Working as a hotel telephonist in the 1940s

Entrance to the Old Ship Hotel
From a private collection

I saw an advert in the Evening Argus for a telephonist at the Old Ship Hotel and to my surprise, I got the job.On my first day I remember meeting another girl working on the switchboard about my own age -I was then about 16. Her name was Milly, she took me under her wing and showed me what I had to do.

Extra duties
Apart from answering the very small switch board we had to operate the lift and deliver messages to the residents. We even had to carry their luggage as there as only one porter, one page boy and the Head porter, who was a very sick man (or else he would have been called up into the forces).

How the other half lived
The hotel was indeed very old, with lots of stairs and creaking floor boards. The ballroom was closed and the hotel appeared to be very run down as it required inside painting and refurbishing. But to me it was wonderful and a chance to see the comfort of how the other half lived when they came to stay – for whatever reason.

Comments about this page

  • The Old Ship Hotel was a well known destination for London-Brighton coaches during ‘the Coaching Revival’. The most famous event was when James Selby undertook to drive his coach ‘The Old Times’ from London to Brighton and back in under 8 hours. The turnround point was the Old Ship Hotel; the start and finish being The White Horse Cellars just off Piccadilly in London. Selby did the journey with ten minutes to spare, winning a 1,000 pound bet placed at Ascot, a phenominal amount of money in those days. This event took place in 1888. I would welcome any pictures or press-cuttings of this event as I have been researching this coach and coachman for over 40 years.

    By Iain Anderson (16/07/2005)
  • Have just read Iain Anderson’s comment with interest. My husband is a first cousin three times removed of James Selby and has a great interest in his life and exploits. We should love to hear from Iain.

    By Corinne Lawson (03/08/2005)
  • I am great great grandaughter of Mr Selby and have just started to research him. I would be so pleased to hear from other researchers to pool knowledge etc.

    By Irene Cornelius (12/09/2005)
  • I was very interested in the comments by Corinne Lawson and Irene Cornelius about their connection with James Selby. Would they please contact me by email ( so that we may discuss family history as I am also researching James Selby and his connection with the Old Ship Hotel when it was an important part of the coaching revival.

    By David Inkel (21/09/2005)
  • So excited to come across this page. I have recently been trying to research our family history and am proud to say that James William Selby was my great great great grandfather. After discussing my findings with my brother we realised that the certificate presented to James after his record breaking trip (London/Brighton/London in less than 8 hours) is actually in a box of papers collected by my late mother, Margaret. I would dearly love for anyone with added information to contact me. From what I understand there was some kind of feud in the family and I now realise myself and my siblings may have a much larger family than we thought.

    By Maria Al Rashed (nee Kyle) (11/03/2006)
  • I have just come across your info regarding James Selby. James Selby is my great great great grandfather and the famous race between London and Brighton was a good talking point. Just over five years ago my mum passed away and when clearing out our mother’s home, we came across the certificate from the race.

    By Kevin Stevens (11/03/2006)
  • I will be glad to hear from anyone who responded to my original posting, but I have been delayed mainly by illness. My email is, I look forward to hearing from you.

    By Iain Anderson (04/04/2006)
  • My father is a great grandson of James Selby and has researched him from a very young age and has lots of info and pictures etc. He would love to hear from anyone interested in James Selby.

    By Sara Barnes (06/07/2006)
  • Would like to hear from others with information on my great grandfather, J W Selby. Lots of letters on the main page regarding him, but only a couple of people have added a means of contact. [Editor’s note: If visitors wish others to contact them they need to publish their email address IN THE BODY OF THEIR MESSAGE. But – you need to be aware that this leaves your email address open to anyone. Unfortunately the Editorial Team are not able to take on the task of forwarding email addresses. Thank you.]

    By Irene Cornelius (11/07/2006)
  • The Editor’s note of 11.07.06 gives me hope that Sarah Barnes, Maria AI Rasheed and others might contact me. The name given as ‘Coprnelius’, should be ‘Cornelius’. My address is: Irene Cornelius c/o The Mansion, Bletchley Park, Bletchley, MK3 6EB.

    By Irene Cornelius (24/07/2006)
  • My father, Samuel Mori worked as the Head Porter at The Old Ship from 1940-1953. It was a common sight to see him outside the hotel in all weathers, greeting and assisting guests as they arrived.

    By Pamela Bennett (10/12/2006)
  • Sarah Barnes and Maria Al Rasheed, please contact me via, or write to Irene Cornelius, The Holley/Cornelius Collection, The Mansion, Bletchley Park, MK3 6EB to exchange details on J.W.Selby, my great Grandfather. Thank you.

    By Irene Cornelius (13/12/2006)
  • Is there anyone out there who isn’t related to James Selby?! My family also claims to be descended from Selby. I only know this as several years ago they re-ran the London to Brighton race and my grandmother was interviewed as part of the local news coverage at the time. I’m lead to believe he rests in Highgate cemetery; I have often promised I would pay him a visit. I’d love to hear from anyone who can give me anymore information.

