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Young Chelsea—The Early Years

by Warwick Pitch, March 1990


Caricature of Warwick Pitch by Tammy Chaston (1990)

Caricature of Warwick Pitch by Tammy Chaston (1990)

It all began in 1968. I had been playing at the Under‑Thirty Club which met every Monday at the Eccleston Hotel in Victoria. When it changed hands, the new owner doubled the table money to ten shillings (50p) and this caused a number of us to consider forming a new club. The ringleader of this rebellion was Tony Blok and it was in his flat in Victoria that the Young Chelsea Bridge Club was born (prior to this I had made enquiries at the Hotel Eden in South Kensington which was prepared to let us have the use of a basement room).


Three weeks after our first duplicate (we decided to meet every Wednesday) a newcomer asked me, “Do you give Master Points?”


“What are they?” I replied. That was my first encounter with Mahmoud Sadek who subsequently installed himself as Master Points Secretary. To this day he writes out the little certificates with evident relish and then bestows them on (sometimes unwilling) recipients as though he is giving away a collector’s item.


Growth in our first year was slow and unspectacular. In my first annual report I noted that we had 85 members. Also worth a mention was that one of the four teams we entered in the London League won all its matches in the fourth division. In the autumn of 1968 the first Club Pairs Championship was held. It was won by Ben Green and Tony Wilcock after several recounts. Gordon O’Hair and I were the unlucky runners‑up.


The only thing of note that I can remember happening in 1969 was that Peter Donovan joined the club. Peter was Bridge correspondent of the Daily Mail and in touch with a much wider bridge circle than any of us at the time. It was he who eventually persuaded me that there were sufficient numbers of young players to warrant having the club open every day of the week.


This we did in March 1970. By that time we already had duplicate on Monday as well as Wednesday, and we now started one on Friday as well. Cut‑in rubber was available (in theory at least) at every session including week‑ends, and it was left to the players to decide the stakes. In the event this side of the club’s activities never took off. What did prosper was our social rubber game for no stake at all every Tuesday evening. This continued until the early eighties when the demand for duplicate finally extinguished it.


We stayed at the Hotel Eden until March 1972 by which time the size of the duplicates was sometimes too large to be accommodated in the basement room. When this happened the movement wound its way snake‑like through the hotel’s entrails, so that, if you were north‑south at table 19, your evening would be spent sitting in a dimly lit enclave surrounded by porters’ trolleys and assorted hotel paraphernalia. In the end, though, we left the Eden not because we had outgrown the room but because the hotel wanted to turn it into a dive bar and sauna.


We moved to The Mansions on the corner of Earls Court Road and Bramham Gardens, and our home for the next four years was a large family flat with six rooms plus kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen enabled the club to start its own catering and we employed a cook (Mrs Cosgrove, but known to one and all as Mrs C), and we turned one of the small rooms into a bar. It bore no relation to our present bar for it could only accommodate six people!


By the time we moved to the Mansions the number of days the club was open regularly had been reduced from seven to four—duplicate on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and social rubber on Tuesday; and this is how it remained throughout our sojourn there. The two attempts to start up a lower standard duplicate on Thursday both failed. On the second occasion I had scented success with what we called a Social Duplicate; but then I went on holiday for a fortnight, and on my return found a thriving poker school in action on that day instead!


In 1973 I joined the LCCBA Committee and at my first meeting I sat next to Alan Hiron. He told me that on his wedding night he played in a 12‑hour bridge marathon. That gave me an idea and on my return to the club I announced, “Guess what chaps? We’re going to have a 24‑hour duplicate.” They thought I was joking, but that was the origin of an event which is now established as one of the highlights of the club year. The event we have today, though, has improved over the years, and is a far cry from the first one. That was won by Mahmoud (who played throughout) partnered variously by Roger Edmonds and Colin Simpson. Mahmoud has since played in every marathon, except those in 1985 and 1986 when I insisted he help me on my side of the fence.


Our stay at The Mansions was marred from the outset by one unfortunate circumstance. Not long after our arrival the lady in the adjoining flat objected to our presence—not that we were in any way annoying her (we were not a noisy lot), but we did not have planning permission to have a club on the premises. It was unlucky that she happened to be Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea, and a summons was not long in coming. At the hearing my plea that I lived there and had lots of bridge‑playing friends cut no ice and the case was lost. An enforcement notice was served on us by the Council. We had to go, they said, but where?


In the event we remained there for four years until the beginning of 1976. There were two reasons for this. Our landlord, Sir Charles Rowley, was sympathetic and knew we would go as soon as we found somewhere else, so he did nothing to exacerbate our situation. When our lease came to an end, he could not renew it, but this meant he could not accept any rent from us. He let this continue for eighteen months, but when we did leave he was paid in full.


Secondly, although the Council served an enforcement order on us on three occasions, when the enforcement officer paid his three visits he found no evidence of a bridge club. Instead (thanks to the late Bill Bray who had an antique shop in the Kings Road) he was able to compliment me on my impeccable taste in furniture and objets d’art.


Our quest for new premises finally ended when I received a tip‑off from the ham man (the man who brought our ham every day) that the Zambesi Club was up for sale. When I visited the club it seemed anything but ideal for our purposes, but I nevertheless asked Tony Blok to come and have a look and he was immediately impressed.


Originally we only wanted the club premises (basement and ground floor), but we were told it was the whole building or nothing. And so it was that we acquired the lease at 32 Barkston Gardens, inheriting a world famous drinking club and 16 flats to boot. When the transaction was completed, I remember Tony and me sitting in a room in the basement which then served as an office. Tony just roared with laughter. We had come a long way in eight years!



Page last updated 9 August 2017