The above image is a modified version of the cover of the 1980 reissue of
the 1972 New English Library edition of Arthur C.Clarke's Tales from the
White Hart (1957). The mythical White Hart of the tales - which were written
between 1953 and 1956 - was based on the actual White Horse pub where London SF
fans and pros met in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Writers Sam Youd, Bertram
Chandler, Dave McIlwain, and John Beynon Harris appear as characters under their
professional pseudonyms, as does Clarke himself. Others who appear are 'Bert
Huggins', probably based on real-life fan Charlie Duncombe, 'Arthur Vincent',
probably based on real-life fan A.Vincent Clarke, and of course
the barman 'Drew', based on the legendary real-life barman of the White Horse
(and later the Globe) Lew Mordecai, to whom the book is dedicated.
The fanzine EYE #3 (Xmas '54) carried what Vince Clarke later described as "a somewhat
fulsome piece" by Frank Arnold about the White Horse. Originally titled "Mordecai
of the White Horse", its prose might be a little over-blown but it is also really
evocative of a vanished era. The article was recently reprinted in RELAPSE #18.
Editor Peter Weston liked my suggestion of adapting a Tales from the White Hart
cover to accompany it but preferred to use the original Ballantine edition.
The fanzine EYE #3 (Xmas '54) carried what Vince Clarke later described as "a somewhat fulsome piece" by Frank Arnold about the White Horse. Originally titled "Mordecai of the White Horse", its prose might be a little over-blown but it is also really evocative of a vanished era. The article was recently reprinted in RELAPSE #18. Editor Peter Weston liked my suggestion of adapting a Tales from the White Hart cover to accompany it but preferred to use the original Ballantine edition.
He has been "Mordecai of the Globe " for quite a while now,
but just as a famous admiral is always linked with the name of a
single famous ship ( Vian of the 'Cossack', Mountbatten of the
'Kelly', etc., ) so the name of Mordecai will always be coupled
with that of The White Horse Tavern, Fetter Lane: the house
whence he emerged from honourable nonentity to the ranks of
London's most famous taverners, assured of a place in our social
history along with Tom Lord, Ted Lloyd, Kit Catt, Tom Topham,
Dirty Dick, Charles Morton, Auguste Romano, Victor Berlemont,
Charley Brown, Walter Plinge and Sir Harry Preston.
A Londoner of the very pavements, Lewis Mordecai was born in Holborn in 1911, the son of a publican. All his boyhood memories are centred round this borough, and it was while he was going to St. Andrew's School, near the Viaduct, that his father became landlord of the Globe Tavern in Hatton Garden, where the family remained for many years.
Young Lewis was quite ready to follow his father into the family trade, with all its amenities and advantages, but naturally enough he wanted to sew a wild oat and see the world a bit before; settling down to the peaceful humdrum of a publican's life. In a word, sea-fever was in his blood and he was hearing things :
Hark! The voice of the ocean is calling
The call of the sea is never to be resisted by those who have heard it, and accordingly the young Mordecai applied for a job at the Orient Line, and was taken on as a steward, aged sixteen. Years of life on the waves were to follow.
Cape Horn, the China Seas, the Barrier Reef, the Barbary Coast, the Rio Grande, the Spanish Main, the Isles of Greece, Table Bay, the North Cape, the South Pacific --- Mordecai saw them all. Then came the war years, and Mediterranean convoys, with U-boats and dive-bombers all around; the Arctic convoys to Murmansk and Archangel, and pocket-battleships to cope with. Mordecai doesn't talk much of all those years, but sometimes, in quiet moments behind the bar, with his pipe going strong and the cat on his lap, there comes a faraway look into his eyes which tells us that the old shellback is dreaming dreams of long ago.
The war over and done with, Mordecai felt he had seen as much of the sea as he wanted; and it was time to settle down. A vacancy was going in a London tavern, and he took it, but after a time,things changed,and he came to the White Horse, with a pretty wife and a small son to keep him company (another small son came to join them a little later).
Here in Fetter Lane, so close to Holborn Viaduct, he was back on his native heath, with the familiar City clientele coming through his doors every day; the shopping crowds of Holborn, the staff people from Gamages, the Prudential and the Daily Mirror. Since most of his business was done in the daytime, with a brisk lunch trade at the midday hours, the evenings were comparatively quiet, with only a handful of regulars dropping in.
