Rosemary Shrager and Tim Wonnacott visit Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, revealing just what happened when Queen Victoria visited the Leigh family in 1858.
Browse content similar to Stoneleigh. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
'Just what do you have to do when a queen decides to pop in to see you? And not just any old queen -
'Like a pair of obsessed Victoria groupies, we're pursuing her around the country
-'to the posh pads she visited.
-We'll delve into her personal diaries
'to reveal what happened behind closed doors.'
And today we're at Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire.
'As someone who's spent a lifetime getting excited by antiques,
'I'll be upstairs exploring just what would have excited the Queen on her visit here.'
What we've got here is a rare Repton Red Book.
'And as a chef who's passionate about all sorts of food,
'I'll be heading downstairs to rediscover an extraordinary recipe that was served to Victoria.'
'And testing our royal pudding on Tim.' Absolutely wonderful.
When the 39-year-old Victoria came to Stoneleigh, she'd been Queen for 21 years.
She was with Albert, but without any of her nine children.
The Royal Train took her from London to Coventry,
then she travelled on to Stoneleigh by horse and carriage for this three-day visit.
So here it is - Stoneleigh Abbey!
Victoria came here with Albert in June, 1858,
and this is what they would have seen, this extraordinary house - part Norman, part Jacobean
and part early 18th century.
Their host was William Henry Leigh and his wife Caroline.
I'm so excited. We know a lot about Victoria's visit because someone here kept a journal.
It was William's sister, Georgina, and the book survives to this day. And this is what she wrote:
"The 14th, 15th and 16th of June, 1858, were long to be remembered in the annals of Stoneleigh Abbey.
"Nature itself donned her loveliest garb to do honour to our beloved Queen Victoria
"upon her first visit to Warwickshire."
It's a fabulous journal, part diary, part gossip column.
And it's going to be our insider guide to Victoria and Albert's stay at Stoneleigh Abbey.
It was a very regal and well-arranged arrival
and her party would have swept through to the front door!
While the back-up staff would have gone to the servants' quarters, exactly where I'm going to!
The Queen was at Stoneleigh Abbey as part of a tour of the Midlands and to open Aston Hall,
a former stately home and park, to the public.
The middle and lower classes were enjoying far more leisure time and Victoria was keen to support
the revival of an estate in decline for the benefit of the people.
Victoria was in a very good mood when she arrived as we can tell from her own diary entry.
She commented that "the air was delicious, the house very large and fine and the oak trees magnificent."
For the Leighs, then, so far, so good.
The first thing that would have struck Victoria on entering this entrance hall is the temperature
because it's so deliciously cool.
On the 14th of June, 1858, the temperatures were soaring.
The top end of 96 degrees! The poor woman would have been baking after her journey
and would have welcomed this delicious cool with open arms.
This beautiful panelled hall is the entrance used by the royal party.
This illustration of Georgina's journal recorded Victoria and Albert's majestic meet and greet.
Georgina says, "She greeted us all with great courtesy,
"saying a few kind and gracious words to each of us."
We're not sure who drew it, but I rather think they enlarged the hall to fit the Leighs' aspirations.
Because, of course, what's happened is that the artist has used some artistic licence.
He's simply broadened the hall by changing the perspective
to make it look more impressive for his readers.
Actually, it's already quite impressive. Just look at the quality of the carving of this oak.
All this panelling was brought to Stoneleigh from another of the family's properties
in the 1830s. I wonder if Queen Victoria admired this little fellow.
Just look at his expression. Like an extraordinary dopey dog with a hook nose
and then these gorgeous moustaches which droop moistly,
but then strange owl-like eyes and these odd curlicue bits
that come down away from his muzzle. Charming.
While Tim gets to grips with life above stairs, I'm discovering what life was like below stairs
for the staff and the servants during Victoria's visit.
Here I am in the courtyard outside the old servants' quarters.
Georgina tells us in her diary that on the morning of the visit
she was due at any minute and the servants were still scurrying around
hanging curtains, moving furniture, rearranging paintings
and making gorgeous flower arrangements - it must have been bedlam!
