An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge

MAIN IMAGE: The Markham Arms in 1976 © Klaus Hiltscher, used with permission.

The architect and interior designer Roderick ‘Roddy’ Gradidge was both a conservative and a wannabe Teddy Boy proto-punk. Though he worked on all kinds of buildings, and wrote several books, he is usually described in short-form as one thing: a pub designer.

We’ve put together this profile based on the newspaper archives we were able to access, online sources, and the books in the ever-expanding Arthur Millard Memorial Library (our box room). As such, consider it a work in progress: when we get chance, for example, we’ll visit the RIBA library and see if we can come up with a more comprehensive list of his projects. Here’s what we know for now.

John Roderick Warlow Gradidge was born in Norfolk in 1929 but grew up in India where his father served in the colonial army. Young Roderick came back to England in 1943 to attend Stowe under the headmastership of J.F. Roxburgh. Writing in the aftermath of Gradidge’s death the writer A.N. Wilson, a friend, suggested that Roxburgh was a key influence on Gradidge’s character:

When one thinks of the flamboyant gallery of talent fostered by that schoolmaster – Peregrine Worsthorne, Antony Quinton, George Melly, – it is hard not to feel some connection.

Flamboyant is certainly the right word: Gradidge, who everyone describes as ‘huge’ or ‘massive’, started wearing an earring in 1955 and ‘longed to be a Teddy boy’, donning the uniform drape jacket, sideburns, tight trousers and suede brothel-creepers and devoting himself to rock’n’roll.

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Sir Charlie and the Elephant: Unreconstructed and Underdone

Pubs built in the period after World War II have, on the whole, had short, rather sad lives, but there are two still trading (for now) at Elephant and Castle in South London. What can they tell us about the fate of the post-war urban booze bunker?

Elephant (as we’ll call it from here on) was a furious cauldron of development in the 1960s. What remained of the old district after the Blitz was levelled and a new traffic hub for south London was created. Office blocks were built to house government staff, like the Ministry of Health building, Alexander Fleming House, designed by the famous Hungarian-British architect Ernő Goldfinger. Most importantly an enormous modern shopping centre was built, ‘a giant new type of building, a fully enclosed American style mall over three levels surmounted by an office block’.

It was amid all this excitement that Watney’s and Truman’s breweries built flagship pubs there, the Charlie Chaplin and Elephant & Castle respectively. In August, we decided to visit both.

Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, 1960s.
Artist’s impression of the shopping centre by Willett Developments Limited.

In the image above from Watney Mann’s Red Barrel magazine for June 1965 the site of the Charlie Chaplin, on the central island and appended to the shopping centre itself, is marked with an orange arrow. This is how it looked on launch:

Publicity photographs in black and white.
The saloon bar (top) and cocktail/grill bar.

A major feature of the house… is a wrought-iron mural of Charlie Chaplin. Designed by G. Dereford of Marlow Mosaics and made from metal springs to epitomise the spirit of the film Modern Times, the sculpture runs the full height of the first and ground floors… The Charlie Chaplin was designed by Erdi & Rabson, built by Sinclair & Son (London) Ltd and is let to the Westminster Wine Co whose manager will be Mr H.W. Moles.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Watney’s aspired for it to be an upmarket pub for shoppers, cinemagoers and office workers rather than as an ‘estate pub’. But the shops and shoppers never came to Elephant — it was a famous failure in commercial terms — and when a huge housing estate, Heygate, opened right next door in the early 1970s, the Charlie Chaplin seems to have ended up serving it by default.

The exterior of the Charlie Chaplin in August 2017.

In 2017, with the threat of closure and demolition hanging over the ‘mall’, as it has been for several years, and in the aftermath of a stabbing incident, the Charlie Chaplin feels a bit bleak. At some point it contracted to a single large room on the ground floor and received a half-hearted faux-Victorian makeover, leaving it neither thrillingly modern nor genuinely cosy. Given the tendency to connect the fate of pubs with that of the white working class it was interesting to see that the regulars were roughly fifty-fifty black and white, mostly solo drinkers, and entirely male. At one point a young woman in office clothes came in and took a seat by the window. As she talked on her mobile phone the woman behind the bar came over and asked her brusquely if she intended to buy a drink or not. The young women told the person on the phone, pointedly, that they should meet in a different pub instead, and left. We weren’t made to feel unwelcome in any overt, specific way but it did feel as if we’d intruded upon a private party, or perhaps a wake. It was literally and spiritually gloomy.

