Autobiography & Memoir
I recall two visits to The Gasworks with my close friend the artist Maurice Sumray, one of the well known Soho characters, whose daily hangout was Gaston's French pub (officially called The York Minster) in Dean Street, Soho.
Maurice knew Jacks, the shady owner, so we were welcome and got through the front door that was banned to those not in the know! I remember the first visit was late at night. Maurice and I sat in high backed chairs at the baronial long table in the majestic living room savouring a night cap. There was a warm glow from the lit fire. It was a cold winter night and we kept our coats on as we had only popped in socially. I recall a very large dog possibly a Great Dane, reigning supreme and ignoring my presence padding around his territory.
An undesirable looking character arrived, went up to Jacks and pulled out from his worn overcoat pocket an unwrapped valuable looking genuine Meissen figurine. Jacks asked him how much he wanted. The man shrugged as it was obviously recently stolen and hot property. Jacks put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a huge wad of notes. He peeled off a few and the thief scarpered into the night. Jacks was,of course, a fence for the antique trade!
A trade I would later embrace in the late 70s, skipping a generation, as my maternal grandparents had been Georgian silver and porcelain specialists in Swansea, South Wales owning two antique shops at the turn of the century.
The second visit was to eat! Yes, I remember the dreadful food from the 'prawn cocktail and avocado era' cooked up by Jack's coarse wife Shells! I recall an expensive supper in a cramped area, like a passage, away from the baronial hall and it's owner's nocturnal illegal activities. It was like two separate worlds. But one did not go for the food but the ambience! A hidden intimate world somewhere in the doldrums between the wrong end of 'Swinging Sixties' Chelsea's World's End and it's poor neighbour Fulham behind enticing closed doors. I was reminded that punters were turned away and the door slammed in their faces if their attire or face did not fit!
But I was safe with Maurice. I guess I was his Muse for several years before he left London to relocate to St Ives to devote the rest of his life to painting clowns! The era of hanging out at The French in Soho had ended. Gaston with his Spanish bar men serving us half bottles of champagne, Dave, the black retired American boxer, sitting to the left of the bar perched on his stool knocking back whiskey. Boxing photographs adorning the walls. BB, Brian Law the burglar, who had introduced me to Maurice and years later denied he had burgled my flat coming up to me in the French saying "i didn't do it, honest Jilly!" when accused, Blue Peter, Peter Brewer, the book dealer, who wrote pornography. Muriel's next door in Dean Street, owned by Muriel Belcher where the heavy drinkers, like Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, would hang out after the French closed due to stringent drinking hours when the bell would be rung and the magic word 'time' would be shouted out at 10.30!!
Memories of The Gasworks. A blast from the my past triggering memories of The French and my everlasting friendship with Maurice Sumray until his death in 2004 and who Wyndham Lewis wrote in 'The Listener' was 'one of the best artists in England!'
Jilliana Ranicar-Breese in Brighton March 2015