    By Gareth Beeson (14/09/2007)
  • My grandfather was also the Head Porter at the Old Ship during the 1960s. His name was Walter Tully.

    By Nick Phillips (02/12/2007)
  • My great aunt Maud Escott worked at this establishment in 1901. I am also investigating my family history, sadly we don’t have any information or photographs of this lady as contact was lost following the death of my grandfather in the 1940s.

    By Wendy Telfer (29/01/2008)
  • Hi, I’m not related to James Selby but everything I’ve read about him says he was one hell of a Coachman. My Great Grandfather was Tom Tagg who was a Coachman himself, he drove the Perseverance London to Dorking coach and also the Old Times coach for Bertram Mills of circus fame. In 1938 there was a memorial for Selby, and at 7 Edgware Road were Selby lived and died there was a tablet fixed to the wall which tells of his famous run in 1888. Tom Tagg attended this memorial as he knew Selby and the other coachman who attended.

    By John Davis (30/06/2008)
  • My grandfather was head porter at The Old Ship in about 1910.His name was William Alfred Luke.

    By Diane (28/11/2008)
  • My grandfather also worked at the Ship Hotel during the 1901 census, Alfred Roland he was a waiter age 16yrs. He is my mother’s father, my Mum is still alive age 81 yrs. Does anyone know if there are any photos anywhere of the staff that worked there during this time?

    By Susan Loxton (13/09/2010)
  • My relation, John Leonard Schuckardt bought the Old Ship Inn in Brighton in the 1780’s. If you have ANY information, please do let me know. I am looking at my family tree so any information will help. Thank you.

    By Carolyn Pritchard (03/10/2010)
  • I think the Old Ship Inn is not the Ship Hotel but an assembly rooms, dance hall etc which is no longer standing but has a street named after it? I think it was next to the Old Battery House in King Street, (now the Grand Hotel) I am not sure though can anyone help as I have come across these addresses in my family research.

    By Annie (22/11/2010)
  • I worked at the Old Ship Hotel from 1956-1959, and I am presently writing a book on the history of Brighton’s leading hotels. I would be very interested to speak or correspond with anyone who worked in the hotel industry. I can be contacted by email –

    By Robin Tulley (07/06/2012)
  • I worked at The Old Ship Hotel from March 1985 to January 1992 as Security Officer and Duty Manager. The Hotel is steeped in history, with the Royal Escape Race which celebrates the escape of the future King Charles II from his Puritan enemies to France, and the smugglers caves beneath the hotel, (which now form part of the Hotel’s excellent wine cellar) to the formation of The Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. Famous visitors include authors Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. Mr. Dickens wrote part of Barnaby Rudge in the Old Ship Hotel, and Mr.Thackeray wrote some of the early chapters of Vanity Fair whilst he stayed there. Many famous stars of Stage, Screen and Television, (including Hollywood) stayed at the Hotel during my time there. I have very fond memories indeed! If any of my former colleagues are reading this I would be delighted to hear from you.

    By Robert Allen (17/09/2012)
  • I worked at the Old Ship Hotel as a trainee receptionist when I was 18 years old in about 1965. I remember the head porter, Walter Tully who was very protective towards me because I was a favourite with a lot of the business people that came in regularly and I occasionally got presents. The middle- aged spinsters in the accounts department were all jealous of me! I was allowed to have breakfast in the hotel and I remember even for the staff, the coffee was served from these heavy silver coffee pots and the breakfasts were delicious. I loved it there until they kept putting me on night duty and I couldn’t go out with my friends anymore. The general manager Mr Ennis was unpleasant and I think he got fired as he was caught up in the Christine Keeler affair but as I was so young at the time, not sure if I have that totally correct. I lived in the hotel for a while and looking back, it was quite a privilege!

    By Sue (08/02/2013)
  • Hi, I have recently purchased a silver vesta case which I believe belonged to Mr James Selby. It is made of silver and has an enamel panel with the words “I’m out for the night when I am booz’d and helplessly roam tie this to my coat and send me home, address see back” and on the back is engraved J.W Selby, Old Times Coach, 7 Edgware Road. W. I saw on this page that there is  maybe some distant relatives of Mr Selby and thought it may be something of interest. 

    By Lee (19/02/2015)
  • Dear Lee, I should be most interested to know more about Jim Selby’s vesta case please.  Maybe a photo if possible please? Corinne Lawson

    By Corinne Lawson (14/03/2015)
  • James Selby is my 3x great grandfathers brother it so interesting and I didn’t realise how famous he is and my aunt (Martyne Selby) and grandmother has recently been up to see his grave in Highgate cemetery.

    By Briony Rose Selby (20/11/2019)

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