‘Oh, the Roast Beef of Old England’

1907dinnerIn April 1907 the Royal Society of St George held its annual St George’s Day celebration in the Cecil Hotel in London. Situated between the Thames Embankment and the Strand, it was one of the city’s grand hotels. As had been the case at previous dinners, the Society chose a period to be associated with the festival, and invited soldiers to act as guards to the chairman, also escorting ‘the “National Dish” as it is paraded around the hall’. In 1907 this honour was bestowed upon the King’s Guard of the 1st Battalion English Grenadiers. ‘tall, stalwart Englishmen they were, of splendid physique, all considerably over six feet in height’.

As many other gatherings of this type, the annual St George’s Day dinner of the Royal Society of St George brought together many of the London elite for an evening of entertainment. At the heart of the event, however, was the dinner – a highlight of which undoubtedly was the arrival of ‘the roast beef of Old England’. As was reported in the Royal Society of St George’s journal, it

is always an inspiriting and impressive feature, and a little hit of pageantry very highly appreciated. First the “Old Flag,” then the drums, soldiers (two and two), the lordly baron upon a cradle embowered in red and white roses, ribbons, and bannerettes, borne upon the shoulders of four cooks correctly apparelled and beribboned, then more soldiers ; while the band, with thrilling drum accompaniment, plays the well-known air, “Oh, the Roast Beef of Old England,” amidst the plaudits of the assembled guests.

roastbeefDuring the dinner the string band of the Victoria and St. George’s Rifles rendered English airs, while, after dinner, a selection of English folk music and Morris dancing was provided for the illustrious round of guests that included, for example, Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge and His Excellency Baron Komura, the Japanese Ambassador.

Of great importance too were the toasts and speeches delivered. Given the nature of the event they were, of course, of a celebratory nature, designed to appeal to the national sentiment of the English. This sentiment was certainly showing through in the toast of the evening delivered by the chairman of the fesitval, the Right Hon. Lord Redesdale, who noted that it was the aim of the Society ‘to instil in the minds of the youth of this country those principles of patriotism which are essential to the well-being of the Empire, without which, indeed, the Empire cannot exist.’ Lord Redesdale was of the view that the English could learn one or two things from the Celt: while ‘the Anglo-Saxon is a reserved creature, a rather shy creature … The Celt, on the contrary, is full and bubbling over with patriotism.’

Whether Lord Redesdale had a point with this assessment or not, there was certainly powerful evidence in 1907 of how Englishness was expressed by many around the world on St George’s Day. One way of measuring this activity is through the numerous greetings and cable messages sent on the day. Click here to see a map of where message were sent to; click on a location to read the message sent.

In the spirit of the global greetings dispensed in 1907: a happy St George’s Day from the English Diaspora Team!

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