Words Kirk Truman
Photography Adedotun Adesanya
“I wanted to call it ‘The TARDIS’… I think I would’ve got in trouble with that,”
Keith Dedman, the man behind The Ships Galley, laughs. There are many places to journey to during one’s lunch hour in Fitzrovia. From the BBC’s finest to those working in the retail outlets of Tottenham Court Road, many traipse from the quirk of The Attendant to the self-service checkouts of Tesco, to the calm benches of the leafy Fitzroy Square. Just off Foley Street there is an unarguably quaint street lined with traditional, red-brick mansion blocks and plant-pot dressed porches. Amongst the quiet of the street is a closely kept secret. It doesn’t take a deficiency of one’s sight to miss a small cafe sat between two tall Victorian terraces on Hanson Street boasting, only, an awning and a small grill offering sandwiches, tea and coffee. I talk to the Dedman’s who run the smallest cafe in Fitzrovia and, arguably, this side of London’s West-End.
The cafe is certainly a missing tooth, filled on Hanson Street in-between two buildings, but certainly not a spoilt one nor sweet. I think ‘duck duck GOOSE’ when I walk along the street, though touched and drawn by the small family-run food outlet, neighbouring the flowers which hang at the fronts of the mansion houses. In spring this street feels Parisian, in winter, a dark English pre-war setting. Nonetheless, this is another primary street in creating Fitzrovia’s ‘village green,’ if there were ever such a thing. The cafe is fitting, yes easily missed but certainly the goose that stands proudly amongst the ducks.
This is no ordinary year at the Galley for Keith. After twenty years of watching his regular customers’ change, from the leather wearing dispatch riders to the buzzing media heads, he is steadily handing it over to his sons, Andrew and Nathan, who grin at me back-to-back from behind the tiny service desk in the kitchen. I ask Keith if he knows anything about the history of the site: “It’s been a greengrocers, it’s been an electrical shop and a tailors. It’s been a food outlet now for thirty years. I’ve had it since 1993.”
The area has changed a great deal over the years; Keith has seen the closure of the Middlesex Hospital in 2005, the arrival of the BBC, the dispatch riders depart and the eight week long protests against the ITC on Foley Street, spring 1999. “The girl I’d bought it off had been running it for about three years. The bikers congregated round here, they put the office staff off. They were a friendly bunch, but they frightened them in their leather, chatting away, drinking their tea. It was a bit off-putting to the office staff. Slowly, as they dwindled, the faces changed.” He says, sat in one of only two seats in the tiny cafe. “Remember when they closed that television station down and we had them all camping out in the whole area and on Foley Street?” reminisces Keith, raising his voice to his sons who do not recall. Keith watched on at the end of the 90s as, for eight weeks, protesters camped on nearby Foley Street, against the broadcasting suspension of Kurdish satellite television station, Med TV, by Britain’s ITC (Independent Television Commission). “Anyway, what happened is, they camped outside of that building over there for about eight weeks. There was loads of police over there, the whole area changed in about eight weeks!” It is news to Nathan and Andrew who only seem to remember it vaguely.
As the exterior of Fitzroy Place nears completion day-by-day on the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, only one listed facade of the building remains on Nassau Street, an original, small chapel is incorporated into the new design. “It’d had its time, but when the hospital closed that was a bit of a blow; not only for me, but a lot of places round here. We got a hell of a lot of doctors and nurses coming back then, the BBC have sort of filled in,” he says of the Middlesex Hospital, as a regular comes and goes.
There is one word that comes to mind when describing the Galley and that is ‘minute.’ There are two seats to your right as you enter through the door, which itself is half the width of the entire cafe. In a queue, between 12 and 1 o’clock, during the busy lunch hour, four people stood in front of the kitchen. With Keith and his sons moving between cooking, back-to-back, and handing customers their change, from a cash desk sat in a hole-in-the-wall, where a fireplace once was, it’s a bit of a squeeze.
A keen sailor, Keith’s sailing can be seen as the inspiration for the aptly named Galley. It is rare to see the collaboration of a father and two sons operating so efficiently in what really is such a small space – really, I truly envy them for it. An impression was set on me; some part of me reaches out to them, wishing I was bound to a family tradition or trade. The Dedman’s know they aren’t saving the world, though that’s not to say that they take their business lightly. That is to say, they come here so often that their Galley is common to them. They have resided here for a long time, Keith holding the longest tenure, and become blind to what a quaint thing they have forged. As Keith steadily departs, the brothers are doing what they feel ‘Dad said works’ and has done for twenty years: keep it plain sailing and keep it in the Galley.