Cigars – preferred accoutrement of Eccentrics everywhere
Cigars are an inescapable feature of Mayfair. As a child I had believed them to be uniformly-shaped dog droppings. It wasn’t until I was old enough to wear heels that I recognised the stumps – of Partegas Privada and Romeo Y Julieta, which I speared everytime I walked out of our family flat in Mayfair – for what they were.
Mayfair and St James’s is the birthplace of the Cigar Divans as the cigar salons were called. More of those later.
My father told me, “There are two kinds of men in this world, the chaps who remove the label from the cigar before they light up and those who don’t.”
The important lesson there is to cross the street when you spot the latter.
As an asthmatic I don’t smoke though I have rolled cigars at Davidoffs as gifts for friends and taken a draw on a few of those cigars one comes across at auction.
But the history of tobacco fascinated me as a child. My father smoked a pipe and I was spellbound by the lavish accoutrements of his pastime. He taught me how to pack the perfect pipe, giving me a shilling for each effort and a large five pound note when I eventually mastered the art.
Cigars on the other hand were a mystery before I was initiated into the art by Davidoff at 18 years of age. Having spent my life on Mount St opposite Sautter, cigars were always my go to gifts for gentlemen.
I always wondered if they set up there to service Winston Churchill who lived on Mount St but no, like Oscar Wilde he procured his cigars from James J Fox who have been proving tobacco products to chaps and Chapesses of distinction since 1787. Trading continuously at 19 St James’s St. It is well worth popping downstairs for a peep at their museum where they have a fine collection of cigar memorabilia including cigar cases owned by Winnie himself.
The cigar is a distinctive aspect of the Mayfair Eccentric.
And wherever one comes upon an aspect of quintessential ‘Britishness’ research uncovers it more often than not began with a Stuart Monarch.
For it was the Stuarts who added that dash of Eccentricity to the British Character without which the British would lack that larky loveliness that separates us from the rest of Europe.
The first Stuart Monarch was Mary Queen of Scots, son, King James I (1566-1625), while the last was Queen Anne (1665-1714). The next Stuart to sit on the throne will be William whose mother Princess Diana was a direct descendant of the Stuarts.
Francis Drake brought a small amount of tobacco to Britain in 1573 for royal consumption. In 1601 the East India Company was formed and tobacco and other exotic imports began to pour into Britain. But due to the illegal growing of tobacco in Britain to avoid the heavy taxes, King James I banned the growing of tobacco and granted a Royal Charter to the pipe makers of Westminster.
However it was that Great Eccentric Charles I who established THE WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF TOBACCO PIPE AND TOBACCO BLENDERS in 1634 – as they didn’t have their own Livery Hall, they met at the Painters and Stainers Hall but the Civil War badly affected tobacco trade and all the Guilds.
Cigars were a feature of Mayfair in 1814 when officers returned from the Peninsular War with cigars gifted by their fellow Spanish officers. The officer’s messes and gentleman’s clubs of Mayfair and St James’s started to set aside cigar rooms – kitted out with Cigar divans. Cigar clubs were the new salons, where members wearing elaborately embroidered velvet smoking hats and other cigar paraphernalia took root in the new Cigar Culture.
Poets and musicians entertained the ladies and gents on the divans. Cigar Hats became the essential accessory for the Eccentric to gad about the streets of Mayfair and St James’s.
Anne Gliddon was the first Mayfair Eccentric to open a Cigar Divan as the cigar salons became known, opening her premises at 42 King Street on 8 February, 1825. Anne’s salon, was described as hung “like an eastern tent, the drapery festooned around you…”.
In 1828 The Grand Cigar Divan opened in what is now Simpsons. It soon became known as the “home of chess”, attracting such chess celebrities such as Howard Staunton the first English world chess champion through its doors. Simpson’s background is honoured in the name of the main restaurant which is called The Grand Divan.