When the sandwich nearly became the portsmouth

Bob Burn Murdoch, curator of the Norris Museum in St Ives, writes his history column for The Hunts Post - this week he takes a look at a lunchtime favourite.

THREE hundred and fifty years ago today was a busy time for one Huntingdonshire man.

Samuel Pepys went out early that Saturday morning – July 21, 1660 – to see a Mr Barlow about Pepys’s new job as clerk to the Navy Board.

Barlow also had a claim to the post, so Pepys needed to buy him off.

The two men drew up an agreement and Pepys took it away to be copied.

Then he went to the house of his friend and patron Edward Montagu, back to the clerks’ office to collect his copies and on to a nearby club for dinner and some singing.

He went home to write some letters, out to Whitehall on some business for Montagu and at last “so home and to bed”.

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Pepys loved bustling about, but today was more than usually important, not just for him but for English history and the English language.

At the time of that busy Saturday, Pepys wasn’t really sure that he wanted the Navy Board job.

But he soon settled into it and was later promoted to be Secretary to the Admiralty. He introduced measures to make naval officers more professional and persuaded Parliament to build more ships.

He is now recognised as an important pioneer of this country’s naval power. His agreement with Mr Barlow was the start of all that.

A more immediate concern on his visit to Whitehall that day was Montagu’s ennoblement.

Montagu was going to be created an Earl in return for his help in restoring Charles II to the throne a few months before.

So where should he be made the Earl of? As he lived at Hinchingbrooke House, the obvious choice would be Huntingdon – but someone was Earl of Huntingdon already.

Montagu held high rank in the Navy so he decided to become Earl of Portsmouth. Then he changed his mind and chose Sandwich – one of the Cinque Ports, with even older naval connections.

On July 26, the new Earl of Sandwich took his seat in the House of Lords.

You don’t need telling the implications.

A century later his descendant, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, had the idea of putting a slice of meat between two pieces of bread, and the original fast food was named after him.

If Edward Montagu hadn’t changed his mind 350 years ago we’d all be eating portsmouths instead of sandwiches!