The Pheasant Philosophises: Part 4: Queen Victoria’s Pineapple

In a society of sexual equality, I often think to the past and wonder what stories lie fullsizeoutput_173ebehind others. In childhood, I was always regaled with tales of my Great Great Great Grandfather, an interesting character who had, apparently, owned an Italian Fruit Warehouse in Bath during the 1840s and 50s. As a man he intrigued me, there were tales of Plantations in the West Indies, of his being butler to Lord Aberdare; there were rumours of Covent Garden premises and a pineapple presented to Queen Victoria on the occasion of the Prince of Wales’ first birthday. He always struck me as being interesting, with an obvious passion for food and I wondered whether I inherited my love of food from him. A few years ago, after I had my son, I fell into one of those “I need to discover my true heritage” moments and 6 years later I now have a story quite different to the one offered to me as a child.

Lewis Evans called himself ‘A Gentleman’ when he was married, in Bath in 1837. His address was Milsom Street, now the extremely busy high street. He lived with his cousin and her husband, another Gentleman, in this fashionably city. He had no profession. I cannot even conclusively find evidence of his father or mother (in fact his father was listed as a shoemaker, an odd profession for the parent of a Gentleman). So he was a bit of an enigma. I delved into the census records and found him, four years later, no longer a gentleman but a Fruiterer. How did this come about? Well, are you sitting comfortably? I’ll begin.

In the 1830’s two sisters from Cheltenham went into business. Their mother had been a Fruiterer and their father an Innkeeper. The sisters were called Louisa and Eliza Clayton-Bourne and as partners they opened a delicatessen on the Promenade, in the centre of town. Nether being much over 20, these two woman worked hard for their living and it proved successful. So successful, in fact that by 1836 the younger sister, Eliza aged about 18, left her sister to set up a second ‘branch’ of the business in Bath, Somerset. The address was also prestigious. It was located in the York Buildings, a few steps from Milsom Street. This shop stocked all manner of wonderfully exotic foods, supplying the gentry and aristocracy of the City with out-of-season fruits from hot-houses in the country; Italian oils, cheeses, Westphalian Hams, and many of the other unusual and fashionable foods which graced the tables of Britain’s elite in a time of foodie enlightenment.  So, Victoria is about to ascend to the throne and we have two, very young and successful business women. What happens next?IMG_7841

The arrows of love strike. As a young woman in fashionable Bath surrounded with frock-coated, stove-pipe hatted gentleman, Eliza Clayton-Bourne meets and  marries Lewis Evans; a few days before which, she breaks partnership with her sister. The sisters have not fallen out, Eliza’s business has simply ‘gone’ to her husband. She is now his possession, as is her business. Now, whether or not he had an active role in the day-to-day running of the business is uncertain. I have invoices which he has signed, his name appears in the newspapers of the day advertising the wonderful array of produce in store. In 1842 he is thanked for the gift of a pineapple to the royal household but Eliza just disappears into thin air. By the early 1850s, and several children later, the business at York Buildings is sold and the newspaper which advertises the new proprietor unwittingly gives us a wonderful clue to the true nature of the business. The first is a letter from Mrs Lewis Evans, thanking her customers for their business over the previous years and inviting them to continue to purchase from the shop which is quite safe in the hands of the new owner – a man. Just below this letter is another letter from the new proprietor. He kindly thanks the previous owner whom he names as Mr Lewis Evans, and respectably invites previous customers to continue their accounts. Not once does it even mention Eliza, not even a Mr and Mrs Evans.

This makes me wonder how many businesses  run by women in the Victorian era and beforehand, have lost these crucial details under the name of their husband. Louisa, the elder sister, did not marry until well into her 30s, by which time she had sold her Cheltenham business and moved to Bath where she owned and ran a boarding house for those taking the waters. An independent woman for as long as she could be, Louisa eventually ran a successful restaurant in Cardiff with her new husband.

In one final interesting note; I have seen the marriage certificate of Lewis Evans and in the space below his trade and next to the name of his wife somebody has started to write something, only a few dots of ink, but I do wonder whether she was overruled in her insistency to put her own trade down, she was of course literate and her handwriting was far better than her husband’s.

