The King's Beefsteak & Onions at Holdenby
By Pam Garner
This article was originally published in the December 2000 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
While on a holiday in his native town of Northampton a few days ago, Mr. William Saull, of London, a retired bank cashier, called at the Independent office to express his interest in this Journal, and at the same time favoured us with some entertaining reminiscences, including a story of an adventure of the King, when, as Prince of Wales, he came to Althorp to hunt with the Pytchley.
“ In my boyhood,” he said, “ I used to frequently drive out into the country with my father, the late Mr. Thomas Saull, who had a big business as a wine merchant here, and was an active Liberal worker in the county as well as the town. On one of these journeys I remember we called at Holdenby Lodge, then occupied by Mr and Mrs Gardner. It was a bright, crisp winter’s morning, just the weather to sharpen one's appetite, so imagine the temptation of the savoury smell of beefsteak and onions which the good lady was cooking. This appetising smell was filling the air when who should gallop up but Earl Spencer, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, our present King. They entered the yard, and Earl Spencer, dismounting, said to Mrs. Gardner, who was unaware of the Earl’s companion, ‘ My friend here has been attracted by the aroma of your cooking, and fancies a taste of it.’ ‘ With pleasure, my lord,’ said Mrs Gardner. ‘ Ask him in, and we will soon have it ready'.
They were ushered into the kitchen, and sat on the homely chairs. The cloth was laid, and Mr Gardner called in. Some home-brewed ale was put upon the table. The Prince took a good draught, and just tasted of the beefsteak and onions. As they rose to leave, the Prince whispered to Earl Spencer that he might introduce the landlady to him, and as his lordship did so she was so amazed at entertaining the heir to the throne unawares that all she could stammer out was, ‘ Oh dear! If I had only have known, I would have had the knives cleaned.’ The Earl and Prince went away highly amused over the adventure.”
Mr Saull added another interesting reminiscence, in which Earl Spencer was concerned. When Earl Spencer first stood for Parliament as Viscount Althorp, he asked Mr. Saull’s father, who was a reliable judge of horses, to buy some horses and carriages for him for his political campaign. The sum of £1,500 was placed to the late Mr Saull’s account in the bank in the Drapery, and he went to London, Leicester, Oxford and Birmingham, and obtained the animals and carriages desired for £1,200. He returned a cheque for the balance of £300 to Earl Spencer, who immediately wrote back asking Mr. Saull to keep the balance as a reward for his services. Mr. Saull, however, would not hear of it, and once more returned the money that the young heir of Althorp was reluctantly compelled to keep.
TRICKING A VICAR
Another story told us by Mr. Saull of his father gives a laughable peep into the past generation of Northamptonians, when coteries of prominent townsmen, though divided by politics, were bound together by ties of close companionship, and met regularly at each other’s houses for hospitality and amusement. At one of these, it was decided to play off a joke upon the late Rev. " Billy" Butlin, the then Vicar of St. Sepulchre’s, an eccentric old character, who revelled in a game of cards, good port, and a good day’s hunting. In fact, he is said to have often married and buried people with his surplice over his hunting dress. Among the conspirators in this little plot were the late Mr. John Peirce, the late Mr Chris Markham, the late Mr. Gates (a solicitor), and the late Mr. Saull.
They invited the Vicar to a card party at Mr. Markharn’s house on a Saturday night, and soon had him absorbed in the points and the port. The vicar kept on taking tricks, little dreaming of the trick that was being played upon him. As the games sped on, the conspirators put the clock back, and Sunday morning had been entered upon two hours when the clerical card player observed that it seemed a long night. The hands of the clock were still short of midnight by nearly an hour. At last, when the hands reached twelve, the Vicar rose conscientiously determined not to cloud his conscience by playing for a minute into Sunday morning. Imagine his amazement on going outside to hear the clock of All Saints’ strike three. He dashed back to the room, shaking his fists and spluttering threats of revenge, which were mingled with roars of laughter at the triumph of their trick upon his fatal weakness for cards. For a long time after this Mr. Butlin was worried with warnings of the evil of Sabbath breaking, and tracts and sermons upon the folly of card playing reached him from sources which can well be guessed. After that he could never be induced to yield to the temptation of card playing on Saturday nights.
Mr. W. Saull, who favoured us with these recollections, was educated at Northampton Grammar School and Oundle Grammar School. Through the combined influence of his father and the late Mr. Raikes Currie, who was Liberal member for Northampton, he obtained a position in Currie’s bank in London in 1856, where he rose to a high and responsible position. He frequently returns here to renew the acquaintance with his many friends in Northampton, and has a further tie to the town in his daughter, who is R. E. the wife of Mr. Kilburn, of Kingsthorpe Grove.
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