Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Illustrious History of the Craven Mixture

Of all the unusual connections to Ashdown House, the Craven tobacco mixture and the Craven A cigarette must surely be one of the strangest and most intriguing.

In its day the Craven Mixture, produced by the Carreras Tabacco Company, was world famous. The antecedents of the Carreras Tobacco Company business stem back into the eighteenth century (their products and advertising materials consistently bore the legend 'Established 1788'), and forebears of the family were Spanish apothecaries. The founder of the business was a Spanish nobleman, Don José Carreras Ferrer, who served with distinction in the Peninsular War and later established himself in London. He was a pioneer of cigar development and his son Don José Joaquin specialised in blending both tobacco and snuff.

As a supplier of tobacco to high society, Don José had many fashionable and distinguished customers, including George Grimston Craven, the 3rd Earl. George would frequent the Carreras store in Regent Street along with the rest of the rich and the fashionable. In 1860 Don José created the Craven Mixture especially for him. The blend spread in popularity throughout the world. It is no surprise that the Victorian wing additions to Ashdown House included a smoking room. This fits perfectly with the image of the 3rd Earl and his friends retiring after dinner to smoke their Craven Mixture!

The concept of the smoking room was quite a specific Victorian idea. Amongst other purposes, it was intended to restrict the smell of smoke to one room of the house since the smoke was considered to ruin the furnishings. Smoking rooms were frequently decorated in velvet - velvet drapes, velvet upholstery even velvet smoking jackets - as it was thought to absorb the smell. Smoking rooms also contributed to gender segregations since they were seen very much male preserves whilst the ladies spent the after dinner period in the drawing room. It would be interesting to know how the smoking room at Ashdown was decorated but whilst we have photographs of the drawing room none of the interior of the wings appear to exist.

Some of Don José's other tobacco brands also became world famous, including Guards' Mixture and

Hankey's Mixture. Over one thousand brands of cigar could be bought from Carreras, together with snuffs, cigarettes, pipes and all the usual requisites of the trade. After World War I Carreras developed the first machine made, cork tipped cigarettes and named them Craven A, a brand that also became a huge success and is still sold around the world today. When the renovations to the house took place in 2012 quite a few packets of Craven A were discovered, left by builders who had worked on the house in the past century.


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

What an interesting post, and how nice to have a Peninsular War connection, too.

Smoking rooms I have seen also usually have a prominent drinks table - and we're talking serious drunk: brandy, port and so on - manly stuff. I'm sure that Ashdown House would have had the same.

Helena said...

How interesting! I would never have made the connection between Craven A cigarettes (which I know of from reading books written in the first half of the twentieth century) and Ashdown House.

I think smoking rooms were a great idea if they resulted in no-one smoking anywhere else in the house, although I suspect that concept broke down when it became acceptable for women to smoke.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. That is very interesting about the drinks table! I can certainly visualise the smoking room at Ashdown House now even if we don't have a photographic record.

Nicola Cornick said...

I'm intrigued that Craven A cigarettes have featured in literature, Helena. Yes, I would imagine the idea of the smoking room became redundant when women started smoking, and Craven A were marketed to women in a big way too!