Sunday 31 October 2021

CHEANEY HERITAGE - MADE IN ENGLAND SINCE 1886 / Barbour Visits the Joseph Cheaney & Sons Factory



Joseph Cheaney established the company in 1886, and in 1896, along with his son Arthur, they moved to the site which the factory occupies today.


During the first 80 years of business, the factory made shoes exclusively for some of the finest retailers around the world, branded to their individual company requirements.


Joseph Humfrey Cheaney, the founder’s grandson who worked for the company for 51 years, realised that the company’s future lay in building up its own Cheaney brand for its home and export markets. In 1964, determined to see the legacy built up by the family continue, the decision was taken to sell the business to Church’s English Shoes. The Cheaney brand then became available to retailers all over the world, backed by a comprehensive instock service from the Desborough factory.


In 1966 Cheaney won the Queen's Award to Industry and in 2016, the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade.


In 2009 Jonathan and William Church bought the company. Their family has been making fine shoes for five generations and they are fully committed to producing the finest footwear entirely made in England.


The image shows Cheaney's Northamptonshire factory circa 1900 (same factory as today)



Cheaney Factory


Northamptonshire is renowned as the home of quality English shoemaking, and it is interesting to explore what prompted this industry to develop in the first place. The popular theory is that in the 1600s there was ample availability of materials for tanning leather. This, so the story goes, coupled with the need to re-shod the armies about to fight the Battle of Naseby, spawned the nascent shoe industry. It’s a nice folk tale, but the reality is more prosaic.


There were no factories in the 17th century, and it was around 200 years later that the oldest shoe families began to become more organised, which led to the establishment of manufactories. So it was with Cheaney. Joseph Cheaney had been the factory manager of B. Riley, but in 1886 established J. Cheaney, Boot & Shoemakers in a small premises in Station Road, Desborough. At the time, many people were engaged in the making of shoes, but rather than carrying out the whole operation, they would specialise in a part of the process. This would typically be done in outhouses, known as shops, at the bottom of their gardens. At each stage of the making process, the shoe would move to a different ‘shop’ until the end product would go a collection point for distribution, which was facilitated by the burgeoning road and rail network. Before this, a local shoemaker would only supply customers in his immediate vicinity.


There were about seven shoe factories in Desborough at this time, and in 1890, Arthur Cheaney joined his father’s company. In 1896, the business moved to the site it still occupies today in a purpose built factory to house all aspects of shoemaking, from the cutting out of the leather (clicking) to the final polishing. Although some manufacturers now outsource the initial production of the uppers to the Far East, Cheaney shoes are still cut out and ‘closed’ in Desborough, Northamptonshire as they have been since 1886.



Joseph Cheaney was a prominent local character, being a local councillor and also had involvement in the Church. He was interested in the welfare of local children, and it appears that he used to keep them supplied with oranges.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Harold Cheaney joined his father and brother in the business, which led to the company name changing to J. Cheaney & Sons in 1903. It became a limited company in 1920, with a paid up share capital of £40,000, which was substantial for the time.


There are a couple of amusing anecdotes concerning the independent nature of the workforce in the early part of the 20th century. Desborough shoemakers took a lively interest in the local hunt and requested permission to go and watch the spectacle. This was refused, but the workforce went anyway, thus finishing production for the day! On another occasion, a sales representative for a last manufacturer came to demonstrate a more efficient way of handling lasts (the three dimensional form on which shoes are made). The workforce took exception to having their working practices criticised and promptly threw the salesman in the local duck pond, thus incurring each of them a £5 fine for their trouble! At that time Cheaney had a 54 hour working week spread over five and a half days.


Joseph Cheaney Portrait


The factory was kept very busy in the First World War, producing about 2500 pairs per week of stitched and screwed boots and shoes. Building on this success, the company continued to flourish, even through the lean post-war years and the global depression of the 1930s. Production was modernised, whilst retaining the same handcrafting methods and the distribution base was broadened to include the major conurbations of the United Kingdom. Very few shoes were exported at this time.


Joseph Humphrey (usually known as “Dick”) Cheaney, the grandson of the founder, joined the company in 1930 where he stayed until his retirement in 1981, except for a period in the Second World War when he served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force.


After the war, “Dick” Cheaney saw that it was vital to expand the company’s distribution into export markets, not only for the business but also for the United Kingdom, which desperately needed to earn foreign currency. He was also committed to continuing his father’s and grandfather’s policy of maintaining high quality standards in terms of manufacture and materials. This contributed to Cheaney’s growing reputation as a shoemaker. In the post war years up to the early part of the 1960s, the company did not produce under its own brand but made shoes for major retail groups in the USA and the UK that were then sold under their names. Whilst this enabled Cheaney to grow the business to a point, “Dick” Cheaney realised that in order to secure the future of the company, he needed to have an alliance with an organisation that had retail outlets in the UK and an established export market.



In 1966, Cheaney won the Queen’s Award to Industry for export achievement and was also sold to Church & Company plc.


The Cheaney of England brand was launched in 1967 and this was the first time since its inception that it had marketed shoes under its own name. In 1971, Cheaney again won the coveted Queens Award to Industry for Export. Overseas sales continued to grow until the adverse effect of the inflationary pressures of the 1970s, which affected Cheaney along with many other British exporters. In fact, by the dawn of the 1980s, many Northamptonshire shoe companies had ceased trading.


Even in this very challenging environment, Cheaney continued to prosper at home, assisted by the introduction of an instock system of branded footwear. It was this that enabled the company to sell to independent retailers and promoted the brand to a growing number of discerning buyers. By the mid-1980s, Cheaney’s export business had recovered well and, by the approach of the new millennium, had a very healthy order book in terms of both its own branded product and also the footwear made for other retailers.


