A Knight’s Tale (66: Horse And Dolphin Yard)

In 1975 Jessica, Michael, and I settled in Horse and Dolphin Yard in the centre of London’s Chinatown.

This photograph of Jessica reflected in the Peel Boys’ Club taken in July that year suggests that our move took place in the summer. The flat was one of two in an historic courtyard building owned by the City of Westminster, and obtained for me by Bill Ritchie, then Director of Social Services. The ground floor was dedicated as a storeroom to the parks and gardens department. There followed five Soho years during which a mine of stories was quarried.

It was probably in 1976 that Jessica photographed me with, from left to right, Pete, Michael, Matthew, and Becky. This was the one occasion on which I visited a favourite family holiday resort mentioned in my last episode – too basic for me. There was no running water, which was gained by means of a cold pipe on the hillside; everything was damp; you had to walk past next door’s chained up snarling dogs straining to get at you, and dig a pit every morning in which to bury the contents of the primitive Elsan. The family loved it.

Pete lived in an estate opposite us at The Peel. He and Michael became friends there and continued their relationship afterwards.

In no particular chronological order, there will follow a series of Soho stories.

Michael, in his early teens decided to keep and breed rabbits.  Now, there isn’t much room in Chinatown, so there was nothing for it but a rooftop farm.  Michael, always inventive, built a runway across the roofs in the Yard, using ladders to circumvent the different heights of the various roofs he had to pass before reaching his chosen site.  This was the flat roof of the then offices of Boosey & Hawkes, the largest sheet music publishers in the world. The staff there, incredibly, had no problem with what was happening. In those days produce for the myriad of Chinese restaurants in Gerrard Street came in wooden boxes which were discarded and left for the binmen.  These boxes made good firewood, but Michael had other uses for them.  He used them to build rabbit hutches and to make a safety barrier for his pets around the perimeter of the roof.

An elderly woman in an upper floor of a block of flats overlooking the area received so much pleasure  from watching the rabbits frolicking in the sunlight that she took to leaving vegetable scraps on our doorstep to supplement their diet.

One of the ladders reaching from our roof to the next one spanned a skylight which was so begrimed as to be invisible.  That is why, when one of Michael’s friends decided to jump instead of using the ladder which Michael had carefully placed to avoid such an eventuality, he went clean through it.  I was summoned, peered through the smashed window, and saw Simon in the clutches of a gentleman who had no intention of letting him go.  I rushed round into Gerrard Street, managed to work out in which building the boy was being held, searched through the warren of rooms until I came to the right one, and persuaded the man to release him. The lad was unharmed.

Years later, Becky sent me this photograph of her own daughter,

Florence, outside the entrance to this yard, which, now containing up-market

eating places has totally changed from even then. In the mid-seventies £1 could buy you a good set meal in Gerrard Street


  1. I love your description of the holiday “resort,” complete with snarling dogs. I can deal with no electricity or running water, but the digging of the waste disposal pit every day would have finished me. Michael sounds like quite the enterprising kid!

  2. I enjoyed the story of the holiday resort, and especially Michael’s rabbits. I can just picture the poor lad crashing down through a skylight, in the clutches of the gentleman below. Rick was once robbed at gunpoint by a burglar crashing down through a skylght where he worked.

      1. Rick was working as a manager in a drug store, and was closing out the register and preparing to take the day’s cash to the night deposit. It was after closing, and the burglar had been on the roof waiting for the building to empty. The fall through the skylight was an accident. The man was very nervous and Rick had started to wrestle him, but then though better of it and lay face down and did what he was told. Than burglar made off with about $50 in the drawer and forgot all about the big bag of cash going to the night deposit.

    1. Thank you so much, Laurie. You can still get an all you can eat buffet at a comparable price, with the proviso that you have only 40 minutes and have to pay extra for anything you don’t eat. They would meet their match with our son, Matthew.

  3. Such changes in a place during your own lifetime chronicles the speed at which we are living now. The rabbit story is priceless.

    1. As you know, I’m with you re the resort, Sheree. I actually don’t remember what happened to the rabbits, but, knowing Michael he might well have marketed them. Thanks a lot.

  4. Wonderful stories, Derrick. I agree with you about the “resort.” No running water would have been a deal breaker for me, and the other things just make it sound worse.
    Michael does sound very enterprising. I can’t imagine the rabbits on the roof would be allowed now.

  5. Great stories and adventures! Great memories! Love the Michael and his rabbits story! 🙂 I wonder at the height of rabbitdom how many rabbits he had! ??? I would’ve loved to have watched them!
    In that photo of your children…Michael’s ingenuity and personality shines through. 🙂 Matthew, too! 🙂
    I would’ve loved to visit the sheet music publishers place!
    I’m glad Simon was okay! Scary! 😮
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  6. I remember seeing the Boosey and Hawkes offices in the 70’s as I spent a lot of my time in London taking part in musical activities. Little did I know that the roof was home to countless rabbits living in hutches made from pallets by an enterprising young man! Life seemed to be more unpredictable, edgier and exciting/scary in the 70’s.

  7. Like the rest of your fan base, I am enjoying your yarns about a life well spent.

    I held my breath when I got to the part about the lad crashing through the sky light.

  8. Telling a story amongst older photos is wonderful. I bet your grandchildren will have a giggle at how the “oldies” looked way back then.

  9. This instalment contains amazing stories that are timeless in content and appeal. Those proceedings could easily have happened in a Victorian era novel. Imagine Charles Keeping producing an illustration about the capture and release of the fallen boy!

  10. How lovely to hear about Michael.
    When I read the part about the young friend in the clutches of an angry man, Charles Dickens popped to mind. Then I visualised you drawing the event!

  11. What a lovely memory of a great neighborhood. The rabbits! The publishing company not objecting! The neighbors LIKING it and leaving food for them. Paradise.

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