Winston Churchill refused to pay £197 tailor’s bill, archives reveal

December 3rd, 2015

The 130 handwritten books detail hundreds of high-profile clients and their orders, from British aristocracy to European royalty, actors, authors and the toast of high society.

File photo: Alex Cook performs a fitting at Henry Poole on Savile Row in central London, 2010

Thought to be the longest surviving record of any tailor in the world, it includes orders from General de Gaulle, Prince Otto von Bismarck, Benjamin Disraeli, Napoleon, Queen Alexandra and Wilkie Collins.

Surviving an oil bomb falling on Savile Row in 1940 and left to gather dust for decades, they have now been rebound and are to be open to the public for the first time.

Among the records are details of Sir Winston’s wardrobe, after Henry Poole began making his clothes as a child at Blenheim Palace.

He went on to order formal apparel as the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, a Privy Councillor, President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, Chancellor of the Exchequer and an Elder Brother of Trinity House.

By 1937, however, his outstanding bill was at £197.

James Sherwood, the historian tasked with examining the archive, said: “We continued to make clothes for him until just before the Second World War, when he fell foul because he didn’t want to pay his bill.”

Mr Sherwood added Henry Poole was not the only establishment which struggled to get Sir Winston to pay, added: “He said it was for morale, it was good for us to dress him and he wasn’t aware we were short of cash.

File photo: Tailors work on bespoke suits at Henry Poole on Savile Row in central London in 2010

“He never did pay, and never came back – he never forgave us.”

Sir Winston was not the only customer who did not pay on time, with Henry Poole leaving so much debt when he died that his belongings had to be auctioned off.

The company ledgers reveal that Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, also made “infrequent payments on account that accumulated over years” for clothing, including the prototype short dinner jacket he commissioned for informal evenings at Sandringham.

King Edward VII, as Prince of Wales

After Poole’s death, a bill was sent to him at Marlborough House who paid the balance but, so offended, he withdrew his custom for 22 years until his 1901, when he patronised Poole’s Livery Department.

The Henry Poole & Co archive shows each and every garment made since 1846 for clients including Count Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Bram Stocker, Lillie Langtry and Serge Diaghilev.

Actress Lillie Langtry

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon took a Henry Poole three-piece-suit with him to explore Egypt, Emperor Napoleon III gave the shop its first Royal warrant, Queen Alexandra bought her family gifts, and Buffalo Bill was dressed up for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Records for Lillie Langtry, the actress, show that her orders were to be paid for by a Mr Frank Gebhart, the millionaire thoroughbred trainer with whom she was having an affair.

The archive also includes the signatures of some of the most famous faces of the day, from actors to authors.

Charles Dickens, not famous for his own dress sense, is known to have paid off the debts of his eldest son Charles Dickens Jr, after he had run up a substantial bill with the tailors.

Charles Dickens Jr

His authenticated signature can be found on a cheque from his Coutts & Co account.Other authors visiting the shop include Bram Stoker, who first appears in the records in 1895 while he was writing Dracula, and Wilkie Collins, who places orders from 1863.

Actors appearing in the records include Sir Henry Irving, who regularly used the tailor. He was captured for posterity in a Henry Poole frock coat for a sculpture by Sir Thomas Brock RA .

Other unusual additions to the records include Madame Tussauds, which used Henry Poole to make all its uniforms and livery for waxworks of the European Royal families.

The archive, said to chart the “rising and waning fortunes of Henry Poole’s illustrious clients”, will be available to view by appointment on Savile Row from today.

World War Two

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