“1892: Miss Fanny Hicks is forced to tell the Trade Union Congress in Glasgow that trousers made for Queen Victoria’s grandson the Duke of York (later King George V) were made in a Soho sweatshop where typhoid fever has broken out. Miss Hicks then discloses that Davies & Son (the Duke’s tailor) is a subcontractor of the sweatshop. The scandal of the Duke of York’s Trousers is recorded in The Pall Mall Gazette and compounded by the mysterious death of the Duke’s brother and heir apparent Prince Albert Victor in January 1892.”
“Davies & Son found itself in the centre of a royal Savile Row tailoring scandal in 1892 when trade union whistle-blower Miss Fanny Hicks told the Glasgow Congress that trousers intended for the Duke of York (the future King George V) had been made in a sweatshop in Mayfair’s Woodstock Street. Miss Hicks alleged that Davies & Son had outsourced the prince’s trousers and waistcoat to the sweatshops behind Bond Street where minors had recently died of scarlet fever. Furthermore, she claimed Davies & Son had also outsourced a uniform intended for Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence and Avondale to the self same workshop. Prince Eddy had ostensibly died of influenza complicated by pneumonia at Sandringham House in January 1892. But the Pall Mall Gazette made the link between infected garments and the death of a man once removed from the throne of Great Britain. Another victim was the youngest daughter of Davies & Son customer Sir Robert Peel. Good came from the scandal of the Duke of York’s trousers for which, incidentally, Davies & Son was exonerated.”
THE HISTORY OF DAVIES & SON
by James Sherwood
Davies & Son is the oldest independent tailor trading on Savile Row.
Thomas Davies set up shop at No 19 Hanover Street in 1804, a year after his late brother founded the eponymous bespoke tailor on Cork Street in 1803. It was an era when the landscape of the fashionable West End of London was still under construction. The Prince Regent had yet to command John Nash to build Regent Street as a wide, colonnaded boulevard between Soho and Mayfair. Work had not commenced on the world’s longest, grandest covered shopping arcade Burlington Arcade and it it would be another 42-years before Henry Poole opened the first tailor’s shop on Savile Row. Davies, whose silhouette painted in black ink and preserved in the company archive has been reinstated as part of the trademark, was clerk to banking dynasty and army agents Greenwood, Cox & Co. He was responsible for the commission of army uniforms so it stands to reason that when he took the reins of his brother’s firm that he had a ready-made naval and military business during the Napoleonic Wars. We know that Admiral Lord Nelson was an early customer of Davies & Son and also patronised hatters James Lock & Co and Meredith of Portsmouth; the firm that became known as Gieves Ltd and, later, Gieves & Hawkes. EST 1803 SAVILE ROW Bespoke Tailors The Hanover Street house was decorated in fine late Georgian style with stucco ceilings as elaborate as royal icing and a filigree mahogany staircase that snaked upwards to the four floors above. Arbiter of fashion George ‘Beau’ Brummell and his follower the Prince Regent favoured tailors Meyer, Weston and Schweitzer & Davidson. But we know Davies had an elite civilian clientele from its earliest years. When the firm was forced to leave Hanover Street in 1979 a bill dated 1829 was discovered issued to twice Tory Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel who founded the modern police force. When Davies & Son first felt sufficiently confident to claim they dressed ‘all the crowned heads of Europe’ is unclear because all but one of its customer ledgers did not survive. But by 1915 the firm proudly display HM King George V’s Royal Warrant on the company’s letterhead flanked by the crests of the Emperor of Russia, the Kings of the Hellenes, Spain, Denmark and Norway and Queen Victoria’s third son Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. The letter also tells us that Davies & Son had a shop at No 16 Place Vendôme in Paris opposite The Ritz hotel. Queen Victoria’s grandsons the Princes Eddy and George were the first British royal customers to patronise the firm in the 1880s. Davies & Son found itself in the centre of a royal Savile Row tailoring scandal in 1892 when trade union whistle-blower Miss Fanny Hicks told the Glasgow Congress that trousers intended for the Duke of York (the future King George V) had been made in a sweatshop in Mayfair’s Woodstock Street. Miss Hicks alleged that Davies & Son had outsourced the prince’s trousers and waistcoat to the sweatshops behind Bond Street where minors had recently died of scarlet fever. Furthermore, she claimed Davies & Son had also outsourced a uniform intended for Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence and Avondale to the self same workshop. Prince Eddy had ostensibly died of influenza complicated by pneumonia at Sandringham House in January 1892. But the Pall Mall Gazette made the link between infected garments and the death of a man once removed from the throne of Great Britain. Another victim was the youngest daughter of Davies & Son customer Sir Robert Peel. Good came from the scandal of the Duke of York’s trousers for which, incidentally, Davies & Son was exonerated. Davies, Poole’s and Meyer & Mortimer put their outworking factories in order, Fanny Hicks was exposed as a union firebrand stirring up trouble and Angelica Patience Fraser - the tailors’ Florence Nightingale – embarked on a new crusade to end ‘sweating’ as well as to curb the drunkenness and vice that was virulent in the tailoring workshops of Soho and Oxford Street. Neither did the scandal deter the Duke of York who was still a Davies & Son customer when he acceded to the throne in 1910 and remained so until his death in 1936. One of the most poignant photographs in the Davies & Son archive shows King George V