Rosa <I>Ovenden</I> Lewis

Rosa Ovenden Lewis

Leyton, London Borough of Waltham Forest, Greater London, England
Death 28 Nov 1952 (aged 85)
London, City of London, Greater London, England
Burial Putney Vale, London Borough of Wandsworth, Greater London, England
Memorial ID 6325393 · View Source
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Businesswoman. She gained international notoriety as being the proprietress of the fashionable Cavendish Hotel, located at the corner of Jermyn Street and Duke Street in London, during Edwardian England. From 1976 to 1977, her life story was made as a BBC television series, “The Duchess of Duke Street,” with actress Gemma Jones playing her role. She was one of nine children of a family who lived in poverty, and at the age of twelve, she was going to be sent to the “workhouse” to help her family. As an improvement of being in the workhouse, she went into service as a maid scrubbing floors for pennies and by the age of sixteen, had graduated to the position of cook. This was the first step which led to her becoming known years later as the “Queen of Cooks” for many wealthy, high society families of the time. As an assistant in training, she worked with the chefs of European royalty learning the ways of French cooking. The Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII of England, was very impressed with her cooking, thanking her publicly in person after a dinner, which was a stamp of approval to society for her cooking. She and the Prince of Wales became close friends and rumors of a romantic affair started to circulate. To stop these rumors, she married a butler in June of 1893 named Excelsior Tyrel Chiney Lewis, but this marriage of convenience was resolved in 1904 with a complaint against him and her sister, Laura, for mishandling the hotel's funds. He had become a mean and jealous alcoholic. Although no documentation of an actual divorce, she stepped out of her kitchen, once her marriage was over, to manage the hotel bringing the business out of debt, obtaining surrounding properties, and expanding to a 100-room hotel, which had a private entrance for the King of England. According to the hotel's current pamphlet, she was given “a revised lease in 1911 providing she spent £5000 on improvements.” As a perfect hostess, she greeted her clientele with charming humor and a gracious smile. With her career and fortune established, she dressed in beautiful gowns, which were often complemented by jewelry given to her by King Edward VII. After the death of Edward VII in 1910 and the start of World War I, the country was no longer partying at her hotel, thus the hotel suffered financially. One of her earlier admirers had been Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who had given her a portrait of himself; she hung the portrait upside down in the men's toilet during World War I. At the war's end, she opened the hotel as an aide station to returning veterans at no cost. At the age of sixty in 1927, she traveled to New York City to cook in the finest hotels and gave interviews about her famous hotel and guests along with cooking advice, but never betraying her relationship with Edward VII. Upon returning to London, her hotel was once again famous and busy. During World War II in 1941, she was nearly killed when a Nazi bomb was dropped on her hotel destroying the front of the building along with many bottles of priceless French champagne. In 1944 after a stroke, her health began to decline causing her to stay in a nursing home for a time. She returned to the hotel where she was nursed by her trusted friend of thirty years Edith Jeffery. After Lewis' death, Jeffery continued to managed the hotel for a total of ten years until her death; Jeffrey was buried in Lewis' grave plot. At this point, the hotel closed in 1962 as the building was in decline. The hotel building was sold, demolished, rebuilt and reopened in July of 1966. Although the new building has modern conveniences and windows with beautiful views of the City of London, it lacked the grand appearance as in Lewis' day. On November 16, 2006 Gemma Jones unveiled near the entrance of the hotel a Westminster City Council's Commemorative Green Plaque in honor of Rosa Lewis, a rags to riches heroine. Besides the television series, her life story was told in the 1979 book “Rosa Lewis: An Exceptional Edwardian” by Anthony Masters and the 1967 book “The Duchess of Jermyn Street: The Life and Good Times of Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel” by Daphne Fieldings, which is a collector's item at over $800 per hard copy. In an era before women's liberation, she made a fortune as an independent businesswoman.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Iain MacFarlaine
  • Added: 5 Apr 2002
  • Find a Grave Memorial 6325393
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Rosa Ovenden Lewis (26 Sep 1867–28 Nov 1952), Find a Grave Memorial no. 6325393, citing Putney Vale Cemetery and Crematorium, Putney Vale, London Borough of Wandsworth, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .