September 3, 2023

The Art of Being Winston Churchill: Fish

Winston Churchill famously loved his fishpond at Chartwell. He passed many hours in his chair at the pond’s edge feeding and watching his precious Golden Orfe. The fish were not only precious to him emotionally, they were rather precious financially, as a letter he received eighty-five years ago in September 1938 reveals.

The letter came from Harrods, the legendary Knightsbridge department store where shoppers purportedly could buy virtually anything. Even before the Second World War, Churchill was a well-known customer. On 1 September 1938, the Live Stock Department at Harrods sent a letter to Churchill offering him first refusal on some new arrivals:

“We have pleasure in advising you that we are having a consignment of very rare Golden Orfe—a cold water fish for outdoor ponds and aquaria; the colour is red, white and blue. These Orfe of such unusual colouring are the first to enter this country….”

The price varied according to size: 10 shillings for a two-inch fish, 15 for a three-inch, and 20 for a four-inch. Since 20 shillings made £1, the commensurate price today for a four-inch fish would be approximately £86 or US$108.

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The letter continued: “The above are offered subject to being unsold upon receipt of your definite order, and we would mention that they should make good breeding stock for next year.” Given the cost, breeding his own fish would have been Churchill’s most economical means for maintaining and increasing his beloved school of fish!

Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).

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