In early 2002, Cheaney opened its flagship store in London, which helped raise the awareness of the brand.



In August, 2009, cousins Jonathan and William Church conducted a management buy-out of Cheaney from Church & Co (by then a wholly owned subsidiary of Prada). They now own and operate the company and are committed to continuing the production of high quality shoes entirely made in Northamptonshire, from the cutting out of the leather to the final polishing, just as it was in 1886.


Factory Tour and Interview with Martin Grey, Head of Retail at Cheaney S...

Thursday 28 October 2021

Thomas farthing london

We Are Excited To Announce The Thomas Farthing Autumn/Winter Collection Will Be Launching On Friday 29th October 🍂

This winter will bring you beautifully crafted, all-natural tweed suits, a wide variety headwear and hand crafted leather goods designed & made exclusively for Thomas Farthing London.

All items will be available in limited quantities. Available at our London store or through our website only.

Thomas Farthing, No. 40 Museum St.

Monday 25 October 2021

Ellen Ann Willmott and Warley Place


Ellen Ann Willmott


Ellen Ann Willmott FLS VMH (19 August 1858 – 27 September 1934) was an English horticulturist. She was an influential member of the Royal Horticultural Society, and a recipient of the first Victoria Medal of Honour, awarded to British horticulturists living in the UK by the society, in 1897. Willmott was said to have cultivated more than 100,000 species and cultivars of plants and sponsored expeditions to discover new species. Inherited wealth allowed Willmott to buy large gardens in France and Italy to add to the garden at her home, Warley Place in Essex. More than 60 plants have been named after her or her home, Warley Place.


Ellen Willmott was born in Heston, Middlesex, the eldest of three daughters of Frederick Willmott (1825–1892), a solicitor, and Ellen Willmott (née Fell) (d. 1898). She and her sisters attended the exclusive Catholic convent school Gumley House for several years. In 1875, the family moved to Warley Place at Great Warley, Essex, which had 33 acres (130,000 m2) of grounds; this was to be Ellen’s lifelong home. The family were keen gardeners and developed Warley Place’s gardens together. One of the most ambitious developments was an alpine garden, including a gorge and rockery (pictured), which Ellen's father gave her permission to create on her 21st birthday.


Willmott received a substantial inheritance when her godmother, Helen Tasker, died. This enabled her to buy her first property near Aix-les-Bains, France, in 1890.


Willmott inherited Warley Place on her father’s death and continued to develop the gardens, indulging her passion for collecting and cultivating plants. She is thought to have cultivated more than 100,000 different plant species and cultivars. The garden included a conservatory, glasshouses, an irrigation system, a rock garden partly designed as an alpine gorge, a boating lake and a glass-covered cave for filmy ferns and she had tens of thousands of bulbs planted to form naturalistic drifts of blossom when they flowered.


Willmott employed up to 104 gardeners, and was known for being a demanding employer; she would reputedly sack any gardener who allowed a weed to grow among her flowers. She only employed men in her garden; she was once quoted as saying "women would be a disaster in the border".


She was also known for being a prodigious spender. In 1905 she bought a third estate in Ventimiglia, Italy. Willmott used her wealth to fund plant-hunting expeditions to China and the Middle East, and species discovered on these excursions would often be named after her. The expeditions she sponsored included those of Ernest Henry Wilson, who named Ceratostigma willmottianum, Rosa willmottiae and Corylopsis willmottiae after her. Over fifty plant species or varieties were named for her and her gardens.[6] Willmott joined the Royal Horticultural Society in 1894 and became a prominent member, elected to the narcissus and tulip committee in 1896,[6] as well as floral (group B) and lily committees. She helped to persuade Sir Thomas Hanbury, her neighbour at Ventimiglia, to purchase the site at Wisley which became the RHS Garden, Wisley and donate it to the society,[8] and was appointed a trustee of the RHS Gardens in 1903.


Willmott was one of only two women, alongside Gertrude Jekyll, to receive the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1897 (newly instituted that year for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee). In 1904 she became one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society of London. She also received the grande médaille Geoffroi St Hilaire from the Société d’acclimatation de France in 1912, and the Dean Hole medal from the Royal National Rose Society in 1914.


She published two books; Warley Garden in Spring and Summer in 1909 and The Genus Rosa, published in two volumes between 1910 and 1914.[4] This includes 132 watercolours of roses painted by Alfred Parsons between 1890 and 1908, which are now held by the Lindley Library in London (Cory Bequest). It only sold 260 copies, leaving her with a debt.[6] Willmott also commissioned Parsons to paint her three gardens. Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, to whom The Genus Rosa was dedicated, and Princess Victoria are known to have visited her at Warley Place. In 1914 she initiated a bitter public spat with the horticulturalist E.A. Bowles about some observations on rock gardens made by Reginald Farrer in his foreword to one of Bowles' books.


In addition to her career in horticulture, Willmott also had other, lesser known accomplishments in particular photography and ornamental turning. In 1932, Willmost presented her Holtzapffel lathe, some examples of her ornamental turning work, and a number of photographs and slides of horticultural subjects to the History of Science Museum, Oxford.


Willmott’s prodigious spending during her lifetime caused financial difficulties in later life, forcing her to sell her French and Italian properties, and eventually her personal possessions. She became increasingly eccentric and paranoid: she booby-trapped her estate to deter thieves; secretly sowed seeds of the giant prickly thistle Eryngium giganteum in other people's gardens, leading to it to be colloquially known as Miss Willmott's Ghost; and carried a revolver in her handbag.Willmott was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting in 1928, although later acquitted.


