Monday, December 05, 2011

The Fellowship Inn

In comments to an earlier post on 1960s mod venues in South London, a few people mentioned the Fellowship Inn in Bellingham (Randlesdown Road, SE6). The pub, which is still open today, has an interesting history.

A pub for the future

The pub was built to serve the London County Council's Bellingham Estate, which was developed in the 1920s. Both the estate and the pub were seen as examples of a new kind of modern urban living, as this report of the pub's official opening in makes clear: ‘In an effort to evolve an ideal public house, a big brewery firm has opened a “fellowship inn” at Bellingham, which is the first of a group of inns intended to serve alcoholic beverages and to cater to the social wants of all classes and particularly of families. The inn’s sign was painted by Sir Arthur Cohe, member of the Royal Academy. Inside the inn there is a large hall where music, dances, concerts and lawful games may be enjoyed. The inn has its own band and its own entertainmennts and the customers sit at small tables in the continental cafĂ© style, consuming tea, coffee or ale as they prefer. The opening ceremony of the inn was attended by several society people as well as by county council officials who are watching the experiment of those new inns with interest. The cooks and waitresses of the new public house have been instructed at a school instituted by the brewery company whose chair claims that the liquor problem cannot be solved by prohibition, government control or local option, and suggests his way – fellowship – is the right one’ (Spartanburg Herald, 6 July 1924 - how this came to be reported in a US local paper I don't know)

In 1930 the council of the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning (including German, Dutch and Austrian delegates) visited Bellingham Estate and heard tell of its ‘two churches, two schools, and a licensed refreshment house, Fellowship Inn’ (Times 29 September 1930). Still business couldn’t have been that great because in 1933 the pub’s landlord, Mr T. Croker, was declared bankrupt at Greenwich court (Times, 16 September 1933).

During the 1940s and 50s, jazz bands played there including the River City Jazzmen. The South London Jazz Club put on events at the Inn.

Henry Cooper

Boxer Henry Cooper, who died last year, grew up on the Bellingham Estate. In 1963, he lived and trained at the Fellowship Inn in preparation for his famous fight with Cassius Clay (later Muhammed Ali), as reported in the American magazine Sports Illustrated (July 1 1963):

'at the Fellowship Inn in Bellingham, in southeast London, the menfolk munched pork pies and lifted their nightly pints of lukewarm bitter in salute to the doggerel posted over the bar by one of the regulars. It made the point that Humble Henry would soundly thrash Gaseous Cassius "and once again prove that very old adage:/Action speaks louder than strong verbal cabbage!"

At the end of the week Macmillan and Clay were still in command of things and the "Ode to our 'Enery" had been quietly unpinned at the pub. It was about all the men of Bellingham could do for their friend after his brave and ghastly fight. Just as Clay had promised, Cooper went in five. For weeks he had lived at the Fellowship, taking his meals there, training in the back room when a wedding reception or tea party did not interfere. He was among friends and did not seem to mind that Clay was all over London calling him a cripple and a bum ("He's building up the gate, and I'm on a percentage just like he is")'.

Henry Cooper training in Bellingham in 1963 from Daily Mirror -
pretty sure this was taken in the pub

The hall at the pub seems to have been hired out for churches as well as dances. Mary Bastable has recalled a childhood in the Jehovah’s Witnesses in her story Sister Jessie: ‘On Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons we met at the Kingdom Hall. We rented the dance hall behind the Fellowshop Inn pub at Bellingham. It was Henry Cooper’s pub; boxer, mate of the Krays. He lived there, and would lean out of the upstairs window and wave to us after the meeting on Sunday… The Fellowship Inn’s piano wasn’t up to much’ (published in Second Degree Tampering: writing by women, 1992).

Music and Mayhem

The large hall at Fellowship Inn was used for gigs. Fleetwood Mac played there on 25 September and 23 October 1968, part of a mammoth tour that also took in the Zodiac Club in Beckenham, The Star Hotel in Croydon, The Shakespeare Hotel in Woolwich and the legendary Fillmore West in San Francisco!

Bob Farrow, who used to work there in the 1960s, has been in touch with some great memories of the place: 'I used to work there helping out the guy who ran the Disco there. He was John Hoppy.- he also ran the Surrey Rooms by the Oval, The Falcon in Falconwood too. This was an evening job for me as I was at school still. This job (for me) was the bees knees. Good money (30 bob a night), free beer, tons of girls and great music - primarily Motown. I had to open up in the evening and my first job was to get the UV Flourescent lights working. When they were first turned on they would just flicker. The trick was to wipe them with a wet mop whilst turned on - life on the edge eh?'.

Bob also used to give out  tickets outside local train stations. Here's one from August 1968.  'Non stop dancing in the intimate Night Club atmosphere. Every Wednesday. Disc Show with 2 DJs'

Bob recalls 'Wenesday was gig night. Fleetwood Mac (Pete Green era - the best) were there a couple of times. The Blues Breakers, Yardbirds and many other great bands. After '68 Wednesday became disco night along with Friday and Saturday. This was Motown, Ska and Reggae - the typical kind of mix those days.

For a short time the club opened on Sundays for a non-disco disco. The regular DJ whose name I have forgotten had a night off and a progressive DJ came along but it flopped and was stopped after about four Sundays. Shame for although I love all music in particular Motown etc I had long hair (what I thought was) whilst the club was 90% skin heads and as I recall suedeheads'.

