link with Drayton Manor Hotel
article by Lady Borton in the Vietnam News Agency, which answers many
questions about his time in Ealing.
"In the days before World War I, the young Ho Chi Minh worked in
the kitchens of a London hotel. Lady Borton retraces the steps of the
"Could we go here?" Nguyen Thi Tinh, director of the Ho Chi Minh Museum,
asked as she pulled a paper from her folder. We had only a few hours left
during a short visit to London.
I recognised a page from the ten-volume chronology of Ho Chi Minh's life.
I could translate "West London" in the text but couldn't figure out the
"Di" in "Di Avenue" and the "Coc" in "Hotel Drayton Coc." Most important,
the area of West London � "Oet Ilinh" � left me baffled.
I checked London: A-Z for "Di Avenue": All possible variations turned
into dead ends. I looked up "Drayton": The list of streets was overwhelming.
I contemplated "West London": Daunting. I tried once again to push the
Vietnamese transliteration, "Oet Ilinh," back into its original English.
"Oet" might be "West." But what was "Ilinh"?
I poured over a map of the Underground. Then I saw it: "Oet Ilinh" � West
"Let's go!" I said.
We rode to Ealing Broadway at the end of the Central Line and caught a
"West Ealing, please," I said to the driver, adding: "Have you ever heard
of a Drayton �Cook' Hotel?"
"You mean the Drayton Court Hotel?" he answered
"Yes!" Dr Tinh said.
"Hasn't been a hotel since 1962," the cabbie said. "Great pub, though.
One of Fullers' best."
By the time we arrived, the late afternoon sunlight brightened Fuller's
famous trademark, a golden griffin. We went inside. Light and airy, the
pub retains much of its original 1890s decor accented by historical photographs.
We chatted briefly with two customers enjoying a beer. They said local
yore held that, indeed, President Ho Chi Minh had once worked at this,
their favourite pub.
One of the men, an amateur historian, gave us leads for the follow-up
visit I made a month later. But that afternoon, we had little time to
do more than look around, admire the photographs, check out the gracious
patio with wrought-iron furniture, and admire the pub's luxuriant flower
garden. Then we hailed another cab back to Ealing Broadway.
The ten-volume chronology notes only that President Ho shovelled furnace
coal when he first arrived in London. After a two-week illness, he took
work at the Drayton Court around February 1914.
At the time, Ho Chi Minh was in his mid-twenties and likely used the name
Nguyen Tat Thanh. No company records have been found to confirm Ho Chi
Minh's employment, and no known records tell us how long he worked in
West Ealing. Ho Chi Minh probably lived in the Drayton Court's smallest
room on the third floor. Now a bartender's lodgings, the room has a blocked
gas fireplace and just enough space to slip past its single bed and look
out the window, which faces the luxuriant back garden.
President Ho probably worked in the kitchen or perhaps bussed tables.
The Drayton Court Hotel served a "capital four-course dinner" when it
opened in 1894 and was probably serving similar fare in early 1914, before
the outbreak of World War I. The hotel was and still is a pub belonging
to the Fuller&Co. Griffin Brewery, now formally known as Fuller, Smith&Turner
or Fuller's for short. The company has been in business for 160 years.
West Ealing, once a hamlet called Ealing Dean, grew up around the inns
serving a tollgate on Uxbridge Road. After the Castle Hill Halt (now the
West Ealing Station) opened in 1872, the area housed workers for the Great
Western Railway and was known as Stevens Town for the local landlord.
Train service soon turned West Ealing into the thriving London suburb
it had become by Ho Chi Minh's time.
In 1914, the town's shops included a green grocer, chemist, tailor, boot
maker, stationer, and West Ealing's newest attraction, the Kinema cinema.
When he was seven and eight, Charlie Chaplin had lived at the Poor Law
School in Hanwell, the next train stop a mile west of West Ealing. Seventeen
years later, in early 1914, Chaplin left his widely acclaimed comic roles
on the New York stage and debuted as "the tramp" in his first films, which
Ho Chi Minh may have seen at the Kinema.
President Ho's tenure at the Drayton Court came during the lull before
World War I. Britain's imperial century (1815-1914) was ending. War was
brewing. To counter the German Kaiser, on 17 March, the Russian Tsar expanded
his active-duty military from 460,000 to 1.7 million troops, creating
the world's largest army. Britain's military leaders fretted over the
Kaiser's push toward naval supremacy. On 17 March, First Lord of the Admiralty
Winston Churchill presented the largest naval budget ever to the House
of Commons. By mid-July 1914, the largest European states were still at
peace - by early August, at war.
At this point, young Ho Chi Minh was probably working as a pastry chef
at the imposing Carlton Hotel on the corner of Haymarket (London's most
famous street for theatres) and Pall Mall (its most famous street for
exclusive men's clubs). Although the Drayton Court is a two-minute walk
from a commuter train station connecting to the Tube and central London,
West Ealing itself would not have been a locale likely to hold Ho Chi
Minh's attention for long.
Still, for the rest of us, the Drayton Court Hotel on The Avenue in West
Ealing remains a perfect place to enjoy fish and chips amidst ambient
touches from the time of President Ho's youth."
to Paul Cavanagh for bringing the article to our attention.
October 11, 2005