The first Melbourne Cup was run on Thursday 7 November 1861 and won by the Sydney horse Archer. The Argus reported that ‘The refreshment booths drove a thriving trade throughout the day, and the refreshment rooms of the grand stand, where Messrs. Spiers and Pond were the caterers, were also largely patronized and the good things of their providing met with general approval.’
Spiers and Pond were noted caterers and event managers of their day. Both Felix William Spiers and Christopher Pond were English born. They met in Melbourne where, in 1851, they set up a restaurant called The Shakespeare Grill Room at the Melbourne National Hotel, catering for gold miners. Their expertise was not in cooking, but in management and self-promotion; Spiers was an accountant while Pond was the front-of-house host.
In 1857 Spiers and Pond acquired the lease to the Café de Paris at the Theatre Royale. British railway historian David Turner quotes an account of the day, by a Professor Anderson, describing the restaurant as follows:
‘Above the bars, and over the gateway you enter, is the Café de Paris, containing a salon, far superior in decoration and appointments to any I know of among the restaurants of London, and a coffee and smoking room fitted up with as much taste and elegance as you will meet in Paris…You may dine here in as much style as anywhere “at home,” and be served with a cut from a hot joint, just as at Simpson’s on the Strand.’
Catering for the Melbourne Cup was far from being the duo’s only project. They secured the contract to run refreshment rooms for the first Victorian government railways and catered for many other large scale events. Perhaps their most famous Australian venture was organising the first tour to Australia of a national English cricket team, in 1861. They were also involved with the first balloon flight in Australia.
Their success in ‘the colonies’ prompted Spiers and Pond to go on to bigger things. Returning to the UK in 1862, they pioneered railway catering in Britain. By 1867, they were operating 21 refreshment rooms, including 18 servicing the railways. They went on to open restaurants and many hotels throughout England. They diversified into general stores and even had a mail-order business.
The company was incorporated in the late 1870s, after Pond’s death. By 1891, Spiers and Pond employed 6000 people. Spiers died in 1911, but the company continued under its original name until 1957 when it was acquired by Chicken Inns and, in 1960, amalgamated with the Express Dairy Co. In 1969 it in turn was acquired by Grand Metropolitan Hotels.
Spiers & Pond were well-known for hiring attractive barmaids. No lesser writer than Charles Dickens described the women in their employ as “bright-eyed, cheerfully obliging nymphs”, whose beauty helped to draw in male patrons, while another writer pointed out their “fine physiques”. And W. S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, even penned a verse about the company and its rival, Bertram & Roberts.
Fanny & Jenny
by W. S. Gilbert
Fanny and Jenny in Paris did dwell,
Miss Jane was a dowdy, Miss Fanny a swell —
Each went for to dine at a quarter to four —
At her own little favourite Restauratore —
Fanny of Bertram and Roberts was fond,
While Jenny she worshipped her Spiers and Pond.
Fanny was pretty and piquante and pert,
Her manners were shortish and so was her skirt,
While Jenny the elder would make a man wince,
In a dress of the mode of a century since.
Bertram and Roberts’s Fanny was blonde,
And dark was the Jenny of Spiers and Pond.
Jane lived in a modest and lady-like way:
To Spiers and Pond she went every day,
She’d order up beef and potatoes as well,
And cut off the joint until senseless she fell:
(She fed herself daily all reason beyond
To gaze all the longer at Spiers and Pond.)
But Fanny, that frolicsome, frivolous maid
(Whose tastes were more airy than Jenny’s the staid),
To Bertram and Roberts would hie her away,
And swallow plum-pudding the rest of the day.
The best of her dresses Miss Fanny she donned
(As Jenny did also for Spiers and Pond).
The Restaurateurs didn’t seem for to care
For Jenny’s soft ogle or Fanny’s fond stare.
Said Jenny, “Don’t let us be taken aback,
We’re probably on an erroneous tack,
.And Bertram and Roberts of me may be fond,
While you are beloved by Spiers and Pond!”
“Oh, Bertram and R., are you dying for me,
Or am I the chosen of Spiers and P.?
Oh, which is the angel and fostering star
Of Spiers and P., or of Bertram and R.?
Which firm have I collared in Venus’s bond?
Say, Bertram and Roberts — speak, Spiers and Pond!
“Perhaps if you cannot completely agree
Which of you shall have Fanny and which shall have me,
And you wish for to go for to do what is right,
You will go to the Bois de Boulogne for to fight —
It’s the mode that is popular in the beau monde,—
Will Bertram and Roberts fight Spiers and Pond?”
But Spiers and Pond are but perishing clay,
So they gasped and they gurgled and fainted away —
The burden of Bertram and Roberts’s song
Was “Goodness! how shocking! Oh, please go along!
With neither for worlds would we ever abscond!“
And “Ditto for us,” exclaimed Spiers and Pond.
Said Fanny, “How bold, and how dreadfully rude!”
“Those men are too forward,” said Jenny the prude,
“Such youth and such beauty as both of us own
Are safe in the walls of a convent alone,
We shall there be the coarse persecutions beyond
Of Bertram and Roberts and Spiers and Pond.”