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Fitzrovian Nights

Simon W. Goulding

In assessing Patrick Hamilton’s The Midnight Bell it may be an idea to examine the location of the text. This is an area of London known as Fitzrovia, the name dating from 1940 and a piece written by Tom Driberg in the ‘William Hickey’ social column in the Daily Express. The name came from his local pub –- The Fitzroy Tavern –- on the corner of Charlotte and Windmill Street. Before Driberg started to use the term this area was known in the 1930s as either Fitzroy Square or North Soho, although I have found little evidence of the latter term being used. For the purposes of clarity and continuity I shall refer to the area as Fitzrovia throughout. Another important background figure in assessing the reputation and image of Fitzrovia is Julian Maclaren-Ross, a notable character in the area from the early 1940s onwards. A regular at the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place, Maclaren-Ross became the Boswell of the area, chronicling the adventures in these streets. His short account of the area Fitzrovian Nights serves as a general guide to the area and to the layout of the drinking establishments that gave the area its allure. Other stories of his, such as Welsh Rabbit of Soap: A Romance, describe the main Soho area and provide an equally important historical perspective. These however are stories of the 1940s. Some of the details about pubs in the area, for instance the ‘Black Horse’ or the ‘Bricklayers Arms’ represent accounts of the area in the 1930s, but it is well to remember that much of what we perceive as a ‘Fitzrovian tale’ is of a later decade, although the atmosphere and feeling may well be applicable to the earlier decade.

Of slightly more relevance in understanding Fitzrovia is an account by Anthony Burgess of an encounter he and his first wife had in the Duke of York’s with a razor gang. Burgess also records another significant drinker in this establishment -– George Orwell. “[sometimes appear[ing] in the Wheatsheaf or the Fitzroy Tavern to down a silent half.”[1] Orwell too knew this area. Pentelow and Marsh suggest that the ‘Newman Arms’ in Rathbone Street (then known as ‘The Beer House’) is the model for the ‘Proles Arms’ in Nineteen Eighty-Four.[2] Sonia Brownell lived at No 18 Percy Street, above an antiques shop. As charted by Pentelow and Rowe its associations with literature go back to the eighteenth century. In the twentieth century both Woolf and Shaw lived in Fitzroy Square, Pound and Lewis launched Blast! at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel in Percy Street. John Buchan lived in Portland Place, and in The Thirty Nine Steps[3] Richard Hannay has a flat there. Both Lawrences took rooms there, as did Aleister Crowley, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Katherine Mansfield. As one of the archivists at Camden Archives has noted everyone passed through Fitzrovia at one time or another, but few did their best work in the area.

Hugh David suggests that area could be “depicted as anything from a principality of frail freelance bohemians increasingly under the heel of a bleak Nineteen Eighty-Four-ish dictatorship of bureaucracy, Arts Councils and a ruthlessly expansionist BBC, to a boozy Never-never-land which rivals (and occasionally even betters) the territory of the post-hoc legend”.[4] The pubs and cafes of Fitzrovia provided the best sense of continuity within the community and it is, I would suggest, this drinking culture that attracted some of the best writers of the era to these streets rather than any discernible aesthetic and political ethic or philosophy. As all histories of the area demonstrate Fitzrovia has always been a fringe and marginal space within London.

The space under consideration here is that of the bar, or more specifically the saloon bar. This distinction matters as the saloon bar has its own rules on spatial use. One of these, explained within the context of Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky, is its position as a male venue where women were rarely seen as single customers. In The Siege of Pleasure (the action of which predates The Midnight Bell by a couple of years) Jenny goes to a pub in Hammersmith with company, albeit “a painted thing like Violet and two casual pickups”.[5] Her perception of the pub is “a preconceived horror of them derived from glimpses of habitués lurching from low-class bars into the streets”.[6] Jenny’s drink of choice in the pub is Guinness, “a ladies drink … a legitimate pick-me-up”.[7] Her ignorance at this stage in her life of the impact of drink is summed up in Hamilton’s analysis of the contemporary views of Guinness. “Its prime and avowed object was to ‘nourish’, its accidental operation to intoxicate”.[8]

Hay describes how “wives were invited at the weekends to the lounge”. The pub scenes in The Siege of Pleasure take place on a Friday night. This confinement of the female sex is broken by two exceptions, the barmaid and the prostitute.”[9] The only significant female presences in ‘The Midnight Bell’ are Jenny and Ella the barmaid. When Jenny first enters the reaction of the regulars is a “brief hush and hiatus” not just to “the phenomenon of their bold unescortedness, or rather of their own quaint chaperonage”,[10] but their mode of dress which mark them as those who do not work in a manner according to the perceived codes of the time. It is a reaction that is “easily explained and derived from a natural feeling -– the feeling, that is, which the unthinkingly upright citizen cannot help experiencing when face to face with the delinquent -– a feeling which is partly curiosity and partly disgust.”[11] The face-to-face encounter suggests a social rage that the customers of the bar (mostly working or lower middle class) feel on seeing the prostitute. They see themselves as representing good society. There is then a curiosity at the figure who pursues such an individual way of life and disgust at the woman who sells herself for thirty minutes a time. This disgust is a tacit acknowledgement of the dirt which Hamilton had seen in his own wanderings around the Fitzrovia area. The attitudes of the bar-staff reveal something of the innate conservatism of the decade and the lower middle-class ideals either aspired to by Ella the barmaid, or held as a matter of social position by the ‘Governor’.

Jenny is a figure who has rejected their concept of labour for her own. Mass Observation noted the following types of ‘the pub whore’:

1. The married woman, engages in paid sex for fun.
2. The drinker, will perform in return for having her drinks paid.
3. The low class type.
4. The clean professional[12]

The second type is the one Jenny most closely represents. Mass Observation notes that this type, “[a]lways requires pay before business…will treat patron to a good drink…want 10s and supper … one man a night, and let him sleep”.[13] Whether Jenny limits herself to one man a night is not made clear in the text but in other respects she seems to follow this last model most closely. She is a drinker as the last chapter reveals, but she takes from Bob throughout the text; for rent, clothes or the cost of a ticket out of London.

The barmaid is described by Hay as being a “more sympathetic listener than other women, a passively nurturing role that allows men simultaneously to maternalise and sexualise women”.[14] Diane Kirby sums up the role of the barmaid as follows, “they could make a pub, or break it. They could stop a fight, mend a broken heart, then pull another beer”.[15] Ella, the barmaid of ‘The Midnight Bell’, is described in The Plains of Cement as being able to “[talk] quietly to a customer at one end of the bar, or [move] about busily dispensing those distillations to whose existence and efficacy the whole building owed its origin and peculiar design.”[16] Hamilton’s description continues: “she had no knowledge of the oddity of her station behind that bar –- a virtuous, homely, and simple minded young woman, set up for five hours on end to withstand and feed the accumulating strength of the behaviour of scores upon scores of strange men manifestly out, or going out of their minds.”[17] The image of the barmaid in Hamilton’s texts will be later echoed by Kirby. Ella’s speech is described as “infinitely stale and hackneyed idioms”.[18] Hamilton notes by way of defending Ella’s reputation that this was because “having access to the wisdom of the ages, she used the expressions sanctified by the ages.”[19]