One evening in the week was an exception, however. For more than a year before his arrival a crowd of twenty or thirty young people had occupied the saloon bar for the whole of Thursday evening, every week with clockwork regularity. Their mutual interest was literary; they did a sale-and-exchange trade of books and magazines and talked themselves hoarse over their pet enthusiasm, a specialised form of literature, bearing the unappetising name of "science-fiction". They were not a formalised literary body -like the Poetry Society or the Dickens Fellowship. Theirs was more the loose fraternity of the Johnsonians; the Janeites, and the Baker Street Irregulars, united solely by their speciality.
Now, Mordecai had a touch of literary taste himself. It was no illiterate deck swabber who went to sea in 1927, but a fairly cultivated lad who always packed four or five books into his ditty-box, always. including a Shakespeare and a Dickens. The ostensible ringleaders were youngish men of his own age, Cockneys like himself, with the Cockney's robust and matey sense of humour In this atmosphere, Mordecai began to expand and breathe his own and in a very short while, boss and landlord though he was, he found himself drawn in irresistibly as one of the boys.
No one who knew the saloon bar of the White Horse, in its hey-day, from 1946 to 1953, will ever forget it. When we passed through that front door of a Thursday evening it was like stepping into our own drawing room, with the whole place and the whole crowd before our eyes at the first glance. It was a squarish, compact, oak-panelled room, one corner neatly cut off by the quadrant of the bar itself, a glass-panelled partition separating it from the public bar and with the staircase behind and overhanging it. The elements of a drawing room, a stage, an arena and a market-place were all present, and the scene was enlivened by a little undercurrent of drama that had brought the whole crowd together in the first place.
The aforesaid ringleaders had first united their forces before the war "to promote the aims and objects of science-fiction', and now, six years later, they realised that the only way to do it was to promote a magazine themselves. Accordingly, amateur journalists and artists who would be professionals were gathering round them like bees round a hive, and things were humming merrily. Amid the unwholesome atmosphere of post-war public affairs with its suspicions, animosities, and false alarms, the circle formed a bright little centre of enterprise, vision, progress and optimism, a force that was certain to make its impression and establish its foothold, sooner or later, on the vast, confused, incoherent market of commercial publishing.
But of course the circle as a whole, informal and unorganised, as it was, had no interest in commercial enterprise; they came in simply to meet their pals and have a chat. Now, in a public house the focus of interest is always the bar itself. Customers, may drift from table to table, spending ten minutes here or about half an hour there, but throughout the evening they return to the counter, for obvious reasons. The man behind the bar is usually a nonentity, but sometimes he can be the making or breaking of a circle of his customers. In this position Lew Mordecai showed up at his best.
He could discuss books with anyone in the room. He could tell a funny story with the best of them, and his repertoire was inexhaustible. He held his own easily in wisecracking backchat with Ted Carnell. He listened sympathetically to the doleful autobiographies of Wally Gillings and Bill Temple, and with intent amusement to the disquisitions of Sam Youd, exuding philosophic perspicacity from his seat in the corner. All the time he attended dutifully to the flow of orders at both bars, passing through the archway from one to the other like a presiding deity, going about his business with a seaman's quiet efficiency and economy of effort. In short, he kept his house in order with the minimum of fuss and flurry; and indeed, with his wiry frame and silvery hair,impish grin and slightly pointed ears, he radiated good cheer and contrived to be both King and Jester at once, the life and soul of a Thursday evening.
And what a varied and lively scene he looked upon from his eyrie in the corner ! Here in the centre were authors and artists talking shop with Carnell and dazzling him with their offerings. Just beside them the luckier lads, much luckier, were gathered closely around Audrey Lovett, and they weren't talking shop at all (does she still think sometimes, I wonder, of the boys she left behind her?). On the centre table the noisy magazine market was always in full swing, the brightly-coloured journals lighting up the room like jewels on a Woolworth's counter. At the side table sat Fred Brown and Charlie Duncombe glowering at each other in battles of dialectical chess. In the far corner a trio or more, usually including Syd Bounds, John Newman and Vince Clarke, fought it out regularly on the dartboard; at this point, too, was the famous "Battle Corner" where the Convention Committees battered. each other to a pulp as they hammered out a programme for the next convention. In the other far corner lay the long leather divan, where so many couples for so many years, settled down to hold hands and talk in whispers. All the time the later arrivals were flowing in, and new faces were of frequent appearance. For of course the circle was no parochial affair, The boys from Manchester and Liverpool and Northern Ireland were regular annual visitors, and at one time or another our friends drifted in from all parts of the British Isles.
