Tuesday 10 April 2012

Food for Jubilees and Other Royal Occasions

I used to think that the peg-footed creamware mould which I used to make this flummery honouring George III dated from the 1790s. But its motif of the king's cipher, crown and laurel wreath have convinced me that it was made to commemorate his 1809 Jubilee.
All over Britain, towns and villages are preparing for their street parties and other events on June 5th to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The internet and the popular magazines are full of articles by food writers and chefs with suggestions for dishes for the great event. As well as such predictable comestibles as Coronation Chicken, Beef Wellington and mini pork pies, one writer suggests that old British standby - Wild Mushroom Lasagne! The Duchess of Cornwall is heading up a fun competition aimed at school children, who have been asked to design a 'menu fit for a queen'. The royal chefs at Buckingham Palace are going to turn the children's recipes into canapés, yet another ancient British dish! As has always been the case on these occasions, a great deal of merchandising is going on, even at a very high level. Balmoral Castle is marketing a Diamond Jubilee Shortbread Biscuit Tin at £12.95, with a design specially commissioned by the Royal Collection. Harrods have launched an 'exclusive' range of Diamond Jubilee edible gifts, including a Diamond Jubilee Chocolate Coin at £4.95 and a Diamond Jubilee Shortbread tin which plays Rule Britannia when the lid is removed at £11.50. The shortbread biscuits inside are of course stamped with the union jack. No doubt just as I am writing this, frenetic post-production activities are going on in the TV world, with celebrity chefs, domestic goddesses and other culinary high priests all devising special dishes for the day.

Merchandising for royal occasions has always been big business

But what did British people eat in the past to celebrate these important national occasions? It was certainly not wild mushroom lasagne or union jack cupcakes. Before I attempt to answer this question, it is important to point out that Golden and Diamond Jubilees of English monarchs have been very few and far between. The first recorded celebration of a sovereign's jubilee, was that of George III on 25th October 1809, when the 71 year old monarch had completed fifty years on the throne. This event was celebrated all over Britain and the Colonies - and as you will see, in much more lavish style than we manage today. It was to be another 78 years before there was another Golden Jubilee, that of Victoria in 1887. The interval between these two events was much longer than the life span of the average Victorian (about 40 years). So there would have been very few people alive in 1887 who could remember George's 1809 extravaganza. It had been such a long time since the last one that loyal British subjects were not sure what to do for the 1887 Jubilee. But help was at hand. In 1809 a little book entitled The Jubilee of George the Third had been published anonymously by (A Lady) the Wife of a Naval Officer.

In order to help with ideas for the celebrations of Victoria's Golden Jubilee, this scarce little volume was re-printed in 1887 to kickstart the national memory. On the title page of this new edition, it proclaimed that it offered, 'AN ACCOUNT OF THE CELEBRATION IN THE TOWNS AND VILLAGES THROUGHOUT THE UNITED KINGDOM OF THE FORTY-NINTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE REIGN, 25TH OCTOBER, 1809.' 

Unless good records are kept, the fine details of rare ritual occasions like coronations and royal jubilees are easily forgotten. Food events are particularly vulnerable to this form of national amnesia. Because a jubilee dinner was a transient affair, unless someone took the trouble to record a bill of fare, memories quickly faded. Having a book was a great help, so the 1887 re-issue of the account of George's jubilee was a boon to those wanting to organise celebratory events, because they could find out what had been done in their towns and villages seventy eight years before. 

Above - the 1st edition of 1809. Below - the 2nd edition published for Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887

A similar phenomenon happened at the time of the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The most recent coronation, that of Charles I had been back in 1625. During the intervening thirty five years (coincidentally the average life expectancy of the period), there had been a civil war, a regicide, the abolition of the monarchy and an interregnum. Most of the records on coronation ritual and all the necessary regalia had been destroyed. As a result, Charles II's coronation on April 23rd 1661 was a rather improvised affair. In a record he kept of the occasion, Sir Edward Walker, Garter Principal of Arms, tells us,

'And because through the Rapine of the late 
vnhappy times, all the Royall Ornaments & Regalia heretofore p'served from age to age in the
 Treasury of the Church of Westminster, were
 taken away, sold & destroyed, the Comittee mett
 divers times not only to direct the remakeing such
 Royall Ornaments & Regalia, but even to setle
 the form & fashion of each particular; all which
 doe now reteyne the old names & fashion, although 
they have been newly made.

