Kate Evelyn Nason Night clubs
London and Paris
Although there is some confusion over when Kate’s marriage actually ended, my guess is that it was some time around 1918/1919. Why else would she have been looking at properties to rent in London?
As she tells it, whilst in London nursing her daughter May through influenza (May was at Bedford College at the time studying to be a doctor), she saw an ad for a partner to run tea dances. She met with the man in question, “Mr Murray and I took and immediate liking to each other”, and was able to suggest suitable premises that had caught her eye in Leicester Square. With the further help of a Mrs. Hocker, they set up Dalton’s Club and her nightclub career began.
I guess I should note here that when her husband had filed for divorce in retaliation for her filing from divorce, he mentioned a liaison with somebody called Dalton - maybe the club was named for him. Maybe he was indeed her lover.
There are a couple of things to ponder on here. Why would she have been looking for properties and to what purpose? As this was a basement, it would hardly have been for living quarters. Presumably the marriage was already over, and she was looking for something else to do. I also suspect that the name George Murray is a false one. Her business partner in Dalton’s was one Harry Sampson or Dalton - this much is evident from the trial after Dalton’s was eventually raided. Also when Ferdinand sued for divorce in 1920 - he cited Harry Dalton as a co-respondent. So were they more than business partners? Was this another grand passion? Who knows? He seems to have disappeared from the scene after Dalton’s was closed anyway.
The club was immensely successful, so much so that they opened a second club, The Bedford. However, it also was reasonably notorious, frequented by Soho gangsters, and, according to the police, women of ill-repute. The premises were raided, and she and Dalton were charged with ‘knowingly permitting the club to be used as an habitual resort of reputed prostitutes.” During the trial the club had been described as a “sink of iniquity and a noxious fungus growth which ought to be eradicated.” Kate, of course, is all wounded innocence throughout the trial. They were both fined, and the club closed due to the bad publicity. The Bedford closed too, and presumably the partnership, business and/or liaison, ended. Maybe she had just been somewhat naïve and not really understood what had been going on, although she was certainly aware of the notoriety of some of the clientèle.
The injustice of it all - to Kate anyway - caused a change in her attitude to the law: “the law had thus far been something almost sacred in my eyes - I had never harboured the remotest notion of employing dubious ways and means. After this occurrence, though, I somehow felt that I no longer cared very much for what I did.” An interesting comment, considering that throughout her various run-ins with the law she always maintained her absolute innocence.
The club opened on April 19 1919 at 28 Leicester Square. According to its published aims, the club was set up with “the intention of acting as a rendezvous for members of the theatrical and variety professions and their friends.” After her recovery from influenza May left Bedford College and joined her mother in running the club, something she did for many years to come. Kate meanwhile had found her vocation in life.
“I discovered that men will pay anything to be amused. Pleasure and amusement are the only things in the world where the buyer rarely counts the cost. A man buying life’s necessities is clever and calculating; a penny more on his pound of sugar will drive him frantic.”
Kate, on the other hand, “was a woman finding herself in the world with the business of bringing up a family. My mind was made up that somehow, no matter at what cost, I would render my eight children economically secure. And if it could be done by a means which would at the same time gratify my love for the bright side of life, why, so much the better.”
Throughout her life and her many trials and tribulations, she never deviated from this mantra.
Nevertheless it gave her pause for thought and for a year she reflected on what to do next. In the end, she opened another nightclub - Brett’s, having advertised for a new business partner. It also was extremely successful, but she foolishly allowed herself to be bought out by her partner, for a sum less than its worth - at least - according to Kate.
But then came the 43 Club - her most famous club, located at 43 Gerrard St. in Soho, a house in which Dryden had died. This club remained her favourite and she kept it until she died, even though it had various name changes throughout its life - Proctor’s, Cecil’s, The Bunch of Keys. The photo below right is of the club before the crowds!
Her vision for the place was nothing if not grandiose: “I beheld royalties, peers, millionaires and celebrities in every sphere of distinction, gathered together in a glittering throng. Here the loveliest women would captivate the most famous of men. Here the greatest singers and actors of the age would congregate. My club should be the home of all that was pre-eminent in the realms of aristocracy, of finance and of the arts.”
And it has to be said, that it would seem that she did indeed realise this vision, at least by her account in her memoirs, which is mostly taken up with the antics of the rich and famous who visited - even if it all did come tumbling down!
She went on to open and close many other clubs, some were successful, some not, one was even in Paris, where she spent a year or so lying low (sort of) and licking her wounds after one of her periods of imprisonment. May, her oldest daughter, helped her run several of them.
Her daughters, it is said, were all beautiful, and acted as dance hostesses, their attentions being reserved for the richest and most aristocratic of the clubs’ patrons. It is certainly true that three of them married into the aristocracy and the other three married wealthy men. Dance hostesses were a feature of her clubs and she speaks fondly of ‘her girls’. Of course, she maintains they were merely there to provide dancing partners and companionship - decoration for the club. Who knows.
She describes herself as first and foremost a businesswoman. “It became clear to me that there was money to be made by ministering to the unfailing demand for amusement, and I made up my mind to have my share.” She insists it was for the children though.
There is no doubt that her clubs were a success, and that huge amounts of money passed through her hands. But pass through it did, as she ended up with almost nothing. It seems to me, reading between the lines, that she was a poor judge of character business wise. On more than one occasion she seems to have been virtually cheated of her rightful gains. For example when she sold her Paris club - for a goodly sum, the purchaser went bankrupt and she never got a penny. This sort of thing seemed to happen to her over and over again, so maybe she was just too trusting. And yet she handled her customers well - indeed she credits this ability with her success: “And there you have the whole secret of night club management. It is all a simple matter of knowing how to treat people.”
Ferdinand Richard Holmes Merrick/Meyrick
Lillian Agnes Meyrick
Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) and Monkstown
Youtube videos - this link is to an archival compilation of scenes from London’s night clubs in the 20s. Browse through the selections on the page - there are several other fascinating compilations of life in the roaring twenties.