The Fourteenth Guest: Kaspar The Cat

Image via barchick.com

Image via barchick.com

Ah, the legends that surround the Savoy.

Built by Richard D’oyly Carte using the profits from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas on the site of the ancient house owned by the ruling monarch of Savoy, Count Humbert I of Sabaudia, Β it is unashamedly theatrical.

And technically brilliant, too. Opened in August 1889, Britain’s first luxury hotel had state-of-the-art touches like electric lights in every room, electric lifts and hot and cold running water.

Everyone has some anecdote or other about the place: Churchill dined there with his cabinet. The entrance to the Savoy is the only road in Britain where one simply must drive on the left. London taxis have an extraordinarily good turning circle; the acid test? They must be able to turn round the tight little curve of the entrance road opposite the Strand.

The lights outside used to be lit by the gas from the London sewers: one light, tucked down a side street, still runs on it.

But today’s story concerns luck. Ill luck; the kind of fortune which is said to dog a dinner at which 13 people are seated.

1898: and a diamond magnate, Woolf Joel, had booked a dinner for 14 at The Savoy when someone cancelled.

There was consternation. What could be done? And Joel scoffed at everyone’s superstitious anxiety, and they sat down and ate a hearty meal anyway.

A couple of weeks later, Joel was shot dead.

This was not good publicity for a plush London hotel. The story spread like wildfire. And the Savoy management realised that a system must be put in place to stop it happening again, at all costs.

Even if it meant sitting down with Staff. And so for almost 30 years, that is what happened. If a set of 13 guests were due to sit down at table, a member of staff would gamely join them.

But let’s face it, who wants a waiter sitting at table?

It fell to an artist to fashion a permanent answer. Basil Ionides, grandson of a Greek Ambassador and famous Art Deco proponent, redesigned the Savoy in the late 20s. And for tables of 13 he created the most glorious life-size sculpture of a cat, who was quickly named Kaspar.

Kaspar was briefly catnapped during the war, folklore has it, and flown to Singapore by mischievous RAF staff. And it was Churchill himself who, outraged, demanded tha cat’s return.

So; ever since, when a fourteenth guest drops out, there is no need to have a waiter at a guest’s table. And he’s a famous old soul. Michael Morpurgo even wrote a book about him.

Every time, Kaspar saves the day.

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36 thoughts on “The Fourteenth Guest: Kaspar The Cat

  1. One instance where fact is definitely stranger than fiction: you couldn’t make it up because nobody would believe it.

    And superstition is always stranger than common sense.

  2. Purrfect! Thirteen has always been the luckiest number for me . . . but I’d still allow Kaspar to pull up a chair at the Savoy to join my dinner party.

  3. When I think of Casper (not Kasper), it’s the friendly ghost. In your story’s case, Kasper is the friendly cat who saves the day … and maybe a few lives.

    Some are so superstitious that hotels avoid having a 13th floor. So the Savoy was wise to add a precaution and a guest that didn’t eat too much or interrupt the flow of conversation. πŸ™‚

  4. Here in NYC, buildings often go from the 12th to the 14th floor. I suppose architects are not inclined to build entire floors where only Kaspar resides. Back to the Savoy story, the fact that he was shot dead weeks after the dinner party strikes me as an unrelated event. Had he been shot dead the night of the dinner party, that would have been freakier to me.

    1. These very well heeled types are a highly strung lot, Lame. Inventing ghost floors, putting two and two together to make five – it’s all in a day’s leisure to them.

  5. What a fabulously clever solution to the problem. I love the notion that Churchill himself demanded Kaspar’s return. I am so amused at the previous solution of seating some poor waiter at the table with 13 guests, all unfamiliar to him, and he to them. Rather awkward, but I presume if the intention was life-saving everyone played along. Such a great story, Kate.

  6. Actually they drive on the right side on the Savoy road. That’s what makes it unusual because the rest of London drive on the left.

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