Soho Then: Ep. 1 - Food & Shopping
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This episode is of Soho Then is dedicated to Claudio Mussi.
Clare Lynch: Welcome to episode one of the Soho Then photo-based podcast. I’m Clare Lynch, audio producer and Soho resident. This programme consists of six themed episodes released monthly from December 2018 to May 2019. Each episode has a corresponding collection of photographs that you can scroll through as you listen.
In this episode we explore the topic of Food & Shopping in Soho’s past. Claudio Mussi is our guide with contributions from former and present-day residents and workers sharing their memories of Soho from twenty or more years ago.
Claudio Mussi: My name is Claudio Mussi, I’m 79, I’m in I Camisa in 61 Old Compton Street. Practically all my life I’ve been working in Soho – from the Piccadilly Restaurant and then Camisa. I escaped from Italy because Italy was a very poor country soon after the war, me and my friends we decided to come to England. We came over here, 21st of October 1961, with a contract. Somebody in England had to require our services. So I started working at the Piccadilly Restaurant in ‘61, the restaurant was a steak bar at the time, on Great Newman Street. And the proprietor used to provide us with a room upstairs.
So, it was a paradise. They used to call it the Latin Quarter, because it was full of Europeans – French, Spanish, Italians. In those days, I used to know every little street, every little alley, every little nightclub.
Violet Trayte: I was born on 5th of February, 1927, and I was born in University College Hospital. My mother at that time lived in Goodge Place. And then we moved into Peter Street, into my aunt’s house where she was living. I knew everybody. My friend used to have a stall for fruit. On a Friday when I finished, we used to sell pineapples and melons, two for a pound. And all the girls that were working here in offices in those days had carrier bags to take home on the train. But the best market was over the other side. [Rupert Street Market]
Violet Trayte: If you cross over Brewer Street, we used to have, on the corner there, Boots the Chemist, next door we used to have the grocery shop called David Gregg’s, next to that we used to have an oil shop, opposite there used to be a butcher shop, called Hammett’s. Then we had a beautiful shop on the corner that sold loose tea, sugar and all that, all in urns. And then when you come in to Brewer Street, there used to be a Jewish shop where you could get salt beef sandwiches, chicken liver, anything Kosher you could get there. And in Peter Street itself, we had a fish shop there owned by two Jewish girls. The fish and chips, they were lovely, so cheap. And then opposite there used to be a delicatessen, another Jewish family, and then on the corner we had a baker’s shop called Rosen’s, that was Jewish. And it was wonderful.
Jimmy Scott: The man who set the Jewish delicatessens there was Henry Jolson. He was 6 foot 2, 6 foot 4, and he had a bald head, bald head all is life. Big strong, strapping Jewish man. He used to sell the smoked salmon and all that, you know, and the gherkins and the cucumbers and the herrings and the, you know, the liver sausage and all that sort of stuff, you know?
Claudio Mussi: Next door to Piccadilly Restaurant was the very famous Carroll’s salt beef bar, it used to be frequented by actors, actresses, boxers. Further down the street there was another salt beef bar called Nosh Bar. The street, around Jewish holiday time, was brimming with Rolls Royces and Bentleys, all coming to pick up Jewish specialities to take home. Especially the famous cheesecake.
From the corner of Archer Street ‘til the top of Berwick Street, all exclusively fruit and veg, and Ronnie’s Flowers at the time. It used to be called the French Market.
Laecia Stannett: We’re in Berwick Street Market, on my father’s flower stall which is called Ronnie’s. My dad used to work down here as a young man. He used to recycle newspapers. He used to always come down the market, and there was an old boy who had a little stall, and he said to him, “Do you fancy having the flower stall?” Spoke to my mum and they went “Yeah, why not?” Well our stall’s been here for nearly 60 years. He used to buy all the exotic flowers, the flowers that nobody had ever seen before. And it did very, very well.
Jimmy Scott: I was offered a job selling fruit, which I do now, 50 years down the line. It was stalls both sides of the road, the length of the market. So I don’t know, 80 I suppose, 80 or 90 stalls. There used to be one in three – fruit, veg, salad, then something like kitchenware, then they’d go, fruit, veg, salad, then they’d go on again and the chicken stall, flower stalls and… you know… hat stalls, shirt stalls, sell shirts, men’s shirts and all that, you know. They used to be here, years ago, all of them.
