Celebrating 250 years of the … sandwich!

If you’re in the UK this weekend and even more precisely in Kent, why not drop by the celebrations of the Sandwich in Sandwich?

Or is it Sandwhich? Anyhow, a re-enactment of the very moment when the Fourth Earl called for a sandwich will be presented to the audience.  The Earl called for a slice of beef between two toasted pieces of bread so that he could carry on gaming un-interrupted.  The re-enactment will be in a period house in Bowling Street.

Here’s some more historical background:

Sandwich is one the five original Cinque (pronounced sink) ports formed in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066).   These ports were of great importance to England in the early days of their formation with clearly defined duties and privileges, chief among which was to supply ships and men for the use of the king. Sandwich at this time was the most important port in the country.

Sandwich continued to play an important role in the history of England; in 1164 Archbishop Thomas Becket embarked at Sandwich for Gravelines returning six months later, before proceeding on to Canterbury where he was murdered in the same year.   1194 saw Richard 1 landing at Sandwich on his return from the crusades and in 1457 Sandwich suffered a surprise attack from the French when four thousand men, mainly from Honfleur in Normandy, descended on the town, killing and pillaging and murdering the mayor, John Drury.   They were eventually defeated and returned to France beginning a long period of enmity between the two towns and it was not until 1957 that good relations were finally restored.   Today the mayor of Sandwich still wears black robes although Sandwich is now happily twinned with Honfleur.

Why did Edward Montagu choose the title ‘Sandwich’ when offered  an Earldom by Charles 11?  The Montagu family owned no land or property in East Kent.   The fact is that he saw the choice of the title Earl of Sandwich as a compliment to the naval importance of this historic Cinque Port and as such it was fitting for a man who had personally escorted the king safely back to England aboard his flagship.   He went on to have a successful diplomatic and naval career, before dying at the Battle of Sole Bay.

The second and third Earls did not have particularly distinguished careers; it was John , fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) who was to be best remembered ….for ordering a piece of beef to be served between two slices of bread while reputedly at the gaming tables.   The first written record of the word ‘sandwich’ came in 1762  from the English author, scholar and diarist Edward Gibbon, who wrote in his journal for November 4th of that year ‘ I dined at the Cocoa Tree…. That respectable body affords every evening a sight truly English.  Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom… supping at little tables… upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich.’

However, John Montagu, the fourth Earl, had other claims to fame… he was a man of his time, able and ambitious, he made friends and enemies in his long political career.  Sportsman, soldier, gambler, music lover and diplomat, he travelled widely.  Naval affairs became his main interest and he was three times appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.   He was a patron of Captain Cook who named the Islands (now Hawaii) in his honour and after Cook’s death there he edited his journals.   Involved in Naval reforms he was unfairly blamed for failure during the American War of Independence.

He had children by his then wife, Dorothy Fane and later by his mistress of seventeen years, Martha Ray, an opera singer, who was murdered outside Covent Garden by a rejected suitor.

The Sandwich Celebration aims to pay tribute to this great man and his enduring culinary legacy.

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