The servants' quarters have now been converted into apartments, but would have been buzzing with activity.
Victoria might not have been aware of the organised chaos, but clearly she appreciated the results,
commenting in her diary, "We were taken to our charming rooms,
"beautifully furnished and decorated."
The Leighs were determined to reflect their status in their handsome home upstairs
and they also wanted to create a culinary impression to stand out from the Warwickshire crowd.
And to prove I'm not making this up,
amazingly, we have these original menus from Victoria's visit.
The meal was broken down into a group of five courses,
followed by a further four courses in what was known as the Premier and Second Service.
The Victorian kitchens no longer exist at Stoneleigh, but food historian Ivan Day and I
will be in the conservatory creating one of the actual dishes made for Victoria and Albert.
So let's have a closer look at that marvellous menu.
Here they are. This is the one for the dinner on June 14th, 1858.
Oh! Look at it!
You've got your potages, the purees and soups.
-Poisson, turbot... And what are relevees?
-Relevees are very large dishes, often roasts,
and big braised dishes, brought in to replace the soup tureens.
Once the soup was served, there was a big space on the table.
'The Queen's diary says that they dined after eight and everything was very handsome and well done.
'It's not really a surprise she was happy with so much to choose from.
'With menus as extensive as these, meals could take several hours to munch through.
'Goodness knows how they coped with their heartburn! But the dishes got lighter and sweeter
'and thank goodness for that.'
So there's a gateau, a cake made with puff pastry.
And this one here - a Bavarois de Chocolat au Surprise.
'And that's what we'll be creating today - a chocolate surprise that will make Tim's mouth water.
'Even more amazingly, we know every single ingredient.'
This is a bill from a London confectioner
to the family for bought-in confectionery and equipment for the occasion.
One of the ingredients in the Bavarois are pistachio nuts.
-Extraordinary - two pounds of pistachio kernels.
-It's 12 shillings!
And what is really extraordinary - my hair stood on end -
is one of the flavourings is this liqueur made from Morello cherries, which is called maraschino.
And look - one pint of maraschino.
-I could not believe it.
-Look at this.
'Lots of ingredients, lots to do, so we'd better get cracking.'
'Back upstairs, Victoria described Stoneleigh Abbey as very large and very fine.
'However, it was not on the scale of some of the grandiose houses she was used to.
'In fact, with more than 30 for dinner, Lord and Lady Leigh didn't have a dining room
'they felt was big enough.'
And so they had to use this - the saloon.
A sparsely-furnished large reception space.
But actually when it was laid out with a dining table,
this rather offended our diarist, Georgina, who wrote,
"This was to be regretted as its great beauty and space as a reception room
"would thereby be lost."
But I rather think this beautiful salon would have made the meal go with a swing
'if this illustration in Georgina the host's sister's journal is anything to go by.'
The room is embellished with marvellous plasterwork featuring stories from mythology,
which the Queen had an interest in. This would surely impress any guest whose gaze wandered during the meal.
For Victoria, though, when she looked up at this ceiling
and saw the apotheosis of Hercules,
she said she thought it would be better if it was gilt.
Poor old Lord Leigh. Despite a Herculean effort to impress,
it seems he hadn't covered every detail.
The dinner served on the first night of the Queen's three-day visit made up for any lack of sparkle
in the salon. The original menu details a whopping 39 dishes.
And we're making one of the desserts, a Bavarois de Chocolat.
It has some incredible ingredients detailed on the original shopping list for the occasion.
Including, of course, chocolate.
But the Victorians couldn't just buy a bar at the local newsagent's.
They had to make it from scratch.
It was a very labour-intensive process. Luckily, Ivan's doing the labouring!
First take the cacao beans.
Chop into small pieces called nibs.
Put onto a sandstone slab called a metate.
Heat using a small charcoal brazier.
Roll nibs with a South American rolling pin called a molo so they release the cocoa butter.
Crush cocoa butter into the remains of the nibs.
And hand-made chocolate done.
-It took me two hours to make that.
-Really? Can I have a little taste?
