The Birth of a Restaurant

by Ted Dunham


To understand how the restaurant at His Lordship's Kindness came to be it is important to know something of the owner, Elizabeth C. Dunham. As a young woman, Elizabeth was very attached to her mother Clara Guthrie Cocke and when Clara, after divorcing her first husband Philip Cocke, married a Swiss businessman, Ludovic d'Arcis, it was natural for Elizabeth to move to Switzerland to be with her mother.

Elizabeth had no problem adapting to life in Switzerland as a teen-ager. Her mother taught her all the social skills she needed to navigate in Swiss society and instilled in her a love of gourmet cooking to be regarded as an essential tool for a girl looking for a husband.

Elizabeth eventually moved back to the U.S. in the early twenties and lived there for a number of years and eventually married Thomas Dunham and raised a family, but with the depression coming on, in 1929 they decided to settle in Switzerland where Tom would take a position with Ludo d'Arcis' firm, The Agence Americaine. Life was on an even keel for ten years, but in the late thirties, as the clouds of war gathered and Hitler's threatening behavior alarmed everyone, they began preparations to return to America. In April 1939 the family boarded the American Export Lines ship SS Exachorda in Marseille and sailed for New York.

The big challenge was to find a suitable place to live. Tom was on active duty in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, which would be known as the "SeaBees", stationed in Washington DC. They initially stayed at one of the family estates on the James River near Richmond, known as Lower Bremo. One of three estates, including Upper Bremo, Bremo Recess and Lower Bremo, which had been in the family since their original acquisition in the eighteenth century, Lower Bremo, while comfortable and conveniently available was not suitable for the family's purpose since it was too far from Tom's posting in Washington.

Elizabeth, through contacts, discovered that His Lordship's Kindness was for sale and proceeded to make arrangements to visit it. As soon as they saw the property Tom and Elizabeth fell in love with it and decided to buy it from the owner Mrs. Chandler Hale. In the summer of 1940 the Dunham family moved to his Lordship's Kindness and were once again able to enjoy their priceless antique furniture collection, books, art and other possessions which had been in storage since their arrival in America. Elizabeth realized her responsibility towards her magnificent purchase, which had never been open to the public and decided to have it included on the Garden Tour, and open it to the public on a limited basis. A natural extension of having visitors view the remarkable estate was to provide them with refreshments while there. There was an outbuilding known as the slave hospital that would make an ideal location for a tearoom or restaurant and so guests were offered tea and coffee and fresh baked bread and pastries.

It soon became clear that more substantive fare would be appreciated by the guests and soon the tea was supplemented by simple but excellent lunches and dinners. Elizabeth developed the menu as she went along, and served food that the guests raved about. Vegetables were grown in the vegetable garden fertilized with natural manure, the three Jersey and two Guernsey cows provided the rich milk and cream, which was churned on the estate in the milk shed near the door to the kitchen and turned into butter, cream, buttermilk and whole milk. The Jersey cows produced milk with the highest possible butterfat content. Chickens were raised and veal, pork and lamb was also available from the farming operation. Hams and bacon were smoked in the smokehouse, between the main house and the restaurant.

The restaurant flourished for a considerable time. It's patrons included such notables as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hall. However, after Pearl Harbor rationing of commodities and food items began and gasoline became harder to come by. This began to affect the ability of even the well-to-do to drive out to His Lordship's Kindness for a pleasant meal and eventually Elizabeth decided that it was no longer viable to keep the restaurant open.