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A guest post by Dr Anne Samson, London Historians Member.

your-country-needs-youThe name Kitchener does not tend to trigger thoughts of London. Invariably, it’s the poster “Your country needs you” which comes to mind or the Second Anglo-Boer (South African) war of 1899-1902 with concentration camps and farm burning in South Africa or Kitchener’s New Armies and the First World War.

Despite Horatio Kitchener only being in the UK a total of 12 out of his 65 years (he was 19 days short of 66 when he died), London played a central role in his military career. Unfortunately, he never kept a diary so we have no idea what he thought of the city but through the memories of others we know he had his special haunts.

It appears that his first visit to London was at the tender age of 17 to complete his crammers to get into Woolwich military academy as a Royal Engineer. Before that he had spent time in Ireland where he was born in 1850 and then in Switzerland where the family moved due to his mother’s ill health. Between 1867 and December 1870, Kitchener was in Kensington and Woolwich. He later stayed in Kensington Square at the house of Reverend George Frost where he and Claude Conder studied Hebrew together for their work with the Palestine Exploration Fund. Kitchener was to speak multiple languages: English, French, German, Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish and Hindi, although he never used the last publicly.

In 1871, after a stint in France where he participated in the Franco-Prussian war, Kitchener went to Chatham and in 1874 was posted to Aldershot. Who he stayed with in October 1875 when he was recovering from an injury obtained in Palestine is not known but a year later he attended the Royal Albert Hall with Conder and had his book on Photographs of Biblical Sites published. Kitchener apparently had been appointed to the Palestine project because of his photography skills.

During holidays he would either visit a site where there was conflict to observe or return to London where he stayed with his father in London – address unknown. It was later, on a visit to their father’s flat that Kitchener’s younger brother found him sitting cross-legged on cushions on the floor as he’d learnt living with the locals in the desert. These early visits would also entail meetings at the then South Kensington Museum (today the V&A) and the British Museum regarding his work in Palestine and Cyprus, both of which he mapped.

It was only after his move to Egypt that his circle of friends and acquaintances widened. This came about following the death of Herbert Stewart who was a friend of journalist and MP Pandeli Ralli who wrote to Kitchener looking for information. This led to a lifelong friendship and Ralli becoming one of Kitchener’s mentors and his flat the social headquarters for Kitchener including during the First World War. In July 1885 Kitchener is recorded as staying with Ralli in the latter’s London flat, 17 Belgrave Square, for the first time. By now his father had moved into The Manor in Cossington, Leicestershire, where he would eventually die, Kitchener at his bedside. The same visit in 1885 saw Kitchener start his association and later friendship with the Royal family. On this occasion he met with Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

His next visit to England in 1888 saw him stay with the then Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire and him being made an Aide de Camp to Queen Victoria. In 1893, he was awarded his KCMG for his work in Egypt and had his first recorded meeting at the War Office. It appears from later correspondence that soldiers of rank on leave home invariably stopped by the War Office for various reasons. On 21 July 1894 on a similar visit to the War Office, Kitchener had an impression of his palm made by Cheiro, a palm reader who recorded that ‘One of [Kitchener’s] greatest qualities, […] is his accessibility. Anybody who has anything to say to him can approach him; anybody who has anything to teach him will find a ready and grateful learner.’ It may have been during this same visit in 1894 that he had dinner with Lord Curzon at the Savoy hotel, although Charles Vere Townsend suggests it was the following year. This meeting would culminate in Kitchener and Curzon working together in India with Kitchener as Commander in Chief of the Indian Army and Curzon as Viceroy until 1905 when the latter resigned after an acrimonious fallout with the former over army reform. The Pinafore Room at the Savoy was where The Other Club met; a club founded by Winston Churchill and FE Smith. Kitchener was a member as he was ‘in the chair’ on 6 August 1914 using the opportunity to appoint Lord Riddell of the Daily Mail as war time censor.

In 1896, Kitchener made a sudden unplanned visit to London to convince the Treasury to fund what became known as the River War. In this he was successful, also fitting in lunch with the Queen on two occasions in 1898, at Windsor and Balmoral. This year, 1898, was to see him attend a performance at the Gaity Theatre and obtain the Freedom of London at the Guidhall and attend a dinner at the Mansion House as part of a whirlwind tour of the country being awarded honorary doctorates and freedoms of cities. He also launched the Gordon College Fund which was later to build the Gordon Memorial College in Egypt, now part of the University of Cairo. From then until July 1902, Kitchener did not visit England, being in Egypt and then joining Lord Roberts to fight the Boers in southern Africa.

ettie and julian

Ettie and Julian Desborough.