and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia at Cowes’ Royal Regatta in 1910 with their eldest sons the Prince of Wales and Tsarevich Alexei. The royal cousins are near identical and wear matching blazers and flannels tailored by Davies & Son. Within eight-years the Tsar and his immediate family would be executed by firing squad in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The Prince of Wales would reign for less than a year before abdicating the throne for the love of twicedivorced American Wallis Simpson. Another controversial customer from early 20th Century Russian history was the infamous bisexual Prince Felix Youssoupoff who recorded a 1903 visit to Hanover Street in his 1953 memoir Lost Splendour. The prince’s bulldog Punch tore the seat out of a fellow customer’s trousers. Prince Felix would be remembered as the man who shot the ‘mad monk’ Rasputin’ in 1917 and inadvertently speeded the downfall of the Romanov dynasty and the collapse of the Russian Empire. Another exotic customer in 1902 was the Maharaja of Cooch-Behar who ordered a tan goatskin motoring cap and two pairs of matching gauntlets. Establishment figures such as Liberal Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman also patronised Davies. Richard Walker’s Savile Row Story (1988) gives a curious insight into King George V’s relationship with Davies & Son. The King, like his father Edward VII before him who made a point of visiting Henry Poole on Savile Row socially, did not request that Davies wait on him at Buckingham Palace. ‘The firm created a room for his exclusive use and fitted it with panels and a tube-like hosepipe, which communicated with the tailors upstairs’. Presumably the fifth floor salon reserved for royal customers to entertain their lady friends the previous century had been decommissioned. In 1935 the last of Davies family relinquished the business and it was taken over by a cabal of cutters who continued to run the company until 1996. Between World War I and World War II, Davies dressed heroes Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis, Field Marshal Haig and spymaster Colonel Edward Boxshall as well as villains such as founder of the British Union of Fascists Sir Oswald Mosley. United States President Harry Truman was tailored by Davies after World War II as was President John F. Kennedy’s father Joe. Like most establishment tailors in the West End excluding Huntsman and Anderson & Sheppard, Davies & Son did not dress show business professionals before World War II. After VE Day in 1945 Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Tyrone Power and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. visited Davies & Son on Hanover Street. Echoing many tailors who survived the privations of war and clothing rationing, Davies & Son would have to adjust to the fact that (in their own words) ‘our business was built on the clothing requirements of the aristocracy of Europe and Great Britain. Today our business is mainly with the affluent and famous abroad’. When Davies changed its address to 32 Old Burlington Street (now Anderson & Sheppard) in 1979 many historic records were transferred to the Westminster Library and only a minimum of the shop fittings from Hanover Street were salvaged. No 19 Hanover Street is still standing but any original features are hidden by the interiors of a wine bar. Should you wish to see an interior comparable look at Browns restaurant on Maddox Street housed in the former Victorian showroom of Wells of Mayfair: a tailor now incorporated into Davies & Son. With 90% of business transacted overseas after the war, Davies & Son’s cutters joined the rest of Savile Row aboard the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth for transatlantic trips to New York and, from Grand Central Station, all over the United States. Davies still travels frequently to France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Korea, Japan and, in the US, to New York, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Washington and Boston. Responsibilities on trips are now shared between owner Alan Bennett, senior cutter Patrick Murphy and senior salesman Graham Lawless. Mr Bennett has a formidable record in bespoke tailoring and is one of the very few members of the ‘50 Club’ who have worked for as many years or more on the Row. His training includes studying at the London College of Fashion and apprenticeships with Huntsman, Kilgour, French & Stanbury, Dege & Skinner and Denman & Goddard. Mr Bennett traded under his own name before saving Davies & Son from closure in 1997. He relocating the firm to No 38 Savile Row. Since the acquisition, Davies & Son has incorporated historic West End bespoke tailors such as James & James (who in turn bought-out the Duke of Windsor’s tailor Scholte), Wells of Mayfair, Watson, Fargerstrom & Hughes and royal and military tailor Johns & Pegg who hold the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Warrant. In addition to being a traditionalist Mr Bennett is one of the Row’s most creative cutters. In recent years he has collaborated with Guy Hills cutting suits made from Hills’s directional Dashing Tweeds cloth collections. It was he who sold Michael Jackson an Ambassadorial coatee in the 1990s giving the late king of pop one of his most iconic costumes. A new chapter was opened in Davies & Son’s story when former Huntsman head cutter Patrick Murphy joined Mr Bennett and Mr Lawless at No. 38 Savile Row in 2015. With so many once great names in Savile Row’s history sold to overseas investors and focusing increasingly on ready-towear, the few remaining firms in independent ownership gain authenticity and respect for maintaining standards and tradition. Tailors promising to revolutionise the Row or introduce modernity do not fool connoisseurs of bespoke tailoring. The aforementioned trust cutters and tailors who have practised the craft man and boy such as Messrs Bennett, Lawless and Murphy at Davies & Son