The Elephant & Castle neon sign in 2017.
The Elephant & Castle photographed in February 2017.

Across the road (or, rather, under it via the subway labyrinth) is the Elephant & Castle the history of which we’ve written about before as part of a round-up of 1960s Truman’s pubs so here, for variety, we’ll quote Danny Gill’s 2012 memoir Have Trowel Will Travel (via Google Books) which features a chapter on the pubs in this area as they were in the 1960s and 70s:

[The designer] must have had shares in a mirror company, as soon as you walked in the door there were mirrors everywhere, on the walls, toilet doors, behind the bar, and also some on the ceiling. The only place there weren’t any mirrors was on the floor. No matter where you stood in the pub, as you raised your glass to your mouth, your reflection was everywhere you looked. I must say I didn’t like this pub; it was too open for me and felt cold.

The bare ceiling of the Elephant & Castle pub.

These days, after becoming very rough and eventually escaping conversion into an estate agents, it is run by London pub company Antic, AKA ‘hipster Wetherspoons’. They have given it a retro brutalist makeover, all functional mid-century furniture and exposed structural concrete, which is somewhat in keeping with the period in which it was built, and interesting to gawp at, but also completely inauthentic. It too felt oddly gloomy — that’s bunkers for you, we guess. Although the wide range of cask and keg beer on offer looked enticing the former was in lacklustre condition and expensive, too. (We preferred the Guinness at the Charlie Chaplin.) The pub was at least buzzing, though, and if we felt out of place it was only because we had at least a decade in age on most of the clientele.

This experience probably informed a suggestion we made on Twitter earlier this week that there ought to be a prize for the first post-war pub to undergo an historically accurate refurbishment — to bring back the Formica tables, linoleum tiles, mustard-coloured lounge chairs and fibreglass friezes on the bar. The apparent alternatives — neglect or trend-chasing upmarket superficiality — seem rather sad.

This post was edited to remove a reference to the subway system which was apparently closed recently. We used to use it a lot when we regularly commuted through Elephant and must have got temporally confused. Also, we had consumed beer.

Guinness in London, 1965

Which London pub was the best place for a pint of Guinness in London in the 1960s? None of them, really, according to Gerard Fay.

His article ‘My Goodness…’ collected in The Compleat Imbiber Vol. 8, published in 1965 and edited by Cyril Ray, is another source of information on a subject we’ve been circling round and prodding at for a couple of years now: Irish pubs before ‘Irish Pubs’ and the high status of Guinness before Guinness®. There have been a few blog posts here, a substantial article at All About Beer, and there’s also a bit on this in the upcoming book, 20th Century Pub. (Although we cut a lot from that section in the final edit.) But it’s always good to have new nuggets of information.

Fay was London editor of the Guardian until 1966 and died in 1969 at the age of 55. Their obituary for him is weirdly vague about his origins (‘of Irish stock with strong Lancashire connections’) but he seems to have spent most of his childhood in Dublin and certainly described himself as a ‘Dublin boy’. As a Fleet Street diehard he worked in the vicinity of some of the best-known Irish pubs in London and here’s what he had to say about them:

There were once three Mooneys near each other in London — Holborn, Fleet Street and, to fortify the walker’s spirits between the two, Fetter Lane. Before the coming of Formica the Fleet Street one was distinguished by being more like a genuine Dublin pub than anything left in the City of Dublin itself — neither Fetter Lane nor Holborn was of the right shape. The argument often raged about which of the three produced the best pint of Guinness, and the verdict usually went to Fetter lane because of some virtue in the cellarage. To a coarse palate the Fetter Lane pint seemed as smooth as any drawn in any Dublin pub chosen by serious-minded drinkers as a ‘good house for a pint’. Visiting Dubliners denied this and would have none of the English blarney about Park Royal brewery being the equal of St James’s Gate.