On the left, Francis Sandford holds a copy of The History of the Coronation of the Most High, Most Mighty, and Most Excellent Monarch James II (London: 1687). The only important 'festival book' published in seventeenth century England, Sandford's detailed work has been used to organise every coronation since, including that of Elizabeth II in 1953. Sandford and a fellow herald are depicted here in the coronation procession, walking on the 'flower-strewan way.'
As a result, there was no such lack of crowns, orbs and suchlike in 1685, when Charles's brother James II was crowned. But to ensure the continuity of the highly complex coronation rituals, James commissioned the Lancaster Herald Francis Sandford to make a detailed record of the event for posterity. Unlike Walker's account of Charles II's coronation, this was published by the Crown in 1687. Sandford tells us.

'all necessary Care having been taken, both before and immediately after the Coronation, to preserve the Exact Draughts and Admeasurements of all such Transient Things both in the Hall and Church.' 
Sandford's aim to 'preserue the
 Memory of this Glorious Solemnity, in all its Incidents and Circumstances, so nothing has been so much Endeavour’d, as to render it truly 
Useful to Posterity' was fulfilled, as his incredibly comprehensive account has been used to organise all the coronations since that of James II. Sandford gives a remarkable account of the coronation feast laid before James and his diminutive Queen Consort Maria de Modena in Westminster Hall. If you include the obligatory ritual dish of dillegrout, this feast consisted of 171 different dishes, just for two people! More on this particular beano in a future posting.

To return to the little book about the celebrations surrounding George's Jubilee in 1809 republished to help with the planning of one in 1887, what can it tell us about the celebratory food of the time? Well actually rather a lot. The most important national event was held in the town of Windsor on the ancient playing field of Batchelors' Acre, where an ox was roasted for the royal party. The king did not attend this event, but at 10.30 in the morning, Queen Charlotte and many of the other members of the royal family sampled the beef,

'Fifty Batchelors were ready, at the outside of the gate, which opens to the Acre: and when the royal party descended from the stand, guarded them at the fire-place, where the ox was roasting; they then proceeded to view the construction of the grates and walls for roasting the ox, which were so well contrived as to roast two whole sheep at the same time, and then returned to the booth. The butchers employed in managing the cooking of the whole animals, were dressed upon the occasion in blue frocks and silk stockings: they cut the first prime pieces from the ox and sheep, and put them upon silver plates, and the bachelors and butchers waited upon the royal party with them. They all tasted and appeared highly pleased with the novelty.' 

After the jubilee service in St George's Chapel, Queen Charlotte returned for a second helping,

'The Duke of Sussex, with his hat off, held the 
tray from which Queen took two or three pieces of beef and bread. The Duke of Clarence distributed the plum pudding.' 

Although this event was attended by the royal family, the original intention of the ox roast was to feed the Windsor poor. The whole extravangaza was paid for by the Prince of Wales and his brothers. I am very pleased to report that Windsor is one of the very few places in Britain that keeps up the tradition of roasting an ox for the jubilee celebrations. One was roasted there in 2002 and another one is planned for this year. Well done Windsor! Hundreds of similar ox roasts took place all over Britain in 1809. All were aimed at feasting the poor, the oxen and other animals usually being donated by a rich squire or landowner. Local butchers prepared and roasted the beast, a process that could last up to 29 hours. Unlike, modern 'hog roasts' where a pig is rotated over burning charcoal or gas flames, these animals were roasted properly in front of a large temporary fireplace. It is amazing how the British have almost completely forgotten how their national dish was originally cooked. These affairs were highly ritualised, as can be seen in this account of the 1809 ox roast in the city of Chester,

An ox, the gift of John Egerton, Esq. of Oulton Park, which had been slaughtered for the purpose of roasting whole, was paraded on the preceding evening being ready spitted, with horns and tail gilt, decorated with ribbons and attended by a band of music, with the colours of the several clubs of the city. Behind the ox, on the same carriage, rode the butcher, with knife drawn; thus the procession proceeded to Power Field, near the walls of the city, where a building was erected for the purpose of roasting. The fire was lighted at two, and the ox put down at eight on the Tuesday evening; by twelve o’clock the next day it was as well and as regularly roasted as any joint of meat could have been done by the most experienced cook.

