The Man Behind The Magic: Bettys Tearooms
by Bettys, Dec 20
Bettys’ founder, Frederick Belmont, had a taste for the finer things in life. In his spare time, he engaged in the fashionable pursuits of a 1930s Englishman gentleman – taking up flying lessons as a hobby, travelling first class on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary, and collecting and commissioning art. And, of course, the legacy of his great love for fine food and drink lives on today.
But this life was not pre-destined. In fact, Frederick’s childhood was not easy. He lost his mother at the age of two and a mill fire claimed the life of his father three years later. At just five years old, he was separated from his sister and auctioned off to a farmer – who undertook to feed him, clothe him and send him to school, but also expected him to be a cheap source of labour for the farm.
While our archives tell us a great deal about what Frederick did when he came to Yorkshire, we don’t know how he felt during those early years. But it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to speculate that a childhood which was decidedly lacking in luxury might have kindled a few dreams of what the future may hold – and a young life filled with farm labour may have helped to forge the will to achieve it.
It certainly took determination to strike out alone, to train as a baker, confectioner and chocolatier in Switzerland and France. And then to cross the Channel and make a life in England.
Some year later, he wrote to his sister about the opening of the very first Bettys: ‘Opening day was July 17th 1919 and now came a time of “either or”, “sink or swim”. Here I now had a shop exquisitely fitted out, the showcases in precious wood, mirrors and glass on the walls, the café furnished in grey, with muted pink panels with old-silver borders, with old-silver electric candleholders in the centres. On the second floor is a beautifully furnished Smoking Room. The china is grey-blue (white inside), the coffee and teapots in heavy nickel silver. You can imagine what it all cost.’
Did the loneliness of growing up on that farm, as a child without a family, have any part to play in his later fondness not simply for enjoying the finer things, but also for sharing them?
We are in the realms of speculation once more, but if one thing defines Bettys, it is our enduring love of sharing of a little luxury with others. And our founder certainly created a sense of community around him, taking staff out on trips to the seaside and the Lake District – and to celebrate Bettys’ prosperity through the economic depression of the 1930s by declaring that each employee was individually responsible for the success of the firm.
On June 1, 1936, as Frederick Belmont looked out from the deck of the Queen Mary onto the skyline of New York, it’s rather lovely to think that he might have taken a moment to contemplate just how far his journey had brought him. From an orphaned farm labourer to the very height of luxury, able to live life at its most delicious.