Grandad drank his last port in the Roundhouse - Roundhouse - Celebrating 50 Years


1867 – 2016

Chris Jennings recounts his family’s long association with the Roundhouse, from tripping out at gigs to all-night drinking sessions.

Photo of Chris’ father dressed in borrowed clothes (a local photographer offered this opportunity to families living in poverty) c. 1925

Photo supplied by Chris Jennings

My family have a long history with the Roundhouse – my grandad Richard and granny Jen lived in Camden, working the railways. My dad was born in the area in 1917.

Sadly for my dad and gran, my grandad used to drink heavily. Apparently he was great friends with the Gilbey brothers (the sons of Walter Gilbey who founded W&A Gilbey Ltd, Wine & Spirit Merchants, in 1857). The Gilbeys used the Roundhouse to store barrels of rough port in the round and after mornings filled with heavy drinking, my grandad and the Gilbeys would head back to the Roundhouse for drinking contests – the winner being the last man standing. I’m afraid that after one particularly heavy session, my grandad was found stiff and cold the next morning.

There wasn’t a welfare state back then, so my gran and her 5 kids (including my dad) were left in a pretty tight spot. Thank god for the music hall performer, who my gran found a job keeping house for, which kept her and the family off the street.

Years later, in the 1970s, I would go to the Roundhouse regularly to watch bands, usually on a Sunday afternoon/evening. Often I’d be worse for wear (let’s just say there were a lot of substances available at the time). Through a chemical haze, my mind would occasionally think “my grandad died here” and how weird it was that I was there, watching artists like the Talking Heads in that same space!

I went back to the Roundhouse more recently with some young family friends to show them the site of all these stories and one of them remarked that the Antony Gormley sculpture of the man on top of the building had a similar posture to me.

 Ever since then, when I’ve been back again, I look up at the figure and I always say quietly “How’s it going grandad Richard?”.