One lesser known fact about Edward VII was that he was something of a trend-setter and “invented” the trouser turn-up.
For many years it had been common practice to fold up the hems of a pair of trousers when walking across muddy ground, and then turn them back down afterwards, but Edward, as Prince of Wales, decided to have his in a permanent, fixed turn-up. Keen to emulate the fashion sensibilities of the Prince, the British public took to the new trend, and the turn-up was born. It has since fallen in and out of fashion over the years, with the obvious disadvantage of being something of a dust collector. As a child I once dropped a pound coin when paying for a sandwich, could not find it on the ground anywhere, until I eventually found it later in the day, lodged in a turn-up.
Doubtless Edward had little intention of inventing a new fashion and was merely looking for a convenient solution to a problem. History has seen many such accidental inventions. Sweeteners were discovered by a chemist forgetting to wash his hands after an experiment, before stopping to eat his unusually sweet-tasting lunch. The microwave oven was invented after an engineer conducting radar-related research noticed a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. The slinky, that springy toy that so magnificently occupies children’s time watching it spring its way down the stairs, was invented when a naval engineer accidentally dropped a spring.
In 1853 a chef named George Crum was working at the Cary Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York. A difficult customer kept sending his French fries back to the chef, complaining that they were not sufficiently thin and crispy. In exasperation, Crum sliced some potatoes as ridiculously thin as he possibly could, to make a point and expecting the customer to dislike them, but much to his surprise the man loved his ultra-thin French fries. Whilst potato “shavings” were included in cookery books as early as the 1830s, there is no doubt that Crum popularised the snack and could claim to be the inventor of crisps. He subsequently made such a success of his crisps that he was able to open his own lakeside restaurant, with a basket of crisps on every table.
The article above was first printed in Envoy, the magazine of Midhurst Parish Church. I am an occasional contributor to Envoy and I am including a selection of my previous articles on this blog to allow them to reach more readers who might be interested in the topics.