Eel Pie Island



Kursaal Flyers cover by Barney  Bubble

RandM writes in comments below…

here perhaps is a barney bubbles sleeve that Colonel (he was a Corporal) Wills would have liked. it’s for the Kursaal Flyers LP ‘Chocs Away.’

Corporal Wills

Stodgy old dudes

My dad, Cecil S Wills 1905-76, is seen here as a Corporal in the Royal Air Force. He worked on the design of, and later named, the Horsa Glider, that each delivered 36 paratroops at a time, in fleets towed by Wellingtons, during the Normandy invasion. As a Civil Servant, representing His or Her Majesty to the manufacturers, he later worked on the supersonic TSR2 that evolved into the Concorde.

When Osmund Caine, who replaced Coulston-Davis as head of the art school, and the new principal, Wolfenden, who was my dad’s teacher during his RAF Boys Service days at Martlesham Heath in the 1920’s, arrived at Twickenham College in 1958, they, in their Land of Hope and Glory British way, did not approve of the school honoree R&B connection of Cyril Davis; up till then we had booked music in the school theatre and cafeteria with Cyril’s bands that attracted outside influences in school, especially a Kew Gardens worker, Harry, and other undesirables around, as Osmund said, “our girls.” To discourage bad behavior, and the art school influence, Caine, boldly establishing his fiefdom, said the word was, get the music out of the school – and Harry too.*

In which Professor.Wentworth-Shields points out the benefits of dances outside the school.

Art teach, Mr. Shields said something about Eel Pie being more suitable when I discussed it with him. He lived opposite Foyles on Charing Cross Road (his home decor changed color with the neon outside) and knew, in a quiet way, a thing or two about a good time. (He had, I believe, organised school capers at the Royal College of Arts in the 1930’s) School not liable either. So henceforth we mostly had our art school dances on an ‘eyot,’ an island of shifting shape, (that is one correct spelling, but there are alternatives), called Eel Pie Island. Which as a result is now famous as a birth place of British Rock and Roll. Back then, to get to the island for shows we took an Edwardian ‘Westminster’ chain driven (or was it pulled?)  ferry, that was later replaced with an elegant, but less romantic, bridge.

I had written that the ferry was an old Westminster row boat, but I read in the Twickenham history referenced above that it was chain driven.

Eel Pie Hotel

For a more accurate history of the place go to

Eel Pie Island is named because they used to sell eel pies there until they ran out of the needed eels. I also read that it was named after its shape, an oval with pointy ends like an eel-pie. (I wonder, do they still sell gelatinous eel-pies in Brentford, out of a little hut by the canal bridge?) The old hotel we rented on the island had a bouncy, sprung floor, with a sway of 14 inches vertically in the center, on which three-hundred art-students dancing in rhythm could severely test the old technology. The Eel Pie Hotel had many incarnations – built as a Victorian hotel with a ballroom dance floor, it was a Tea palace or bawdy house (depends who you ask) in the 1920’s, a rock palace in the sixties, and burned down 1971. Probably arson.

Old Rocker’s Palaise de Dance

During a documentary drawing field trip with 3D course teacher, Mr Gould, I painted a watercolor view of some rickety sheds and a yard with a two-wheel, one-horse barrow, down by the Thames at the end of Church Street, opposite Eel Pie Island in old Twickenham town, that were threatened with demolition by the city. In May of 1958, I got a petition together, posted at the local art store, and collected a few hundred or so signatures to save the group of tumble down buildings surrounding my pictured grunge. Not all the houses were protected, but what would later be Pete Townshend’s beautiful Georgian was saved.

On the left, viewed from the Eel Pie Rowing Club (of which artist Chris Higson, was a member) is what would, one day, be Pete’s house for a while, behind some work related sheds which were later demolished. The passing pleasure-boat and its many lifebelts were headed back to berth after a hot day. The Albany pub to the right was another school bar, favored for its outdoor seating, with a beery view of the river and Eel Pie. Taken in about 1965.

Rambling asides

* Harry was later to achieve brief fame as ‘H,’ the nodder who croaked, OD’ing on the floor under the overhang in the Garden of Earthly Delights club in Covent Garden sometime in (Sept?) 67. He also played banjo in the private saloon at the school bar, The (Lord) Clarendon, by Twickenham railway station back in ’59. It had itss own spiral staircase coming down from the bridge. Harry gave a sweet rendering of  “Yonder comes a lady all dressed in white, she gonna be my baby tonight.” a pean to cocaine, which was an indicator of the path ahead. I think he had connections to IT magazine. Barney knew him, “You see who died? H.” he said, “You’d remember him.” I’ve only recently realized who he was talking about.

Harry was a gardener at Kew Gardens who gave me the first puff of what a really awful bitter, acidic marijuanna leaf cigarette tastes like, sitting on a bench with student Anette Thompson, (name?) outside a pub close to the Chertsy Bypass in 1961. The leaf was still grown in the herb gardens at that time and was where the so called ‘Mary Jane’ as he called it, had come from. It was probably leafy hemp more that weed, certainly no bud.

The Garden of Earthly Delights was the best club ever, it was just down the road from what would one day be my place, Willsdon Mansions, on Longacre that Pamella Poland wrote a song about. The Oz Police Ball for which I designed the poster was held The Garden of Earthly Delights site in 1971. That ball was the inspiration for the Hookers Balls I worked on in San Francisco.

On the left is what was to be Pete Townshend’s House for a while and The Albany Pub from Eeel Pie Island

Copyright 2008 David Wills