Published a long time ago, nostalgy obliges me to think again of times long gone, when life was good, for almost everyone!
London-many years ago....!
"George, Rich Bual Madeira - Good Company" - first visited around 1963.
Now become a "modern wine bar" I understand, as they say "with charm" -
I don't think I'd like it...~ This is a photo found on the internet purporting
to represent the entry nowadays, but I can't vouch for it.
The caves used to go up as far as Charing Cross overground railway station!
Hungerford Bridge - Part 1.
It had become a sort of ritual. When invited, usually on a Friday, but
occasionally mid-week, I would take the Tube service from Clapham
South (my parents living between Wandsworth and Clapham commons),
the nearest tube station, to Charing Cross tube station.
All on the Northern line, even a lad of 13/14 couldn't really get lost.
He just had to be sure NOT to take the tube 'via Bank', and he would
arrive safely within half an hour at the Charing Cross Embankment
(the footbridge you see in the foreground is "Hungerford Bridge")
When you leave this tube station, you are presented immediately with
Hungerford Bridge, but I dare say that the majority of people using
the station,day in and day out, are not aware of the fact.
All they know is that their office is not far away, and that they will be
back at the same point of departure in about 10 hours, tired, weary,
hungry, fed-up, and with no wish to look around them.
Which is a shame, because even without actually walking the bridge,
there are some lovely things to see.
The Embankment gardens, which represent a green spot with lots of
flowers, the Thames river, just the other side of the 4 lane wide
boulevard, and many other things we will come to.
The first thing is a strange looking window, painted over in a
chocolate-brown colour- so that looking-in is impossible.
This is the first building going up Villiers St., on the right hand
side, and has a few steps going down to the Embankment
Take these few steps down, it's called "Watergate Walk" if I recall
correctly (nomen est omen) and immediately on your left you will
find a sort of entrance door, this one painted in green!
You'll think it's the tradesmen's entrance-
and it was, in the past!
Many years ago, a famous columnist wrote in his column for the
'Evening News' an article entitled "What's behind the Green door?"
Well - I can tell you!
Known only in intime circles as "the Green Door", this is the entrance to
"Gordons Free Vintners" a paradise of wine, good manners,
old-worldliness, dry water biscuits, and caves going up almost to the
Charing Cross overground station.
At the period of which I write, the place was known only by a few
thousand regulars, which in a million plus city, is few.
The entry, by the green door is the one taken by initiates, whilst the
entrance by the chocolate painted upstairs door is the
"errant tourist entrance".
The building and the green door entrance goes back to when the river
Thames actually came right up to this point, and was used for transporting
wines, spirits etc.
On the first floor, Rudyard Kipling wrote chapters of his 'Jungle Book'
pouring rich bual Madeira down his throat, and one talks of Samuel Pepys,
and others from cultural, literature, political circles, who used these
quiet surroundings to relax.
Still, in the days of which I write, the clientele are mainly journalists
and writers, politicians, actors and other creative individuals.
In these overwhelming surroundings, a wee Scots lad got his first taste
of said " Rich Bual Madeira -
together with dry biscuits to arrange the palate, thanks to and grace of
his mentor, served impeccably by George.
"This", said the wee Scots laddy to himself, "is my world!"
BUT - This is, or was at the epoch, the world of George.
George, ex-soldier (I beleive he was a mess waiter or something like that),
had found his niche after the war (not so long ago) by accepting
the invitation of one of his officer 'customers' to return to London,
with him, and become the 'good angel' of the Green Door.
Since then, in his own quiet, restrained, often frowning down upon,
fashion (it didn't matter who it was, or his age or rank in society),
George had run everything which concerned the customer/management
aspect of Gordons, Free Vintners.
George ported his Indian Army moustache with bravour, and
recognized the ex-Sergeant-Major qualities of my companion, Bill.
This was something George loved, something he understood in a
rapidly changing World.
Here he could trot out all of his butlering qualities, what matter
if the Sergeant-Major's companion was a young lad, who even spoke
with a Scottish accent!
We became two of his favourite customers, without ever dropping to
the frivolities of conversation.
