Since the Queen has been celebrating her 65 years of reign this week, we thought that a Royal Spotlight item would be appropriate.
This pipe and its associated packet of tobacco is part of the Elkin Collection (LIVNP 2012.04). The original box, if it had one, has not survived, but a “home-made” presentation box has been created from an old cigar box. The pipe itself is a standard early 20th-century design and the packet of tobacco is now empty, but printed in gold with the Royal Coat of Arms and the lettering FROM H.M. THE KING 31ST OCTOBER 1913, which confirms the Royal connection.
The label in the lid of the box reads:
This pipe & Tobacco was given to all the workmen who was employed on the refronting of Buckingham Palace which was completed in 6 weeks. When a dinner was given to all the workmen employed on the job & each one was presented with pipe & tobacco from his Majesty King George 5th. 31st of October 1913
It has been signed by S.C. Kesby.
In 1913 a decision was made to re-face the front of Buckingham Palace and Sir Aston Webb was commissioned to create a new design for the façade in Portland stone. The stone was prepared in advance and numbered prior to delivery to Buckingham Palace. The actual re-facing work was carried out by Messrs Leslie and Co, under the direction of Mr Shingleton, the managing director. The work was reported in the press and an article in the New Zealand Herald, on 28 October 1913 noted that there were over 1,000 workmen employed and that they were working by day and night. It was also reports that the “old dirty facing of French stone was being hacked away till the workmen came to the red brick, and then the find new Portland stone will be put in place”.
When the work was complete a special meal was given for all those involved at the King’s Hall at the Holborn Restaurant. This too was reported on in The Times (1 November 1913), which tells us that men “came in their best clothes” and that a “substantial British dinner” was served. It also noted that there was an “abundant supply of good ale”. After the meal “pipes and tobacco were then passed round. The packets containing the tobacco were ornamented with the Royal Arms in gilt, below which was printed “From H. M. the King, 31st October 1913; and the pipes were clays of special pattern. Both packets and pipes were greatly appreciated as mementoes of the occasion”.
But who was S. C. Kesby, who signed the note in the box lid and, presumably, a recipient of this gift? The only S.C. Kesby that can be found in the 1911 census is Sidney Charles Kesby, who was a 31 year old restaurant waiter living near the King’s Hall. Given the unusual name, his occupation and where he lived, it seems likely that Sidney was one of the waiting staff at the king’s meal, who also received a pipe and tobacco as a souvenir of the occasion.