Annie Gray is a historian specialising in British food and dining c.1650–1950. Her biography of Georgina Landemare, Victory in the Kitchen: The Story of Churchill’s Cook, is due out in spring 2020.
Long-time Finest Hour readers will be familiar with the name Georgina Landemare. She was, along with Grace Hamblin and Victor Vincent (the Chartwell gardener), one of the longest-serving of the Churchills’ paid retinue, with them on and off (mainly on) for twenty-two years. She catered networking parties during Churchill’s Wilderness Years, policy-making gatherings when he was Prime Minister during the War, and family get-togethers during his bitter postwar years in opposition. Mrs. Landemare tends to have only a walk-on role in the many books about the Churchills, however—a surprising omission, given the important role she played in the smooth running of the family home.
Georgina’s early life was entirely average. She was born into what was categorised at the time as the “affluent working class,” meaning working class people with jobs and steady wages. Her father was a coachman, her mother a maid. They were from Hertfordshire, and Georgina was born at her maternal grandmother’s house in Aldbury, near Tring. Today it is a commuter village for London, but it remains a chocolate-box style picture of English countryside sweetness. When I visited there last winter, it was snowing, and I hid in the firelit warmth of the local pub—at one time run by relatives of Georgina’s mother—trying to visualise it as it was in 1882 when Georgina was born: a struggling rural outpost ruled by a handful of local gentry families. She never lived there, however, moving at a young age with her family to London. She started work at thirteen, and then, aged fifteen, became a scullery maid in a house in Kensington Palace Gardens. Looking back, she described it as “starting her track of life,” even then determined that service would be a career and not merely a job.
For Churchill, dining was about more than good food, fine French champagne and a robust Havana cigar. He used dining as an art to both to display his conversational talents and to engage in political debate. During the WWII, he presided over dinners at key conferences, using them to exert his considerable conversational skills to attempt to persuade his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to fight the war according to his strategic vision. Churchill used dining and the dinner table to do what could not always be done at the conference table.
Throughout his life, he relished his food and ate out often, spending considerable amounts of money on fine meals at hotels and restaurants. He liked traditional English dishes like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding as well as French haute cuisine. He enjoyed shellfish more than fish – he particularly enjoyed raw oysters – and Stilton cheese more than sweet desserts (‘pudding’), but he could easily be persuaded to have both when the opportunity arose! He insisted that ‘puddings’ be expressive. His family heard him announce on more than one occasion, ‘Take away this pudding – It has no theme!’
[My ideal of a good dinner] is to discuss good food, and, after this good food has been discussed, to discuss a good topic – with myself the chief conversationalist.
Churchill, 1925, “Ephesian” [Roberts C. Bechhofer] in Winston Churchill (cited in Langworth, Churchill: In His Own Words)
It is often said that on 4 August 1914, the night World War I began, Churchill dined with Lloyd George at the Carlton Hotel, where Ho Chi Minh was employed as a cook. I recall seeing a plaque on the building, now New Zealand House. But senior editor John Plumpton points to the official biography, vol. 3 (30-31), where Martin Gilbert writes that Churchill dined with his mother, brother and the editor of The Times in Admiralty House, and later met with Lloyd George and Asquith. What are the facts?
Our first guess is that Sir Martin had the vol. 3 date wrong and learned about Ho later, but before his talk to the Second Churchill Tour, 17 September 1985, published as Churchill’s London, http://xrl.us/bpyib9: Read More >
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On this day in 1940, Winston Churchill gave to the House of Commons what many consider to be his most famous speech: "Their Finest Hour". This speech was made following France’s armistice, and espoused British national survival in the face of Nazi tyranny.
This speech can be read in full in Winston Churchill’s "The War Speeches", found in the first volume "Into Battle" (which was published in the U.S. and Canada under the title "Blood, Sweat and Tears"). We have many fine copies of "The War Speeches", including a newly acquired, Churchill-signed copy that can be found on our website by searching "208643".
The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.