Lady Swaythling and The IW&FS

(Originally appeared in Wine, Food & Friends, Issue # 102, Summer 2012)

The Dowager Lady Swaythling OBE (1879-1965) was a key member of André Simon’s inner circle and played an important role in the founding of The International Wine & Food Society.

Simon himself wrote that “the Society was born at the hospitable board of Lady Swaythling on October 20, 1933. Another ‘Memorable Meal’ was at 28 Kensington Court. In the days of long ago, when I was President of the Alliance Française in Great Britain, Lady Swaythling had been President of the Southampton Branch of the Alliance, and my wife and I had been the guests of Lord and Lady Swaythling when we visited Southampton: we had been friends ever since. This particular meal was as usual when Mrs. Hines was the genius presiding over the Swaythling kitchen, both excellent and original.

“The fare: Crème forestière: (fresh mushrooms from Hampshire fields and fresh cream from the Swaythling dairy); Pilaff de Truite: (shredded trout, rice, egg yolks, salmon roe and a little homemade chutney); Faisan en Cocotte Bruxelloise: (served in the very peculiar Cocotte in which it was cooked, a pan with a raised "crown" making a kind of "pit" in the centre for the bird and, of course, all the gravy); Choux de Bruxelles en Purée, Pommes Purée: (served in chou paste topped with cream); Aubergines et Piments doux; Salade d'Endive; Pommes au four fourrées de dattes et de figues; Petits Pots de Crème au Café et au Chocolat; Plateau de Fromages; Café.

“The wines: An old Oloroso with the soup; (a glass of cold water with the fish); Château Lafite 1920; Tawny Port; Hine's 1840 Grande Champagne.

“One of our fellow guests was Professor Henry E. Armstrong....When I explained what both A.J.A. Symons and I had in mind and the kind of Society which we hoped to start very soon, Professor Armstrong was so enthusiastic and so loud in his support of the idea that I asked him and our hostess, Lady Swaythling, if
they would be members of the committee, and both agreed immediately and with far more obvious gusto than I had ever hoped for."

"Lady Swaythling and Professor Armstrong were the first two members of our Advisory Council...." Other original members were Maurice Healy and Sir Francis Colchester-Wemyss. “[D]uring the early years of the Society’s existence many of the Committee meetings were held at her Kensington house. She was the only member of the Society whose son and grandson were members and whose first great-grandson was made a life member at birth.”

Lady Swaythling was born Gladys Helen Rachel Goldsmid in 1879. Upon her death in 1965, Simon wrote in her Memoriam that she was “one of the most charming and well-beloved figures on the London social stage. She was petite and pretty; she looked frail but she was remarkably tough and tireless, supremely free from fear of danger or gossip.” In addition to her contributions to the Society, he noted “her many good deeds, her war and post-war activities and achievements, [and] her life-long friendship with Queen Mary.”

Simon concluded: “No words could give a better image of Lady Swaythling’s sweet nature than her own words, written at the beginning of her last illness: ‘I wish to slip away when my time comes—no flowers and minimum of fuss, and no memorial service. I am deeply grateful for a wonderful life—a life so full as to be almost overwhelming. Words cannot describe what I owe to the love surrounding me. God bless all!’”