Another commenter at the earlier post recalled that they 'Used to play Ska music and we wore tonic suits. Lights were ultra violet so any white clothing would glow in the dark'.

This was a time when the mod look was developing into a distincut skinhead style with very short hair (but not to be confused with the 1980s post-punk bonehead revival look). Bob remembers the clothes, and the fights they sometimes caused in the cloakroom:

'The period I worked there was what I think of as the skinhead era. Most guys would be in tonic suits, Ben Sherman shirts, slipovers, def no flares!!!! Crombies for the poor and expensive sheepskins for the well to do skinhead. Though to be honest we had the odd donkey jacket in the cloakrooms on a cold night. Girls all in tight short skirts, Ben Shermans too!!!!! Horrible denim jackets plus the occasional sheepskin (often matching their boyfriends)'.

These were times of much 'aggro' as it was referred to and trouble was rife every night pretty much. There were a minimum of five bouncers every night. The boss John, despite being a small guy, was not the kind of guy you argued with. Though he was great to me I must say - others who upset him lived to regret it. I heard a story from my previous incumbent that some chap had been seriously injured on his involuntary way down the extremely long flight of stairs leading up to the club. The bouncers were a lovely bunch of ex-boxers who I spent many an hour chatting to. One exception was little (he wasn't) George who was a county Karate something or another and drove a mint American Hotrod. Another George was was indeed a regular sparring partner of Henry Cooper.

There were always lots and lots of fights. Particularly at closing time when everybody was trying to get their coats from the cloakrooms. This is when, without fail every night, somebody would lose their ticket and point to a nice sheepskin hanging up. 'That's mine mate'....... 'Sorry no ticket no coat - see George the bouncer'. Who settled disputes.

"give me my f****g coat c**t ' I actually had a mega memory in those days and made a point of remembering sheepskin owners - in particular the regulars who I got to know and would hand over their sheepskins to me like they were the crown jewels. There were more fights in the cloakrooms than at any other time and summers were a blessing. Many a time well before closing somebody would come in and ask me to throw their coat out of the window to them - we were on the first floor. He could then leave discretely without some 'bas***d' seeing him who had promised to sort him after! This was a regular happening.

Also, after somebody had been ejected by one of the bouncers they would manfully shout out 'I'm coming back with a mob!!!!' All regular everyday utterings. Though one night it happened - it had to eventually. Shortly after closing as I was helping clear up there was a noise downstairs of the doors being forced open and what sounded like a herd of angry Gorillas shouting and rushing up the stairs. Fortunately there were a lot of stairs and (as a civilian and coward) I dived through the nearest door - the Ladies - and locked myself manfully in a ladies cubicle. I emerged some time later and holding my head high emerged to a scene of carnage. Bodies and broken furniture everywhere, John the boss had a bloodied face but was clutching his briefcase to his chest and smiling 'great fun, great fun he was saying'. Yea rather you than me.

I think the disco was shut down in '72 - drugs being the main reason. The Landlady of the Pub itself apparently had some role to play in closing the disco and one of my lasting memories is of John the boss pouring a pint of beer over her head. Not easy - he was 5ft nothing and she was about six feet tall'.
1974 photo of the Fellowship Inn (from Ideal Homes
Thanks for the memories Bob. Always interested in any memories people want to share, especially about South London nights out, clubs, discos, music etc. Email

If you liked this you might also be interested in:

- Mods in South London.
- 1960s ska and soul clubs in South London.
- 1960s jazz and r'n'b in Blackheath (Green Man).
- The Mistrale club in Beckenham (1960s and early 70s)


Fedorovna said...

Does anyone know anything about Lewisham Council's proposed 'Disposal of the Fellowship Inn' (Bellingham)?

Adam Pope said...

Phoenix Community Housing now own the Fellowship Inn and are working towards bringing the building back to its former glory.
We are very interested in the history of the building and would love to hear from anyone who has stories, photographs or any other memories of the Fellowship and the surrounding area.
If you are interested in helping with the project please contact:

Adam Pope
Phone: 02031210216
Mobile: 07841864752

Phoenix Community Housing
The Green Man,
355 Bromley Road,
London SE6 2RP

Anonymous said...

Back in the 50s I watched when Lonny donegan's skiffle group played at The Fellowship, and Chris Barber's band also played there. Henry Cooper presented the prize to 'Miss Bellingham' winner Rita Wade, can't remember what year that was.

Anonymous said...

I used to go there in the 1950s, Lonnie Donogan and his skiffle group played there and Chris Barber's band also.
Henry Cooper presented first prize to the gorgeous 'Miss Bellingham', Rita Wade, can't remember which year though.

Anonymous said...

Pleased to announce that Phoenix Community Housing have been awarded £3.8 Million to restore the pub. Please se the attached article

Anonymous said...

My gran lived in Knapmill Road. I can remember, as a child, being terrified by the two giant Alsatians that the landlord kept on the roof. Even though they were 100 feet up, their barking used to scare the bejeebers out of me. Later, when old enough, the brothers and I sank many a pint there, sadly too late to visit any of the gigs in the basement room/

Unknown said...

I lived 115 randlesdown road spent many nights at the Fellowship with Fleetwood Mac