Posts Tagged ‘London hostel Chelsea 1975’

a retrospective series about a trip to the UK when I was 20 years old, recreated from journals, letters, and photos (I have relied on old slide captions so cannot guarantee the locations are correct.)

Thursday, 10 July 1975

Arriving in London after a long bus ride from Cornwall, I tried to find lodging at the YWCA where I’d stayed in June, 32 Warwick Square.  At £2 a day, it is more expensive than a youth hostel, but it was such a nice place, all women, breakfast included, near to Victoria Station.  I was tired of the funny looks and “hows” that I keep getting from men.  I tired and tried to call the YWCA, kept getting a continuous high tone instead of a ring.  Gave up and walked over.  But they were full.  Trying to not feel disappointed, I called up the Youth Hostel.  Kept getting that weird high pitched tone until the YWCA woman told me that I should not be dialing the 01 code first.

Called the biggest hostel and was told they had no room, but they would refer me to a private hostel that did.  I called that number and a man said that they did not have room but that if I’d come over, he would send me in a taxi to a hostel that did.  So off I went.  It was near Holland Park on a two train journey on the awesome underground. To get from one train to another, I had to go down the horribly scary escalator at Victoria Station, descending thousands of feet into the pit of hell.  [I’m phobic about escalators, and would always choose an elevator or stairs if I could.]  

After a bit of difficulty with house numbers (they went from 27 to 1 and then started in the 40s after the 1!), I found the hostel.  Oh, my!  In all my sheltered life, I have never been in such a place.  Dirty and disorganized, the hostel took up four houses in the terrace.  It was crammed full of beds.  The kitchen water was cut off because “the plumber is busy” and the back yard was full of tents and people walking around carrying teakettles and looking for water.  The premises overflowed with people in dirty t shirts.  (Just you try to keep a t shirt clean when traveling light!)  I did not like the look of the place at all.  I would not have liked to leave my possessions there when out for the day.

Two other women were waiting for the taxi ride.  A big beefy American man from Ithaca, named Joe, made tea for us.  A nice fellow.  When there were four women needing beds, off we went in a taxi.  Darn, it was a regular car instead of a lovely black taxi!  On the way, I heard the hostel man who had come with us saying something about $600 a day expenses, or was it $600 a month [must have been a month] and at £1.50 a head, $1000 in income.  I was thinking that it was generous of them to pay the taxi for us, which cost £1.20, but later realized that if they were getting £1.50 each from us in their chain of private hostels, it behooved them to encourage our patronage.

I wasn’t pleased when I heard the hostel was in Chelsea.  For some strange reason, I had bad ideas about that neighbourhood.  But when we got there, I was amazed.  It is on the Chelsea Embankment, right on the Thames, about 500 yards from the Albert Bridge, which is beautifully lit at night.  I paid my £1.50  and was shown to my dorm.  The hosteller said “The passageways are a rabbit warren.”  We went up a grand staircase, around a corner, to a room that has beautiful pillars and ceiling, a fireplace,  a balcony with vines on it.  It is so grand that it feels like a small ballroom.  Outside, there is a street clock to one side of the balcony.  The building has an old rickety lift that I was told still works.  There are two bathrooms with three toilets for the whole place.  The third floor bathroom is beautifully tiled.  Women and men share the same bathrooms. [I think now that someone had inherited this place and was running a hostel on the cheap or perhaps the whole situation had to do with squatting.]

Google street view today

view from the second floor; I was entranced by chimney pots

view of the Thames from my room

view from the third floor loo

view from the second floor loo of idyllic flat with greenhouse

I got a bed by the gorgeous huge double door style windows, three across the room.  Had a long wait at the bathroom and then was able to wash my hair.  (I read an old Spiderman comic while waiting.)  I went to bed and slept well.

Friday, 11 July 1975

near the Chelsea Bridge


Today I walked to Victoria Station, bought a Red Rover bus pass, went to the post office and the bank and tourist info, got a map for a present for Bird and some extra tourist booklets, found out about the St Albans market, then sightsaw at St Johns Wood [a fancy neighbourhood, perhaps reputed to be the home of a Beatle or two], the very expensive Madame Tussaud’s (worth it) and the planetarium (not worth it).