Although Kitchener is recorded as staying with Salisbury at Hatfield House and later Lord and Lady Desborough at Tapworth, Hertfordshire, he no doubt also visited them at their London residences as noted in a letter to Ettie Desborough on having confused his diary as his time in India was coming to an end. If he could not meet her in the country, perhaps they could have dinner in London if their dates coincided. Salisbury’s London residence was at 21 Fitzroy Square while it appears that the Desboroughs were at 4 St James’ Square which is where their son Julian was born. Julian, a poet killed during the First World War, was a godchild of Kitchener’s and was the only person whose photograph adorned Kitchener’s desk while he was Secretary of State for War. Lord Desborough had been one of the leading organisers of the 1908 London Olympics held in White City.

It is also most likely that during these years, Kitchener visited the Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, then the home of the Freemasons. The current Grand Temple next door to the Connaught Rooms was only completed in 1927, eleven years after Kitchener’s death. Kitchener had become a Freemason in Egypt in 1883. In 1886, he became a founding member of Drury Lane Lodge, the Freemasons’ lodge for actors, although he was not physically in the country to complete the paperwork. He attended his first meeting at the lodge in 1898. In 1887, he was appointed Junior Grand Warden of England and Grand Scribe Nehemiah of the Supreme Grand Chapter of England whilst on a visit to the UK.

Kitchener’s link with the Drury Lane Theatre dated to 1885 when he was invited to a rehearsal of the play Human Nature by Arthur Harris. The theatre had been fittingly decked out in prizes of war sent by Kitchener from the Sudan, a prize being some carpet rescued from Gordon’s palace in Khartoum. Accounts suggest that Kitchener objected to the way a battle scene was being portrayed with the result that Harris told him ‘to tell ’em what to do’.

From July to October 1902 he was in London between visits to friends in other parts of the country before taking up his position in India, not returning the UK until 1910. He left India on 9 September 1907 following which he undertook a worldwide tour to China, Japan, New Zealand and America arriving in London on 7 April 1910.

NPG x35370; Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum by Bassano

Kitchener in his pomp, 1910, aged 60, by Bassano. NPG, London.

During this time he applied to become Viceroy of India having turned down the Governorship of the Mediterranean but when Edward VII died on 6 May 1910, Kitchener found himself unemployed; the result of his having fallen foul of the Liberal government from his days in South Africa. However, following South African Prime Minister Louis Botha’s comments in 1909 to then British Prime Minister Asquith about Kitchener being unemployed, the latter was offered a position on the Committee for Imperial Defence in 1910.
Being unemployed, Kitchener took a trip to Africa where he bought a coffee farm in today’s Kenya while Ettie Desborough helped him find Broome House in Canterbury, England. The idea was that these would become his summer and winter residences. He was recalled to England to arrange the procession for the coronation of George V, this being the first time public security measures were introduced. Kitchener is recorded as having arranged tickets for Lady Layard to be present on the Peers’ stand outside Westminster Abbey to watch the proceedings. He had dinner with her and others on 11 June, the eve of the coronation, at 3 Savile Row, three months after lunching with her and the Kaiser at her house in Venice. Lady Layard’s husband Austen had excavated Assyria in the 1850s and was British Ambassador to Turkey in 1880 when Kitchener was at Kastamanu as Consul. Layard had also been one of the founding funders of the Palestine Exploration Fund whose records are at the British Museum, as are numerous items excavated by Kitchener during his time in the Middle East and Cyprus.


Broome House, near Canterbury.

Not long after the coronation, Kitchener left England again to take up position as Agent General in Egypt, his second choice to being Viceroy of India. Here he entertained many friends with whom he stayed in London and elsewhere on his visits. Many who became close friends had connections with Egypt in particular. For example, from 1898, one of Kitchener’s first social visits on return to London would be at 2 Richmond Terrace, Whitehall, the tearoom of Gertrude Tennant (1819-1918), mother-in-law of Henry Morton Stanley whom Kitchener had met at a dinner in Cairo after Stanley’s rescue of Emin Pasha in 1889. Lady Wantage, who made her home at 2 Carlton Gardens available to Kitchener when he was appointed Secretary of State for War in August 1914, had with her husband organised Red Cross Society assistance in Egypt for the British forces being evacuated from Sudan in 1897. She offered Kitchener her house until March 1915 so that he would not have to walk too far to his office at the War Office. Her offer had been made at the time it was thought the war would be over by Christmas 1914. With Kitchener facing homelessness, the Lord Chamberlain suggested York House at St James’ Palace be made available to Kitchener as a ‘grace and favour’ home which it was. Soon after he moved in, the King and Queen, personal friends, visited for tea. This arrangement allowed the two friends to see each other easily and if a visit was not possible, Kitchener phoned the King with news. Kitchener was also a regular diner at 10 Downing Street whilst Asquith was Prime Minister.

catherine walters bp

Courtesy LondonRemembers.com

One person who did not seem to have an Egyptian connection with whom he was good friends, was Catherine Walters (1839-1920), more commonly known as Skittles. She lived at 15 South Street, Mayfair which backs onto Hyde Park. During the First World War, Kitchener had been seen to push her bath chair through the park, their friendship either dating to their corresponding time (just) in France or more likely due to their common friendship with Edward, Prince of Wales.