Oh, how I wish I could have been a fly on their wall. My gut feeling is that Eliza was the driving force behind the business throughout it’s existence; something she fitted around having five or six children. Yes, they lived comfortably…until something happened, something I’ve yet to find out, and the family scattered throughout the country.

Perhaps she did ultimately resolve to hand the business to her husband and maybe he just wasn’t as good at it as she was.


A romance of Exmoor

  

Yesterday I returned from a foodie weekend break to beautiful Exmoor. From its bleak moors to its rugged coastline via its winding roads it is a stunning place to visit, even with the howling winds and driving rain of a British November day. It is also a foodie paradise, close to the border with Devon, this part of Somerset is very proud of its local produce, there is excellent beef, lamb, honey, cider and a plethora of chocolatiers. 
On our way across to the coast we couldn’t resist stopping at a cider farm. Torre cider provided a well needed break from the arduous journey – delicious mulled apple juice held back the chill and we stocked up on some Somerset scrumpy, cider vinegar and apple juice. There was a delightful farm shop selling cheeses, jams and churneys as well as a little cafe offering a delicious cider cake alongside more traditional fayre.

  

Saturday lunchtime found us in the picturesque village of Dunster, just inland, and with a commanding castle and famous round maketplace. We dined at an old coaching inn, The Luttrell Arms, a vast ancient building with great log fires, antlers adorning the walls and splendid mullion windows. I chose a minute steak ciabatta with rocket and Parmesan, a side of chunky chips dunked in Stoke’s tomato ketchup and a glass of excellent local ale.

   
 

 A quick stop in Porlock Weir as darkness fell forced us  into another sampling of the local brew and a brief walk along the seashore ensured we were thoroughly damp as we made for our destination, The Notley Arms, in Monksilver.

  
Nestled on the edge of Exmoor in a chocolate box village full of thatched cottages and ancient looking houses, Monksilver is an excellent place to pass the night. The Notley Arms is a 2 AA rosetted gastropub with prerequisite wood burner, leather sofas, quirky decor and a modern British menu. 

Once settled into our 4* room (with a thoughtfully provided thermos of cold milk and a cafetière of coffee) we unpacked and were very impressed with the facilities but having booked a table for seven thirty, and already feeling tired from the days exertions, we headed into the Pub. 

We were made to feel very welcome and were offered a cosy table for two tucked into the corner. The menu, which changes daily, was well composed and based around local produce. 

  

It was, of course, difficult to choose but eventually I decided upon the Sea Trout, Duck Faggot and Rhubarb.

We ordered bread and olives to begin.

  

The bread was almost brioche-like and complimented the balsamic olive oil beautifully, the olives were meaty and delicious.

My first course, hot smoked sea trout with picked cucumber, yoghurt and horseradish cream was absolutely perfect, presented in an outsize bowl it was fresh and zingy, the hit of dill from the pickling liquor was complimented admirably by the horseradish cream. 

  

The main course, rich duck faggot was extremely rich indeed. Served with a smooth and creamy truffle infused mash and a flavoursome jus, the faggot itself was as light as a feather but extremely filling. It took faggots (of which I am extremely fond) to a totally different level and is something I will be trying to replicate at home. 

  

For pudding I chose ‘Tastes of Rhubarb, Vanilla and White Chocolate’. Presented on a large charger it comprised various preparations of rhubarb, a concentrated Apple syrup, a rich mousse speckled with vanilla seeds, flavoured with white chocolate and topped with a black sesame seed brittle.

  
A couple of glasses of Pinot Noir Grenache, which worked surprisingly well with all courses, was followed with coffee and an excellent evening came to a close.

Breakfast the following morning was equally delicious with flavoursome butchers sausages and toast made from the excellent bread we had enjoyed the previous evening – the bacon was a bit of a let down but the yummy chive-speckled scrambled eggs partially made up for it. A good selection of Bonne Maman jams and Coopers marmalade was offered. All in all The Notley Arms is a place I will defiantly revisit, even as the wind howled about throughout the night it was warm and cosy and welcoming. 

www.luttrellarms.co.uk
www.torrecider.com
www.notleyarmsinn.co.uk