The Orpheus

And then there was the Orpheus.  The Orpheus was the mods’ cellar coffee bar, under two shops in London Road.  Sandra and I spent most of our lives down the Orpheus. Everything else was just school.

The Orpheus today The Orpheus now

What it felt like then (Soho’s Bar Italia)

There were three groups of schools in Chelmsford – grammar schools (including the girls’ high school), the Technical school (for which you had to pass the eleven plus, but the emphasis was more on getting skills than academia) and there were the secondary moderns. If you weren’t Catholic there were three secondary modern schools in Chelmsford: Broomfield, Rainsford and Moulsham. Rainsford was meant to be the toughest.When you were waiting for the results of your eleven plus, people told you stories about how rough the sec mods were, how they’d flush your head down the toilet as soon as say hello to you. At age 11 it was a terrifying prospect.  But in the Orpheus the most exciting boys, the funniest loudest boys had all been to Secondary Modern schools.  Except Sugar, who went to the Tec.  He got into a lot of fights, and made the front page of the Newsman Herald after assaulting a police officer.

Outside the Orpheus there would always be four or five scooters, a Lambretta, a couple of Vespa’s. Then you walked in off the street and along the narrow corridor, on the worn brown lino.  The smell of coffee coming up the stairs, mixed in with the music from the juke box, was exciting, full of promise.   The bored assistants in the art shop watched us and I became even more conscious of my mod status, aware of my three quarter length suede coat, pinstriped fan-pleated skirt, and my black moccasins.

You could almost tell who was in the Orpheus by the record that was playing.  Take the Beatles, for example.  The juke box had some Beatles’ singles, ‘I wanna hold your hand’ and ‘Please Please Me’, but Chelmsford mods didn’t put the A-sides of the Beatles on.  It was too obvious.  Sometimes, if they played the Beatles at all, they’d put a B-side on – like ‘I’ll Get You,’ or ‘Thank You Girl.’  So if the A-sides were playing you’d know it was strangers, like mod boys from Witham, standing in a group in their parkas, laughing.  It there were too many of them and it felt as if they were trying to take the place over, we’d put on something they wouldn’t know, a B-side like ‘Little Boy’ by Mary Wells, the other side of ‘My Guy’, and sing along with it.

The best record on the juke box was ‘Hi-heel Sneakers’ by Tommy Tucker.  When the first thin notes of the electric guitar began, Blond Don, who was always there on Saturday afternoons, would dance on his toes round the tables, in the dim light.  Blond Don was small and neat and had a pair of real Hush Puppies and a long grey leather coat and everyone said he took the most Purple Hearts of anyone in Chelmsford.

16 thoughts on “The Orpheus

  1. stevetrusler54 14/03/2015 / 11:44

    I thought everyone played the B-sides but that’s just me.

    With regards to The Orpheus or ‘O’ Bar or Underground, as it was known. It was a coffee bar in a basement of some shop or other in Chelmsford. To my early teenage mind, it was obviously a sordid den of the utmost depravity where no one under the age of 16 or over the age of 21 dared venture for fear of losing their very soul to the Devil himself. My older brothers used to frequent this seemingly decadent establishment and talk about it in hushed tones. I imagined something like an opium den cum brothel with dark sleazy people waiting to slit your throat for just looking at them the wrong way. However when I actually went in there I was a little disappointed because it was just a coffee bar with a jukebox and no shady characters but that would have been in 1966 or 67 when mods had been replace by flower power and the summer of love. – Sorry Liz

    Seaxes forever!

  2. thesixtiesmademe 16/03/2015 / 15:47

    In fact I think I did indeed hear the sound of distant drums….

  3. Ken Baker 04/06/2015 / 06:49

    Yeah, well remembered days, 1964/65 with my Lambretta. I usually started my Friday night down in the Orpheus before cruising. We’d roar through town with our dollies, usually off to the Pub.
    Crash helmets… I don’t think so, berets always made a statement. Sadly,one night Micky Flynn
    crashed under the railway bridge changing his life forever. That certainly changed a lot of guys
    thoughts on safety.
    Don’t know how we survived all those crazy wild & exciting days but reflecting back on the times, the music….what a riot!

    • thesixtiesmademe 04/06/2015 / 07:22

      I know! And thanks for reminding me about the berets. You’re right – on a scooter they looked great. As part of school uniform – not so much! I kept up with Mick, and we talked about how no-one wore a crash helmet in those days. ‘Tell me about it,’ he said.

      • Ken Baker 24/06/2015 / 20:37

        If your interested, I’ve discovered a couple of photos (1964) of yours truly & the Lambretta on Chelmsford’s High Street. Let me know the best place to send them

  4. jean 03/08/2015 / 13:15

    the death of Cilla has made me nostalgic for the sixties which includes thinking of my days at college in Chelmsford and in particular going down the ‘O’ for the best frothy coffee and giant grated cheese rolls, Beatles, Cilla and all the up to date singles approx 1963. Happy memories.

    • elizabethwoodcraft 03/08/2015 / 16:46

      Yes – wasn’t it a shock to hear the news about Cilla? I’d forgotten about the cheese rolls in the Orpheus. But always great singles on the juke box. Great days.

  5. Roger Jakes 03/08/2016 / 19:22

    The Orpheus was almost my second home in those years gone great times and great memories

  6. Cathy 27/10/2016 / 15:17

    Oh wow, the Orpheus coffee bar! That was my hangout 1960 (I was 15). Pyrex cups and saucers, half an inch of cold coffee and two inches of froth .. make it stretch out as long as you can before you get thrown out. Half light. Juke box on the wall (Hit the Road Jack), small tables tucked away in dark corners and a bar with plastic covered stools. Always that sense of waiting for something to happen .. anyone know of a party? Does anyone have a car? Remember the Odeon Jazz Club on Monday evenings (upstairs to the cinema). Stomping not permitted – it made the film downstairs jump. Ahh, memories.

    • elizabethwoodcraft 27/10/2016 / 15:43

      Great memories Cathy – and the Orpheus was still like that in 1965. I think the skill required to make one cup of coffee last all morning is underrated!

  7. Lizzie 20/11/2016 / 12:22

    I remember the Orpheus coffee bar from around 1961-63. It was the only place to be as a teenager in those days. You had to have a special card to go in after 9.30pm. Remember feeling part of a very grown up, exclusive club. Great memories!

  8. elizabethwoodcraft 20/11/2016 / 19:25

    I think the ‘membership’ card had gone by the time I started slipping down there on weekday evenings. But there was always a feeling of being in an exclusive club!

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