The nature of bar space meant that there was a division between bar staff and the customer. There was a macro-space (the pub) divided into micro spaces (staff and customers). The lounge bar or saloons were divisions of the spatial practice of drinking. The lounge “was a room demarcated by its ‘trimmings’ -– comfortable seats, potted plants, tables, pictures”[20] a signification of gentrification. On the customer’s side was a place to “both share and collude”,[21] either in their own business or in regarding the barmaid. Spradley and Mann demonstrate the divisions between customers and employees, dividing male customers into seven different sub-groups and only one for women.[22] In the case of ‘The Midnight Bell’ only the saloon space is recognised as a feminine space. Women were not a part of the public bar; the public bar drinkers were not part of the saloon bar space. “The poor were interpreted as also transgressing the boundaries of the ‘civilised body’”[23] i.e. the space that has been decorated cannot accept those who labour for a living. For example there are the “three rough males heard entering the Public bar” or the “husky voiced social miscarriages who, entering furtively and hoping not to be seen, endeavoured to sell as many confidential bootlaces, studs, watches, buttons, Daily Liars, or necklaces as they possibly could before he dismissed them with a curt “Not this side please””.[24] The implication here is that they can sell these items to the public (working class) side of the bar.

The business of the bar is alcohol. The men who drink at the bar drink a lot of it, but to what effect. Bacon suggests the following six aspects:

1. The function of alcohol in depressing certain inhibitions anxieties, aggressions, and tensions, thus allowing relaxation.
2. The depressant function of alcohol thus becomes more significant especially since the anxieties are directly related to the most basic human drives.
3. A network of relationships, activities, social positions and so revolve around alcohol.
4. Drinking itself is largely in the loosely organised area of individual recreation.
5. The power of alcohol to deteriorate personality is thus enhanced.
6. The complexity of society increases the need, if society is to exist, for sharp discrimination, caution, accurate responses, timing, cooperation and the acceptance of responsibilities. Alcohol taken excessively can deteriorate all of these.[25]

Peter Widdowson notes that in The Midnight Bell “drinking -– Hamilton’s most suggestive expanding metaphor -– fails to transcend the jottings, precise and detailed as they are, of an individual who spends much time in its vicinity and therefore believes that it contains, intrinsically, a common metaphorical significance … the bottle of Haig in the suitcase means alcoholism. Nothing more.”[26] This misses much of what Bacon shows to be the interconnectedness of the relationships and meaning of alcohol consumption. Alcoholism represents the beginning and the end of any meaning for those that suffer from it. Widdowson would be more correct in saying that ‘there is nothing more than the bottle of Haig for the Alcoholic’. Hamilton’s text constructs an environment where the practice of drinking becomes a way of life. The cadging, the offer-of-assistance, the drink-for-a-friend are all employed within the text as means for people to drink and to become drunk. A study for Mass Observation reported that “the pub is mainly sought as a social rather than an alcoholic environment. But it is a form of social environment that is only possible plus alcohol”.[27] This is what Falk calls the “toxological paradigm”.[28] In another account of drinking in this era, at Shepheards Hotel in Vile Bodies or for Corker in Scoop drinking is, it seems, a job requirement. For Waugh drink is a social action and no more.

Where does this situate the bar of ‘The Midnight Bell’ as a space? The Bacon list identifies a series of commercial and social inter- and intrapersonal connections that are made at the bar. The third one is the key in that it relates the commercial aspect of a bar to the people who use it, i.e. that a drink has to be paid for. It is not the barman, or even the publican, who keeps the money; it is the breweries that make the profit. All others are salaried staff. There is a permeation from all directions by streams of energy which run in and out of the bars. This is the business of capitalist expansion as well as provoking alcoholic oblivion. There is the matter of the wages paid to bar staff to consider as a factor in the construction and understanding of the bar space. The wages are poor and are supplemented only by the tips. The bar becomes a heterotropic space for in addition to the list of hyper-complex spaces as discussed above is the idea of the prison and an ideological prison at that. The prison is both of an economic construction (Bob needs the money and he has to live on what he earns) but also in an ideological sense. The pennies that buy a drink have a social, political, and economic aspect. They connect the space of the customer to the space of the staff: they buy the drink, the tax levy on alcohol supports the government (and imported spirits require excise payment) and the tip which comes from the issuing of change helps support the barman. Thacker notes that the, “interpretation and superimposition of social spaces entails that any ‘fragment of space’ under analysis will reveal not one but many social spaces”.[29] The Midnight Bell is then a combination of all three social spaces as described by Lefebvre. It is spatial practice in that it is experienced as a social, fiscal and psychological state. It is a representation of space because it is perceived as a divided space; a place of revenue collection and capital transaction. It is a representational space as it is a space as imagined by the writer. It is a Fitzrovia bar based on a series of actual Fitzrovia bars, yet is at the same time a fictional space. It is a spatial practice as it links the real and the fictional spaces of Charlotte Street and Rathbone Place. These are traversed and linked and from this a location is created.