Kitchener had planned never to spend a winter in England. However, the outbreak of war, as his visit to England in 1914 was coming to an end, saw that plan fail. The war was to result in his longest stay in England, most of it in London after he was convinced to take on the mantle of Secretary of State for War whilst remaining a serving soldier. Kitchener made his first visit to Broome after the outbreak of war on 28 August 1914 once things had settled down a bit. After realising that things did not collapse at the War Office, he began a regular visit to his country home overnight on a Saturday to recharge his batteries. He spent his last weekend at Broome, as usual in the warden’s cottage, the interior of the house being completed that visit. Before this final trip to Broome, Kitchener’s last public appearance in London (British Pathe) was on 14 May 1916 before he went to France. Having returned from there where he saw the 29th Division on its return from Gallipoli, on 2 June he met the House of Commons in secret session and saw some religious ministers about conscientious objectors before having his final meal at Rosa Lewis’ hotel, The Cavendish on the corner of Jermain and Duke Streets.

rosa lewis plaque

Courtesy LondonRemembers.com.

She recorded that Kitchener preferred geranium and sweet pea arrangements on the table as you could talk over them and that he was married to his country. Following his final meal at The Cavendish, Kitchener made his usual trip to Broome for the weekend. On the Sunday night he returned to London to change before heading to King’s Cross Station. Travelling at speed in the rain, as he had only allowed two hours for the journey from Broome to London, the car spun dangerously on turning from Vauxhall Bridge into Rochester Row. Having arrived safely at King’s Cross Station, Kitchener left for Orkney where he boarded the HMS Hampshire which was to hit a mine and sink with the loss of all but 12 lives on 5 June 1916, including Kitchener.

Kitchener’s body was never recovered but his connection with London did not end as there was a memorial service for him at St Paul’s Cathedral and later in 1925 an effigy (sculpted by Dick Reid) of him was placed in All Soul’s Chapel at the Cathedral. Monuments were erected in his memory and honour at Horse Guards (designed by John Tweed) in 1926, the House of Commons commemorating his meeting with them on 2 June and the Peers’ Recording Angel Memorial. The first memorial for the Great War seems to be that erected in 1916 at St Botolph’s without Bishopsgate in memory of Kitchener. Pathe recorded the unveiling. In addition, the Kitchener Scholars Association was formed which in 2019 had its AGM at the London Guildhall. The Kitchener Fund, set up in the immediate aftermath of his death made its first award in December 1916 to a Mr A Day, late Royal Fusiliers who had been injured at Gallipoli. Mr Day of Poplar, London, was awarded a donkey and cart to help set him up in business. In 1918, the Kitchener Memorial Home for Boys was opened at 122 Hillfield Avenue, Hornsey. There is another memorial of Kitchener at 4 Knightsbridge dating back to 1905, which along with the five other busts suggests recognition of Britain’s defeat of the Boers.

There have been other Kitchener connections with London. Kitchener’s links with the other Lord Kitchener who visited London in 1948 have not been traced. The link between Horatio, Lord Kitchener and the Calypso singer, Aldwyn Roberts (1922-2000) also known as Lord Kitchener, could either be the result of the first Lord Kitchener’s military achievements, other similar calypso singers of the time being called Lord Roberts and Lord French, or due to the work his brothers, Henry and Frederick, achieved in the Caribbean. The former was an officer of the West Indian Regiment retiring in Bermuda in 1903 before being recalled to the colours in 1914 to serve in East Africa, while Frederick was Governor of Jamaica until his death from appendicitis in 1912. Lord Kitchener, the singer, had a famous song “London is the place for me” which he sang at the Tilbury Docks (video) on the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush.

Finally, there was I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet. During the 1960s this was a clothing boutique at 293 Portobello Road and Soho which sold old military outfits, while the New Vaudeville Band (Youtube) had a song with the same title released on 1 January 1967.


Lord Kitchener’s Tomb, St Pau’s Cathedral.

No doubt there are more places in London associated with Lord Kitchener than touched on here but what this does show is that the man so often thought of as only a soldier, or poster image, was far more – he was a socialite, albeit a shy one unless he was with close friends of whom he had a few.

Dr Anne Samson’s biography Kitchener: the man not the myth was published by Helion in February 2020. It does not consider his military exploits but rather explores who the man was and how he came to be Secretary of State for War in 1914. The above article expands on information in the book.


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