Sometimes it is gratifying when your past catches up with you. Not always, granted, but sometimes. About a month ago, I had a call from TV director Ian Denyer. Ian was the man behind the three one-hour documentary about Savile Row in 2007 and someone I consider a friend. Turns out he is directing a BBC documentary about the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840. Ian wanted to know if I had come across Prince Albert in any of the Savile Row archives.
As it happened, I had. You might recall that in the Noughties I was asked to curate a new archive room for Gieves & Hawkes at No 1 Savile Row. Robert Gieve was still alive at the beginning of the project but sadly died a matter of months into the task. I was left with keys to a vault in the basement of No 1 and instructions to scour every inch of the building for archive material. Mr Gieve also believed that a sizeable amount of the archive had been shipped out to a warehouse in Surrey.
On a mine sweep of the warehouse I happened to be searching through cardboard boxes full of financial accounts from the 80s and 90s. At the very bottom of one box was a tattered hand-written ledger that proved to be one of the few archive treasures relating to Hawkes & Co. The book was a transcript of letters sent by Hawkes in the 1840s soliciting business from titled customers. One of the customers was Prince Albert.
I never forgot that book because it was one of the very few clues to the illustrious customers of Hawkes & Co. I recall finding the Earl of Cardigan in there a full two decades before the Charge of the Light Brigade and also the Duke of Cambridge who was Queen Victoria’s uncle. What I couldn’t recall was whether the letter sent to Prince Albert pre or post dated his marriage to Queen Victoria.
It was rather lovely to return to Gieves & Hawkes after so many years and find the Hawkes ledger behind glass in a new display. Ian and I did a recce of the ledger and concluded that the Hawkes letter was written a matter of months after the wedding when Prince Albert had been made colonel in chief of the 11th Hussars. We decided to film with the ledger and make some logical conclusions as to whether Hawkes & Co had tailored the Field Marshal’s uniform that Prince Albert wore when he married Queen Victoria in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace.
I won’t spoil any surprises because you’ll have to wait until the programme airs close to Christmas 2018. But we did find evidence in the ledgers that Hawkes & Co had royal provenance that dated back to King George III and included a royal warrant from Prince Albert’s mentor King Leopold of the Belgians. We also found court Svengali Baron Stockmar mentioned in the letters.
I had forgotten discovering King Leopold of the Belgians’ Royal Warrant in the vault underneath No 1 Savile Row not to mention the warrant of Queen Victoria. Sadly Prince Albert’s Royal Warrant didn’t survive though a slip of paper discovered in one of the ledgers confirmed that Hawkes & Co made by royal appointment to Prince Albert and the Duke of Cambridge. On the reverse of this paper was a tailor’s sketch of a lay – where a paper pattern sits on a bolt of cloth – strongly suggesting that the evidence of Prince Albert’s Royal Warrant only survived because the paper had been used for a tailor’s doodle.
It is a miracle to me that so much did survive in Savile Row’s archives despite the businesses being run as such with zero sentimentality towards anything that was not a stock model or was being stored for a customer. There are almost zero Gieves naval uniforms left at No 1 Savile Row. Many were sold-off or sent to International branches as window dressing when they were subsequently lost. I recall a glorious list of Admiral’s Full Dress coats found in Mr Gieve’s files that had simply vanished from the premises. Almost nothing of Hawkes’s history survives except for the Solar Topee helmets that the firm patented and the occasional shako from the mid-19th century.
Having spent so many years working with the Henry Poole Archive, it was gratifying to go back to Gieves & Hawkes and see work done over a decade ago still valued and now kept behind glass in a temperature-controlled room. I feel like I should be kept on a temperature-controlled room these days but, on balance, I can still shake a tail feather in front of a television camera and sound vaguely coherent when asked to revisit history I hadn’t concentrated on for so many years. Until next time…