It all started with the dainty Maid of Honour cakes after which Newens is named.
According to legend, Henry VIII, King of England (1509-1547), came across Queen Anne Boleyn and her Maids of Honour (her young ladies in attendance), eating cakes from a silver dish. Tasting one for himself, the King was so delighted by its taste that he immediately confiscated the recipe and demanded it be kept secret in a locked iron box at Richmond Palace.
It is also believed that the unfortunate Maid who invented the cake was imprisoned within the Palace grounds and ordered to produce the delectable tarts solely for King Henry and his royal household!
The delicious cakes in question are now known as Maids of Honour.
They are scrumptiously sweet and yet slightly savoury, light and crisp yet unctuously soft in the middle. There’s simply nothing on the planet quite like them. What’s more it takes a careful combination of the finest ingredients and the lightest hand to make Maids of Honour – a knack perfected at Newens over two centuries.
By the 18th century the secret recipe had escaped from Henry Vlll’s clutches – getting as far as few miles away to a a bakery in Richmond where the tasty little cakes became one of the features of fashionable Richmond through that century and beyond.
The first Original Maids of Honour shop was on the corner of Hill Street in Richmond under the ownership of Mr John Billet and can be traced back to the early 19th century when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Here a young lad called Robert Newens served an apprenticeship and went on to open his own premises, first in King Street and later at No 3 George Street, and so the tradition of making and selling Maids of Honour in Richmond continued.
Robert Newens’ family helped build the business and in 1887, his son Alfred Nashbar Newens opened a brand new establishment on the Kew Road – exactly where Newens can be found today. Of course, the father passed the now secret family recipe on to his son and the Maids of Honour were served warm and delicious to the people of Kew – with a whole range of other baked goods on offer as well.
Alfred Newens died in 1927 leaving his business to be carried on by his son John and daughter Kathleen. But during World War II (1939-1945), the elegant early Victorian building that housed the bakery, shop and dining room suffered severe bomb damage and the future looked bleak.
A surveyor’s report from 1947 describes the site of the bakery as “little more than a pile of rubble, the baker’s oven a charred and blackened hulk at its centre”.
But the Dunkirk spirit was alive and well and the Original Maids of Honour had its own “miracle of deliverance” when John Newens’ son Peter left the army and with his family, set work to get the business back on its feet.
The bake house was rebuilt with new gas ovens installed, and the shop front was remodelled. In homage to the Tudor origins of the Original Maids of Honour, the new premises were designed with homely appeal in a distinctive Mock Tudor mix of painted pebbledash, red clay roof tiles, heavy timbering and casement windows –a truly fitting cake tribute to an odyssey of Tudor origin!
Visitors today to the Original Maids of Honour are greeted by this very same shop front, and since the 1940s the business has gone from strength to strength. And though its no longer run by the Newens family, little else has changed.
The Maids of Honour are still served warm from our ovens every day and the bakery provides a mouth-watering experience for any visitor in its huge variety of high quality homemade iced and plain cakes, meat pies, cream teas and traditional English luncheons.
And the Maids of Honour recipe?
That’s still a secret – one that’s safe with us for a good long time to come…But you’re welcome to come and enjoy one with a cup of tea with us whenever you are passing…