A leading light in London society…
Born in 1867, the fifth of nine children, Rosa wasn’t born into London society but certainly became a leading light in it with her skills for cooking and entertaining. After leaving school at 12 and becoming a general servant,she worked her way up through the hierarchy of domestic service eventually running the kitchens of the Duc d’Orleans at Sandhurst.
With her skills for producing a lighter French style of cooking, she soon became hugely popular with the society hostesses of the time and was invited to cook in fashionable private houses for dinner parties.
It was through her cooking that Rosa was linked to Edward VII. He so adored her food that tactful society hostesses employed her when entertaining him for over 20 years, making her services the height of fashion. This connection, and Rosa’s life, formed the outline of the popular 1970s BBC TV series ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’.
After marrying butler Chiney Lewis in 1893, the couple moved to Eaton Terrace and, in 1902, purchased the already fashionable Cavendish hotel. Here Rosa welcomed American millionaires and distinguished English families such as the Churchills, Asquiths and Saviles, many of whom she had worked for previously.
Rich and poor
With the outbreak of WW1, society entertaining came to an end and Rosa turned her attentions to welcoming impoverished military officers to the Cavendish. Her kind and tolerant nature never allowed them to pay and with her tactics of allowing rich guests to cover the costs of the poor, she managed to continue these charitable efforts until her death.
A gentle decline
With her faithful companion Edith Jeffrey, who had joined the hotel staff to help renovate fabrics but had then stayed on as a business and personal assistant and friend, Rosa continued to run the hotel in true Edwardian style between the wars and into a gentle decline. Rosa died in 1952 with the hotel being run for the following 10 years by Edith. Despite Rosa’s original hotel being demolished in 1964 to make way for the current building, a blue plaque commemorating her life and times is now displayed on the Jermyn Street entrance of The Cavendish London. A fitting memorial to a truly beautiful, warmhearted and original lady.