An ox about to be prepared for the spit to celebrate Victoria's Golden jubilee in Skipton in 1887
Ten years later an ox roast at Batley Carr near Leeds in 1897 to celebrate Victoria's Diamond jubilee. The temporary brick roasting range is behind. Two workmen are turning the spit with a large wheel over a dripping pan.
A souvenir plate from the Batley Carr ox roast above

An even more patriotic ritual took place at Norwich, when the mayor and corporation sat down not to a whole roasted ox, but to a 'royal baron of beef',

" At five o'clock, the
 company, invited by the Mayor to partake of a roast beef dinner 
assembled at St. Andrew's Hall; and soon after the joyful note of 
preparation was given, by the drum and fife playing " O the roast
 beef of old England," at the head of a royal baron of beef, weighing 
172 lbs. surmounted with the Union flag, which was brought in by
 four grenadiers, who carried it twice round, and then placed it at
 top of the hall. The company seated themselves at three tables, 
which extended the whole length of the middle aisle, which was 
brilliantly lighted up with chandeliers, &c.
On the baron of beef being placed under the picture of Lord Nelson, the curtains were drawn up."

It was customary to decorate the royal baron of beef with the British Standard and adorn it with flowers
At Garnons in Herefordshire, Sir J. G. Cotterel regaled 'several thousands of the local peasantry' with a massive feast,

'On the preceding evening, a large ox was set down to roast in a temporary building erected for the purpose, with more than a bushel of potatoes in his belly, which being ready by one o'clock on Wednesday, was distributed, with great quantities of plum pudding, many other smaller articles of provisions, and five hogsheads of cider, among the crowd who assembled to partake of the bountiful and hospitable fare on the lawn, in front of the Mansion House.' 

Similarly at Itchen Abbas in Hampshire,

'The whole of the poor of the parish of Itchen
 were regaled by A. R. Dottin, Esq., of Itchen Abbas. Three sheep,
 stuffed with potatoes, were roasted whole; puddings, ale, and a tub
 of punch, were served to all the happy villagers in great abundance,
 and a sum of money distributed to the poor females. The King's 
health was drank with three distinct cheers, and several other loyal 
and patriotic toasts.'

So ox roasts were the order of the day throughout Britain in 1809. Local bakers often donated bread and plum puddings. The butchers always took care of the hearth construction and roasting.The scale of these events was often huge. Sometimes thousands were fed. I have found no images of any gatherings for Jubilees, but below are two images of dinners for the poor given in Lewes and Wisbech in 1838 when Victoria was crowned.  After overseeing the distribution of meat and bread to the poor, the wealthy patrons of these events usually had their own private parties in their own dining rooms. These consisted of much more sophisticated fare than roast ox and plum pudding.

The 5th Earl of Lonsdale's ox carving set - the knife is a massive 25.4 inches long. Photo - Michael Finlay

Open air dinner for the poor to celebrate Victoria's coronation in Lewes 1838
Open air dinner for the poor in Wisbech to celebrate Victoria's coronation. These extraordinary events are the true origins of our street parties
The 1809 edition of the book about George III's Jubilee celebrations and the creamware mould I used to make the flummery at the beginning of this post

The culinary equivalent of coronation mugs, these food moulds were marketed for the 1902 coronation of Edward VII 

Apart from the copper entrée mould, all these are for making ice cream crowns
A pewter ice cream pillar mould surmounted by a crown and cushion made to celebrate either the 1887, or 1897 jubilee. Photo Michael Finlay.
The two jellies at the back were made from moulds issued to commemorate the marriage of Edward Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandria of Denmark in 1863. Victorian edible kitsch associated with coronations, royal weddings and jubilees could be very elaborate.

The Alexandria Cross jelly on the left has the Danish flag running all the way through it. The Brunswick Star has the garter star in white running all the way through the jelly. This was achieved with special tin liners.
Jubilee edible kitsch 2012 - American style cup cakes - patriotic, but such a lack of ingenuity compared to the Victorian celebratory food illustrated above!
There were also many hundreds of ox roasts throughout Britain in 1887 and 1897. The great and the good may have looked on at these events with a sense of pride as they had usually financed them, but what they sat down to eat themselves was on a completely different plane. Complex dinners of many dishes in sophisticated Anglo-French style were the fashion at the time of Victoria's Jubilee entertainments. Here for instance is the menu for Her Majesty's Dinner for 1897 followed by some others from the period. Many nowadays think that Victorian food was over boiled and rather heavy on suet, but this is a terribly lazy and ignorant viewpoint based on poor and cliché-ridden research. Whether on the streets at on ox roast, or in the finest dining rooms in the land, Victorians knew how to dine. Just how many of you are going to sit down to a dinner like these on June 5th?