Willmott died of atheroma and embolus of the coronary artery in 1934, aged 76.[1] Warley Place, which had greatly deteriorated,[17] was sold to pay her debts[7] and the house was demolished in 1939, although plans to develop a housing estate on the site were rejected.[12] It was later designated as a green belt and 6.5 hectacres became a nature reserve overseen by the Essex Wildlife Trust. The remainder is in the care of the Warley Place Management Committee and maintained as an abandoned garden.

A short history of Warley Place


The Willmott family, comprising Frederick Willmott, his wife Ellen and his two daughters Ellen Ann and Rose, moved to Warley Place in 1875. The three women were all keen gardeners, but it was Ellen Ann who really transformed the grounds into one of the most celebrated gardens in the country. Her father died in 1892 and her mother in 1898, her sister Rose having married into the Berkeley family in 1891 and moving to Spetchley Park, near Worcester, in 1897.


As well as developing the gardens in general, in 1882 the daughter Ellen, at 24 years of age, started on her new alpine garden. It was a major undertaking, involving building a ravine with a stream running along it and a special cave for her filmy ferns. The ravine and the massive rocks exist to this day, but sadly there is no sign of the original plants.


In 1894 Ellen acquired the services of a gardener from Switzerland to oversee the alpine garden. Jacob Maurer proved to be brilliant at his job and a real gentleman, and stayed there until she died forty years later. The cottage in which he lived, with his wife and nine children, was South Lodge which still stands by the entrance to Warley Place.


Ellen Willmott soon made a name for herself in horticulture, and helped to finance expeditions to acquire new plants. Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria visited her, and her garden became famous throughout Britain and beyond. She was one of two women awarded the RHS Medal of Honour in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, 1897. The other was Gertrude Jekyll.


Sadly in some ways she spent all her money on the garden and her musical and other interests and died, in 1934, almost penniless. Many of the rarer plants were removed to Spetchley Park to be cared for by the Berkeley family, but some of the trees and shrubs exist to this day.


The house was sold and permission sought to turn it into a luxury housing estate. This was not to be and the house was demolished in 1939, the garden reverting to a wilderness. It was leased from the grandson of the 1939 purchaser to the Essex Naturalists’ Trust (later Essex Wildlife Trust) in 1977 and has gradually been brought up to its present standard as a nature reserve, but still retaining as many as possible of the features of the original garden.

Saturday 23 October 2021

Boris and Carrie spiff up Downing Street


Keeping Up with the Johnsons

By Lara Prendergast

Boris and Carrie spiff up Downing Street


In April, Britain’s chattering classes became obsessed with the cost of the wallpaper in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat. New leaders are entitled to 30,000 pounds annually from taxpayers to decorate No. 11, where prime ministers since Tony Blair have lived because it’s larger than the flat above No. 10. Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor, had given the space a modest makeover. Before her, David Cameron and his aristocratic wife, Samantha, had gone for a Scandi-style look. Boris and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, opted for dark-green walls. The curtains were green, as were the window frames. Paintings replaced bookshelves. A sofa upholstered with ruby and emerald fabric arrived. The rooms are often lit by candles.


To oversee this work, Boris and Carrie commissioned an interior designer named Lulu Lytle, known for her chintz patterns, her rattan furniture, and her interest in Egyptology. Her look is old-world and expensive. Prince Charles has paid a visit to her workshop. Boris and Carrie’s purchase of gold wallpaper from Lytle’s company, Soane Britain, was particularly noted by British tabloids. When the final bill arrived, it emerged that the couple had slightly overshot: the total cost was reported to be in the region of 200,000 pounds.


The general consensus was that Carrie had told Boris that the flat needed an overhaul. When the renovations proved unaffordable, nobody seemed prepared to let her know, least of all Boris. (“He’s quite scared of her,” says one former No. 10 aide.)


At first, the Conservative Party settled the bill—with one donor, Lord Brownlow, pledging to cover a reported 58,000 pounds of the extra costs. It was all handled privately, but when leaked emails sent to the party co-chairman Ben Elliot (the nephew of Prince Charles’s wife, Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall) revealed what had happened, the prime minister couldn’t dodge the issue. A Downing Street spokesperson insisted that the party had merely provided a “bridging loan,” which the government had hoped would be repaid by a trust established for the purpose. But when the trust failed to materialize, Boris repaid the money himself, despite reportedly telling aides that he couldn’t afford to do so.


There is talk that Boris is struggling to make ends meet, thanks in large part to his second divorce. His annual salary of 157,000 pounds is much less than what he was earning as one of Britain’s highest paid newspaper columnists. Donors were allegedly approached to cover the cost of a nanny for Boris and Carrie’s baby, Wilfred. (“I resent being asked to pay to literally wipe the prime minister’s baby’s bottom,” complained one.)


It was apparent that Carrie was at the heart of Wallpapergate (as it inevitably became known) once her rival Dominic Cummings—Boris’s now-estranged chief adviser, and one of the main architects of Brexit—announced his opinion that the funding for the renovations was “possibly illegal.” There are strict rules governing political donations in the United Kingdom; by finding a donor to cover costs, it seemed, the prime minister may have broken them. The Electoral Commission opened an investigation, saying there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred” in the funding for the flat refurbishment. In May, Lord Geidt, the independent adviser appointed to look into the matter, said that Boris had “unwisely” embarked on the renovations without quite knowing how to pay for them, but determined that he had not violated any rules. Nonetheless, Britain’s most senior political couple were clearly living beyond their means.


What really set tongues wagging, though, was not so much Johnson’s own supposed complaint that the costs were “out of control,” or even that his fiancée was “buying gold wallpaper,” which soon earned her the moniker “Carrie Antoinette.” Instead, it was the claim, made in a profile of Carrie in Tatler magazine (carrie’s coup: inside the world of the most powerful woman in britain), that she had gotten rid of the “John Lewis furniture nightmare” left by the prime minister’s predecessor.


