Who are the Gilbeys?

Bill & Caroline Gilbey, Michael & Lin Gilbey

We are so often asked where we all come from, how we fit into the history of the Gilbey family etc .. that our new blog seems the ideal place to store this information for posterity.

Bill & Michael are brothers; Bill is married to Caroline (nee Ball) and Michael is married to Lin (nee Gilbey) who is also the fourth cousin of both Bill and Michael. Got it?!

Lin’s great great grandfather was Sir Walter Gilbey. Bill and Michael’s great great grandfather was Alfred Gilbey. Walter and Alfred were brothers and together, on their return from the Crimean War, founded W&A Gilbey Ltd, Wine & Spirit Merchants, in 1857.

The 1850s and 60s were decades of opportunity, as Britain was on top of the world; economically, as a result of her manufacturing, and politically, from her leadership of a great Empire … and the Gilbey brothers took full advantage.  Within 15 years of the firm’s establishment  sales had risen to over nine million bottles a year and by the turn of the century W&A Gilbey was the largest distributing company in the UK.

W&A Gilbey Ltd continued to prosper , very much as a family company, but family was necessarily diluted when in 1962 they merged with United Wine Traders to become International Distillers & Vintners, which was then taken over by Watneys in 1972, who were subsequently taken over by Grand Metropolitan in the same year .  Big business held sway. The Gilbeys were no longer able to survive as a family company.

Wine still seems to be in the blood though. A cousin, Tom Gilbey, works in the wine trade in Scotland, as indeed does Lin’s brother , Christopher Gilbey, in Wiltshire. Another Tom, this time Bill and Caroline’s son, has recently founded his own wine company trading as ‘The Vintner’ and we are very confident that  he is ‘going places’!  (www.thevintner.com) We ourselves have run our own wine importing company specialising in wines direct from individual French growers, but are now very happy to be sourcing all our wines via Tom. Michael helps Tom with a lot of his French selections, so, we are still keenly  maintaining the tradition of keeping it in the family.

As to the four of us, our main activities are the two Gilbey’s Restaurants, one in Eton and the other in Old Amersham. We no longer spend large amounts of time looking over our shoulder worrying about world domination. That must be good news for our customers. We might be standing still when it comes to the acquisition of new premises …  but in no other respect . That awful saying ‘’you are only as good as your last meal’’ is frighteningly true in the restaurant business. We have to go on just getting better and better … and that is what we keep on trying to do … helped by fantastic teams in both restaurants.

Judging by current levels of business we seem to be getting a lot right … which is pretty encouraging in these tough times, to say the least.

Quite how our business will develop as we get older is still an unknown. Family succession does not look likely this time round. Of the six children we have between us, Tom has his own wine company, Charlotte is a voluntary worker, James (about the only properly grown up one!) is a forensic accountant, Henry’s life is in fishing and Julian and William are film directors. So … no doubt time will tell.

Oh yes, and we also have an English Vineyard …