THE GRENADIER. WILTON MEWS.
A Chill in the Air.
Wilton mews is a delightful hidden nook, that is tucked away from the rush of modern London, and has a decidedly country village air about it. Colourful cottages line the cobblestones, and nestling within its tranquil serenity is one of London’s most enchanting pubs -The Grenadier.
Reputedly, the pub’s upper floors were once used as the officers’ mess of a nearby barracks, whilst its cellar was pressed into service as a drinking a gambling lair for the common soldiers.
Here, a young subaltern is said to have once been caught cheating at cards, and his comrades punished him with such a savage beating that he died from his injuries. Although the year in which this occurred is not known, the month when it happened is thought to have been September, as this is when the pub experiences an onslaught of supernatural activity.
A solemn, silent spectre has been seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms. Objects either disappear or else are mysteriously moved overnight. Unseen hands rattle tables and chairs, and a strange, icy chill has been known to hang in the air, sometimes for days on end.
Footsteps have been heard pacing anxiously around empty rooms, whilst every so often a low sighing moan has been heard emanating from the depths of the cellar. On one occasion a Chief Superintendent from New Scotland Yard was enjoying a drink in the pub, when wisps of smoke began to waft around him. His curiosity aroused, he reached towards the apparent source of the smoke, and with a cry of pain, pulled his hand quickly back as an invisible cigarette burnt it.
Greyam Fox worked as head barman at the Grenadier Pub,18 for 18 months (1982 – 1983), having taken over from Tom Westwood who had, a renowned local character who had been “Chief of Staff.”
In Greyam's opinion the Grenadier Pub "is without doubt a “special” place,"
which has a ‘soul’ all of its own. I feel I could help fill an historical void
or at least as an “eye witness”, could possibly lend some reality and perhaps
even some credibility to (some of) the myths that prevail; rather than fuel the
“Chinese whispers” that continue to distort historical truths.
Greyam continues that:-
"Apart from hearing many of Tom’s anecdotes, I had my own experiences of “Cedric” the ‘ghost’ and was present in ’92 when BBC’s Six O’clock show did a piece on London’s most haunted pubs. In the aftermath of which, we were visited by many strange phenomena of the not-so-paranormal kind.
On one busy winters night at about 8:30pm, I had occasion to go down to the cellar to fetch some cigars. At he foot of the cellar steps, to the left, was a wooden ‘lock up’ about the size of a garden shed that served as the spirit and tobacco store. Built into a corner of the cellar, this structure comprised two wooden walls and two brick walls, one of which featured the aforementioned tunnel. On busy nights it was almost impossible to get a fag break, so I would sometimes keep a cigarette in a glass ashtray in the lock up and sneak a couple of drags when possible - as I did on this occasion.
As if from nowhere, Bobby, the landlords’ friendly black cat appeared. This was unusual in itself as he wasn’t allowed out of their flat during opening hours, let alone allowed to roam the cellars. As I stood puffing quickly on my ciggy, several things happened in very rapid succession: The temperature plummeted, Bobby arched his back and sunk teeth and claws into my leg above the ankle and the ashtray – which was on a chest high shelf to my left – flew past my head and smashed with significant force, against the wall beside the bricked-up tunnel. I felt a bone-deep chill of fear that I have seldom experienced since and needless to say exited the cellar at the velocity of a Polaris Missile.
At the top of the cellar steps, back in the warm ambience of the restaurant, I felt kind of silly – maybe I imagined it. As I stepped behind the bar my boss said “are you alright Greyam; you look like you’ve seen a ghost”!
The face in the window
Around November 1982, The Grenadier was featured on BBC TV’s ‘The Six O’clock Show’. The crew duly arrived to set up during the afternoon and the pub staff were primed to go about their duties as normal. The show was sent out ‘live’ so it was about 5:30pm and pitch dark outside. The BBC crew had set up some green lighting to lend some eerie atmospherics, all of which took place to the bemusement of our early evening customers. The event was also being recorded by some reporters from Grand Mets in-house magazine.
A couple of weeks later, we had a visit from the magazine’s photographer who brought in some ‘stills’ of the event. He showed us some shots taken from the restaurant entrance (right side as you look at the bar), taking in the front window and side door to Old Barrack Yard (left side). He pointed out a fuzzy image in one of the window panes that vaguely resembled a face. Cynically, it was pointed out that: a) there was a tree (and vines) out side the window and this could be a trick of the light, projected by the large outside lantern; and b) although from inside, the height of the window pane in question is less than 6ft, those that know the grenadier will be aware that from the ground outside in Wilton Row, the window height is more like 12 – 15 ft. The photographer had been equally cynical and had blown up and zoomed the photo, expecting the image to disperse into a bunch of leaves and light. To his astonishment (and ours) the face became even clearer than before; though still vague. Once more, the photographer had zoomed in until the small window pane filled the 8” x 10” photograph and there, in all it’s glory, was the face of a man. It was a young man; sporting a dark, handlebar moustache and wearing what appeared to be a fez-like hat. The face was at three quarters to the pane and appeared to be looking straight at the photographer. Of several shots taken from the same perspective, only one captured this doleful image.
Despite the many strange goings on at The Grenadier, I absolutely adored the place and have revisited it several times over the years. In my view it is a time warp, a mini stately home with connections to many, many famous people and events. It requires a very special kind of manger to act as a custodian of the traditions of the Grenadier. Sadly, I have never experienced the same level of service and enthusiasm from subsequent staff.