Last weekend I was in London, on a visit which included ‘seeing’ my two favourite writers of all time. Namely Joseph Addison and Winston Churchill.
Ironically this weekend away in London had actually been the result of some televisual viewing which we had undertaken over the last few weeks. Most of time, Anne-Marie and I are driving all over the country to provide live music at weddings. In the quieter periods we will generally be in the studio recording more tracks for our prospective brides as well as catching up on some admin. When all of that is done, we occasionally find a little time either during the day or in the evening to investigate the entertainment on offer from the rectangular glass thing in the corner of our lounge, aka the idiot’s lantern.
On one such occasion we found a programme all about The Savoy hotel in London. Basically this show by ITVX is a fly on the wall documentary about the inner workings and goings on at the hotel. Sometimes, these sorts of things can be quite interesting and this particular series caught our attention. The programme was largely focused on the work of the Butlers, headed up by Sean Davoren and the Savoy Grill under the watchful eye of Thierry Tomasin (who in turn is answerable to chef Gordon Ramsey).
All of which got us yearning to see more of the Savoy. A few weeks ago therefore, when we were in London just before Christmas, we managed to pop in to the American Bar for some rather splendid cocktails before going on for dinner at Launceston Place restaurant. If you haven’t been to either of these establishments, then I can recommend both! The service at the Savoy’s American Bar was absolutely faultless. Even though it is not possible to book in advance when we presented ourselves on a busy Saturday before Christmas it only took 10 minutes or so before we were found a table.
The only slight issue with waiting was that we had sort of stumbled on the Savoy as part of our wanderings around London and at the time I was carrying a bag from TK Maxx, I think containing a pair of slippers! Fortunately the hotel staff were polite enough to avert their eyes from this abomination and hopefully I was dressed sufficiently well to suggest that I probably was the sort of person who might be allowed in a dark corner of the iconic American Bar! Let’s face it, the American Bar has been named World’s Best Bar at Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2018 and World’s 50 Best Bars 2017. So turning up like some tramp who goes shopping in a discount store was probably not my finest hour!
However, bag faux pas aside, the service and the cocktails were absolutely splendid. Indeed even the complimentary nuts were topped up more times than the cocktails.
And so, a few weeks later, last weekend to be precise, we decided to return to the Savoy, this time for dinner in the Savoy Grill. Describing itself as one of London’s most iconic restaurants, the Savoy Grill has been restored to its former glory with an elegant 1920’s theme. Although rumour has it, it’s about to close again for another restoration and refurbishment! This time we planned things a little better and took a taxi direct from our hotel to the Savoy. Consequently, I was dressed suitably and was not carrying the sort of bag that most people’s staff would turn their nose up at!
Here, in the Savoy Grill run by Gordon Ramsey, we found a slightly different experience to the American Bar. The service was, as you’d expect, nothing short of excellent. The food, however, was although perfectly nice, not really anything special. I was particularly looking forward to the Beef Wellington as we had seen this prepared many times on the ITV show as a ‘speciality dish’. At £60 per head just for this one item, I was expecting something really rather splendid. However the reality was a fairly decent piece of fillet steak wrapped in some pastry with a few storks of broccoli and a small ‘lump’ of mashed potato. Yes it was nice, but was it ‘special’?
At this point I did remind myself that although Gordon Ramsey’s name appears above the door, this particular restaurant does not have a Michelin Star and so perhaps it is unfair to judge it against the standards and quality of food we have experienced at many restaurants which do. Nevertheless, despite not ranking alongside La Gavroche in terms of awards, the Savoy Grill definitely knows how to charge and the final bill was certainly of the level you would normally only brace yourself to receive from a Michelin Starred Restaurant.
The only slight ‘faux pas’ on this occasion was asking the concierge of the Savoy to hail us a taxi for a return journey to the nearby Premier Inn…. I think the expectation is probably that one returns to a Savoy Butler Suite having enjoyed dinner in their restaurant. But since Sean was nowhere to be seen, we had no choice but to head back down Whitehall to our tiny little room in a Premier Inn Hub which did at least give us a view of a rather splendid church down that way….
All of which brings me on to Westminster Abbey. Here you can enter for free provided you want to be treated like a half wit who has never been in a cathedral before and bullied around the building until you are literally forced into a seat where you must remain silent for the duration of evensong. Having done this a couple of years ago, this time we decided to go in as members of the general public during the day. This meant an admission fee had to be paid. All sixty pounds of it! Clearly God is not as giving as some people would like you to believe.
Nevertheless, once inside it becomes clear that Westminster Abbey is actually more of a museum of memorials and statues than it is a place of worship. But that’s a good thing because that was actually the reason we were there.