Mitat Janjeua (Beefy): I come from Kosovo, 28 years ago. I work the same job, I was selling in my country, as well. When I come first thing in the country, when I see the spring onion, every single day in Berwick Street Market, I never realise that spring onion come in from a cargo plane. I mean every tropical fruit, every exotic fruit, every single day you can find in the market.
Laecia Stannett: Well this market, it was known for having all the different fruits. I used to take fruit home – Lychees, none of my mates at school had ever seen them in their life. In them days you had the Maltese, Italians, Spanish, Chinese, so you got all their food that they had, ‘cause we’d sell it.
Jimmy Scott: … get here in the morning, don’t know what time – half past six…
Mitat Janjeua (Beefy): First thing in the morning, I pull out the stall, for Mr Alan Davies. And it was a heavy stall. Always need to ask to be careful to don’t turn the stall down. It was very difficult to pull the stalls in and out. Never was a shed, it was like an old car park right in the corner, in Peter Street.
Jimmy Scott: …just start packing the stalls out, presentable … used to be piles of apples, piles of oranges and lemons and you pile it all up, put tickets in…
Michael Dillon: The decoration, well they decorated their fruit especially in Berwick Street, my God, quite amazing, they’d build these pictures. Stunning to watch them do it.
Jimmy Scott: That would be Dennis. Billy Bean his name was. He packed it out like a picture. ‘Cause everything, like, just supposing you had a potato show, and you had a brussel sprout show, then you had a cauliflower, a uh, a carrot show. Then you’d have leeks that run into it and cabbage that run out of it, you know, it was a work of art. But he used to get here, 5 o’clock in the morning, and he’d still be here 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock at night…
Laecia Stannett: Yeah it was like a painting, that was, him and Shades, that was another fellow who had his stall and all, and always it was like a competition, who could make the prettiest stall. Just like artists, really, a lot of people used to come just to see it.
Jimmy Scott: No man I’ve ever met in my game, in my life, in this business, packs a stall out better than them.
Laecia Stannett: There was a greengrocer, Chingy, we called him. And he used to smash all garlic on the pavement. He goes, “Let ‘em smell it, let them smell the garlic – they’ll come.”
Jimmy Scott: There was all, a lady’s underwear shop. Hilda’s used to be up there – bras and tights, well stockings in them days … suspenders and knickers. And there was another bit of a deli and there’s record shops there. Everything was there.
Laecia Stannett: On a Saturday, the market was, like, thriving. It was one of the busiest days. The whole market was full from top to bottom with stalls. All of them busy. Valentine’s Day, they used to queue down to the end of the road. All day there was a queue.
Mitat Janjeua (Beefy) and Laescia Stannett call out on Berwick Street Market:
Ai ai, Laecia where are ya?
Where are you?
I can’t hear ya!
Where are you?
I can’t hear ya!
Jimmy Scott: They’d be shouting and screaming the wares that they’d sell, say “Oranges, 3 for a pound. 4 strawberries, 2 for a pound. 3 for a pound.” Yeah, the banter, you know what I mean? Someone would shout something up there, and you’ll shout something down here. And they’ll put a little bit to it, and they’ll put a little bit to that one. It got louder and louder and louder, you know.
Laecia Stannett: They used to shout. “Come and get your gums ‘round me plums”, and things like that and they was all shouting. So it was different sounds coming from every stall. I mean Jimmy used to shout all the time… They all shouted, all of them, all of them shouted.
Mitat Janjeua (Beefy) calling out: I can’t hear ya, (Where are ya?) I can’t hear ya.
Michael Klein: I moved to Soho in 1972. In the 1970s, Berwick Street Market was a bustling, wonderful street market. So we used to buy all of our produce in Berwick Street Market. We’d get to know all of the vendors, we’d buy all our fruit and vegetables there. Camisa on Berwick Street, I used to often frequent that shop and buy Italian things, you know, fresh pasta. There weren’t many of those markets around. So Berwick Street was the food heart of Soho.
Claudio Mussi: I remember in the 60s/70s, if you wanted Italian food you had to come to Soho. There were five or six delicatessens in Soho. There used to be E&G, there used to be Torino Delicatessen, there used to be Parmigiani, there used to be Perigrinelli Stores, there used to be another one in Greek Street, famous for its French cheese. The original Camisa was open soon after the war in Berwick Street – the two brothers, Enio and Isadoro. They had a shop before the war. And during the war they were interned on the Isle of Man, being Italians and Italy being at war with England. So when I started at the Piccadilly Restaurant in 1961, Camisa in Berwick Street was already well-established. And then in ‘61 the two brothers separated. One stayed in Berwick Street and the other one opened this one, this Camisa in Old Compton Street where we are now, opened here in 1961.
