When John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, ordered beef served between slices of bread about 250 years ago he probably did not think his request would become a global convenience meal.
The story goes that the Earl asked for the particular serving so that he could eat while continuing to play cards and his friends asked “to have the same as Sandwich”, according to the British Sandwich Association.
The first written record of the sandwich was in 1762 and the Kent town of Sandwich, which is the earldom of the Montagu family, is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the meal.
Sir Edward Montagu, a prominent naval commander, became the first Earl of Sandwich when he was offered a peerage in 1660.
Steve Laslett, one of the organisers of the Sandwich Celebration Festival, said Sir Edward Montagu chose the title because “at the time Sandwich was the premier sea port in England”.
“When he was offered the earldom he could have chosen Portsmouth but he chose Sandwich – today we could be eating a Portsmouth.”
Mr Laslett added: “The fourth Earl was a complex character.
“He’s First Lord of the Admiralty three times but he was a bit of a lad and he did stay up all night playing cards on many occasions.”
Foodsmith Sam Bompas said the Earl of Sandwich was eating with his fingers “when cutlery was de rigueur”.
Eating of record at the time was service á la française where all the food went on the table at the same time and there was an elaborate ritual of carving, aided by troops of servants,” said Mr Bompas.
“What you have with the sandwich is the shock of informality. He was a daring man to eat in such a way coming from his social background.”
Mr Bompas added that he found it odd that the sandwich did not exist before the Earl of Sandwich ordered meat between slices of bread.
“Other people were probably eating in that way anyway but they were people who weren’t written about,” he said.
Over the weekend the east Kent town hosts sandwich-making competitions and re-enactments of the moment the fourth Earl of Sandwich asked for the food in bread.
Sandwich Celebration Festival organiser Mandy Wilkins said it had had interest from around the world, including America, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France and Russia.
Ms Wilkins said: “The sandwich is a global food and Sandwich, our town, is just a little town full of medieval buildings.
“It’s bizarre that such an important food item should be named after us.”f
Americans are celebrating “the sandwich” in typical fashion:
On Sunday the 11th Earl of Sandwich, who shares his name with the fourth Earl after which the sandwich is said to be named, hosts a lunch in Sandwich.
John Montagu said: “I am delighted to wish a happy 250th birthday to the sandwich.
“My ancestor, the 4th Earl, could never have imagined that his simple invention would spawn a multi-billion dollar industry, employing hundreds of thousands of people in this country.”
According to the British Sandwich Association the industry employs more than 300,000 people in the UK and has a commercial value of over £6bn.
Lord Montagu added: “My favourite sandwich is a traditional one: roast beef and hot horseradish on freshly baked bread.”