Custer’s Last Stand. June 2016.

Dear Rowley,

Are Messes Cameron and Osborne actively throwing the Brexit vote with perfidious threat and incompetent panic? I merely ask. Speaking of panic, I went to Broadcasting House yesterday to do a pre-recorded interview with an American travel broadcaster called Rick Steves who is syndicated nationwide to publicise James Sherwood’s Discriminating Guide to London. I do like radio. Unlike television, the nerves simply melt away in a studio with headphones and a mic.

We did a good three-quarters of an hour with a phone-in that was truly terrific. A lady from Colorado asked me about Rules in Covent Garden – a favourite – and another chap about the Jermyn Street perfumer Floris. It was nice to say I knew the owner and that the business had been in the same family since 1730. I was momentarily flummoxed by Jeff from Denver who wanted folk venue recommendations. I sent him off to Camden Town and suggested he aim for the nearest Irish pub. Good luck!

In other news, the Henry Poole Archive is a gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday, I had an octogenarian Professor from India who was researching Mr Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Turns out we had scads of records for Jinnah including some very indiscreet notes in the measure books saying he had square shoulders, a hollow waist and bow legs. Not sure that went down too well but never let it be said your tailor doesn’t tell the whole stinking truth.

Find of the day was an order from Colonel Cooke who died with General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He was famed for his whiskers so poor Colonel Cooke was scalped twice: once for his hair and once for his whiskers. The letters directed by Poole’s to the US army were returned and the clerks thoughtfully scrawled ‘Dead’ on the envelopes and pinned them into the ledger page dated 1876. We already have Col William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody on the books and now we have another hero of the Wild West to join him. Who next? Annie Oakley?

Recent finds in the ledgers include the Kings of Serbia, Portugal and Bulgaria and the last Queen of Madagascar. Presumably with over forty Royal Warrants already on the company walls, the firm didn’t bother to mention the monarchs who hadn’t conferred Henry Poole & Co with their warrant. Slowly but surely, the archive is giving-up its secrets. Today’s task is to unlock the present chairman’s great-grandmother’s private leather-bound Account Book No 2and his grandfather Howard Cundey’s Private Memoranda (1896-1898).

Fortunately, the locksmith Bramah Security (founded in 1784) is still trading in Fitzrovia and that’s only a trot from Savile Row and Bloomsbury Towers. It appears from recently discovered court reports that Howard Cundey kept a very detailed diary (or Day Book) about the feuds and fisticuffs at Poole’s during his reign between 1883 and 1927. We learn of the German head cutter that customers boycotted during World War I, of the feud between the showroom head and Mr Brinkmann who was wont to eavesdrop outside Chairman Cundey’s office.

The more I plough-on with the Poole Archive, the more I think we’ve got a 100,000-word pot-boiler about Howard Cundey’s thirty year fight in the Royal Courts of Justice to overturn Henry Poole’s disastrous will. I haven’t yet calculated how much Howard and his mother Eliza spent in Chancery trying to see-off the other three heirs but I suspect the final sum will be in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.

It is so tantalising to think that Howard Cundey’s diary might be in the basement beneath No 15 Savile Row in one of the other ten Barmah-Locked books. I never knew that I would get excited by accounts but these books tell you so much about the perilous trade of being a tailor to kings and emperors with a disinclination to pay. I was researching Emperor Napoleon III’s orders the other day who spent £1022 (roughly £102,200 today) on his personal wardrobe not counting the separate orders placed by his Empress, Eugenie, and the Prince Imperial.

When the Emperor was deposed in 1870 and fled to England, his orders are immediately transferred to the ex-Empress’s name and henceforth she pays the bills and orders only liveries to dress her new household. She no longer orders black and navy silk riding habits as she did in her youth. The Empress orders no more after dressing her household servants and the account passes to the Prince Imperial until he is murdered by Zulus in 1879. All this from a tailor’s order book, eh?

There is still SO much material in the archive to be explored and now I have my eye in (it only took five years) I am coming to understand the character of the guv’nors and also of the individual cutters, showroom managers, tailors and clerks one of whom was a peeping Tom in the 1890s who killed himself for the love of a doctor’s daughter called Jeanette  Marshall who scorned the advances of an inferior. It all happens on Savile Row y’know.

Well, one ought to get back to work. I have locks to pick and mouths to feed. Can you tell I’m feeling a little more chipper? Just testing you’re paying attention. Until next time…