Yeah, tell me what you think.
-Good, isn't it?
-That is delicious.
'Our chocolate will be the basis of our dessert.
'Firstly, we add it to the warm milk until it melts. Then we add spices and lemon peel for extra zing.'
So you've got your vanilla pod, cinnamon and your lemon.
You're told to sweeten it to taste.
Now the way that was done was with syrup rather than sugar.
-As it's already dissolved.
'Then that all-important booze, this cherry-flavoured liqueur
'that was THE taste for Victorian high tables.' Did Victoria like her alcohol?
-She was quite worried about things like over-drinking.
-Oh, right. She wanted to keep composed?
We know she loved her food, but only plain and simple food.
'Our chocolate surprise pudding was certainly not plain or simple,
'but like most Victorian aristocracy the Leighs were using their food to show off
'and to confirm their status to Victoria and Albert.
'Now this won't set on its own.
'We're using something called isinglass and it looks absolutely extraordinary.'
So what is isinglass?
You're not going to believe this, but it's the sturgeon's bladder.
-You know the big fish in the Caspian Sea which we get caviar from?
Their bladders are nearly as valuable. It makes the most incredibly good jelly.
The French called it "colle de poisson" and it was the most popular setting agent
because it's relatively easy to use, particularly before mass-produced gelatine came in the 1870s.
This was what those early cooks used.
How on earth did they discover this setting agent for doing this? Where did it come from?
Well, it's been known about since classical antiquity and this is it.
That is a piece of sturgeon's bladder.
This is sturgeon's bladder.
And it does make a fantastic set. It's very, very good.
'Just preparing it was very labour-intensive.
'It's put into a bowl of cold water, soaked overnight
'and placed into boiling water until it has dissolved.
'Then finally, it's clarified.
'The isinglass is added to the chocolate filling and stirred until thick.
'The mixture is put to one side for three hours to cool.
'Once cooled, whipped cream is folded into the chocolate mixture and poured into the pudding mould,
'which is then placed into a bowl of ice.
'There were no fridges in those days.'
-Fantastic. How long has it got to set for?
-It will need about three hours.
'Three more hours? I'm not sure if his nibs upstairs will be able to wait that long!'
Victoria had been on the throne for over 20 years by the time she came to Stoneleigh.
This picture of her from the Leigh family archive seems to me to show a Queen with high expectations
and indeed she had become, how can I put it, quite particular in her preferences.
Palace officials were sent ahead to make sure everything was done just as "Her Maj" stipulated,
in particular, in her bedroom where the Leighs had made some rather hasty alterations.
And this is what the Queen's bedroom would have looked like,
except that at the time of her visit, it was one floor up.
But the furnishings in it are exactly what she would have seen.
What we've got, I reckon, is Lord Leigh running out of time here.
I think he'd got such a small period in which to furnish these spaces
that instead of ordering brand-new furniture for the Queen,
what he did was to take extant, existing old-fashioned pieces of furniture around the mansion house
and have them dollied up.
Now, what is the style of this bed?
And as so often happens in these stately homes,
just because it looks like Chippendale, it's been attributed to Chippendale the maker.
Actually, what we've discovered is the original bill from the real maker in 1763
which was William Gomm.
And there's the bill.
If you look at the piece of furniture itself,
underneath the gilt and the paint and the gesso, which is that chalky stuff, the timber is dark nut brown.
That's because this furniture, that now looks white and gilt,
once upon a time, was dark brown.
It was expensive mahogany
and no cabinet-maker in the 18th century would have covered expensive, polished mahogany
in this stuff in a million years.
This is the work of the Victorian decorator Charles Moxon
who Lord Leigh employed basically to spiff up the whole house,
to make this place fit for a Queen.
It wasn't just the bed frame that needed attention. The Queen travelled with her own upholsterer
whose duties are explained by Georgina, our diarist and sister of Lord Leigh.
She says the upholsterer's duty was to pack and unpack the Queen's boxes.
He also superintended the making and arrangement of the Queen's bed.
