All the books written about the Reform Club and Alexis Soyer such as ‘Memoirs of Alexis Soyer’ by Volant & Et Alii 1858. ‘Reform Club’ by Woodbridge 1974, ‘The People’s Chef’ By Brandon 2004 and ‘Relish’ 2006 by Cowen claim that Alexis was made the head chef in 1837.  However, I found in a Committee book in the Reform Club archives the following dated 2nd March 1838 that complaints had been made against the cook Williams who was discharged. Complaints made against Cartwright the present cook who was discharged with a month’s notice. Resolved that M. Soyer be engaged as a cook as long as his character is ascertained, and he is given a 3-month trial. The first chef of the Reform Club was Auguste Rotivan he was appointed 3r June 1836, but only lasted three weeks. Therefore, it looks like the Reform Club had two further head-cooks before Alexis Soyer.

What Alexis was not to realise, that when he left the employ of the Duke of Cambridge, was that he was going to have trouble with the hierarchy of command. When he worked in private houses, he was head, the kitchen was his territory and you entered the kitchen as his guest – even if you owned the house. What Alexis did not realise with gentlemen’s clubs and political clubs such as the Reform was that committees ran them; Alexis had difficulties with this as will be seen later in this tale.

Prior to 1832, Conservative Members of Parliament tended to be wealthy landowners, If such a person decided to stand as a Member of Parliament, all they had to do was to persuade their friends and other major landowners to vote for them, or to buy the seat from a landowner – for which there was normally no opposition. Some ‘Radical Whigs’ of the Liberal Party decided that this was wrong and to avoid this happening in the future, it required an electoral reform. They proposed that all men who owned property over the value of £10 could vote, thereby opening Parliament to shopkeepers and the middle-classes. When this eventually passed through the House of Commons, the House of Lords rejected it. The Liberal Party (As ‘Cavaliers’ gave birth to the Conservative Party; the Roundheads gave birth to the Whig Party). The Whig party became the Liberal Party in the 1830s, but many members still referred to themselves as ‘Whigs’ and the Whig party. So, whereas today you have ‘The Left’ or ‘Right’ of a party, in the 1840’s you had the ‘Whigs’ of the Liberal Party. threatened to flood the House of Lords (King William IV agreed with the House of Lords, and the government of the day fell, but because of the outcry he eventually accepted and put his signature to the act.) with newly created Whig peers. The House of Lords conceded and in 1832, The Reform Law was passed.

The more radical of the Reformers felt that a new Clubhouse would be needed. The Whigs of the party met at The Westminster Club at 34 George Street, which was later renamed The Westminster Reform Club. The Westminster Reform Club closed 9th May 1838. The more radical MPs got together at the house of Edward Ellice MP and decided to create their own club, which would be called the Reform Club. They purchased 104 Pall Mall for £20,000 and adapted the houses for club use They employed Decimus Burton to design the changes needed. The doors of the Reform club opened 24th May 1836 with 998 members and a waiting list of 400 that had to be balloted. The dining room could only hold 50 diners. On the exit of M. Rotivan, which left the Reform Club without a resident chef, the members started to use the facilities of Horn’s Tavern nearby, where the landlord supplied the food for their various functions, however, the tavern could only seat three hundred guests. It quickly became apparent that 104 was going to be too small for their needs, so the Committee of the Reform Club decided to rebuild the Reform Club by demolishing the existing premises and having a new building designed and built. All the land for the Reform Club was actually owned by the Crown. They asked several architects to quote, All the architects’ designs were put up on the committee wall and the favourite one was awarded £100, this was Charles Barry, who had just finished the New Houses of Parliament. The building committee of the Reform awarded him the contract and the building contract went to Grissell & Peto, York Road, Lambeth, having just finished building St James Theatre. For the period of construction, the Reformers leased Gwydyr House- Now houses The British Government’s Welsh office – and moved into there 12th May 1838 until March 1841. In April the following advert was placed with the Chronicle, Globe and Carrier, simply saying “The Reform Club, 104 Pall Mall. The Club-house will be opened to the members on Tuesday 24th instant.” By its completion, the Reform club building had cost £84,042 plus Mr Barry’s bill of £3,393. Kitchen accoutrements accounted for £674 of that figure.