Hamilton employs three representative characters to illustrate the life of the bar. The first of these has been discussed briefly above. McDonald, known as Illegal Operation, is described as having a name, “transcended by reputation”:[30]

He was about thirty-two, and wore grey flannel trousers, a sports coat, rather dirty shirts, and knitted ties. He had sandy hair, rather closely cropped (as though he had acquired the habit in prison and rather fancied the style) and grey eyes. He had enormous ears, and along nose with a rather bashed in appearance –- an illegal nose, in fact and a full mouth and a large chin. Every now and again he tried to commit suicide, but could never manage to bring it off. Despite all these things, he really wouldn’t hurt a fly and was quite a good fellow if you didn’t rub him up the wrong way.

He lived in Fitzroy Square.[31]

There is a noticeable use of prison imagery in this description, both in the cropped hair and the suggestion of violence, against himself and others. McDonald lives in his own space and makes little attempt at social intercourse. Hamilton does not go into any great depth with either characterisation or character interaction with McDonald because that would not be the point; McDonald’s spatial story is one of isolation. To say that he lives in Fitzroy Square is to suggest either one of two courses. Firstly, that he might be living in one of the larger flats off a trust fund and is unemployable after his spell in prison. Secondly, it might suggest he maintains his reputation as ‘Illegal Operation’ by still performing such procedures when required.? The reader is not told much about McDonald but then does the reader need to be? There is an abjection about his appearance. As Kristeva writes, “it is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes an abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order”.[32] McDonald presents an elliptic quality and Bob (the barman), for instance, is described as being, “never quite [able to] make up his mind whether it was quite in order for an Illegal Operation to address the waiter as Bob”.[33] Later when Illegal Operation is in a conversation he is described as, “listening to the other (which took place very seldom)”.[34] His replies are drunken slurs, “Jussfussy” etc, but there is no indication that anyone actually listens to him.

Another character who seems to be rarely listened to is Mr Wall the ‘car salesman’, or rather a man, “obscurely connected with motors in Great Portland Street”.[35] Physically the description is brief, “a very sprightly little man…[h]e had a red face, fair hair, twinkling blue eyes, a comic little moustache and a bowler hat”.[36] Two details stand out here. One is the red face, usually symbolic of excessive alcohol consumption, and probably meant to suggest that in this context. Secondly is the bowler hat. This is one of the classic symbols of the English middle class, and Hamilton would later employ this detail in his comic novel Impromptu in Moribundia[37] when describing the little men of Moribundia (England). The hat is a badge of identity. It suggests the wearer’s nationality and their class, which is usually middle to upper. The result within the context of The Midnight Bell is to suggest something of the dissolute nature of Mr Wall with the effect produced by observing the difference between appearance and reality.

