Soho’s Night Club Queen
In the next in a special series of posts on our walks celebrating International Women’s Day, Michael Duncan introduces us to an infamous Soho night club hostess from the roaring ’20s.
Kate Meyrick was in many ways the typical Soho woman; bright, entrepreneurial, hard working, achingly cool and a rebel.
But she was also hopeless with money, repeatedly flouted the law, and pushed the boundaries of what provincial England would regard as “acceptable”.
Perhaps she is best summed up by the first magistrate to send her to jail who described her as “a lady of good appearance and charming manners (who) conducted her various clubs with more decorum than many, but also with a fine contempt of the law”.
She was born in 1875 in a well-to-do part of Dublin and had ambitions to become a doctor before being drawn into the more immediate gratifications of clubbing. Although she did not become a doctor herself, she married one and moved to England, but bored of her marriage walked out, taking her six children with her.
She took on various jobs (including practising hypnotherapy at various sea-side towns) before ending up in London where she managed and co-owned Dalton’s Club on Leicester Square.
It was a club with a dubious reputation, but it was where physically and mentally scarred veterans from World War One could, for a fee, find companionship with the girls who worked there. It was this, and Kate’s relaxed attitude towards licensing hours that brought her into conflict with the law for the first time and forced the closure of the club.
But her reputation on the London club scene had been secured, and by 1921, she had her most famous club, The 43 at 43 Gerrard Street.
In common with many Soho venues it was where toffs, would meet low life. It was raided many times by the police for its lax approach to the licensing laws of the time and for being the centre of the drugs scene in the 1920’s West End.
It was a favoured haunt of Hollywood legend Talulah Bankhead who made many appearances in London fuelled by gin, bourbon, 100 cigarettes a day, cocaine, and her “early breakfasts” at The 43 (her own description of her 10pm meals at the club).
Out of all of this, Kate bought private educations for all her children and saw them well married. But the punishing life of running clubs and the jail time (one which included hard labour) took their toll and she died aged 57.
But she also managed to get through a fortune equivalent to around £15million in today’s money along the way…
Sadly Kate is largely forgotten now, but she lives on as Ma Mayfield, the proprietor of the “Old Hundredth” in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and though they may not realise it, many of today’s nightclub owners continue what most would consider to be her good work.
You can meet more of of the women who made Soho on Michael’s Wild and Wonderful Women of Soho walk on March 2nd and 9th, details and booking links are on his walks page.