regular in the Cross Keys was Robert Robinson of Brain of Britain…….and loads of others……even John Wayne used it when making errr…..was it Brannigan?

  • ``````reg `````francis

    Evening all,the ernest young man sitting in The Finches under the skylight is sitting in my dad’s favourite seat,Alan Francis,known to most as Joe and a great mate of Sean Tracy who in the late 50’s and early 60’s ran the placeThe Lacy’s,Tracy’s,Fiennes and Fettiplaces old England ruled,according to Sean.All bloody Normans of course!

    Andrew,it was The Rose ,and I’m delighted to tell you that Finches is still a great pub.Great bar food but do not fall for the service charge.I have already taken this nonsense up with Ryan one of the Geronimo/Youngs senior folk who lives above the pub .

    John,the lovely Kay Fowler is still amongst us and count yourself lucky that your’e hearing from me considering that me and my cousin Wally Atkins of Slaidburn Street were shot stone dead by the lovely Bacall’s husband in Park Lane in about 1949.We were in the open Boy Scout Lorry on our way back from camping to our H Q in Edith Grove and spotted Bogey strolling along.We all called out and with a grin he reached inside the famous Burberry Trench pulled out the ‘heater’and blew us all away!

    And as for that John Wayne bloke, my Mum and my auntie May taught him how to drink Guinness at The Beehive in Chelsea Manor Street.Made a man of him!

    As always,Reg Francis

  • David

    i just found this blog and love it.
    I worked in the Queens Elm and the Crosskeys back in the early 70s and have fond memories of June and Ian in the keys along with Jack the barman who allways seemed to forget what time to call last orders. And Sean in the Elm was quite a handful.
    A lot of drinking and general mayham.
    If interested lots of stories of what i can remember.
    David White.

  • Ian Muir

    Had a few pints in most of the pubs mentioned pre and post football matches at the Bridge. I do remember back in the 80s visiting Finch’s on a regular basis when a landlord named John was at the helm. He used to let us in early after a game rather than wait till 5.30. I believe it was April Ashley’s Local.

    There was another small pub in Waterford Rd (now called The Rose). A time warp of a pub, pretty run down if I remember. I go past now and note doormen outside. Another favourite was The Jolly Maltsers In Fulham Rd, there was a nice Pie and Mash shop nearby. There was one bar over the road from The Worlds End, can’t remember the name but it is now a bookies. And not forgetting the Firkin pub in Lots Rd with the Dogbolter.

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