Today 43 Gerrard Street in the heart of Chinatown is the site of the New Loon Fung Restaurant and supermarket. Chinatown as the area we know today didn't start to flourish as a home for the Chinese population until after the Second World War.
Back in the 1920s it was the home of the 43 Club, sometimes known as The 43 that became notorious during the Jazz Age for outrageous parties frequented by the decadent rich and famous. Local myth provides many tales of provocative, licentious and sometimes criminal goings on.
It was owned by Kate ‘Queen of Clubs’ Meyrick, who exuded an air of respectability with two sons at Harrow School and three daughters at Roedean. She had lead a very comfortable life, both as a child, her father being a doctor and her step father a vicar. She then married a respectable doctor, Ferdinand Meyrick from an upper middle class Dublin family. However, the marriage broke down and in 1918 the doctor left Kate virtually penniless. Having eight children to support on an income purportedly of £1 per week she needed to find a substantial income. Scanning The Times newspaper she came across an advert from someone looking for a business partner to put on Tea Dances and scraping the necessary funds together she went into partnership with Harry Dalton in 1919
Dalton's was situated in Leicester Square in a basement under what is now the Odeon cinema and was touted as a "rendezvous for members of the theatrical and variety professions and their friends". On the surface a very respectable venue with a distinguished guest list, including the King of Denmark. After only six weeks trading it was raided by the Vice Squad on the grounds that a number of women present were ‘known to police’ a euphemism for sex workers. Raids continued throughout that year and in 1920 Meyrick and Dalton lost their licence, received fines at Bow Street Magistrates and the venue was closed.
Undeterred, Kate quickly opened two more clubs before taking the premises at 43 Gerrard Street. The new venue's clientele read like a who's who of the bright young things of the 1920s. Foreign royalty in Prince Christopher of Greece and Prince Carol of Romania. From the artistic community Augustus John and Joseph Conrad. Nobility in the form of ‘Loughie', Lord Loughborough, and the dukes of Manchester, Leeds and Norfolk and the filthy rich Billy Leeds dubbed ‘The World’s Richest Boy’ by the press and Millionaire Jimmy White.
The 43 Club was open all night until 6am and offered dinners, suppers and breakfasts alongside illicit alcohol. Meyrick collected the door money in a front office and customers paid to dance to jazz bands, with Meyrick's Merry Maids encouraging them to spend as much as possible. Kate's rather loose interpretation of the licensing laws and the supply of alcohol immediately got her into trouble and in February 1922 she was fined again for selling alcohol without a license. Police raids, court appearances and fines continued throughout the year and into the following one.
Meyrick's activities brought her under the scrutiny of the press, one paper describing her as a "Wicked Woman". John Bull magazine published an interview with Meyrick saying, "Fines don't worry me... I'm getting quite accustomed to them now. I suppose they'll keep on fining me! Well, it can't be helped – you can't run night clubs unless you are prepared for this sort of thing." They obviously did worry her, because during 1923 she sought the protection of Charles "Darby" Sabini, one of London's underworld bosses to protect against police raids.
Her notoriety continued to increase and the press reported on her antics with a combination of admiration and scorn. Her family life was a great source of column inches as three of her daughters married into the British nobility. Meyrick capitalised on the attention she received by selling her story "My Secrets, Ten Years Behind the Scenes in London's Night-Life" to a newspaper.
Finally in 1924 Kate's luck ran out and at yet another court appearance she was handed not a fine, but a six month prison sentence which she served in Holloway prison. William Joynson-Hicks who was Home Secretary at the time encouraged raids on night clubs and made plans to bring in a bill to improve the policing of them dubbed by the press as the "War on Clubs", which received backing from bodies as diverse as the Church of England and the British Social Hygiene Council.
After her release from prison and a brief and unsuccessful attempt to open a club in Paris, Kate returned to London where life settled down to the roundabout of police raids, court appearance and fines. It was estimated that during this time, Meyrick was bringing in about £130,000 per year from The 43 and other clubs she had an interest in, so the fines were poultry in comparison.
However, the following year she was arrested twice: one charge was for selling intoxicating liquor without a licence at the 43 Club and the other charge was for bribing the Metropolitan Police officer Sergeant George Goddard. Meyrick was said to have paid Goddard £155 in return for receiving advance warnings about police raids on her clubs.The trial lasted for seven days and there was such interest in the case that, in its closing stages, a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the Old Bailey. Meyrick was sentenced to fifteen months hard labour in Holloway Prison. She served twelve months of her sentence and was released in January 1930. Two stone lighter and visibly frail she told reporters that she had suffered from ill-health in prison and had been getting up at an "unearthly hour" to sew mail bags.
Meyrick died on 19 January 1933 from influenza, aged 57. Her son-in-law, Lord Kinnoull commented shortly after her death, "Mrs Meyrick's health had undoubtedly been weakened by her several periods of imprisonment.”