The menu for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee banquet, held in the Ball Supper Room at Buckingham Palace

Her Majesty's Dinner

Tuesday, 21st June 1887

à la Tortue
Au Printanier
à la Creme de Riz

Les Filets de Soles farcis à l'Ancienne
Les Merlans frits

Les Petits Vol au Vents à la Bechamel
Les Côtelettes d'Agneau, Pointes d'Asperges
Les Filets de Canetons aux Pois

Les Poulets à la Financière
Haunch of Venison
Roast Beef

Les Cailles bardées
Les Poulets

Les Haricots verts à la Poulette
Les Escaloppes de Foies-gras aux Truffes
Sprütz Gebackenes
La Crème de Riz au Jus aux Cerises
Les Choux glacés à la Duchesse

Cold Beef
Cold Fowl

The previous day, the ladies who were to wait on the Queen and her Royal guests were treated to their own special celebration dinner.

The Household Dinner given at Buckingham Palace, on Monday, 20th June, 1887, to the ladies in attendance on the Queen and Foreign Royalties

À la Chiffonade.
Au Vermicelle à la Windsor


Turbot. Sauce Cardinale.
 Merlans Frits.

Croquettes de Volaille.
 Ris de Veau panés sautés aux Pois. 
Levrauts à la Crème.

Poulets garnis de Langue a la Jardiniere.
Selles de Mouton roties.
Boeuf Roti.

Canetons. Poulets.


Epinards au Veloute. 
Aspics de Galantine en Belle Vue.
 Bombes glacees au Chocolat. 
Condés fourrés à l'Abricot.
 Savarins au Curacoa.

Celebration dinners continued for much of June. Here is the menu for Her Majesty's Dinner on June 25th.  This lovely recipe card is published here courtesy of my dear friend and follower of this blog Janet Clarke.


28TH JUNE, 1887.


Aspics of Eels.
Aspics of Lobster.

Aspics of Fillets of Soles.

Salmon Mayonnaise.

  Spring Chickens.

Ox Tongues             York Hams.

Roast Lamb.                        Roast Beef.               Pressed Beef.

French Pies

Galantines of Capons.   Galantines of Veal.

Lobster and Plain Salads.

Neapolitain Cakes.

Wine, Noyeau and Maraschino Jellies.
Italian, Vanilla, and Lemon Creams.

Meringues a la Française.

Pastries.                    Maids of Honour.

Strawberries and Cream.              Hot House Grapes.

Lemon and Apricot Water Ices.

Fresh Strawberry Cream Ice.

However, my favourite menu from the 1887 jubilee is this one in verse,

'The following is a unique menu of a charming little
 dinner given to a party of twenty-two at Bryanston 
Square, on Thursday, June 23rd inst. : -' 

This is, my friends, the Bill of Fare,

Of your dinner to-night in Bryanston Square.

The Potages I need scarcely name;

They are Printanier and la Reine.

Of Fish, a double dish you'll find:
Saumon with Sauce Tartare combined;
And that delicious little Fish

Called Blanchailles is our second dish.

The Entrées next before us rise:

Des Cailles en Chaudfroid they comprise;

And what is even daintier still,

A Ris de Veau à la Buffalo Bill.

The Selle de Mouton now will come,

With Branches d'Asperges à la Yum Yum.

Les Canards Rotis then you'll see,

And Creme d'Homard à la Jubilé.

A Gelée à la Vin Madere,
A Macedoine de Fruits most rare,
And Boudin Glacé, best of Fruits,
Our little menu just completes.

And finally, Her Majesty's Dinner from the 1897 Diamond Jubilee, reproduced here once again courtesy of Janet Clarke Antiquarian Books. Janet specialises in gastronomy. Janet Clarke's website.


  1. Very interesting - many thanks - I an writing a novel on the Jubilee Plot against the Queen and these food details will be very helpful.
    I love Ris de Veau à la Buffalo Bill!

  2. Beautiful AND informative. Thank you!

  3. We have a few old crown moulds I've wondered about your post was very helpful,
    lovely, thank you!