Hamilton goes into more detail about Wall’s character through the way that he speaks. These passages demonstrate Hamilton’s noted ability to listen and to absorb the language of the pub. Wall is described as follows:

His incorrigibility was his charm; indeed he kept his company perpetually diverted. But this was not because his jokes and innuendos were good, but because they were so terribly bad. You couldn’t believe that anyone could behave so badly and awfully, you loved to hear him exceed himself.[38]

His chosen form of comic expression is through language “tomfooleries”. For example:

It was a patter in the conditional. Similarly, in his own particular idiom, Martyrs were associated with Tomatoes, Waiters with Hot Potatoes, Cribbage with Cabbage, Salary with Celery (the entire vegetable world was ineffably droll), Suits with Suet, Fiascos with Fiancées and the popular wireless genius with Macaroni. He was perhaps, practically off his head.[39]

Like McDonald then he lives in his own little world, the world of the saloon bar. There are no details given as to where he might live as are supplied for the other regulars. The saloon bar is effectively his home; it is also his theatre. Like McDonald he is accepted as a face in the crowd, but not necessarily listened to.

“No …” said Mr Sounder. “As a matter of Absolute Fact, within the last hour I have been in the Throes of Composition.”
“So long as it ain’t a false position,” said Mr Wall. “It’s all right.”
“I have in fact brought forth a sonnet,” he said.
“Oh,” said Mr Wall. “Didn’t know you wore a Bonnet. Glad to hear it.”[40]

The conversation continues with the following exchange.

“I’m a poet, if you’d only know it. There you are!
‘I’m a poet,
If you’d only know it!’
There you are! That’s Poetry, ain’t it?”
“Hardly”, said Mr Sounder.
“No!” cried Mr Wall becoming perfectly violent in his endeavour to convince. “That’s Poetry.
‘I’m a poet,
If you’d only know it!’
That’s Poetry all right! That’s Poetry!”
“Of a Somewhat Crude Kind. I fear,” said Mr Sounder reflectively.
“No. That’s Poetry!” complained a tortured Mr Wall. “That’s good Poetry, that is!”[41]

This desperate need for acceptance through being listened to lends Mr Wall a sad air. Though at the same time his desperation and the continual insistence with which he states himself suggests that there is an aspect of the bully about him. Mr Wall has spent so long in this one space that, as Horton and Reynolds have shown, the length of his residence in this location defines the action space he as an individual works in. His action space has a direct effect on the individual’s cognitive impression of the urban spatial structure.[42] Mr Wall’s prolonged periods at the bar mean that he sees the bar as the only space where he has real substance. Outside of the bar he is another of the ghostly men (like McDonald) walking the streets attempting to find some meaning to their life.

The final character to be considered is Mr Sounder. In the text he is described as follows:

His appearance was eccentric. Though of short stature he wore a thick beard and moustache which (though they did not in fact decrease his height) created an illusion of dwarfishness. This impression was augmented by the hair on his head, which went back in a thick mane, magnificent for his age, which was something over fifty….He wore, and had worn for years without interruption, a thick tweed suit, a soft collar, and a heavy bow tie.[43]

Hamilton adds that he lives in Osnaburgh Terrace, where Bruce Hamilton[44] had once resided. Indeed the physical and character description of Mr Sounder is the fullest of any of the bar regulars but then he might well be an aspect of the Hamilton psyche; cadging drinks like Patrick Hamilton, living at the Osnaburgh as did Bruce Hamilton or writing bad poetry/prose as did Hamilton’s own father Bernard.[45] An example of Mr Sounder’s work is as follows:

Beginning with an impassioned apostrophe to the “fretted lights and tall aspiring nave,” Mr Sounder went straight ahead to describe the music, which was coming in “wave on wave,” and which in so doing (as we might have known) his “Soul did lave.[46]

Sounder represents the type of writer that Hamilton detested. The PEN club was always an association Hamilton felt dubious about. He is noted as having only attended once. For him writers such as Hugh Walpole who treated their writing as if it were a gentlemanly pursuit were not to be respected. Is Sounder aware that he is little regarded and a possessor of no particular talent? If he was aware would he find himself in ‘The Midnight Bell’? Like McDonald and Wall the bar is his theatre space, it may be his only true existence. His need for the bar is such that he actually crosses the Euston Road, from Osnaburgh Terrace on the north side to the pub on the south side. He therefore crosses one of the unspoken boundaries of London to enter the bar. De Certeau describes the way in which a theatre of actions is created: “a legitimate theatre for practical actions”.[47] The bar presents a space that is fragmented, miniaturised and polyvalent. The pub milieu is a diversified space as this fictional area is firstly the composite of several actual locations. The author has used a heterogeneous source of references to break down actual territorial divinities, i.e. the actual ‘The Midnight Bell’ and Hamilton’s version. In Sounder’s crossing of the boundary that is Euston Road there is an “excommunication of a territorial divinity”. The line that marks central London and its northern areas is often marked as this road.