She had sheets and blankets of her own with her
and the upholsterer had to sew them together in a peculiar way, according to royal fancy.
We can only surmise what that peculiar way was as Georgina doesn't divulge.
The three-day visit to Stoneleigh was part of a wider tour of the Midlands
and just like any major tour, she needed more than just an upholsterer.
Team Victoria consisted of umpteen royal roadies, as Georgina explains.
"Her retinue of servants was not small.
"They numbered altogether 18 -
"the Queen's dresser, the Queen's lady's maid, two pages in ordinary, the Prince's valets,
"eight menservants in livery, a coiffeur, a clothes brusher,
"an upholsterer, a special messenger and inspector of police."
And in addition to that, she brought her own horses and ten grooms.
And they would have been housed here. The stables at Stoneleigh were state-of-the-art,
built in 1820, just 38 years before Victoria's visit.
The yard is built in a D-shape to give the carriages plenty of room to turn round and it's very nice.
After all, when it was built, horses were crucial for getting about,
so they had to be very well looked after.
Even the air they breathed was controlled by a clever ventilation system.
Air was blown upwards and not towards the horses' middles
which might have given the poor things colic.
There were owls with their own owl boxes to keep the mice at bay.
And they weren't the only ones to live above the stables. The stable boys did too.
I think they looked after the horses better than they did the stable boys.
After dinner on both nights of her visit, local dignitaries lined up to meet the Queen.
They assembled in the library and it was here that Lady Georgina, rather cattily I fear,
records how disappointed she was by the appearance of the ladies.
"I am sorry to record that the good county of Warwick
"did not show to great advantage in the beauty of its ladies.
"Many of the fairest and highest in the county were unavoidably absent."
If the ladies didn't cut the mustard, at least the gardens did.
Unlike some of the hasty preparations for the visit,
they had been created in style many years before.
The year that she visited
was effectively the 50th anniversary of Humphry Repton's visit to Stoneleigh
and the alterations that he made here to the landscape.
Repton was a famous landscape gardener
and his claim to fame was his fabulous "before and after" books,
an ingenious marketing ploy that certainly sold his ideas to his clients. Just look at this.
Here we are at the south-west corner of Stoneleigh Abbey as it was,
the dammed-up end of the leat,
and a character standing in a blue frock coat holding an umbrella,
which is Humphry Repton himself.
He's directing the workers
in pegging out the edges of the alterations,
so that ultimately, what Lord Leigh will see...
What more tantalising and delicious sales technique could you have than this?
The Leigh family carried out most of Repton's ideas,
including diverting the River Avon to create a lake in front of the house.
We know from the host's sister Georgina's diary that the Queen walked here after dinner
and assembled in the grounds were thousands of well-wishers who had been allowed to congregate.
Georgina recounts, "No sooner did they hear that their beloved Queen was so near to them,
"they give vent to their loyal feelings in a burst of loud and prolonged cheering.
"She walked twice round the front garden in full view of the delighted multitude
"to whom she bowed repeatedly."
They sound delighted. However, on arrival at Stoneleigh,
the very same crowds had, according to Georgina, been shocked
to discover Victoria didn't travel wearing a crown.
Ha! And carrying a sceptre.
But instead, wore a bonnet and carried a parasol.
It obviously came as a surprise that she was dressed,
not as a magical monarch, but a mere mortal like them.
-Let's do it, OK? We've got to get this dipped into the hot water to release it.
'Downstairs, dishes for the Queen's banquet took hours to prepare.
'Attention to detail was everything if the Leigh family were to impress the royal party.'
Look at that! Isn't that gorgeous?
'The food itself was incredibly intricate.
'The extra decorations would be painstakingly hand-crafted.
'We're using some original wooden moulds to make collars for the chocolate surprise.
'They're made from powdered sugar and gum from a South American tree.
'Now the dessert is free of its mould, I'm filling the centre with lemon cream
'before its final titivating.'
That's it. Perfect.
'After it's been crowned with our sugar decorations,
'we have delicate strawberry tarts to place around our majestic pudding.'
I have to be very careful here. I do not want to break anything.
