Friday, 2 January 2015

Barbe Maria Theresa Sangiorgi (1834-1893), Brompton Cemetery

“Sculptural interest: a marble tomb featuring a sculpture of a youth strewing flowers on the grave, finely sculpted in a dramatic and emotive fin-de-siècle style rarely seen in English cemeteries * Historic interest: the portrait medallion and the wording of the dedication, as well as the style of the monument itself, express the Italian identity of those commemorated and reflect the cosmopolitan character of late-C19 London….The monument would not look out of place in the famous Cimitero Monumentale Di Staglieno in Genoa, but it is highly unusual in an English context.”

Barbe Maria Theresa Sangiorgi was the widow of Auguste Kettner a Frenchman who allegedly had been Napoleon III’s chef during the second empire (but before the Emperor was forced to live in exile in the suburbs of south-east London at Chislehurst).   In 1867 Kettner opened a modest restaurant in what was then Church Street (now Romilly Street) in Soho.  According to Nathaniel Newnham-Davis in his “Gourmet’s Guide to London” (1914), it “was the first small restaurant that dared to show its kitchen to all comers at a time when the kitchens of most foreign restaurants were places of horror.” The restaurant was discovered and publicised by a correspondent of The Times and became successful enough for Kettner to expand by leasing 3 neighbouring properties and knocking down party walls to create a large public dining area and converting the upstairs into private dining rooms.  “In 1877 two events of great importance to M. Kettner happened,” says Newnham-Davis, “he wrote his ‘Book of the Table’ and he died….”  Kettner’s ‘Book of the Table’ was in fact written by the journalist Eneas Sweetland Dallas with Kettner’s name used as a marketing device.  The name of the restaurant was so established that there was no question of changing it following Kettner’s death; in fact it is still open today, at the same address under the same name.  

Barbe Kettner seems to have continued running the business alone following her husbands death but “when her days of mourning had passed,“ says Newnham-Davis, she “married M.  Giovanni Sangiorgi, who became her partner in the business, a kindly man who keeps a watchful eye on the restaurant.”  The couple married in Edmonton in April 1880.

Giovanni was, according to his naturalisation certificate of 1883 a “native of Imola in the Kingdom of Italy, of the age of 34 years, a Restaurant keeper and is married but has no children.” Giovanni would have been 31 at the time of the wedding, Theresa a wealthy widow of 46 so it is perhaps not surprising there were no children.  By the time of the 1891 census the couple were living in Church Street with Giovanni’s aged parents and his younger sister Giacomina.


Barbe died in 1893 leaving a fortune of £10, 431 7 shillings and 6 pence solely to her husband. The restaurant received a good deal of unexpected publicity in 1895 at the trials of Oscar Wilde. Kettner’s was a favourite restaurant of Wilde’s and he frequently entertained friends and acquaintances in the private dining rooms on the first floor. These friends were often good looking young men, and included Bosie, Alfred Taylor (who was convicted of sodomy along with Wilde and sentenced to two years hard labour), the Parker brothers, William and Charles (who were male prostitutes), and Sidney Mavor (who may also not have been averse to charging for his favours at the time but later became a C of E clergyman). Any notoriety seems to have only added to the allure of Kettner’s and it continued to do very good business and attract a very exclusive clientele including Edward, Prince of Wales, who entertained Lillie Langtry in another pf the first floor private dining rooms.  In 1897 Giovanni made the shrewd business move of forming a company to control the restaurant and floating it on the stock exchange. The adverts for the stock release show that the owners of the company hoped to raise £50,000 in £1 shares and £30,000 in debentures which would have released very tidy sum in ready cash to Giovanni. He died at the age of 62 on May 10, 1909. His body was shipped to Lugano in Italian speaking Switzerland for interment but his sister Giacomina added his details to Barbe’s monument even though he had chosen not to be buried with her.  

1930's advert for Kettner's.

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