Alexis quickly established himself at the Reform Club. Members revelled in the food that their new cook was producing, delicacies beyond their imagination, entrees never heard of before. Soups that were out of this world, sauces so remarkable and too abundant to mention. Louis Ude’s often misquoted quotation sheds light on the English and their sauces, “It’s very remarkable that in France, where there is but one religion, the sauces are infinitely varied, whilst in England, the different sects are innumerable, there is we say only one sauce.”  Nobody but nobody produced desserts as Alexis presented them to the table. Alexis Soyer at the Reform quickly became the talk of London. Lady Blessington of Gore House, the leading society hostess of the day, said this of the Reform Club diners, that they “Prefer a well-dressed dinner to the best-dressed women of the world.” The Times said, “Alexis Soyer has taught people to dine, not to feed hunger.” The enfant terrible of Montmartre had conquered London; whereas up to this time Louis Ude was considered the King of gastronomic London and Alexis his Crown Prince. Ude was dethroned and Alexis succeeded to the title. However, one thing that Alexis had to be grateful to Ude was. Ude starting salary at Crockford’s was £1,200. This was to set a precedent for clubs that to get a very good French chef – they would have to pay.

On the 28th June 1838, the coronation of Queen Victoria took place and the Reform Club put on a grand breakfast for the same day. Alexis served ‘déjeuner à la fourchette.’ which consisted of : —

Bouillon Aux Œufs.

Epelons en Brouchelles.

Paté á la Muretiton.

Tenates Sculées.

Salade á la Jardiniére

Jambon á la Gélée.

Ponequets au Confiture

Fruits et Dessert.

He catered for the 500 club members and 800 guests – mainly ladies. Although it would be well over a century before the Reform Club accepted women as members in their own rights, it was one of the very first to welcome them as guests of members. As Queen Victoria was the first monarch to reside at Buckingham Palace, hers was the first royal coronation procession to leave from there on its way to Westminster Abbey. To enable a certain number of their guests to see the procession the committee arranged for scaffolding to be erected under the supervision of Mr Charles Barry in the front of Gwydyr House. This allowed up to six hundred ladies – men not allowed – to view the royal procession. In the adjoining garden to Gwydyr House, a bandstand was erected and Johann Strauss -the waltz king – and his ensemble played such overtures as Pré aux Clercs, La Banquet and his Die Khrohnung Waltzer. For this, he was paid the princely sum of £30. Such gaiety and merriment were had on that day. Lords, ladies and gentlemen celebrating, dancing in the gardens, a woman on the throne – a new era had started!

            This was the first time that Alexis had to cook for such many people. He was not only up to it, but he also excelled at it. Again, members and their guests were in full praise of the lunch they had been served. Newspapers such as The Illustrated London News and The Morning Chronicle carried reports the next day of the breakfast.  Alexis now had settled into his job as the chef of the Reform Club, a job he was to make his own for the next decade, where he would go from strength to strength. In Gastronomic Regenerator he described his work over a 10-month period. He cooked 25,000 dinners for Reform Club members. He cooked at 38 dinner parties which comprised 70,000 dishes, he also had to supply meals for 60 Reform Club servants and on top of that show 15,000 people around the Reform Club Kitchen. On top of this, he started a very lucrative business deal with Messers Crosse & Blackwell for them to market the various new sauces he created. [In my eBook ‘Alexis Soyer, The First Celebrity Chef’, I describe the Reform Club kitchens in some detail. For reference I used the information in Gastronomic Regenerator and the 4th March 1844 The Builder Newspaper]

During his tenure at the Reform Club received many platitudes, he came up with several inventions some still used today. I have added an image of the kitchen; the original was a metre long and used to be sold by the Reform Club. Alexis was allowed free range from Charles Barry in designing the kitchen. Alexis installed Gas cookers in the Reform Club kitchens, besides the normal fires for roasting meat. Alexis Soyer is accredited as the first person to use gas for cooking outside. He did this in Exeter in 1850. He installed the gas cookers in 1841, which was supplied by Smith & Philips, (This company did very well out of Alexis and one of the partners Charles Philips became a very good friend. He even named one of his son’s Alexis Soyer Philips, who unfortunately did not live up to the name Alexis Soyer in 1860 he was caught stealing 4 ounces of pearls from his employer and was sentenced to 3-months hard labour), who also built his Field Stoves used during the Crimean War. I am not sure if Gas Cookers where the first for Pall-Mall but using gas for street lighting was.

In 1850, Alexis Soyer left the Reform Club, his mentor Lord Marcus Hill wanted him to stay but recognized that Alexis needed to leave. During his time, he had upset committee members and ordinary members. At one time he was asked to leave but reinstated a few days later. Several members were glad to see him go as they did not like that Alexis was known as Alexis Soyer of the Reform Club. Some still considered Alexis as just a servant and that the Reform Club should have come first. During the 1850s Alexis concentrated on promoting his Magic Stove. However, in the 1851 census staying at Gore House (The previous home of Lady Blessington and Count d’Orsay, and the one-time home of William Wilberforce), were Alexis Soyer, Joseph Feeney and George Augusta Sala. The reason why Alexis had to turn down all offers of employment was that he had gone into partnership with Joseph Feeney and their plan was to open a spectacular restaurant alongside, The Great Exhibition. They leased Gore House and employed Sala to help them. The restaurant was going to be called Soyer’s Universal Symposium.