Hampton Court chocolate kitchen to reopen after 300 years

On Valentine’s Day, Hampton Court Palace will open its royal Chocolate Kitchen to the public for the first time. The chocolate kitchen was active in the 18th century under three Georgian kings, William III, George I and George II, all of whom were big chocolate fans. Chocolate played a particularly dramatic role in the life and Elvis-like death of George II. Chocolate was George II’s last meal. He had a cup of hot chocolate for breakfast at 6:00 AM on October 25th, 1760, then took to his convenience (ie, his pooping chair). His valet heard a crash and ran in to find the king unconscious on the floor. The king died shortly thereafter of an aortic aneurysm.

Chocolate had been popular in England since the 17th century when it became widespread in beverage form. George I’s personal chocolatier, Thomas Tosier, was particularly famous as was his wife Grace who capitalized on her husband’s connections and ran a successful chocolate house in Greenwich. Tosier’s domain was two rooms in the vast kitchens of Hampton Court: the Chocolate Kitchen and the Chocolate Room. The former was where the chocolate confections were made. It’s a small space compared to the giant multi-spit fireplaces of the Tudor kitchens, but it has a stove, a modest fireplace, counter and shelves. The Chocolate Room was for storage. Cocoa beans, a vast array of spices, sugar, other ingredients used in chocolate production (oil of Jamaican pepper, oil of aniseed, oil of cinnamon, cardamom, Guinea pepper, musk, ambergris, and civet musk were all included in a recipe King Charles II gave to the Earl of Sandwich in the mid-1600s) were kept in the room, along with silver, gold and porcelain vessels and cups for service.

The precise location of the Chocolate Kitchen was lost in the mists of time after George III, who hated Hampton Court and refused to stay there, and subsequent monarchs abandoned the palace to benign neglect. Researchers have recently rediscovered the spaces in the palace’s Fountain Court. Both rooms had been used as a storage and were crammed with assorted clutter. That turned out to be a boon for historic preservation. The kitchen was found virtually intact, complete with its original stove, furniture and equipment. It is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the United Kingdom.

On December 13th, 2013, Hampton Court Palace launched a fund raiser to conserve the Chocolate Kitchen and deck out the Chocolate Room with the rarified ingredients and rich accouterments that graced it in its Georgian heyday. It was brief but successful and the Chocolate Kitchen will reopen on February 14th, one of a number of special exhibitions and events in 2014 commemorating the 300th anniversary of the accession of the Hanoverian Dynasty to the British throne.

The new display will explore the story of the royal responsibility of making chocolate for the King. The former Chocolate Room, which once housed dining luxuries, will be dressed with ceramics, copper cooking equipment, bespoke chocolate serving silverware, glassware and linens of the time. Elegant and refined Georgian table dressing and decorating will also be explored in the display, and in the private rooms Queen Caroline herself once dined in. [...]

Polly Putnam, curator, Hampton Court Palace, said: “This is a ‘below stairs’ story like no other. Chocolate was an expensive luxury. Having your own chocolate maker, chocolate kitchen and chocolate room filled with precious porcelain and silver – all this, just for chocolate – was the last word in elegance and decadence. It was really something that only kings and queens could afford, and is a real contrast with all the pies and meat we associate with the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton court.”

Visitors to Hampton Court Palace will be able to watch experts make chocolate the way it was done in the Georgian era. Live demonstrations will take place regularly over the year and the entire process, from production to service in the private rooms in which Queen Caroline, wife of King George II and a big chocolate fan, indulged her taste for the sweet cocoa beverage.

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9 Comments »

Comment by Hels
2014-02-02 07:30:46

Chocolate may have been an expensive item but the royal courts seemed to have had few problems on getting all the dhocolate they needed. So how was that possible? There had to have been an endless supply of chocolate beans, Jamaican pepper oil and every other exotic product, despite trade fluctuations, shipping problems and wars.

Hampton Court is very wise. Almost all visitors are going to be interested in this desirable and exotic food item.

 
Comment by deana@lostpast
2014-02-02 10:36:18

Thanks so much for sharing this… it would be a blast to go visit. Wonder if there will be tastings???

 
Comment by Rebecca
2014-02-02 13:42:18

A well written article. As with the Tudor Kitchens, I predict chocolate from the pop-up interpretation kitchen will not be available to the public due to H&S, but the hot chocolate from the concessions at HCP are pretty good!

It’s quite easy these days to get hold of chocolate cake (solid chocolate with the cocoa butter left in), and it makes an interesting drink, quite unlike what we’re all used to. No doubt the cooks will be able to supply various historical recipes for us to try at home ;)

 
Comment by Annie Delyth
2014-02-02 21:40:35

Chocolate… It would be lovely to visit the chocolate room and kitchen at the castle, though I am willing to make do with a virtual tour. I am fortunate to live in a place (Vermont, USA) where chocolate is revered, and chocolate “kitchens” abound. A wonderful place to be.

 
Comment by Barbara
2014-02-04 16:26:18

Ambergris and civet musk in chocolate? That’s no place for whale vomit.

Comment by livius drusus
2014-02-04 18:33:44

Right? I’m all for Top Chef-style experimentation, but lets leave the giant squid beaks out of the hot cocoa.

 
 
Comment by Michael Coe
2014-02-04 17:52:41

I can see that I have to update “The True History of Chocolate”, the book that I did with my late wife Sophie. And I’m definitely going to hop a plane across the Atlantic some day to see this chocolate kitchen. What a great discovery!

George II was the last English king to lead his troops on the field of battle. I’m glad that he was drinking chocolate in his final moments.

Comment by livius drusus
2014-02-04 18:32:06

Oh, you must go! You can take pictures of the Chocolate Kitchen tour and add them to yours and Sophie’s book. What a joyous and delicious joint project writing that must have been.

 
 
Comment by Renee Yancy
2014-02-05 19:34:33

I’be been reading your blog for several years now and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy it. Thanks for all the work you put into bringing us these great stories. I especially love the archaeology and history posts.

 
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