And I remember the two brothers were competing with each other for the few restaurants that used to buy. One brother used to come, bring a sample of ravioli to a restaurant, and then the other brother used to come and bring a sample of his ravioli [laughter] – you know, to get the business.
And then in ‘78 the boss of Camisa told me that he wanted to sell the shop, I looked for a partner, found Gabrielle. He knew the business because he was working in a delicatessen before, at the bottom of the street, a delicatessen that is no longer there, number 8 Old Compton Street, Parmigiani. He was a master at his job. He was the best. I said “There is the shop, up for grabs, what do you think? You become a working partner.” And we bought it.
When we first came, first thing Gabrielle did, he took the door away. Because it was a glass door and it used to open and shut, shut in the face of people. Kids used to get trapped, with their hands, especially on Saturday with a queue, it was terrible to have a door. So the first thing they did, after a month, they took the door away, and we haven’t had a door since.
The idea of the shop is not to see the ceiling. The ceiling must be obscured by things that are hanging up. The old Camisa, the one who sold the shop, he said, “Keep the shop full all the time, keep it full to the brim. There must not be a single piece of wall that can be seen. You must put goods on show everywhere, in every little angle. The shop must be full. That gives the idea of plenty.”
Camisa sells, at the time, mainly 80% Italian food products – especially charcuterie, salami, parma ham, proscuitto, mortadella, specialities – mainly we were concentrating on goods that were not available elsewhere. So if a shopper wanted a particular thing he had no option but to come to Camisa, otherwise he wouldn’t find that product anywhere else. That has been the secret of our success in the past.
Tony O’Loughlin: The shop was on the corner of Frith Street and Old Compton Street, and I believe it was 42 Frith Street. It was a very old-fashioned shop that sold top quality cigars called Coleman Cohen. I was an assistant there for many years, and then the managers left and I was made manager. And I spent about, maybe 20/22 years there.
A typical day, you’d arrive in the morning and it was an old shop with wonky shutters. And to lift those things was just unbelievable, they were a ton weight. You’d have to get those up first of all and then, like everybody else in Soho at that time, the first thing you did was swept outside your shop. And you didn’t sweep out into the street, which was illegal I believe. And then you cleaned it up. And then everybody washed the fronts, so the fronts all the shops. First thing in the morning you smelt the food, the restaurants preparing – and the wonderful smell of garlic all along the street. And then, of course, the original Patisserie Valerie – the smell, the brioche in the morning, and croissant, it was absolutely amazing. The street was filled with the smells of beautiful food. There was an amazing butchers on the corner, opposite where I worked – Bifulco.
Claudio Mussi: There used to be several butchers. Randall and Aubin in Brewer Street, there used to be a butcher in Berwick Street Market. Bifulco on the corner of Old Compton Street, Frith Street...
Tony O’Loughlin: And the guys in there were absolutely crazy and you saw things in that butcher shop that you’d never see in a butcher shop, amazing meats and different cuts of meats and the things they made up and so on. Oh my God, it was amazing. Chicken Kiev to die for. But anyway, they were crazy, the guys were crazy. And they’d do silly things like, one guy’s birthday, and he was a very handsome Italian man, and they took him outside and stripped him naked and tied him under the lamppost and left him there for ages. [laughter] Then another day in the summer, we had the doors open, and I was standing in the shop serving somebody and I got a slap of a lump of raw liver right in the eye. They threw it from the other side of the street. They used to throw kidneys at us, if we left the doors open, they’d throw kidneys, or liver… they were crazy! Absolutely crazy. And they had queues constantly, absolutely constantly, like the delis, the queues were absolutely amazing, amazing. Different meats, different you know things to eat, and people were all excited about them.
Lesley Lewis: I had a flat, a studio, in Old Compton Street. It was 1979. There were so many food shops. Lots of delis. And Bifulco was a wonderful, wonderful old butcher. And then there was the Welsh shop.
Tony O’Loughlin: There was all the delis of course, but you got tired of the delis after all those years and you would want something, you know, from the dairy. And they had everything, absolutely everything.
Violet Trayte: In Green’s Court there used to be a little dairy, where you could put your penny in and get the milk out. And they had that all over. Evan’s, Richard’s, Jones’, all Welsh people had the dairies round here, from here down to Charlotte Street.