Just get it exactly in the middle.
Imagine Queen Victoria sitting at the table, these coming in,
It must have looked amazing. It's mind-boggling!
-You've got to eat it next.
-I will and I will enjoy it.
'And after all that work, I hope Tim will too.'
Victoria's visit to Stoneleigh was heralded a great success by the Leigh family.
Georgina tells us, "Never certainly was there a more successful royal visit.
"Everything had gone off perfectly without one failing
"or drawback of any kind,
"and our good Queen, all smiles and amiability."
I hope Tim's all smiles when he sees what we've been making.
-There we go.
This is a "bavarois de chocolat en surprise".
Absolutely wonderful. Let's go for it.
-First, I'll remove this crown.
-Remove the crown.
-I'll give you that little strawberry.
-Is that for me?
I'm going to take a little bit of this cream and put it on there.
And I'm going to cut literally a round...
This is the Victoria pudding that would have been produced for the...
This is on the menu. This is an amazing dessert.
Now we're going to have to taste.
That is extraordinary, isn't it?
You've got that chocolate with the refined lemon coming through it.
I'm going to have a look at this creamy middle which is really wicked-looking.
Which is very nice and lemony too.
I'm going to have a go at my tart now.
We'll have the berry off the top like that.
That sets a nice bit of tart in the mouth and then we have the tart itself...
Well, Rosemary, this is quite splendiferous.
-You have presented me with a Victorian treat...
And for a change, I'm going to present you with a Victorian treat.
Now, this thing was produced by Leigh's sister
and the family were so incredibly proud of the fact that they'd had these royals,
the family prepared a magnificent scrapbook
which I want you to revel in.
-If I have a bit of a flip, you've got all these delicious images, look.
-Oh, look at Albert!
-Albert looking so proud.
And so this thing goes on,
each of the memories exquisitely preserved.
-What a wonderful record!
-Isn't it lovely?
And just look at this bit here.
They've actually preserved and pressed...
Oh, look at that!
-The posy that she was carrying when she went off to Birmingham to open Aston Hall.
-Really special, isn't it?
-That is very, very special.
-And very personal to the family.
And here's the pen used by the Queen in the house.
Do you know, looking at this,
they were unbelievably proud.
They certainly were. They wanted to preserve every element of it.
And I think they thought they did a very good job.
To have entertained a monarch at the peak of her reign was an extraordinary honour
-and the Leighs must have dined out on it for generations to come.
-Who can blame them?
Next time, we stay with the royal tour of the Midlands as they visit Warwick Castle.
We're not visiting a traditional stately home. Oh, no, more like a full-blown fortress!
Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd 2011
Email [email protected]
Chef Rosemary Shrager and antiques expert Tim Wonnacott visit Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire revealing just what happened when Queen Victoria visited the Leigh family in 1858. Victoria was 39 years old and had been queen for 21 years. She was with Albert but without any of her nine children. The royal train took her from London to Coventry, then she travelled on to Stoneleigh by horse and carriage for this three-day visit.
A extraordinary journal, kept by the sister of the host, provides a detailed and funny insight into the visit, which included a huge banquet. Tim tells how the family coped when they realised they didn't have a dining room that was big enough and, from Victoria's own diary, the queen's reaction to the room that was used. The Leigh family archive reveals that palace officials were sent ahead to make sure everything was done just as HRH stipulated, in particular in her bedroom, where the Leighs had to make some rather hasty alterations to the bed frame. We also discover that the queen travelled with her own upholsterer. The family journal records: 'The upholsterer's duty was to pack and unpack the Queen's boxes, he also superintended the making and arrangements of the Queen's bed. She had sheets and blankets of her own with her and the upholsterer had to sew them together in a peculiar way according to royal fancy'.
Chef and food historian Ivan Day joins Rosemary below stairs. Using original documents that record incredible details of the royal visit, including the shopping list for food and the menu for the 39 dishes that were provided, they recreate a rich chocolate pudding that was served to the queen. It has two special ingredients: hand-made chocolate and a setting agent called isinglass, made from dried sturgeon bladders.