Anyone for a snack?

We all,  I suppose, know the origin of the sandwich, right? 

Or maybe we don’t.

Well, there was this gambler–yes, of course he had a title.  And yes, you do know it.  He was the Earl of Sandwich. 

No, really, that was his title.  I don’t have to make this stuff up, you know, history did it for me. 

So there he is, John Montegu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, (1718-1792), sitting there at the gaming tables.  His wig’s askew, he possibly had turned his waistcoat inside out for luck.  (Yes, they did that.) 

But the thing about Sandwich is that on this occasion, he spent over 24 hours altogether at this particular gaming table…

(So one can quite understand that at some point he might have wondered if his great guts weren’t about to eat his little guts, as they would have said in 1780.) 

Anyway, there he was, playing away, possibly unable to leave–perhaps he was playing piquet, a game involving six separate hands (deals) to make up a Partie–and feeling more than a little peckish. 

So he called for two slices of toast, buttered, with a couple of thin slices of cold beef placed between the toast to be brought to him. 

And all this happened sometime before 1762–because by that point, at a rather natty little place in London known as the Cocoa Tree, they were serving it and it was all the rage…

Yes, I know this is a bit before my period of expertise, really.  But the fact is, you need to know what came before in order to make proper sense of what is.  And by the Napoleonic wars they were eating sandwiches all over the place…

And yes, Jane Austen ate them too.  She said so.  In a letter dated from 1800.  She said they were ‘all over mustard’.  So obviously things had moved on from the buttered toast plan. 

Interesting, no?


8 comments on “Anyone for a snack?

  1. I remember seeing a programme a few years ago – the present day Earl of Sandwiches son (presumably the next Earl of Sandwich – though he might have been a younger son) had started a… you’ve got it…packaged sandwich business. Sandwich’s sandwiches or some such thing.

    Always wondered what had happened to the business. I’ve never come across them at at service stations!


    • Lou says:

      …wondered the same thing. It was one of those let’s put a bumbling person in front of the camera and laugh at them failing documentaries, wasn’t it? Seemingly they’re still going, and have leapt the Atlantic. Hurrah for the Sandwiches. Is it just me, or is there something rather amusing about this video? The plums in Mr Montagu’s mouth don’t compliment his rather pedestrian looking sandwiches.

      Could just manage a beef and mustard now… Good post.

      • M M Bennetts says:

        You had to say beef and mustard, didn’t you? You had to remind me that I’m gutfoundered and do not have a roast beef sandwich, on toasted bread or otherwise…

  2. 24 hours without leaving the table? It’s a wonder he didn’t invent the urinary catheter first.

    This culinary item was actually first described by Daniel Defoe, when Friday advised the starving Crusoe to eat “The sand which is here.”

    Yes, I really do have a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. Why do you ask? 😀

    • M M Bennetts says:

      They generally had chamber pots, or tea voiders as they called them, behind screens at the end of the room, so that one didn’t have to go far to answer a call of nature. And given how much they drank–although admittedly, their bottles and glasses were smaller than ours–this was undoubtedly a good thing.

  3. Piotr says:

    Cool, I’ll impress my English friends with this tidbit of knowledge, thanks Bennetts

  4. MHM says:

    I looked at the history of the humble ‘sarnie’ some years ago. John Montague’s biographer, N. A. M. Rodger, points out in the book, The Insatiable Earl – A Life of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, that the sole source for giving Montague credit for the invention of the sandwich, was gossip mentioned in a travel book by Grosley, and that at the period in question 1765, he was known to be very busy, and it is just as likely that it was for the purpose of eating at his desk. The book states:

    It remains to consider the circumstances of the invention of the sandwich, which modern works suppose to have been designed to sustain its creator through long nights at the gaming table. The origin of this story seems to be a passage in Grosley’s Tour to London:

    “A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.”

    Grosley’s book is a piece of travel literature. There is no supporting evidence for this piece of gossip, and it does not seem very likely that it has any foundation, especially as it refers to 1765, when Sandwich was a Cabinet minister and very busy. There is no doubt, however, that he was the real author of the sandwich, in its original form using salt beef, of which he was very fond. The alternative explanation is that he invented it to sustain himself at his desk, which seems plausible since we have ample evidence of the long hours he worked from an early start, in an age when dinner was the only substantial meal of the day, and the fashionable hour to dine was four o’clock.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I bow to your superior knowledge, sir. Actually, I grovel at the feet of Nick Rodger, who is, ever since I met him at one of the conferences on Trafalgar, one of my heroes.

      I can only claim to have researched as far as the OED and Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, and the Letters of Miss Austen.

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