A bit of explanation may be necessary here. John Lewis is a department store, founded in London in 1864, that occupies a peculiar place in Britain’s national psyche. It sells almost everything you could want for your home, in fifty shades of beige. The store is considered quintessential to a nation of shopkeepers, and the British are oddly patriotic about it. Countless wedding registries are held there. The premiere of the John Lewis Christmas advert has somehow come to mark the start of the festive season. To insult John Lewis is to set yourself apart from the aspirational everyman.


The prime minister—who presumably would have been happy to leave the flat as tatty as his famously disheveled Toyota—realized the political danger at hand. Despite being an Old Etonian, an Oxford alumnus, and a millionaire, Johnson has tried hard to cultivate a common touch. “I love John Lewis,” he told a reporter as the story about his renovations escalated.


In the end, Wallpapergate didn’t damage Johnson politically. In May, local elections were held across the United Kingdom, and the Tories were largely victorious. As in the general election two years prior, they performed well among working-class voters, who were seemingly happy to overlook the price of wallpaper. But others were still worried. Dame Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, had approached Lulu Lytle to redecorate her home on Embassy Row in Washington, but the revamp was quietly dropped. Lytle had gone out of fashion.


When Boris Johnson entered 10 Downing Street on July 24, 2019, he did so alone, the first prime minister to be unaccompanied by a spouse in almost half a century. As he walked through the famous black door, his thirty-one-year-old girlfriend (or mistress, depending on how one sees it, as he was still married to his second wife, Marina) watched demurely from the sidelines with his staff and colleagues, many of whom she knew from her time working as a Conservative Party spokesperson.


This spring, not long after Wallpapergate hit the tabloids, Symonds became Johnson’s third wife, making her the youngest spouse of a prime minister in 173 years and Johnson the first British prime minister in nearly two centuries to marry while in office. They held a small, secret ceremony in Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of British Catholicism. (Johnson and Symonds are both baptized Catholics; Johnson is twice-divorced, but his previous unions took place outside the church and so, in terms of canon law, he had a clean slate.) The after-party was held at Downing Street, with hay bales and bunting decorating the garden. Perhaps chastened by recent tales of her largesse, the bride wore a boho-chic dress reportedly rented for 45 pounds, a flower crown, and no shoes; the groom looked like he was off to work.


A healthy press corps might have been slightly ashamed that the prime minister and his bride had managed to stage a thirty-guest wedding without news getting out. Instead, many of Westminster’s journalists (a number of whom are close to Carrie) gawped like the Hollywood Reporter when the photos were released online. Earlier that week, Cummings had revealed during a public inquiry that Carrie “wanted rid of” him. The nuptials leaked just in time to make a splash in the Sunday papers. In print, her friends gushed about Carrie’s “triumph” over dastardly Dom.


Shortly after their secret marriage, Carrie Johnson emerged on the world stage at the G7 summit in Cornwall. (Unlike Johnson’s previous wives, Carrie has taken her husband’s name, which makes her the first Mrs. Johnson.) As the conference began, Boris explained to those in attendance that he wanted to create a “more feminine” future. “That is what the people of our countries want us to focus on,” he said. “Building back greener, and building back fairer, and building back more equal, and, how shall I . . . in a more gender-neutral and perhaps a more feminine way.”


Boris was not exactly known for his feminist credentials. “Just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way” was his advice to his successor at The Spectator—where he was formerly editor and where, full disclosure, I work—on how to handle the magazine’s American publisher, Kimberly Quinn. While campaigning to become an MP, he suggested that “voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts.” After Princess Diana’s death, Johnson wrote an article lamenting the outpouring of grief: “We live in an age where feminism is a fact, where giving vent to emotion in public wins votes.”


Clearly, something has changed. Boris Johnson now celebrates International Women’s Day and tweets about #ExtraordinaryWomen. In a piece last year for the women’s magazine Grazia, he nominated the five women who influenced him the most, the first of whom was the Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. One of his government’s immediate acts upon leaving the E.U. was to ban the so-called tampon tax.


As the photo ops continued, it became clear that the G7 summit was being used to showcase Boris’s transformation from populist to progressive, nasty to nice. The Johnsons would like to be reassessed by the United States. They are keen to disprove the idea that Boris is a mirror image of Donald Trump, two blond political buffoons brought to power by populist winds, and that Brexit Britain is not a Trumpian force. Fortunately for the prime minister, his new wife appears more than happy to help him with both his public image and her own. Mrs. Johnson seemed to enjoy her new role in front of the media. She invited Jill Biden to frolic barefoot on the seashore with her toddler, Wilfred. “It was wonderful to spend some time with Carrie Johnson and her son, Wilfred, today. The special relationship continues,” said Dr. Biden. Later in the summit, Mrs. Johnson hosted a picnic for the leaders’ spouses at the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno. Attendees were given baskets filled with sandwiches, scones, and a cuddly dolphin toy. In the evening, they drank hot buttered rum and toasted marshmallows around firepits on the sand. In an apparent attempt to endear Britain’s prime minister to America’s liberal elite, No. 10 gave the Atlantic writer Tom McTague full access to Boris for a profile published just before the summit began. (“Boris Johnson knows exactly what he’s doing,” read the subhead.)


