On both the small and silver screens, there’s a common representation of Victorian London as a place of abject poverty and squalor, populated by soot-covered urchins sent to work the second they could walk. There’s a truth in this, of course, but its only one side of the story. At the end of the nineteenth century was also a time of prosperity for the capital city. This growth gave the rise to the hospitality industry which the City remains famous for today. It was this which in turn led to the creation of another London institution, one whose renown continues to grow more than 100 years on: Westminster Kingsway College.
In the late 1880s, a group of prominent figures from the hospitality industry had joined together to form the Culinary School, later known as the Universal Cookery and Food Association (UCFA), still in existence today - but better known now as the Craft Guild of Chefs, who incidentally celebrate the history of the association through an annual innovative food event exclusively for chefs, named the Universal Cookery and Food Festival.
The founder of the association included Auguste Escoffier, the celebrated French chef who was widely regarded as the father of modern cooking for his time and Cesar Ritz, the Swiss hotelier whose grand establishments led to the coining of the term ‘ritzy’. Other members also included Isidore Salaman, then a chef at his family’s firm – J.Lyons and Co, Iwan Kriens, a Dutchman serving as chef at the Horward Hotel, and Swiss-born Charles Herman Senn, who was working at the Reform Club.
These men – titans of London’s ever-growing hospitality industry, were concerned about the lack of young people available to work in their establishments. While cooking was being taught in school at this time, it was invariably only to girls. The Universal Cookery and Food Association members were also worried about the content and quality of what was being taught; there wasn’t much in the way of established guidelines or syllabuses for the teachers to work from. However, and fortunately the association shared this concern with a partially influential and wealthy philanthropists, who shared a mutual passion for catering - ‘Baroness Burdett-Coutts’ who later became a patron of the UCFA along her husband William who acted as one of the associations most active presidents, whose investment into the transformation in the area around Vincent Square and partial influence provided a platform for boys to attend cookery classes, which later grew into and resulted directly in the launch of the National Training School of Cookery.
Due to the growth in demand from prospective students, on the 27th September 1910 the UCFA working in conjunction with London County Council (LLC) opened the doors of the School of Cookery at the Westminster Technical Institute, the first dedicated catering college in the country, now known today as Westminster Kingsway College. Over the past 100-years, Westminster Kingsway College has grown bigger and better than its founders could have ever anticipated and is known as one of the industry’s most prestigious catering colleges – which played a huge role in the development of some of the industries best known chefs such as Ainsley Harriot, Ben Murphy and Jamie Oliver to name but a few!