I’m very excited about this month’s King’s Ginger post, because for the first time, I have actually managed to find a descendant of someone who knew his Majesty in person. I got to interview the grandson of one of the King’s own warrant-holders! I also got to have a snoop about in one of London’s oldest buildings, following in the footsteps of his Majesty and finding out some really interesting tidbits. So here we go, my latest adventure for our favourite ginger-infused tipple!
Still going after more than 125 years, Feltons Florists is a true dynasty. Run by the grandson of R. Forester Felton (1862-1947), they actually no longer have a physical shop, but instead provide flowers directly to many big state occasions and to some of the oldest and most prestigious buildings in London. I went to meet Richard Felton in St Bartholomew the Great church in Smithfield to hear some stories about his grandfather and his relationship to our favourite charismatic King; and have a peek into a rather brilliant heirloom – a book of press cuttings… and handwritten letters from the palaces.
Robert Forester Felton grew up in the Midlands and had his own business doing flowers for big houses. It was quite a new industry in the late Victorian era – only rich people could afford to have their houses decorated with blooms, or they would have them as decorations at big functions or banquets. Before, there were gardeners, of course, but florists were few and far between. In the late 1890s, Felton did a huge display at Packington Hall. It was such a success that he decided to up sticks and move to London to ply his trade there, and in 1897 he opened up what was one of the capital’s very first flower shops.
If you can make it out from the cutting above, Felton’s Flower Shop quickly attracted business from the very highest class patrons. Kings, queens, princes and princesses from across the world would call upon Felton to decorate their homes and functions. He was described by as ‘an expert and enterprising floral designer and decorator’ by Albert Rollitt, President of the National Crysanthemum (admittedly in the preface of his own book, British Floral Decoration, published in 1910), but there can be no doubt that he was a chap who knew what he was doing with blooms of all kinds.
His passion and attention to his craft brought him into the sphere of our hero Bertie many times, beginning with the Coronation.
R. F. Felton was passionate about the rose (‘the national flower of England’) and he was apparently outraged when word reached him that ‘certain people’ were trying to oust it from its place and replace it for Lily of The Valley at King Edward VII’s coronation. It was alleged, he said, by those who led the anti-rose crusade, that Lily of the Valley was Queen Alexandra’s favourite flower. Which, he claims in his book, is just not true.
He wrote a stern letter to the press in the run up to the Coronation, expressing his views.
I have seen in many papers, and among them some of the leading ‘dailies’ that a vigorous attempt is being made to establish the Lily of the Valley as the Coronation flower, and I cannot refrain from taking up my pen to defend the claims of the Queen of flowers, our grand National Rose.
The bare idea of having to defend it seems to me so pre-posterous that I feel I ought to apologise to every good English subject for seriously listening to such an idea as the substitution of any flower for the Rose at the coronation of a King of England. Unfortunately, however, the Lily movement appears to be daily gaining ground, not so much, I believe, with the people as with the great producers, to whom I cannot help thinking the matter owes its origin. Passing over entirely the historical associations of the Rose with the English Crown, hallowed by centuries, and ignoring the fact that the Lily was once the royal flower of France, I will confine myself purely to common-sense reasons why the Lily should not be adopted.
First of all, it is by no means as English a flower, in its natural state, as the Rose. Secondly, more than nine- tenths of the Lilies of everyday commerce are primarily produced abroad, and are only finished, either by forcing or retarding, in England. Thirdly, the comparatively few naturally grown English Lilies of the Valley will be over by the end of June, unless the season should happen to be a backward one, and so we should have to fall back on the foreign growers for our supply, and in that case only those living in towns would be able to get them at all.
On the other hand, Rose-growing being an immense industry in the United Kingdom, the supply in June will be almost inexhaustible ; therefore every man, woman, and child will be able to wear them, even though they have to go out and pluck wild ones from the hedgerow.
Yours, &c., R, F. FELTON.
And he should know, because he did indeed do Coronation flowers for King Edward and held the Royal Warrant thereafter. They actually become friends. Richard recounted a story to me which had Felton Snr. making up a billiards team at Sandringham, playing against our hero! Let’s hope he pretended to lose…
‘ This is an illustration of wealth of colour rather than
The window was arranged in this way
by desire of the photographers,
who were anxious to see the
effect of the process through glass.’
And it wasn’t all done at home, either. Felton’s work for the King actually took him abroad several times (in a roundabout way). In an anecdote told to me by Richard, the Emperor of Germany was so taken by the beauty of the display created especially for his visit to London’s Mansion House, that he not only mentioned them in his speech, he invited him to Berlin to ‘strike an English note’ in the decorations that greeted his Majesty on a reciprocal visit! Felton was less taken by the standard shown by his German counterparts though, describing their efforts in his book as ‘funereal’.
Back to the present day and Richard Felton, his grandson, is carrying on the family name in splendid fashion. There may not be so many visiting foreign dignitaries, but he still provides beautiful displays for churches like St Barts, livery companies and for banquets. I accompanied him to Drapers Hall in the City, where he was taking five very traditional posies for an evening event.
He proudly told me that these are just as they would have been in his grandfather’s heyday, with a mixture of roses and freesias. They looked wonderful, as I’m sure you’ll agree. As we passed through the big hall, look who I found watching over us, casting an approving eye, no doubt, on Mr Felton’s work, over 100 years later.
Here’s one final shot, with me clutching a posy and the marvellously dapper Mr Felton himself. Even if it does look a little like we’re walking down the aisle!
Repro knitted cardi
American Apparel trousers
A Rose in the garden slipped her budAnd smiled in the pride of her youthful bloodAs she saw the gardener passing by–“He’s old, so old, he soon will die,”Said the Rose.
And when morning came with sunshine brightShe opened her warm red heart to the light,And sighed as the gardener passed the bed–“Why he’s older still, he’ll soon be dead.”
But evening closed with a cold night airAnd the petals fell from that rose so fair,And when morning dawned came the gardener oldAnd raked them softly under the mould.
And I wove the thing to a random rhyme–For the Rose is Beauty, the gardener Time.
From memory, Author unknown.R. F. FELTON