To close observers it has been apparent from the start that Carrie hoped to reorient Boris. His decision to focus on issues that younger people are supposedly interested in—animal welfare, women’s rights, and the environment—is partly thanks to her. She loves all creatures great and small. It was notable that in this year’s Queen’s Speech, during which Her Majesty outlines the government’s priorities, many of Carrie’s favored causes were included. An animal sentience bill began making its way through Parliament, introduced by Lord Goldsmith, the animal welfare minister and one of Carrie’s closest allies. Under the law, lobsters would no longer be boiled alive, and foie gras would be banned entirely. Another proposal would prohibit exporting live animals and keeping monkeys as pets. It’s hard to argue against these policies, which makes them perfect for the Tories as they try to rebrand themselves as more millennial-friendly. The Conservatives have traditionally been known as the “nasty party.” Under Carrie, they are becoming cute.


Occasionally, this devotion to animals backfires. Last March, while Downing Street was trying to deal with the pandemic, Carrie was demanding that both the prime minister and his press office respond to a story that had appeared in the Times of London suggesting that her rescue dog, Dilyn, was being “quietly re-homed” because the couple had “grown weary” of him. A reply she wanted sent was later leaked. Boris reportedly refused to sign it on the grounds that it was “nonsense.” Nevertheless, in a show of her power, the newspaper pulled the story from its website soon after publication.


More recently, Pen Farthing, a former Royal Marines commando, was given permission to fly more than a hundred dogs and cats to the United Kingdom from the Kabul airport during the evacuation of Afghanistan. Ben Wallace, the defense secretary, had initially been against the plan but changed his mind. While Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence both denied claims that Carrie personally intervened in the situation, the animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer—known to be a friend of both Farthing and Carrie Johnson—said that she “most certainly had something to do with the change.”




To plenty of people, it seems more than a little odd that a thirty-three-year-old woman who specializes in political spin has such apparent influence over policymaking. She is unelected and, in many ways, unaccountable. But to understand British politics right now, it helps to understand Mrs. Johnson and her speedy ascent to the top.


Boris’s affair with Carrie began when he was foreign secretary. The two soon became a favorite topic of conversation for much of British society. Who, apart from the most puritanical and earnest among us, isn’t gripped by the dalliances of an older, powerful, priapic man and a younger, attractive, highly ambitious woman?


He left Marina Wheeler, his wife of twenty-five years, after news of this latest affair became public. The divorce wasn’t much of a surprise. Wheeler, a well-respected barrister, had twice kicked her husband out over what Petronella Wyatt, one of his former mistresses, once described as his “sexual delinquencies,” and the nation had already developed an insatiable appetite for tales of Bonking Boris.


He has a twelve-year-old daughter from a fling with the art consultant Helen Macintyre. Earlier this year, Jennifer Arcuri, an American tech entrepreneur with a penchant for pole dancing, admitted to having had a four-year affair with Johnson when he was mayor of London. According to Arcuri, they read Shakespeare to each other before having sex in his family home. Arcuri seems unconvinced by her former lover’s recent progressive turn. The U.K. has “never been more enslaved,” she emailed me. “This isn’t the man I knew at all and at some point the world will find out the truth of what happens when one sells one’s soul in a quest for power.”


Boris has provided plenty of material for gossipy newspaper columnists and tabloid hacks over the years. It’s unclear how he finds the time. Ann Sindall, his loyal assistant, has been with him since his time at The Spectator—or “Sextator,” as it was called during his editorship. Perhaps she knows. His aides don’t comment on his private life and neither does he. Nobody is entirely sure how many children he has, but voters don’t seem to mind.


Neither does Carrie, who is pregnant again. She is said to call him “Bozzie the bear,” while Boris calls her his “little otter.” In 2018, around the start of their relationship, he wrote a cryptic column for the Daily Telegraph about the “exciting” news that the “beautiful” otter had returned. “I do not claim to have seen an otter myself. I did not even hear the splash or bark of an otter,” he wrote. “Nor did I stand on the twilit bank and snuff the thrilling musky fishy aroma that some otter enthusiasts bang on about.” It was notable for being one of his most ardent pieces that year.


By 2019, the pair were living on and off together in her home in South London. In June, a month before the leadership election that would see him become prime minister, they were recorded by neighbors while having a ferocious fight. The police responded to reports of a loud altercation and sounds of shattering kitchenware. The argument was said to be over a glass of wine that had been spilled on Carrie’s sofa. “You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt,” Carrie was overheard telling Boris. Neighbors claimed they heard her shout “get off me” and “get out of my flat.”


“His political team thought it would be best if they broke up before he entered No. 10,” one person who was close to his campaign tells me. But Carrie Johnson is shrewd. And as Boris himself has said: “There are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.” When a bizarre photo was leaked soon after the fight, of the two holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes in a garden in Sussex, it became clear that the relationship was being stage-managed. The fight was soon forgotten. Boris Johnson became prime minister and called an election for mid-December. He won a huge majority, as the Tories swept aside the Labour Party in many of the latter’s traditional working-class seats.


That Christmas, Boris and Carrie jetted off to celebrate their success in Mustique. They stayed in an accommodation provided by a party donor. By the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 was spreading across the world, they had good news to share. “Many of you already know but for my friends that still don’t, we got engaged at the end of last year . . . and we’ve got a baby hatching early summer,” Carrie wrote on Instagram eleven days after Boris’s divorce from Marina Wheeler was finalized. “Feel incredibly blessed.”


She saw in him a project, insiders say, a man with huge popularity but few allies and friends, a right-wing political beast to be relaunched with the tastes of sensitive millennials in mind. If Boris is known for being good with words, Carrie is known for being more brand focused. As Boris set his sights on becoming prime minister, Carrie set out to clean up his shabby image, in the hope that it would broaden his political appeal. She put him on a diet, gave him a sleek haircut, and at one point had him contemplating veganism. It’s a world away from the picture painted by Petronella Wyatt, who described him “lunching on bacon butties and Mars bars before gorging on sausages and processed cheese.”