The Plains of Cement was written in 1934 and completed the series of novels that would be published in 1935 as Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky. Its timeframe though is concurrent with that of The Midnight Bell and it is beneficial to an understanding of the saloon bar to examine the character of the text’s key male character, Mr Eccles. This is a very different type of individual to Messer’s Wall or Sounder. For them the bar is a theatre, a location where they can be the dominant elements as opposed to the implied vacuum of their lives outside ‘The Midnight Bell’. Mr Eccles though acknowledges his middle-aged, lower middle-class status, dressing in the “conservative collars, ties and garments of a respectable middle-aged clerk”.[48] Physically he is unprepossessing, “his bright blue eyes, his decided walk, his quick smile, his erect stature, the nervous turns of his body and movements of his arms, all said the same thing”.[49] This being the world of Patrick Hamilton Mr Eccles does have one outstanding feature:

Mr Eccles had a Tooth in his head. This was a large one right in the centre of the upper front row, and gained eminence in his mouth less from its size than from its crooked tendencies, insomuch as it came pointedly forth and hung down over the next tooth.[50]

Its appearance so distracts Ella that whilst in conversation with Mr Eccles she cannot concentrate on what is being said, merely on what a dentist might do. Mr Eccles is not a man whose conversation would dominate a bar as Mr Wall would. The tooth dominates the conversations he and Ella have and it is only he and Ella in these exchanges of dialogue. Even then Ella comes second to Mr Eccles himself, his main relationship is with himself and Hamilton expresses this by illustrating the relationship Mr Eccles has with his new, trilby, hat.

You could see at a glance that for the time being the man lived in and though his hat. You could see that it cost him sharp torture even to put it on his head, where he could not see it, and it had to take its chance. You could see him searching incessantly for furtive little glimpses of his hat in mirrors, you could see him adjusting his tie as a sort of salute to his hat, as an attempt to live up to his hat. You could see him striving to do none of these things.[51]

It is only with Ella that he really talks to anyone within the bar, as opposed to Wall or Sounder who will talk to anyone. They though are motivated by the need for drink. With Mr Eccles the talk is part flirting as Hay suggests. In his case he treats Ella as a maternal figure, someone who is capable of guiding him through life. Sex plays very little part in their exchanges and he following exchange illustrates something of this approach:

“How am I responsible?” she added. “Eh?”
“Well – you told me to get another – didn’t you?”
“Me? I didn’t”
“Yes, you did, Surely you remember.”
“I didn’t,” said Ella.
“Oh yes, you did,” said Mr Eccles. “Don’t you remember telling me I ought to get a new one?”
“Oh well,” said Ella, “Ought…that’s not telling you.”
“Well I thought so. I took it as a command.”
Oh, why wouldn’t Bob come in, thought Ella.
“It’s not for me,” she said, “to command you.”
“Oh – isn’t it?” said Mr Eccles in the vague and preoccupied tone of one whose intentions of dalliance with her were now to manifest to be disputed.
“Are you interested,” said Mr Eccles, “in the theatre at all?”[52]

