At Kensington Palace in 1704, Queen Anne had an elaborate greenhouse built in the style of an elegant palace to protect her citrus trees from the harsh frosts of winter. She also recognised that The Orangery’s beautiful garden setting and graceful architecture made it a perfect venue for fashionable court entertaining away from the hubbub of Whitehall.
It was at this time that the notion of dining etiquette evolved. In the late 17th century, nobles suffering from ennui in the royal courts of France devised complex social customs to amuse themselves and gradually they made their way to English high society. As the 18th century rolled on, protocol began to rule every action at the dining table.
Table ornamentation flourished, with grand candlesticks and grandiose flower arrangements decorating the tables. Tableware became something of an obsession and if a new tool could be invented for a task, it would be commissioned. At dinner, a formal gathering might sit down to as many as nine wine glasses and a dazzling array of silverware including everything from stilton spoons to oyster prongs and butter spades.
Prior to the introduction of high tea into Britain, the English had two main meals: breakfast and dinner. By the middle of the eighteenth century, dinner for the upper and middle classes had shifted from noon to an evening meal served at a fashionably late hour. This didn’t suit the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Stanhope (1783-1857).
When The Orangery was built, meals for the upper classes were still very carnivorous affairs with few vegetables eaten and fruit still viewed with suspicion. It is reported that in 1705 Queen Anne ate a meal consisting entirely of pigeon, sirloin of beef, venison, chyne of mutton, turkey, snipes, ducks and partridge.
In the 18th century the buffet style of presentation fell out of fashion and instead became a succession of distinct courses, the longer and grander the better, to display the wealth of the hosts. There would be fancy desserts, huge jellies and ice creams in fantastic moulds such as doves on branches to fully display the wonderful tableware. The only hangover from buffets was breakfast, which would include dishes such as kedgeree, devilled kidneys, eggs and toast offered on silver salvers and gueridon trolleys.
History of Afternoon Tea
The Duchess, one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, suffered from ‘a sinking feeling’ at about four o’clock in the afternoon. At first, the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few bread stuffs, but then began inviting friends to join her at five o’clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle.
The menu centred around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets and, of course, tea. The summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London and high tea was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.