Carrie has assembled an impressive court and is more media-savvy than most within the government. Her former boyfriend Harry Cole is now the political editor at the Sun, the United Kingdom’s most popular tabloid. Alex Wickham, who oversees the British edition of Politico’s Playbook newsletter, is believed to be Wilfred Johnson’s godfather. Wickham’s daily email, read forensically each morning by people in Westminster, rarely mentions the prime minister’s wife, even when she is leading the news elsewhere.


When I’ve written about Mrs. Johnson, I’ve experienced firsthand how her operation works. The Downing Street press office seems terrified of her. She is said to feed information to contacts to see where it then appears, and will turn on those she feels she cannot trust. Both she and the prime minister are known to be quite paranoid about stories leaking out of Downing Street.


In recent years, ministerial spouses have normally had their own office paid for by taxpayers, to help them manage their commitments, but when Carrie stepped into the role, she deliberately avoided setting one up, opting instead to employ a communications expert paid for by the Conservative Party. Work meetings are held in the flat, under the guise of soirees. “Decisions are made by WhatsApp and over glasses of wine in the flat,” explains one staff member. “It would be easier for everyone if there was an official record of what she was doing.”


Soon after Carrie announced their engagement, the prime minister found himself in the hospital with COVID-19, and the United Kingdom—along with much of the rest of the world—was in lockdown. There was real concern that Boris wouldn’t survive. About three weeks after he left intensive care, Wilfred was born. By all accounts, it was a very difficult time for the couple.


Life became even more complicated later that spring, when Dominic Cummings was accused of making an illicit 260-mile trip from London to County Durham during the lockdown. Johnson stood by his adviser in spite of national outrage, but things were not the same again. Cummings had decided that Johnson—whom he’d helped put into Downing Street—had been wrong to resist lockdowns, and he started to arrange for the prime minister to be marginalized within his own government.


“Fundamentally, I regarded him as unfit for the job,” Cummings later said, “and I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions, and push other things through against his wishes.” The prime minister initially refused to believe reports that his top adviser was working against him, but Carrie helped convince him that this was the case. Until then, she had been seen as playing the traditional role of the prime minister’s spouse: silent and supportive. Now she emerged as a power broker.


Some of Johnson’s most significant allies found themselves cast aside, including Cummings. The Dom people were out; the Carrie people—or as they are known in Westminster, the FOCs, Friends of Carrie—were in. First to go was Lee Cain, the prime minister’s communications chief and, like Cummings, a veteran of the Vote Leave campaign. Oliver Lewis, a Cummings ally, left his job as the prime minister’s union adviser. The prime minister’s former chief of staff, Lord Udny-Lister, who had worked closely with Johnson since his time as mayor of London, also left. “Most of the people close to Boris have been cut out,” explains one former No. 10 staffer. “Johnson is quite a lonely figure.”


Carrie was accused by her enemies of expunging Johnson’s old tribe, the very people who helped bring him to power on the back of Brexit. Her allies—also a formidable political force—believe this to be vicious slander. But it was revealing to see who came into government after this mass exodus. Henry Newman, a close friend of Carrie, is now a senior adviser. He is part of a triumvirate that Boris refers to as the “three musketeers.” The others—Henry Cook and Meg Powell-Chandler—are also Carrie’s allies. Simone Finn became Boris Johnson’s deputy chief of staff in February. She is a good friend of Carrie’s, and hosted an ABBA-themed thirtieth birthday party for her in 2018.


In June, when the health secretary, Matt Hancock, was secretly filmed snogging his mistress in his office, he promptly resigned from his role for having broken COVID rules. Sajid Javid, the former chancellor of the exchequer, was appointed to the role. He is yet another FOC: she once worked as his aide, and he was a guest at her ABBA party.


One of Carrie Johnson’s best friends, Nimco Ali—a thirty-eight-year-old activist who campaigns against female genital mutilation—is regularly sent out to fight for Carrie in the press. Ali has described Boris as a “true feminist.” She was made an adviser to the Home Office, given an Order of the British Empire award, and supposedly asked to be Wilfred’s godmother. A confidante reports that she also spent Christmas with the prime minister and his wife at the Downing Street residence last year, despite pandemic restrictions on holiday gatherings. (“The prime minister and Mrs. Johnson follow coronavirus rules at all times,” a spokesperson told me, without denying the claim; Ali did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)


Despite its perks, life in Downing Street can be oppressive. Margot Asquith, the wife of H. H. Asquith, prime minister from 1908 to 1916, referred to the Downing Street buildings as “liver-colored and squalid” and said she couldn’t imagine how she and her husband could live there. Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol described the No. 10 flat as having the appearance of “an extended railway carriage.” Most spouses prefer Chequers, the country residence in Buckinghamshire, and Mrs. Johnson is said to be no exception.


It was the Blair family who made the decision to move from No. 10 to No. 11, which is technically part of the chancellor of the exchequer’s residence (the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, lives with his family in the smaller No. 10 flat). Samantha Cameron, who lived at No. 11 from 2010 to 2016, damned it with faint praise for its “solid concrete floors” and “bomb-proof double glazing.” “When you’re in the flat it’s incredibly quiet,” she told the BBC. “You feel like a princess in a tower.”


Mrs. Johnson seems to know the feeling; she is said to model both her fashion sense and her press operations on Catherine, the duchess of Cambridge, Prince William’s wife. A confidant told me that Carrie is often preoccupied with the duchess, and expressed bitterness about Kate’s ability to generate positive items about herself in the British press.