What he offers Ella is noble enough, a way out of the drudgery of the life she currently leads. Ella as the text makes clear is a Pimlico girl, a notoriously run-down area of London even into the 1980s, the working class life is what she was born into and it is all she can reasonably expect. She has dreams, marriage and a family with Bob being the main one. However from reading The Midnight Bell we know how hopeless her dream is. Mr Eccles is of a higher social class. He is a resident of Chiswick?, which immediately extends his ‘action area’ outside of the confines of Fitzrovia. During the course of the narrative he takes Ella to a Lyons Corner House in Baker Street, to Oxford Circus and walks with her up the Tottenham Court Road. He has the disposable income to be able to afford these treats for Ella. Yet she rejects him. The reason may lie in what French describes as Hamilton’s “high Victorian mechanistic view of the world, to which he gave a pessimistic, retributive slant of its own.”[53] Within The Plains of Cement this world view is projected through the character of Mr Eccles. “By the way,” as he introduces himself to Ella initially, “I don’t think you know my name yet, do you.”[54] It is in the use of the words ‘know’ and ‘yet’ (as Hamilton notes in the text) which concerns Ella. The emphasis is on her having to know. That she will be told whether she likes it or not. She has “entered into a compact with him”[55] no matter what her personal opinion is. Widdowson’s description of the Hamiltonian world, that it is about “ex-First World War Officers … old Edwardians who have survived into the alien, servantless, world of the 1920s and 1930s … and failing members of the middle class from whom ‘gentility’ remains a principle without substance”[56] seems particularly attributable to Mr Eccles.

Mr Eccles may not have the dubious background of some of the other regulars, nor may he have the same need for drink fuelled oblivion or the need to dominate the crowd. He does though correspond to this idea of the ‘ghostly men’ walking the streets in search of a meaning to their lives. The impact of the First World War is never directly mentioned in any of these texts but its presence cannot be ignored. Bernard Hamilton had served in the Artillery on the western front giving his son an idea of the impact the post-war period would have on the generation of men who had served. Hamilton senior would do little with his life after the war, although it must be acknowledged that he had done little before it. Mr Eccles is another of the autobiographical constructions that Hamilton would continually create in which memories of Chiswick, his father, an understanding of an area he knew, in this case Fitzrovia, and a developing understanding of the nature of the saloon bar clientele are the forces that help create Mr Eccles. He is a different figure to those of Wall, Sounder and McDonald but still a part of the scene and one that must be reflected.

The impact of the First World War is never directly mentioned in any of these texts but its presence cannot be ignored. As The Midnight Bell is set in 1930 we can assume that many of the men who drink at the bar are of an age to have served in France or Flanders. The companionship of the bar becomes a recreation of the sense of comradeship experienced in the trenches. The landlord, the ‘guv’nor’, becomes a symbolic reconstruction of the officer. This area becomes a place for such men to escape to or hideaway from society. Drink becomes a means of anaesthetising memories. This oblivion of memory becomes then the guiding imperative for those who drink at ‘The Midnight Bell’.

What power does the space of the bar possess? Is it a neutral space, “deprived of legitimacy” as de Certeau suggests? Lefebvre suggests that “a writers conception of some particular place should be understood in relation to the wider historical and social meaning of that site.” 48 This would refer us back to the earlier description of Fitzrovia’s dominant sub-culture of drinking or a place in which to relocate to for those of a dubious background. The primacy of the bar as a localised topoi and instigator of its own particular demotic does not suggest that, “the disappearance and fragmentation of the narrations that organised frontiers and appropriations”, 49 but I would suggest merely a reduction in their scope. The bar becomes a hyper-complex space, with various levels -– social, geographical, political, allegorical each fighting for supremacy as the key aspect to the bar’s spatial story.


[1] Burgess, Anthony: Little Wilson and Big God, Vintage, 1987, p287.

[2] Pentelow, Mike and Rowe, Marsha: The Fitzrovians, Felix Dennis Publishing, 2002, p194

[3] Buchan, John: The Thirty-Nine Steps, Oxford University Press, 1915, p8

[4] David, Hugh: The Fitzrovians, Michael Joseph, 1988, p x.

