Nasir al-Din was Shah of Persia, now Iran, for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. He ruled as an absolute monarch but was evidently a cultivated man being a talented artist who also wrote poetry. Photography was another of the Shah’s interests and he had a studio fitted up in his palace. Consequently he was the first Shah to be photographed and we know, as a result, that he had a most impressive and luxuriant moustache. During his reign Nasir al-Din introduced several western institutions to his country, such as modern roads and a postal service, and he tried to curb the secular power of the Shia Islamic clergy. But his willingness to award financial and trading concessions to Europeans was resisted, and in particular his attempt to transfer the ownership of the Persian tobacco industry provoked a deeply hostile religious reaction. During the nineteenth century, as now in the twenty-first, there was a pan-Islamic movement in the middle east. I am not sure if this movement opposed all western influences, or was simply a reaction to British imperialism, but at all events one of its followers assassinated Nasir al-Din in 1896.
What, you may reasonably ask, has this exotic figure to do with Manningham? The fact is that the Shah made several visits to the west and during his last, in 1889, he visited the far from exotic Borough of Bradford. Such was the fame of Manningham Mills, then the largest silk mill in Europe, that the Shah wished to see it working with his own eyes. He had arrived in Britain on 1 July 1889 and initially stayed at Buckingham Palace as the honoured guest of Queen Victoria. He subsequently met the diplomatic corps, visited the City of London, inspected the Crystal Palace, and attended Kempton Park racecourse. The Shah’s lengthy journey north involved visits to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle where he was the guest of Lord Armstrong of Cragside, the armaments manufacturer. His last visit before his return south was to Bradford. He spent the night of 25 July staying here, in the Town Hall I believe, having enjoyed a banquet at the Victoria Hotel. On 27 July he left England from Cowes in the Royal yacht.
The successful visit to Manningham Mills was reported in the Leeds Mercury of 26 July 1889, and other daily newspapers. The Shah met the owner, Samuel Cunliffe Lister (later Lord Masham) and the two mill managers Jose Reixach and William Watson. He was also introduced to George Pepper, the mill engineer, which strongly suggests that the royal personage was interested in the mechanical aspects of textile production. The company’s 2000 hp horizontal engine (made by Pollitt & Wigzil) was a particular feature apparently. The Shah was conducted to the ‘sheds’ where silk combing took place, and to drawing, roving and spinning rooms. Rovings were the long bundles of parallel fibres produced prior to spinning. He also inspected plush weaving and finishing, and ended his visit in the velvet department. Pile fabrics like plush and velvet were the products for which Lister’s at Manningham Mill were most famous. At the end of his inspection the Shah was so tired that he had to omit a further planned visit to Salt’s Mill; whether this was the result of the complexity of silk weaving or the lavish refreshments provided is unrecorded. Whatever the reason I cannot imagine the management at Salts, great rivals of Lister’s, were best pleased.
Clearly the Shah did not lunch on pie and mushy peas, and remarkably a full luncheon menu survives from the occasion although I cannot guarantee the complete accuracy of the catering French. I will include the dishes now but I warn readers not to try all this at home.
Tortue Claire, Mulligatawny soup
Saumon, Curry, Filen de Soles, Normande
Oeufs, sauce chutney
Cotelettes d`Agneau, Pigeon, Natural
Ris de Veau, Macaroni
Pain de Levraut, Cailles a la Creole
Salad a la Russe
Poudin a la Royale, Gelée Moscovite, Crème a la Vanille, Glacée, Maraschino
A note is included on the original menu indicating ‘service à la Russe’. This simply means that the courses were brought one after another in essentially the modern fashion. The ‘French service’ involved bringing all the dishes in at once and letting participants help themselves. Note was evidently taken of the religious sensibilities of the distinguished guest. No pork is included in the menu, nor is alcohol mentioned. Today Bradford has a large Muslim population but in 1889 Muslims would have been rare visitors to Yorkshire; in fact the first mosque in Britain would only open in Liverpool later the same year.
The Bradford Industrial Museum has copies of a great deal of the Manningham Mills business correspondence from this period and consequently we know something of the background to the royal visit. In early July 1889 Sir Henry Mitchell and Mr William McGowen, Town Clerk, visited the mill. Mitchell was a textile manufacturer and educationalist and had been knighted two years earlier. He was a partner in A & S Henry & Co, textile manufacturers of Manchester, Bradford, Dundee and elsewhere; he also founded Bradford College. It seems that the two men came to the works to see for themselves the offices where the lunch for the Shah would take place. We know exactly where these were since William Watson subsequently wrote to one of his silk suppliers: ‘we shall have the Shah at Bradford next Thursday and through our works. It is already interfering seriously with the holidays etc. My office and the general office adjoining are to be turned into a luncheon room for this occasion’.
A fortnight later Watson arranged an appointment to see W Adolph Powolny. My trade directory studies indicate that Adolph Powolny (confectioner) had premises at 4 & 5, Bond Street, Leeds. By the 1920s there were Powolny Restaurants in Bond Street, Leeds and also Hull. Powolny must have supplied the made dishes for the luncheon; other retailers involved were J Lupton & sons, wine and cigar merchants, and Christopher Pratt, furniture supplier. A slight mystery is the name Hounam which is also associated with supplies for the lunch. There was a Thomas Hounam in contemporary Bradford who was a greengrocer, but seemingly in a small way of business. There was also a family of Sheffield cutlers called Hounam who might have supplied knives and forks I suppose. It is equally possible that I have misread the surname since the Victorian business hand is not always easily legible.
How much did the visit cost? In August 1889 Watson wrote to Lister saying that the ‘little bill’ is not yet complete: ‘Powolny’s, Lupton’s & Hounam’s accounts are in, but Pratt’s, although written to, have not attended to it yet.’ As a true Yorkshireman Watson was concerned that one of the suppliers might have overcharged by £3. A a few days later we have the final bill: Powolny’s £45, Lupton’s £11, Pratt’s £28.10.2d and Hounam’s £16. This gives a grand total of £108.10.2d. This may not seem a great deal but the lunch, for perhaps a dozen people, would have required the equivalent of a week’s wages for nearly one hundred Lister employees. Did the visit affect the people of Bradford in any way? Probably not. The Shah certainly met the mayor, William Moulson, and other local dignitaries. John Crossley, poet and composer, wrote a hymn recommending Christ and the Bible to the Shah without, I imagine, anticipating a great deal of success. At the time it was not all that uncommon for distinguished foreign visitors to visit British institutions. My wife’s great-great grandfather once showed Garibaldi round Woolwich Arsenal, but that is quite another story.