What ho, Jeeves!
are former pupils, but they can invite guests, which was how I found myself at Innholders’ Hall, commemorating the Accession of Elizabeth I and hearing about body-snatching.
One speech revealed that, in 1773, a certain Mary Gibson left a generous bequest to the school, albeit with unusual conditions attached. To keep receiving the money, the governors had to make an annual pilgrimage to Sutton in Surrey to check the Gibson family tomb.
It was a cunning plan by Mrs G. She intended, in those days of rampant grave-robbing, to make sure the family corpses were not taken by the resurrection men. The will further stipulated that, once the last of her Gibsons had gone, the tomb should be locked and the key thrown in the River Jordan.
Christ’s Hospital’s 18th-century governors must have been tempted to throw the keys in the Thames, but, doubtless then, as now, those in charge of this ‘school like no other’—80% of pupils receive significant financial support—are people of the highest integrity, so the trip to the Holy Land would most certainly have been made.
On the subject of innholders, the decline of the British pub is a cause of concern, especially to those of us in the shires where the local hostelry is a social lifeline. We recently dined with a developer friend who’s had much success buying ailing rural pubs and transforming their fortunes. I asked him what his secret was.
Sage-and-beige decor? Foxy waiting staff? Big white plates and hipster gins? No, it’s ladies’ loos, apparently. My friend’s rationale was that husbands decide where to go out to eat and wives decide whether they return.
My own beef (as it were) with gastropubs—with any restaurant really—is that menu lettering can be small for fiftysomethings. If you forget your reading glasses, you’re more stuffed than a packet of Paxo, especially if the lighting’s on the crepuscular side.
The problem’s exacerbated when, as is increasingly common, every last ingredient is listed in a fancy typeface: foraged dandelion oil, onion dust, served on a reconditioned clog and so on. I ate out recently with college contemporaries; we had one pair of 2+ reading specs between us, so ordering lasted ages as we all took our turn.
At the time of writing, I haven’t bought a single Christmas present and feel faint at the very thought. Just what do teenagers want?
The answer comes courtesy of Richard Arkwright’s Crom- ford Mills, our friendly local World Heritage Site. As every schoolchild knows (or should), this complex was the beginning of the factory system that drove the Industrial Revolution.
Arkwright, a former hairdresser, became the richest commoner in Britain, so eyewateringly wealthy that he claimed he could pay off the national debt all by himself. So utterly stinking rich was he that, one merry 1790s Christmas morning, his children came down to breakfast to find a cheque for £10,000 (£100,000 today) rolled up in their napkins.
What a great idea—not only cutting straight to the heart of what everyone really wants, but rewarding those who use their table linen properly.
Wendy Holden’s new novel Honeymoon Suite is out now, published by Headline Review