[5] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Vintage, 1935, p263.

[6] Ibid, p264.

[7] Ibid, p264.

[8] Ibid, p264.

[9] Hay, Valerie: Patricarchy and Pub Culture, Tavistock Publications. London and New York, 1986, p41.

[10] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, p30.

[11] Ibid, p30.

[12] Mass Observation: The Pub and the People, A Worktown Study, London. Victor Gollancz, 1943, p266-7.

[13] Ibid, p266-7.

[14] Hay, Valerie: Patricarchy and Pub Culture, Tavistock Publications. London and New York, 1986, p41.

[15] Kirkby, Diane: Barmaids. A History of Women’s Work in Pubs, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p2.

[16] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, p334.

[17] Ibid, p334.

[18] Ibid, p335.

[19] Ibid, 335.

[20] Hay, Valerie: Patriarchy and Pub Culture, Tavistock Publications. London and New York, 1986, p46.

[21] Ibid, p42.

[22] Spradley, James and Mann, Brenda: The Cocktail Waitress. Woman’s Work in a Man’s World, John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1975, p62.

[23] Stallybrass, Peter: The Politics and Poetics of Transgression, Cornell University Press, 1996, p135.

[24] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, pp25 & 29.

[25] Bacon, Seldon. D, ‘Alcohol and Complex Society’ in Society, Culture and Drinking Patterns, eds David J. Pittman & Charles R. Snyder, John Wiley and Sons New York & London, 1982.

[26] Widdowson, P.J, ‘The Saloon Bar Society: Patrick Hamilton’s Fiction in the 1930s in The 1930s: A Challenge to Orthodoxy ed John Lucas, The Harvester Press, 1978, p124.

[27] Mass The Pub and the People, A Worktown Study, London. Victor Gollancz, 1943, p251.

[28] Falk, Das, ‘ Towards an Archaeology of the Discourse on Alcohol’ in The Social History of Alcohol. Drinking and Culture in Modern Society, Conference Berkeley, California, Jan 1984, eds Susanna Barrows, Robin Room and Jeffrey Verhey

[29] Thacker, Andrew: Moving through Modernity. Space and Geography in Modernism, Manchester University Press, 2003, p19.

[30] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, p117.

[31] Ibid, p117.

[32] Kristeva, Julie: Powers of Horror, An Essay on Abjection trans Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press: New York, 1982, p4.

[33] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, p118.

[34] Ibid, p119.

[35] Ibid, p63.

[36] Ibid, p63.

[37] Hamilton, Patrick: Impromptu in Moribundia, Trent Editions, 1939, pp171, 178-80.

[38] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, p63.

[39] Ibid, p64.

[40] Ibid, p65.

[41] Ibid, p65.

[42] Horton, Frank E. & Reynolds David R. ‘Effects of Urban Spatial Structure on Individual Behaviour’ in Internal Structure of the City. Readings on Space and Environment ed Larry S. Bourne, Oxford University Press, 1982 2nd Edn, p116.

[43] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, p21-2

[44] Kelly’s Business Directory 1930. Westminster Archives.

[45] A part of Bernard Hamilton’s novel Coronation (1902) as quoted in Sean French. Patrick Hamilton, Faber and Faber, 1993, p17.

[46] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935,

[47] Ibid, p337.

[48] Ibid, p458.

[49] Ibid, p338.

[50] Ibid, p344.

[51] French, Sean: Patrick Hamilton, Faber and Faber, 1993, p156.

[52] Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Vintage, 1935, p339.

[53] Ibid, p339.

[54] Widdowson, P.J, ‘The Saloon Bar Society: Patrick Hamilton’s Fiction in the 1930s in The 1930s: A Challenge to Orthodoxy ed John Lucas, The Harvester Press, 1978, p118.

To Cite This Article:

Simon W. Goulding, ‘Fitzrovian Nights’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 4 Number 1 (March 2006). Online at Accessed on [date of access].