The history of the Montagu family and the humble sandwich

Karl Webb with the portrait of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich in Huntingdon Town Hall.

Karl Webb with the portrait of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich in Huntingdon Town Hall. - Credit: KARL WEBB

Huntingdon’s most famous son was Oliver Cromwell, but other personalities have been associated with our town.

The Montagu family, especially John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, who is credited as the inventor of the sandwich. 

The Montagu family have deep roots in Huntingdonshire, four have been mayor of Huntingdon: One a knight of the realm, two were viscounts, and the last was the 8th Earl of Sandwich.

Hinchingbrooke House was the family home, bought from Oliver Cromwell in the 1630s. 

During the Civil War, Edward Montagu served on the English Council of State and was General at Sea for the British Navy.

In 1660, he travelled to Holland with Samuel Pepys (another Huntingdon resident) onboard Oliver Cromwell’s Flagship, Naseby, to return King Charles II to the Throne. Montagu was created the 1st Earl of Sandwich as a reward for his service.  

The Montagu family had many naval ties throughout their history. In 1729, at the age of 10, John Montagu became the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

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He was educated at Eton and Cambridge then travelled the world for a few years before taking his seat in the House of Lords in 1739.

During the 1730s a fire destroyed Huntingdon’s Shire Hall. Lord Sandwich contributed to the new Town Hall which was built in 1745.  

Whilst working for the Admiralty, he was commissioned as a Colonel in the British Army; he fell ill and almost died, although no longer on active service, he remained in the Army on half pay.

Lord Sandwich was married and had one son, John, Viscount Hinchingbrooke. Lord Sandwich had a relationship with a singer, Martha Ray, and had five children with her.

Martha was murdered on the steps of the Royal Opera House, Covent Gardens by the rector of Wiveton, James Hackman. 

So, to the sandwich. Was the 4th Earl the creator? Lord Sandwich was a heavy gambler, he would often sit for hours at the gambling table.

To remain at the table, he would ask for some meat between two slices of bread so he could hold it easier and without a plate.

He would have seen food being held this way during his world travels including grilled pita breads and meats served in Greece and Turkey; but everyone started calling the snacks a ‘sandwich’ and it became popular with the upper classes at the time.

He may not have been the inventor, but the modern-day sandwich will forever be associated with Huntingdon’s 4th Earl of Sandwich.