The great middle period of the circle ran its course from 1949 to 1951. By now the budding authors of 1946 were settling down, getting into stride and fulfulling some of their early promise. At long last Bill Temple finished his novel. "Four-Sided Triangle", and launched it on its amazing career with its many translations, its film version and the many new literary friendships it brought him. At about the same time a new novel, "The Winter Swan", began the prolific career of John Christopher, and Jonathan Burke made his bow with "Swift Sunmer". Now the brilliant career of Arthur Clarke burst out in its first blaze of glory, and then John Wyndham, the quiet fellow in the corner, shook the reading public with his famous "Day of the Triffids". These were the halcyon days, the midsummer years, the golden age of the circle, when everyone could see that the White Horse was developing into a sort of twentieth-century amalgam of the Mermaid Tavern, Lloyd's coffee-rooms, and Charley Brown's in Limehouse. Needless to say, its light reflected pleasantly on the genial soul behind the bar. One presentation copy after another crossed the counter, all inscribed "To Lew.... " with various good Wishes and kind regards, making their way to the neatly-furnished rooms upstairs, and taking their place on his shelves beside the war-memoirs of the Prime Minister, the Everyman classics and the works of his favourite novelists, Joyce Cary, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Chandler and Evelyn Waugh.
This, too, was the time when the White Horse emerged as the world's rendezvous for science-fiction's fandom, for "fandom" is an international movement that has flourished so far for twenty years. Fans all over the world who had a chance of making the trip to Great Britain were told that, amid the friendly lanterns of London's pubs, one house reserved a welcome for themselves alone, on any Thursday, if they cared to drop in. Accordingly across the seven seas that Mordecai had once sailed the fans came travelling, to gather merrily at their own inn at the end of the journey.
Impossible to remember now who came first, or how many came in the time --- random names from the bran-tub of memory is all I can offer now. Some may recall Clive Isherwood, the athletic New Zealander who came over to brave the terrors of an English winter, or John Cooper, who dropped in one evening from Sydney, New South Wales. Of course, we all remember the night when the door opened to reveal the beaming bulk of Forrie Ackerman, and how we rushed him to the centre table, with Wendayne Ackerman at the other end, plied them with teetotal tipple, and kept them talking till closing time. Or the night of that glorious confab with Sprague de Camp, (who can forget his delivery of a Hamlet soliloquy, in the London accent of 1606?) while Mrs. de Camp chatted quietly in the bar corner.
Or, brightest memory of all, those nights when the cavaliers of the White Horse clustered thickly in adoration round Bea Mahaffey (most of them were queueing up just to get near her) when for once the Thursday system broke down and we came in nearly every evening for a fortnight; until that evening when we drove her through the flagged and festooned streets of London, in a fleet of cars, and escorted by motor-cycle outriders, past the squad of the Metropolitan Police drawn up in smart array outside the Lord Mayor's Mansion House, to that farewell of laughter and tears on Liverpool Street Station before her departure for Harwich and the Continent.
But these were only the most famous of our USA visitors. Of others we can recall jovial Red Johnson of Dayton, Ohio, and demure Elizabeth Smith ((E.Evelyn Smith, sometime GALAXY authoress - Vince)) from Pittsburgh, Pa., (it shook us when we heard that " E.E. Smith " was coming to Town ! ). Or Rita Krohne of Milwaukee, Wis., strolling through the glades of Russell Square with a quintette of admirers in her wake, and Jesse Floyd of Savannah, Ga., who claimed a brief acquaintance with glamourous Lee Hoffman of the same city. O those familiar faces of only a little while ago - when shall we see them all again? Soon, let us hope!
Our European neighbours came over to the Conventions in a solid phalanx, Georges and Mme. Gallet from Paris, Ben and Barbara Abas from the Netherlands, followed soon by Jan Hillen and Nic Oosterban, and Sigvard Ostlund from Sweden, and so distant a visitor as Frank Lam, from Hong Kong, and more Antipodeans like Ken Paynter from Sydney. Here indeed were gatherings of united nations, with goodwill all around and no slinging of vetoes in any direction !
And where did our central figure take his place among all the International celebrations? Let us recollect that moment in one of Carnell's introductory sessions when he called upon Lew Mordecai to stand up and be presented, and how Lew shuffled to his feet amid a thunderous roar of cheers, smiling and actually blushing, probably for the first time in his life !
