Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Blooming gingery, what?

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.

Typical Edwardian rose display, by Feltons

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...

Feltons window - April 1909
' This is an illustration of wealth of colour rather than artistic treatment.
The window was arranged in this way by desire of the photographers,
who were anxious to see the effect of the process through glass.'

Felton describes in his book how he once put together a table of sweet peas which was so successful that he was called back no less than three times to repeat it for the King's birthday dinner at St James's Palace. He says the display consisted of 'bowls of various heights, commencing in the middle of the table with "King Edward" and "Princess Alexandra"'. Very aptly named varieties of sweet pea... what else would do though? Do note, however, that salmon-pink sweet peas on the dinner table are, he says, to be avoided at all costs. 

Painting of the King and Queen at the Royal Box at Olympia International Horse Show in 1908

The Royal Pavilion at a Garden Party - Marlborough House - 1909 

Feltons also made plenty of bouquets and posies for the Queen, both during her reign and after, when she became the Queen Mother.

Court bouquet for Her Majesty Queen Alexandra

It wasn't just the big two who loved his work, though. The Prince of Wales did as well, even feeling moved to write (not using his own hands, come on) to tell him so.

As far as foreign dignitaries go, in 1909 he did the floral displays at Claridge's where the Ambassador of Japan welcomed His Imperial Highness Prince Nashimoto. There's no record of the Prince's reaction, but I'm sure it was favourable.

Claridge's with Felton decoration, circa 1909

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
Sweaty Betty ballet pumps (with ribbons!)
('Scuse my hair - it was damp!)

I can't thank Richard enough for showing me his precious cuttings and letters, and telling me his stories. It was fascinating and too much to even put in here! Please do check out Feltons Florists if you're in the market for flowers - he does some amazing floral arches for weddings and so forth. The passion for his work and the pride in his grandfather's legacy just shines through. He's kindly invited me to come and see some other, bigger displays going in and I hope to take him up on that offer soon as I love flowers nearly as much as his Majesty, King Edward (albeit I don't have quite the budget)!

As always, do check out the King's Ginger site as well... in fact, may I encourage you to visit the KGL Facebook page, which has lots going on it at the moment - fab period photos, events and tastings you can go along to and try its gingery goodness for yourself... and more importantly, some cocktail recipes!

I leave you with this poem, which R. Forester Felton modestly claims in his book is by an author unknown and 'from memory'... but which Richard told me he wrote himself.
A Rose in the garden slipped her bud
And smiled in the pride of her youthful blood
As she saw the gardener passing by--
"He's old, so old, he soon will die,"
                                Said the Rose.  
And when morning came with sunshine bright
She 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 air
And the petals fell from that rose so fair,
And when morning dawned came the gardener old
And 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 

Fleur xx 


  1. Hello! Lovely flowers! I am writing because I have a vintage clothing-type question. I am 15 weeks pregnant and am wondering if you (or any of your kind readers) could give me tips for wearing vintage or vintage-look clothes that are also maternity (or at least baby-bump friendly). Is a particular era more suited to a big belly? If there are any blogs or blog posts that deal with wearing vintage while pregnant, I'd love to see them. Thanks in advance for any tips!

  2. The flowers and photographs are so beautiful! If only I could have my home always done up in fresh flowers I think I’d always be in a better mood. I do have a large red rose bush that is just now opening up for spring and am inspired to snip some of the blooms for inside my home after enjoying your latest installment for the King’s Ginger. Thank you!

  3. Oh, those florals!!!! I love your shoes, too!

  4. you're back - and how!
    this is a great post. what an interesting story, I would also likes to throw a glance at mister Felton's book.
    Unfortunately, it is not here in Germany with the flowers become much better .......

  5. What an interesting post - and how beautiful are those posies?!


  6. I love the poem at the end and the flowers are gorgeous. Your King's Ginger posts are always so interesting! Hope you're feeling better as well!
    Jo :-)

  7. Fascinating! How I wish I lived near a really good florist, the kind that does loads of different and unusual kinds of flowers, and not just grotty, limp supermarket bunches...sigh.

  8. It’s exactly what I was looking nice job for posting this.Thanks lot for this useful article, nice post

  9. How beautiful and what an amazing story.
    BTW, I saw you riding a bicycle with others on Saturday across some lights in London. My squeal of excitement and mad pointing made my four children think I'd seen the equivalent of royalty lol (Not sure if this makes me sound like some weird stalker - hopefully not -but it was lovely to actually see you in the flesh lol).

  10. @Heather In Progress: The Finnish blogger Ulrike Bacher chronicles her 9 months and corresponding fabulous vintage-repro-rockabilly outfits on her blog The Freelancer's Fashionblog. Her post might give you some inspiration!
    Marleen from the Netherlands

  11. Thank you, anonymous! I will check that out!

  12. Must have been amazing to look through that scrapbook. Really interesting article thanks.

  13. Fabulous article - those flowers are divine


I welcome all comments, praise and constructive criticism alike! Please note, though, that I don't respond to anonymous comments. If you want to offer a criticism then have the conviction to do so publicly. I thank you!

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