Tipperary back bar.

Once again, there’s a suggestion of mysticism and magic around Guinness, and especially the stuff from Dublin rather than the London-brewed (Park Royal) product. Fifty years on this kind of thing is still heard even though the time when Guinness was anything other than a standardised product was in the process of passing even as Fay was writing:

As Guinness is beer, it is subject to all the complications of cellerage and of being properly kept — though the introduction of metal casks has done away with a lot of this… [The] argument is seldom heard now — the Holborn Mooney’s closed when the lease expired: the others both use metal containers and continue to sell their large and increasing quota.

The Fetter Lane Mooney’s, AKA The Shamrock AKA The Magpie & Stump, is long gone but the Fleet Street branch — The Tipperary — is still there. When we visited a couple of years ago we rather liked it. It looks like a tourist trap but, with veteran Irish staff and mostly Irish customers, didn’t feel like one, and is rather gorgeously decorated, having reverted to something like its pre-Formica look. It’s at least worth sticking your nose in the door next time you pass, even if Guinness isn’t quite the draw it used to be.

Truman’s Post-War Pubs, 1967

This set of pictures and accompanying notes come from editions of the Truman Hanbury & Buxton in-house magazine, the Black Eagle Journal, published in 1967.

As before, we’ve tried to include information on when buildings were actually opened; credits for photographers and architects where available; and updates on how the buildings look 50 years on.

1. The Elephant & Castle, London

Exterior of the Elephant & Castle, a brutalist block.

We’re starting with a bit of a superstar pub — one many of us will have heard of, if not visited, and after which this whole area of London is named. We’ve got an earlier article from the Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette boasting about the modernisation of the pub in 1900. By the mid-1960s, when the area was being comprehensively redeveloped, that Victorian pub was doomed.

The idea for this uncomprisingly brutal new design seems to have come from the Greater London Council’s planners and the developer’s architect Ernő Goldfinger who suggested that ‘the public house should appear to float on glass’. Truman’s in-house architect, Frederick G. Hall, interpreted that instruction as above, his design being implemented by A.P. Ciregna. It’s nice that in this case we not only have an architect’s credit but also a photo of Mr Hall drinking the first pint pulled at the new pub while being applauded by brewery director Sir Thomas Buxton.

F.G. Hall drinks the first pint at the Elephant in 1967.

Footnotes: pumpclips have definitely arrived by this point but that they are tiny; note also dimple mugs, which had overtaken ten-siders by this point.

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The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s

The photo above is from 1957 and the young man at the drawing board is Reg Norkett, who we managed to track down.

We found the photo in the autumn 1957 edition of the Hopleaf Gazette as shared by Raymond Simonds on his website — a wonderful trove of archive material from his family’s brewery. It accompanies a brief profile of the Architects’ Department which mentions Reg Norkett’s name in passing.

Without any great expectations we Googled him and found his address on the website of a professional organisation for architects; we wrote him a letter and have since exchanged a few emails. What follows is a lightly edited version of his responses to our questions with a little commentary from us here and there.

First, we asked Mr Norkett for some general background – where was he from, and how did he end up at Simonds?

I was born in Reading in 1936, educated at Redlands Primary School – then Junior school – which was the local school. I then went to Reading Blue Coat School at Sonning near Reading as a boarder from 1948 to 1953.

During my time at school I realised I was interested in a career in the building/construction industry as, e.g. a surveyor or architect. I managed to obtain the required number of O levels to commence professional training and was initially employed in the Borough Architects Deparment at Reading Borough Council, as Junior Assistant in the Clerk of Works Section. I commenced training in part-time study for a National Certificate in Building at the local Technical College.

However I was keen to be involved in the Design and preparation of drawings and so on, which I discussed with the Borough Architect. He  approached the Chief Architect at H&G Simonds, Mr Reginald Southall, who is shown in one of the photographs in the Hop Leaf Gazette which you forwarded.

I was offered a junior position in the Architects Department, joining the company in 1954, and commencing study part-time at the Oxford School of Architecture.

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