For a while now I have been researching my family history, mostly because I am keen to prove at least an indirect link between myself and Joseph William Addison the famous English essayist, poet and politician.
Addison was born in Milston, Wiltshire, but soon after his birth his father, Lancelot Addison, was appointed Dean of Lichfield and the family moved into the cathedral close. His father was a scholarly English clergyman. Joseph was educated at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey, where he first met Richard Steele, and at The Queen’s College, Oxford. He excelled in classics, being specially noted for his Latin verse, and became a fellow of Magdalen College.
For those interested, the Latin inscription on the base of Joseph’s statue translates as:
“But, after full inquiry and impartial reflection, we have long been convinced that he deserved as much love and esteem as can be justly claimed by any….his character; the more carefully it is examined, the more it will appear, to use the phrase of the old anatomists, sound in the noble parts, free from all taint of perfidy, of cowardice, of cruelty, of ingratitude, of envy….the just harmony of qualities, the exact temper between the stern and the humane virtues, the grace and dignity, distinguish him from all men”
Joseph of course would not have known The Savoy Hotel as he was in London nearly 200 years before it was opened in 1889. Nevertheless it is interesting to note that a lot of his books were published very nearby at Shakespear’s-Head, Over Against Katharine-Street in the Strand.
As to whether I am in fact related to the esteemed writer remains to be seen. He did marry Charlotte Mydelton (possibly somehow a distant relation of Kate Middleton) and they had a daughter also called Charlotte but there the line ends. So any link would have to be via one of Joseph’s siblings. Thus far, my work in ancestry has proven a direct link to a Joseph William Addison who was born in 1776. The trouble is there is still a small gap of 50 years which is not yet accounted for. But it’s a start. Indeed by Great Grandfather was also called Joseph William Addison but I think we are still in the realms of tentative links at this stage!
The only thing I can safely confirm is that I am not related to Winston Churchill. Indeed the only tentative link I can find between these two men is in a 1721 collection of Addison’s works currently offered for sale in New York. On the first blank of Volume four is the signature ‘DUKE OF MARLBORO’ the first spelling of the fairly new title, beneath that ‘BLENHEIM’, the estate of the Duke and birth place of Winston Churchill. On the second blank is the signature ‘DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH.’ Winston Churchill was a direct descendant of the Duke. The Duke died in 1722. There are three Churchills listed as subscribers.
That said I did recently discover that one of the more eminent Churchill Scholars is a gentleman called Paul Addison.
When Paul Addison, who died recently aged 76 after suffering from cancer, embarked on studying the politics of the second world war, there were few scholarly studies to draw on and sources were thin on the ground. Though he graduated with a first in modern history from Oxford in 1964, it was on a syllabus that effectively stopped half a century earlier.
His best-known book, The Road to 1945 (1975), was thus a landmark in the writing of contemporary history and had a huge impact on that field. Through charting the political transformations of the war years, Paul argued that the conflict gave rise to a political consensus about postwar domestic policy that fell “like a branch of ripe plums” into the lap of the incoming prime minister, Clement Attlee, following Labour’s victory in 1945 and persisted long after the last bombs had fallen. The book became a focal point for discussion and debate about the political history of wartime and postwar Britain.
After finding Joseph’s grave in the Henry VII Chapel, where he seems to be resting alongside Elizabeth I, we made our way from Westminster Abbey to the Cabinet War Rooms to find out a little more about Churchill. It was here that I learned about the Super-Secret Supper Club, which brings us back to The Savoy.
Dubbed “The Other Club”—Parliament’s home at the Palace of Westminster being the club—the group convened for supper at the Savoy’s private Pinafore Room every Thursday while Parliament was in session. At first, membership was exclusive to politicians so long as they followed a few simple rules, including “no speeches” and “no politics,” and respected that the primary mission of the club was simply “to dine.” In order to ensure an equilibrium of ideas, Churchill and Smith initially invited an equal number of lawmakers from the Liberal and Conservative parties. After World War I, membership opened up to include politicians from the rising Labour Party, and over time, it was also extended notable representatives from the fields of the art and science, barring only members of the Church.
Churchill continued to attend dinners with The Other Club through World War II, during which the government food rations affected even the meals served in the hotel. His final attendance, according to Scott, was on December 10, 1964, which is also believed to be the last time he left his Hyde Park Gate home before his passing on January 25, 1965 following years of gradually declining health. Today, a bronze bust of the former prime minister is housed in the room—watching over the meetings that continue there today.
Jules Addison would love to consider himself a writer. Sadly however, beyond the nonsense written on his own blog, he has to date contributed nothing of any value to a literary cause. Despite this he will continue to inflict his words on the world at large purely to pass some time between musical events.