Outside of a "Hello, Sir - Bad weather today again I'm afraid"
(or something to this order) I have never heard anything else from
Georges' mouth, not even later (20 years later) as a faithful client,
together with my wife - but he was always there immediately when he
saw that the (FREE) biscuits were running out, or when our glasses were
The fact that I was obviously VERY under-age did not disturb him in
I think he saw in me (correctly) the future of what he considered to be
Of course, all this had a price, for Bill - I didn't have a farthing -
and when the Rich Bual Madeira "Good Company", 2 glasses of,
had to be paid (they cost, I beleive, 2 shillings each!!) the amount given
was always 2 half-crowns!
This was with George's share and our thanks. Even 20 years later,
as a Civil Servant, when I had the occasion to pass with my wife through
George's hands (he hadn't changed at all, and he recognized me
immediately on my first appearance after 20 years, saying
"Bad weather again, sir, nice to see you again, Sir!!!)
the financial arrangement hadn't changed, except it was no longer
2 shillings the glass, but almost a pound, and the amount given for our
two glasses was £2.10 shillings. This was George's share, I expected it,
he didn't expected it, my wife didn't understand it and everybody was
No question as where my companion, Bill was, but on one occasion I
recall, going to the Green Door with my wife, Kate, and Bill,
just before Bill's death.
I recall the look in George's eyes, and I heard the unspoken words -
" friends always stay friends, Sirs!!"
At the beginning my wife, Kate, did not understand, and often
said to me afterwards, in the train going back home, that she found
George something from another age.
I recall saying to her that he was indeed, but so were we
and many others too!
It was later, after her first encounter with the need to use the
toilet at the Green Door, that she finally understood the need for
people like George, and his utter, total loyalty to HIS clients,
and his total devotion to their needs.
Half-a-crown or 10 shillings extra? What a joke-so cheap!
You must understand that at the epoque, going to the Toilet
was quite an event, for everybody, at the Green Door.
There was only one WC, and it was in an old
annex to a room which had been used as an office by Scrooge.
The one time office had 2 doors, one to go in and another to
One had to enter, cross the office space, enter the secondary
small room, do what one had to do, and leave by one of the two
doors, locking and unlocking as one went!
A complicated procedure, and in the days when we were only
male guests, we didn't bother locking and unlocking, unless there
was a larger question than normal in the air!!
Now, wife required relief!
I called George discreetly over, and informed him.
"I shall see to that immediately,Sir" said he,
and disappeared, only to reappear at the other door to the one
and only WC.
He had entered by one door, locked it behind himself
(despite the complaints by some uncouth customer - later ignored)
and now requested "Madame's presence,
Sir, all is arranged!" almost in the same tone as
"You're bath has been drawn, sir!"
Madame went (somewhat red in the face) and George locked the door
and stood guard, until Madame knocked discreetly on the glass door
George opened and Madame (somewhat relieved) came out.
This became a ritual every time we went! Lady loved it...!
10 bob isn't too expensive for such treatment is it?
Another of George's miracles was the packing of 'off-licence' sales.
"Take a bottle with you" - had to be announced to George very early
in your visit.
After all, George's customers were special, sometimes Civil Servants,
politicians, soldiers, journalists etc, etc, etc.
They could not leave the establishment with a paper bag and a
bottle in it!
Plastic bags didn't exist, and George wouldn't have used them anyway.
The package under the arm of George's customer had to be rectangular
(not bottle shape), had to be in best quality brown packaging paper,
and must be tied with real TWINE string, with a little bow tied in it to put
your finger in, so as to carry the bottle 'laid down'. Rather like those
anonymous brown paper packets you see people coming out of sex shops
Of course, I always had the impression that everybody in the tube train
KNEW what was in my brown paper package, and that I had been to see
I also had the impression that they were ALL jealous!!
Such was the Green Door, such was George,such was Bill, such was I,
myself, such was my wife, such was my life of the times, and such was
London in the days when it was almost STILL a Village
It's all (or mostly) dead and gone, but it's nice to recall -
I'm still, even now, 50 years later, trying to trace down
"Good Company Rich Bual Madeira"without succes to date,
but it's been fun searching, and I found other,
ALMOST as good dessert wines, one of which almost ruined me -
"Harvey's of Bristol - Copper Beeches" a favourite tipple in the
70's when a bottle cost the unseemly price of 3GBP sterling -
the last time I ordered a bottle,it came in at 43GBP sterling....!
Mother's (and my) ruin, but damned good!
Although all the Harvey's Sherries
are good,this one is the best - second only to, of course -
" Rich Bual Madeira - "Good Company" !