The Holborn Restaurant, 129, Kingsway, est.1874

Pictured: the King’s Hall in 1954, the year before the Restaurant closed.

Janet Dunbar’s contribution to Partners in Progress:

” “Lunch with my publisher.” Magical phrase. Lunch at the old Holborn Restaurant, with its Edwardian elegance and non-utilitarian spaciousness, where Walter Harrap was obviously well known; the smiling waiter must have seen him bring many a new writer here.

I wasn’t exactly new. The gift of the gab lands you in one of three places: Parliament, gaol or radio. It had landed me in radio, many years before, and I was already a professional writer. I was now the author of a book, Early Victorian Woman – and I had been asked to lunch.

“Publishers, you know, are businessmen,” said Walter, trying to look severely businesslike, and quite failing; you can’t look like a tycoon with that kind of twinkle. I don’t know what he’s like in the bosom of his Board; one knows perfectly well that balance sheets are as important as (more important than?) book jackets. At this moment, however, he wore wings. Behind my staid exterior I was as gay and light hearted as the girl who, long ago, had sold her first story.

I have written books for him since, and I hope to write more. I suppose the thrill is different now…but I have only to pass that corner of Kingsway, and it comes back: the marble halls, the flowers on the balcony, and Walter at the other side of the table, kind, twinkling, enjoying himself. For, of course, he knew.”

Ernest A E Woodrow, ARIBA, (1860-1937) wrote of the King’s Hall:

“The seating accommodation at a banquet in this hall is for 500…

A particular feature is the range of three private boxes at one end overlooking the hall; these were specially devised for the convenience of ladies, friends, and distinguished guests who might wish to witness the proceedings, listen to the music, and hear the speeches, or perhaps see their husbands dine.”

The Venetian Hall, with tables joined in a circuit around the room, was described as “the home of Golf, Hockey and Tennis Clubs holding Annual Reunions.” On 29th May, 1905, a dinner was held at the Holborn Restaurant for the Kew Guild (Chairman at the time Dr Augustine Henry). The Kew Guild was founded in 1893 as an offshoot of the Kew Mutual Improvement Society, and aimed to allow past and present staff and students at Kew Gardens (“Kewites”) to stay in touch with one another.

The BBC News page of 8/3/19 featured for International Women’s Day an item (with photograph) on women gardeners at Kew in 1896:

“Made to wear the same garb as male gardeners so as not to distract their colleagues, their brown woollen bloomers soon made the news.

As the satirical magazine Punch put it, “They gardened in bloomers the newspapers said/ So to Kew without waiting all Londoners sped.” “.

Now search “Kew Guild Holborn Restaurant” for a photograph of the May 1905 event. (No doubt trousers were worn on the occasion; moustaches clearly were.)

Janet Dunbar writes in The Early Victorian Woman (1953) of news having reached Britain as early as 1851 that American women were adopting “loose trowsers”, invented by Amelia Bloomer. Punch “had several weeks of light hearted larking with the idea of women wearing trousers, and asked if they would not like to take over men’s occupations too? One cartoon showed women police fainting in a graceful group at the first hint of a street row; another showed a woman barrister in wig and gown.”.

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