But while Carrie’s and Kate’s stories are similar (they are both upper-middle-class women thrust into public life because of the men they chose to marry), their roles are constitutionally different. British media has started referring to Carrie Johnson as our “first lady,” which seems to be the title she seeks. But Britain has a monarchy at the ceremonial head of state, so there is no formal role for the spouses of prime ministers, who have historically remained private figures. Their focus is presumed to be on family life and, more recently, their own careers. Recent spouses have worked throughout their time in No. 10: Cherie Blair continued her job as a barrister, Samantha Cameron stayed with the luxury goods company Smythson, and Philip May kept his role as an investment manager.


Before having Wilfred, Carrie was employed by the advocacy organization Oceana, where she worked with Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation on its Vibrant Oceans project. Since returning from maternity leave, she has taken up a new job (while still acting as a consultant for Oceana) as head of communications for the Aspinall Foundation, an animal rights charity. The charity is planning to fly thirteen elephants from a zoo in Kent to live in the wild in Kenya, although the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife has said it has not been made aware of such plans. Any attempt to scrutinize Carrie Johnson’s growing political influence is deemed misogynistic. Previously, a prime minister’s spouse would have faced minimal intrusion from the press—and rightly so, as they have, almost always, confined themselves to a private role. But the current situation is different. It is precisely because Boris struggles to build personal relationships that Carrie is the most powerful person around him.


For now, Carrie has reined in her husband’s instinct for chaos. Among staff at No. 10, Carrie is known as “upstairs,” and Boris is said to spend more and more time downstairs. “He likes to read The Spectator late at night,” one former aide tells me. A copy of The Lost Homestead, the new book by his ex-wife Marina Wheeler, has been spotted open in his office. “He doesn’t want to take the copy upstairs,” the former aide adds. Meanwhile, it has been reported that the gold has started to peel off the walls, and the decorators have been called back in.


Lara Prendergast is the executive editor of The Spectator.

Thursday 21 October 2021

My pseudonym "Jeeves" / The man who wrote the most perfect sentences ever written


My pseudonym "Jeeves" was not chosen at random ...

Jeeves, who represents the archetype of what we usually generalize as the "English Butler" was sublimely believed by P.G.Woodhouse.

As with all the stories that want to exaggerate in an eccentric and comical way the character of its protagonists, Jeeves was created in complementary polarization with his "boss" Bertie Wooster.

Jeeves is not exactly a butler but a valet.... although with very special features.

Thus a butler refers to the management of the service of a house (Majordomo)

A Valet (from Chambre) refers to the service of the person.

And what a person... for Bertie is an aristocrat head in the air, with great talent for engaging in constant misdeeds and with a unique spontaneity and innocence of the "Upper Classes".

Jeeves constantly "shines" in the effective, subtle and intelligent way as he saves his master, simultaneously producing cunning solutions and citing the great classics in moments of great erudition and clairvoyance.

Of course Jeeves dominates Bertie's life without him realizing it, but never explicitly, but only implicitly and subtly ...

JEEVES / António Sérgio Rosa de Carvalho


O meu pseudónimo "Jeeves"não foi escolhido ao acaso ...

Jeeves, que representa o arquétipo daquilo que costumamos generalizar como o "Mordomo Inglês"foi crido de forma sublime por P.G.Woodhouse.

Tal como em todas as histórias que pretendem exagerar de forma excêntrica e cómica os carácteres dos seus protagonistas, Jeeves foi criado em polarização complementar com o seu "patrão" Bertie Wooster.

Jeeves não é propriamente um mordomo mas um valet .... embora com características muito especiais.

Assim um mordomo refere-se à gestão do serviço de uma casa (Majordomo)

Um Valet (de Chambre) refere-se ao serviço da pessoa.

E que pessoa... pois Bertie é um aristocrata cabeça no ar, com grande talento para se envolver em trapalhadas constantes e com uma espontaneidade e inocência únicas das "Upper Classes".

Jeeves "brilha" constantemente pela forma efectiva, subtil e inteligente como salva o seu amo, produzindo simultaneamente soluções ardilosas e citando os grandes clássicos em momentos de grande erudição e clarividência.

Claro que Jeeves domina a vida de Bertie sem que ele se aperceba disso, mas nunca de forma explicita, mas apenas de forma implícita e subtil ...

JEEVES / António Sérgio Rosa de Carvalho


The man who wrote the most perfect sentences ever written


By Nicholas Barber

24th December 2020


In our latest essay in which a critic reflects on a cultural work that brings them joy, Nicholas Barber pays tribute to the blissfully escapist comic novels of PG Wodehouse.


If we’re talking about culture that makes people happy, we have to start with the works of PG Wodehouse. There are two reasons why. One reason is that making people happy was Wodehouse’s overriding ambition. The other reason is that he was better at it than any other writer in history.


This article was originally published in June 2020.


Some authors may want to expose the world’s injustices, or elevate us with their psychological insights. Wodehouse, in his words, preferred to spread “sweetness and light”. Just look at those titles: Nothing Serious, Laughing Gas, Joy in the Morning. With every sparkling joke, every well-meaning and innocent character, every farcical tussle with angry swans and pet Pekingese, every utopian description of a stroll around the grounds of a pal’s stately home or a flutter on the choir boys’ hundred yards handicap at a summer village fete, he wanted to whisk us far away from our worries. Writing about being a humourist in his autobiography Over Seventy, Wodehouse quoted two people in the Talmud who had earnt their place in Heaven: “We are merrymakers. When we see a person who is downhearted, we cheer him up.”


As PG Wodehouse himself said, his primary aim was to spread “sweetness and light”


My own introduction to this supreme merrymaker came via Jeeves and Wooster, the television series adapted from some of his most beloved stories about a young toff and his unflappable manservant. Hugh Laurie starred as Bertie Wooster, the moneyed bachelor who seemed to care about nothing except food, drink and fashionable socks, but who always came to the aid of the numerous old schoolmates who were even more stupid than he was. Stephen Fry co-starred as Jeeves, who had the brains that his young master lacked. As an undernourished, overworked student, stressed by essays and exams, I was always relieved when I could nip down to the college’s TV room (yes, it was a long time ago) for my weekly escape into a jazz-age wonderland of art-deco flats and panelled gentlemen’s clubs, “tissue-restoring” cocktails and buffet breakfasts served on silver platters.