Saint Johns Wood

Saint Johns Wood

Saint Johns Wood

Saint Johns Wood

Saint John’s Wood

I saw the Changing of the Guard—great music! (must get there earlier to avoid just seeing people’s backs), Buckingham Palace, St James Park, Regents Park, the outside of the London Zoo (discount price is on Mondays, must decide if worth it), Piccadilly Circus.

Regents Park

Regents Park

I was starving, so I  bought a burger—£1 without ketchup or butter or anything—half raw.  A half hour earlier, I had bought two sausage rolls and thrown the pastry out because it was raw.  But I was so hungry that the burger tasted great.  I overheard an English man saying to another, “She must be an Indian,” and I wanted to reply (but did not), “Must be one of those rude men who can’t accept anyone who doesn’t wear a little suit and tie or a frock.”

The movie theatre marquees here are revolting.  “A Story of Rape.” “How to Seduce a Virgin.” “The Violator.”  [This creeped me out particularly because back in Seattle, I was a counselor and the statistics compiler for the rape crisis centre.]

The only example I photographed. At least it looks consensual.

[I wandered into Soho from Piccadilly Circus, not expecting what I found.] There are scores of sex shops with graphic magazines in full view in the windows and sidewalk stalls and all manner of men standing about licking their lips.

How can a London man ever get an idea of women’s equality when bombarded by this stuff? Also, the job centres advertise for “girls” and shops discriminate in their help wanted signs: “Young lady needed” and “Needed: experienced sales lady.” muttermuttermuttermuttermutter

Got back to Chelsea hostel at 9:15. Signed on to stay here through Sunday night.  Will then decide my next step.  I went to Pan Am today, and I should get the 1:10 flight on Friday, because by then I will be down to my last pence in spending money.  [Even into my early 30s, on the rare occasions when I could afford to travel by plane in the USA, I would come back with just a few coins left, and woe betide if a plane was late and no food was on offer!]

Saturday, 12 July 1975

Today I caught the 9:42 bus to St Albans, arrived 11:05, to go to the market because of Donovan’s song “There was a time…”

On a windy Saturday
St. Alban’s market day
Little did I know
the work I was to do
Or the love I had to show

Lots of clothes were on sale, no crafts, used books, painted mirrors, fruit.  Got a delicious sandwich quite cheap, of cucumber and tomato and cheese.  Ate a juicy peach and some strawberries. [One of my strongest memories of London, one that I did not write down, was how delicious the fruit was…especially the juicy peaches at the street markets.] Took photos. Walked quite a ways looking for the cathedral but got off the track and ended up in the outskirts of town.  Walked back and decided to go up the clock tower.  Very narrow stairs, round and round, getting narrower as I went up.  I did not look forward to going down.  The reward was a view (saw the cathedral three blocks away). 

St. Albans clock tower view

My caption says Verulamium Cathedral, which is not right, per Google. Verulamium is an old name for St Albans.

looking down on the St Albans market

I took a photo at the top of the tower of a young Asian man and an English girl with their instamatic.  Going down, I asked a man coming up if I could go around him on the outside (where the steps were wider and had room for my toes) because I had acrophobia.  He acquiesced. As he went on up, he said to his companion, “What’s agger-phobia, a fear of dogs?” and they both laughed.

St Albans Market


Shops all over the UK have statues of various sorts to collect for charities, from human health to homes for elderly donkeys.

I browsed around St Albans for awhile.

I then took the bus back to London and went on the underground to “Angel” in order to find the Camden Passage Antique Market which is described in “What’s on in London” as having cobblestones, boutiques, and pubs.  Got lost again, figured out later I took the wrong way from the station.  Because of cold rain, I got on a red bus as I had a Red Bus Rover Pass and rode the top deck out to Whipps Cross and back. 

I had hoped for interesting sights but just saw a regular suburb, so I went back to the hostel.  The rest of the day was nondescript although I did take a short walk along the Chelsea Embankment and became so tired that I went early to bed.

Chelsea embankment

on the Chelsea embankment

Chelsea embankment window boxes

Tomorrow: another market day

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