The Red Lion lying in wait at Chatham’s crossroads

Sam and Gwen Grimmer on their last night at the Red Lion in January, 1960

The pub inquiry started with two faded photographs of a jolly pub scene. On the back of one was written: Red Lion — where Samuels is.”

Pub expert Roy Murrant asked for help. He got it. Almost immediately, a gent came into the Chatham News office in New Road Avenue, and — without identifying himself – said the couple in the photograph were the licensees Sam and Gwen Grimmer and the pub was indeed the Red Lion at the crossroads of Chatham High Street and Military  Road/Railway Street, where the jewellers H. Samuels now is.

“I used the pub all the time,” he said. “There was a small lounge bar that was normally packed with all sorts of naval people like myself. Then there was a separate long bar that went to the end of Chatham High Street. I was there the night it closed down and it was very sad as it was a great pub.”

It got better. Mrs Ivy Grimmer then e-mailed: “I would like to confirm that it is definitely the Red Lion, Military Road Chatham. The landlord, Mr Sammy Grimmer and his wife Gwen ran the establishment during the war years. I know this because my husband’s father was Sammy Grimmer’s brother.”

Photographic evidence soon arrived from Mr Derek Mears, of May Road, Gillingham. “I enclose a print taken about the same time,” he wrote. “This one was  taken by my brother Bill, the sad occasion being the closure of the pub in January, 1960, for the site to become Samuels. “Behind the bar are Sam and Gwen Grimmer putting the towel over the beer pumps after the last pints had been served.”

Look at the detail: the fancy mirror, the Squires gin bottle, the Bass ashtray and the White Horse whisky in the background. Mr Grimmer is wearing a top hat; and the back to front writing on the towel says Initial Towel Supply Co. I wonder who the two customers in the background are? And whose is the mysterious hand on the right that helps the towel ceremony?

It’s a fine print: I suspect Mr Bill Mears was an experienced and accomplished photographer.

Pub-crawling Scot beaten by Chatham challenge

I also suspect that Dennis Gegg, of Brockenhurst Close, Rainham, is an experienced raconteur. He tells a good tale. Here it is:

“In 1938 I joined the Royal Marines and used to frequent the Red Lion. My favourite beer was Mann’s Mild, a dark beer brewed by Mann, Crossman and Paulin, the makers of Mann’s Brown. It cost 4d a pint.

“For half a crown we had what we called a good run ashore — a pint in the Red Lion (4d), then on to the Gaumont or one of the three cinemas along the High Street (6d, in the front row) and then back to steak, egg and chips in a café just off the High Street (9d) which left enough for blanco, soap, and a pint in the Naafi bar for the rest of the week. There were, I believe, about 20 pubs on the left of the High Street, up to the Brook. There were three pubs next door to each other and there was a bet among the members of our squad that if you could drink a half pint in each pub in High Street (left), up to the Brook, and then walk back to barracks you’d win half a crown.

“A member of my squad, a Scot, did it, plus a whisky chaser. He didn’t get his half crown. He didn’t walk back.

“Fourteen years later I was back in Civvy Street and got a job as a brewers’ rep with Mann, Crossman and Paulin. One of my customers was the Red Lion in Chatham. Mann’s Mild was slightly dearer then at 10d a pint. I can confirm that the photo in your feature was Sam and Gwen Grimmer, a lovely couple. Thanks for the memory.”

(Indeed I was quite right about Dennis Gegg’s storytelling: I now have a copy of his privately published autobiography The Ramblings of a Raving Idiot, which is very funny.)

Revealed: the Nelson Road gambling den

Until May 1, 1961, the only way you could legally bet on a horse race was at a racecourse. Bookies anywhere else could be arrested.

There were ways around it, of course. Illegal joints could be found in many back streets. One such was an establishment in Nelson Road, Chatham, a street torn down when the Pentagon was built. One of the nearest pubs to that was the Red Lion.

George Lidster, now 90 and living in Glenwood Close, Luton, marked my card. “The Red Lion was a proper gambling pub,” he explained. “I used it on a Saturday morning and I have fond memories of it. It was served by bookies’ runners who took your bets to a house in Nelson Road, near where the old working men’s club was. This place had a long passageway and halfway down there was a hatch where you could push through your betting slips.”

So gambling was the main attraction? “No, he was a good landlord and kept a good beer,” Mr Lidster replied. “Every Saturday lunchtime he would have biscuits on the bar with those round cheeses. That was one of the reasons we went there — you could get a good snack lunch.” And the occasional shilling on the horses? “Well, maybe,” Mr Lidster chuckled.

One particularly story sticks in Mr Lidster’s mind — and I’m sure it did to the man who was on the receiving end of the story. “There was one chap down the High Street who was a really bad lot, so several of them in the Red Lion held him down while a tattooist from tattooed his forehead.” Readers — I don’t know what was his crime and what was tattooed. I’m sure someone out there does, though.

Mr Lidster, a Yorkshireman who came down to Medway in 1936 to work at Short Brothers, agrees with me that the Brook might have been a den of iniquity then but was a damn sight more interesting that the grimy racetrack that it is now.



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