Tony O’Loughlin: Especially the Welsh dairy [Oxford Express Dairies] down on Frith Street. There was an old Welsh dairy there with a huge brass front to the shop…
Lesley Lewis: It was like walking into Wales.
Tony O’Loughlin: And an old Welsh man and his daughter, I think she was called Jean…
Lesley Lewis: It may have been the Pughs, there’s something saying “Pugh” to me but I may be wrong…
Tony O’Loughlin: …and he had a son also, and they were so old fashioned and wonderful. They had one of those old big brass tills and the old weighing scales and all this sort of thing…
Lesley Lewis: It was delightful, absolutely delightful, I used to love going in there.
Tony O’Loughlin: And they’d make up the sandwich as you wanted it. Somebody would have just a wholemeal, cheese and pickle or ham. But if you wanted something different you’d go into the delis. And, of course, they were very good to us. And the deli next to me [E&G Delicatessen], I remember for years, everything was ok in the winter but in the summer he had a dodgy fridge and it always broke down. And I used to get the Camembert running out of the paper. Which was amazing, absolutely amazing. He couldn’t sell it so he’d always give it to us, with some fresh rolls.
Claudio Mussi: In the sixties there was the 2i’s Coffee Shop, next door to Camisa, where all the pop stars used to go. Bar Italia of course was there, where we all gathered in the afternoon to have a cup of coffee. Moroni, the news agent was very famous in London in the ‘60s, because he was the only one who used to sell Italian newspapers. The Italian people are crazy about football. On Monday, Gazzetta dello Sport, which is a football newspaper, used to arrive about 3 o’clock from Italy. In those days it used to come by plane from Milano, between 3 and 4. There used to be a queue, all waiters and chefs coming out of the restaurants in Soho, rushing there, queue up and wait for the newspaper to arrive so they could read the football Italia results. Because there was no other way of knowing the results.
And here, where La Perla was, there was a branch of a chocolatier, a firm that used to make chocolate that was in the corner of Great Windmill Street and I cannot remember the name. See this is a classy street now! Floris, Floris also used to be a bakery, a chocolatier. It used to be down there, I think, Floris the bakery. And this used to be a chocolatier.
Armin Loetscher (Sweetie): I’ve been in London since 1959. I used to work as a pastry cook, when I worked for Madame Floris. You had to have a permit, then, you know to come in. But I worked in Zurich for a patisserie, and she knew Madame Floris. And she got me the job and I got a permit and worked there in Bouchier Street, Bouchier Street there, you know where the flats are, that used to be a bakery. And the shop was in Brewer Street. I was a Patissiere. I was doing cakes, mainly cakes and chocolates and things like that. Once I did all the Easter eggs, big Easter eggs, for the window. It was more… you knew all the people, the shops. Everybody was a family more or less. They knew each other, like on the market, you have a butcher shop, you had a bakery there, and all the restaurants were singly owned.
Claudio Mussi: Look at the street here, classy street! In the old days, in ’61, it was a dump – full of prostitutes, full of clip joints. Good for nothing… It was a paradise. Oh, it’s all changed here. Look at this. Oh my God. They put this gate now. [Smith's Court] Here there used to be, upstairs, on the other side there used to be a builder called Mitchell. And these used to be sheds where people from the fruit and veg market used to store their barrows here, all their barrows. All, at the top, turn right, all barrows from the fruit and veg market. It’s a different world. Different world altogether.
You’ve been listening to the voices of Claudio Mussi, Violet Trayte, Jimmy Scott, Laecia Stannett, Mitat Janjeua, Michael Dillon, Lesley Lewis, Michael Klein, Tony O’Loughlin and Armin Loetscher with added field recordings made by the Radio Enrichment Group at Soho Parish School. Soho Then is a photo-based podcast produced by Clare Lynch and commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery, a Soho-based public gallery dedicated to photography. Soho Then is financially supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and #MyWestminster Fund. With thanks to National Lottery Players.
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Volare - Bambina (Nel blu, dipinto, di blu), performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra, from the album In Love in Italy (1970)
Mahzel (Means Good Luck), performed by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra; Artie Wayne; Jack Beekman, published by Capitol (1947)
Mor fawr wyt ti, performed by Alwyn Humphreys (PRS) from the album Songs Of Praise - Soho Production Music - Soho Series (Soho Production Music)