The golden age reached its meridian and died down towards the afterglow, as golden ages always do. The saloon bar was a densely crowded place in the last couple of years, for all of its ample spaciousness; many a night we had to struggle through the crush to reach the bar, and raise our voices to be heard above the hub- bub. There was a curious atmosphere of impending crisis, of That was the year when the Londoners agreed to forgo their annual convention thereafter, to give the other cities a chance to offer hospitality. For London it felt like the end of an age, the beginning of a long breathing-space before another age commenced.
The blow fell in December, when suddenly the buzz went round- "Lew is leaving the White Horse!" At first it seemed incredible, but then we recalled he had been unusually quiet just lately, and a rather hangdog look had replaced his usual cheerful grin. When questioned he glumly admitted it was true, and up went the disappointed cry - "oh -- it won't be the same !"
But after all, he wasn't going far -- just across Holborn to the Globe in Hatton Garden, a mere five minutes walk from the White Horse. Promptly an expedition was despatched to the Globe to sample its wares, and it came back with a favourable report. It was the hour of decision; seven years of close personal associations were not lightly to be broken, for the whole world had heard of the White Horse, and in any case, most Londoners have a feline attachment to their favourite haunts and are always reluctant to quit them. But with a new management coming a change was inevitable, and as Carnell put it later, " Friendship means more than panelled walls." The decision was spontaneous, unanimous and instantaneous - the circle was transferring, lock, stock and, of course, barrel.
Friend, we will go to Hell with thee,
A fortnight before Christmas, 1953 the first meeting was held in the great green cavern of the saloon-bar at the Globe, a house twice as large as the White Horse and twice as busy. The little huddled group of fans, fresh from the intimacy of 'the Nag', seemed lost in that crowded arena. Attendance was sparse that night and the week after, and for a while it seemed. that the circle had broken up, with most of the regulars absent and the floating population completely lost. Then from Christmas onwards the tide turned, regular faces reappeared, long-lost faces turned up again - "Old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones" - all came back. to the familiar circle in its new home, the life of the circle resumed its carefree flow and all Hatton Garden knew that once more a Mordecai ruled the Globe.
For to Lew of course it was a return to the home of his boyhood, and inheritance, as it were; of a family estate. His wife and family settled down quickly, and once or twice his father has come up from Brighton to look the old place over. The transfer has proved, after all, happy and satisfactory. With the story of the White Horse to inspire it and the trusty hands of Lew Mordecai to guide it, we can confidently expect that one day the Globe will be as famous as the Cheshire Cheese, the George and Vulture, the Elephant and Castle and the Prospect of Whitby.
Time and the Circle alone will tell.
- Francis Arnold.
In its original appearence in EYE, the article began with this page of signatures. Fortunately, all are readable and they are:
First Thursdays of the month are when fans from all over the South-East of
England (and beyond) still gather in a London pub, but there are smaller
groups that meet on others days as well. One of these - known at various times
as the Hatton Group, the Fanhattonites, and by no name at all - met in
the White Horse for a few months from 10th November 1988. The pub was already
scheduled for demolition at that point but had had a stay of execution from its
original date with the wrecker's ball in May that year. Needless to say, it
was in very shabby condition but, as a consequence, was quieter
and less crowded than nearby alternatives. Our final meeting
at the pub was on 13th April 1989, when this photo was taken, possibly
the final one ever of a group of fans outside that celebrated venue:
Rob Hansen, Owen Whiteoak, Martin Smith, Avedon Carol, Vince Clarke. - photo by Nigel Rowe
A few days after this, Avedon and I flew to the US to attend the 1989 CORFLU in Minneapolis (report and photos here). When next we saw the White Horse on 11th May, it was boarded up all its name and all its signs had been removed. It was demolished soon after this. We had thought we were the last fans ever to sup a pint there, but Sandra Bond apparently called in for one while we were in the US.
As for the Globe, fans continued to gather there on first-Thursdays until June 1974, whereupon they moved to the One Tun on Saffron Hill, remaining there until January 1987. The One Tun years were the period when the first-Thursday meeting were at their largest, attracting an attendance in the hundreds. At that point they were undoubtedly the largest regular monthly meetings of any fan group in the world. After leaving the Tun, the first-Thursday meeetings progressed through a large number of other pubs (details here) until arriving at their current venue at the Melton Mowbray, a mere two-minute walk from the site of the White Horse. On that site now stands a building which includes a basement bar named Walkers. This hosted the first-Thursday meetings in the latter half of 2005. It's the closest the first-Thursday meetings ever got to returning to the White Horse, or ever will.
(Since the above was posted the meetings have moved again and now take place
at The Bishop's Finger in Smithfield)
- Rob Hansen.
- Rob Hansen.