A crafter of perfect sentences


Nearly three decades on, I’m currently rewatching the DVDs with my daughter, and Jeeves and Wooster is still pretty much flawless. When I interviewed Laurie in 2000, I gushed about the series, and he cited what was, at the time, his favourite Wodehouse line: “The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like GK Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.”


There are so many other lines he could have gone for. How about this one?


“It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.”


Or this?


“It isn’t often that Aunt Dahlia lets her angry passions rise, but when she does, strong men climb trees and pull them up after them.”


Or this?


“Like so many substantial citizens of America, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag.”


The one that has me chuckling to myself on a regular basis is this Bertie Wooster gem from the novel Right Ho, Jeeves: “‘Very good,” I said coldly. ‘In that case, tinkerty tonk.’ And I meant it to sting.”


We could keep listing zingers like that all day: there were 96 Wodehouse books published in his lifetime, and he was drafting another when he died in 1975 at the age of 93. What these excerpts prove is that, however much we may cherish the bumbling aristocratic characters and their convoluted escapades, what really makes Wodehouse so addictive is the prose: the phrases which appear to float along so effortlessly, but which came about because he would, he said, “write every sentence 10 times”. 


He is the greatest musician of the English language, and exploring variations of familiar material is what musicians do all day – Douglas Adams


To read any of those sentences is to marvel at the elaborate but elegant route it takes to a perfect punchline; to delight in how it glides between Shakespeare and race-track slang, between understatement and exaggeration, between gentle humour and stinging wit. “What Wodehouse writes is pure word music,” said Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. “It matters not one whit that he writes endless variations on a theme of pig kidnappings, lofty butlers, and ludicrous impostures. He is the greatest musician of the English language, and exploring variations of familiar material is what musicians do all day.”


He could certainly have written darker, more soul-searching books if he hadn’t been so naturally jovial: he had plenty of raw material to draw on. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born in 1881. (Perhaps he was thinking of his own names when he had Bertie commenting that “there’s some raw work pulled at the font from time to time”.) His Victorian colonial parents were rarely in the same country as he was, according to his biographer, Robert McCrum. “In total, Wodehouse saw his parents for barely six months between the ages of three and 15, which is by any standards a shattering emotional deprivation,” he noted in 2005’s Wodehouse: A Life. Nonetheless, “Plum” relished his Dulwich College schooldays, and was looking forward to his university years when the next blow fell: his father announced that he had to go straight to a job in a bank instead.


The disappointment didn’t stop him. He always knew that he wanted to be a writer, and so he sold short stories at a superhuman rate until he could make a living from them. Soon he graduated to anthologies and novels, some featuring Jeeves and Wooster (who debuted in 1915), others featuring the canny Psmith or the garrulous Mr Mulliner, some set at mossy Blandings Castle, others set at Marvis Bay Golf and Country Club. Beyond these, there were Broadway musicals and Hollywood screenplays, and a long and harmonious marriage. (He made the money and his wife spent it, an arrangement which suited them both.)


Wodehouse seemed to be more effective at warding off despair than the antidepressants that I was taking – Jay McInerney


But while his professional and personal lives were blessed, they included episodes which could have been turned into sombre literature. During World War Two, his adored stepdaughter Leonora died unexpectedly, aged 40, after a minor operation, and Wodehouse himself was arrested in northern France, where he was living at the time, and sent to a German internment camp for almost a year. Even there, he kept writing, and polished off a novel in captivity, the appropriately titled Money in the Bank. He was then moved to a hotel in Berlin, where he was invited by German radio to broadcast a series of comic accounts of his internment. Naively, he agreed, keen as he was to assure his fans that he was in good health and good spirits. What he didn’t realise was that he was playing into the hands of the Nazi government, which could claim to be treating its illustrious guest well. In Britain, he was accused of colluding with the enemy, and his reputation never quite recovered, but there was hardly a trace of anger or self-recrimination in his work. He stuck to prelapsarian yarns in which everyone was essentially comfortable and fortunate – except, of course, when they found themselves briefly engaged to a woman who believed in healthy eating and gainful employment.


Whatever was going on in his life, Wodehouse stayed buoyant; and whatever is going on in the reader’s life, he keeps us buoyant, too. “I was clinically depressed for most of 1999,” said Jay McInerney, the author of Bright Lights, Big City in a 2016 interview “and I would turn to Wodehouse, possibly the funniest writer in the English language. It seemed to be more effective at warding off despair than the antidepressants that I was taking.”


Maybe you can spot some deeper themes in his books if you look hard enough. At times I can persuade myself that there is something subversive in Bertie’s lack of interest in the conventional status markers of a career and a marriage, and something instructive in his insistence on helping his lovestruck friends, however ungrateful they may be. I can even argue that Wodehouse was revolutionary because his characters didn’t defeat villains in fist fights or shootouts (although they sometimes stole policemen’s helmets on Boat Race night). Perhaps he was teaching us that we can’t all be high achievers, let alone rugged action heroes, but that we can all be kind and generous. In other words, we can live according to the code of the Woosters. But I admit that this is a stretch. As Stephen Fry put it, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection: you just bask in its warmth and splendour.”


Evelyn Waugh might have agreed. “Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale,” he said in 1961. “He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.” Captivity doesn’t get much more irksome than the one we’re enduring now, but Wodehouse can still release us from it.


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