Royal Kitchens at Kew

By George III’s reign the main residence at Kew was the Dutch house, and the kitchens needed to supply food to all those present in the household at the time; typically, the King himself, his wife Charlotte, and the Princesses. Among these numbers were also the staff themselves, meaning the kitchens needed to handle a huge amount of food at a time. The kitchens were constructed separately to the Dutch house, and where originally built to serve the culinary needs of the White House. The kitchens were not consistently open until 1788, when the royal family began to stay in the household for increased lengths of time.

Following Queen Charlotte’s death in 1818 the kitchens were left unused and abandoned until 2012. [1] Before we delve into the kitchen staff and resources, we should first establish what the kitchens were comprised of. It included a large main area with four rooms leading from it specifically suited for the holding and preparation of different foods or for certain tasks. One of the four rooms was the bread house for the production and baking of bread, another was a cold room for the storing of meats and fish. It was extremely important to keep fish fresh as they were an example of a more luxurious and expensive food. It has been estimated that fish such as Turbots could individually cost approximately £1 10 shillings, which would cost over £60 in modern terms. [2] The other two rooms were sculleries for the storage of silverware and the cleaning of utensils and other cooking equipment. [1] Outside of the kitchen area there was also an ice house for the storage of food needing preserving for longer periods of time. The structure is located under earth, allowing for a natural method of cooling perishable food.

The Ice House. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19

The kitchen also had additional upstairs space which contained offices, one being that occupied by the Clerk of the Kitchen William Gorton. There was also another storage space for the more exorbitant dry products, named the dry larder for which he held the key. [1] There was also an exterior to the kitchens, which held the kitchen gardens. This is where most of the vegetables were sourced for the royal menu.

William Gorton’s listed menus. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19
Kitchen Garden. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19

Despite the fact there were rarely visitors or feasts during the King’s periods of confinement, there was still a significant number of staff working to ensure the kitchen functions ran smoothly. Surprisingly, considering the emphasis on a woman’s place in the domestic environment, there were no women employed in Kew kitchens. Instead there were 23 men and boys working, which was the norm in a Georgian kitchen. [1] This was half the usual number of staff held in a palace kitchens. The lack of staff was because of the small size of the Dutch house, and the lack of feasts held. [3] I was also interested to learn that all the staff in the kitchens had to swear their loyalty to the monarch.

When considering the other staff, there were various different roles in a Georgian kitchen, some of which were surprising to me. For example, there were Scourers who were tasked with cleaning the dishes. While this is not surprising in itself, there was also a master Scourer who also had his own assistant. Evidently the cleanliness of the dishes was of the upmost importance and needed to be supervised intensely. In the second scullery three men had the job of ensuring the silverware was spotless. There were three porters, two for coal and one general porter. Another interesting feature is the presence of a Turnbroach who was responsible for rotating the spits on which meats were cooked. [4]

Another crucial member of the kitchen was William Gorton, as the Clerk of the Kitchen he was responsible for all aspects of its organisation, with the help of his assistant Samuel Wharton, another Clerk of the kitchen. He was the author of the menus which were written every evening for the following day. Although he was in charge of budgeting and food expenditure he was restricted by the Board of the Green Cloth. [2] This was essentially responsible for the administration of the royal palaces, including food. [6] Another essential member of staff, and one which Gorton communicated with regularly concerning the construction of each menu was the Master cook William Wybrown, who originally started working in the kitchens as a child.

Interestingly, Wybrown was featured in a rather dramatic poem which detailed the occasion a louse was found on the George III’s plate, depicting him questioning the pages and cooks demanding who the louse belonged to and how it got there. Evidently it was considered a catastrophic mistake which was ridiculed extensively. Wybrown is given a less than flattering description in the poem;

“the great Cook-Major comes! his eyes – Fierce as the redd’ning flame that roasts and fries; His cheeks like Bladders, with high passion glowing, or like a fat Dutch Trumpeter’s when blowing.”


Pindar, Peter, The Lousiad: an heroi-comic poem. Canto I, (London, 1786), P. 20. [7]

It is interesting to note how seemingly small occurrences could influence the reputation of a household’s kitchen, making it a public mockery.

It is clear the kitchens were a bustling hub of the palace and was essential to the well-being of the entire household. Although in the case of Kew palace the kitchen staff was fairly limited in comparison to other royal palaces, it still had the same functioning as any other royal palace and served it well for the years in which the royals resided there.


References

[1] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17090> [date assessed 28 April 2019].

[2] Historical Royal Palaces, Factsheet Royal Kitchens at Kew, <https://hrpprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/hrp-prod-container/11112/factsheet-royal-kitchens-at-kew-final_2.pdf>  [date assessed 29 April 2019], pp. 1-2.

[3] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17089> [date assessed 28 April 2019].

[4] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17091> [date assessed 26 April 2019].

[5] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17091> [date assessed 26 April 2019].

[6] The National Archives, Records of the Lord Steward, the Board of Green Cloth and other officers of the Royal Household, <https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C202> [date assessed 30 April 2019].

[7] Pindar, Peter, The Lousiad: an heroi-comic poem. Canto I, (London, 1786), p. 1. Bibliographic number: T041275 (estc), <https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=ecco-0835100700&terms=The%20Lousiad%20an%20heroi-comic%20poem&pageId=ecco-0835100700-220> [date assessed 20 April 2019].


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.