Antiques expert Tim Wonnacott and chef Rosemary Shrager visit Belvoir Castle in Rutland following in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, who visited here in 1843.
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Just what do you have to do when a Queen decides she is going to pop in
to see you and not just any old Queen - Victoria?
Like a pair of obsessed Victoria groupies, we're pursuing her
around the country to the posh pads she visited.
We'll be delving into her personal diaries to reveal what happened behind closed doors.
-Today, Belvoir Castle in Rutland and, boy, what a castle!
As someone who's spent a lifetime getting excited by antiques,
I'll be upstairs to discover what would have titillated Her Majesty.
If you were a coach driver, you would want one of these.
And, as a chef who's passionate about great food, I'll be getting to grips with a classic Victorian dish
that would have been cooked for HRH during her visit here...
I'm covered in beer!
..and seeing if I can beef up Tim's taste buds.
What have you been beavering away at here at Belvoir?
Victoria and Albert travelled to Belvoir from Chatsworth House for a three-day visit in 1843.
Victoria was 24, had been married for nearly four years and already had three children. They were here
to try to improve Albert's image by showing him off at one of the country's most high-profile hunts,
a hunt famous for the land it covered and the number of foxes it caught, often over 80 a year.
Rosemary, this is a bit different from anything we've seen so far.
Did you know that there's been a castle here
-since just after the Battle of Hastings?
-Ah, 1066 and all that.
You can see why it's called "Bellevue", or "Belvoir",
as it translates in French, which means, "beautiful view or beautiful to see".
All that goes back to its Norman roots, you know, and these locals
they couldn't pronounce any foreign names so that's why today we call it "Beaver".
When Victoria and Albert came to Belvoir, Albert's popularity rating was pretty low.
Although his missus adored him, he wasn't liked by the public or the upper-classes.
So Victoria's advisors, the spin-doctors of the day, thought the sight of a handsome man on horseback
hunting heroically might help boost his image. They had a bit of a fight
on their hands to overcome the public's anti-German feelings
and a view amongst the snooty aristocracy that he was too middle-class.
So this notionally private visit was designed to have a public impact.
I'm heading off to an inventive entrance that gave upstairs Belvoir a modern twist.
And I'm going downstairs just to see how the servants coped with the arrival.
Belvoir stands high on a hill in the middle of Rutland in the East Midlands.
It's the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland.
Victoria and Albert's host was the Fifth Duke of Rutland, John Manners.
Is it me, or does he look a bit like Colin Firth?
Anyway, he was a man who simply loved to entertain on a lavish scale.
His castle had been rebuilt some four times over the years and was
state-of-the-art when the Royal couple visited.
Its modern features are set into an ancient style,
apparent from the moment you arrive.
If you were a coach driver and you wanted the ultimate chic way
to enter your newly-constructed castle,
then you'd have one of these.
This is called a porte-cochere,
literally from the French, meaning carriage gate.
It's a covered structure enabling the whole carriage to be drawn
into the building, so that you'd remain nice and dry,
which is where Victoria arrived and was ushered into the castle here.
On the other side of Belvoir, the servants had a very different entrance.
Hidden out of sight below the castle, this was the discreet way in,
and it's not for the fainthearted.
This is the most unusual servants' entrance I have been to yet.
It's like a dungeon down here.
It's really quite scary, actually.
These are the long corridors in the basement of Belvoir Castle.
They're known as the dooms.
What an appropriate name.
Every day, the servants would come in and they'd be given a candle
at the other end so they can find their way, just like me,
through to the top end. But just imagine a new young housemaid
coming just from the local village, how scary would that be?
I can't imagine anything worse, on your own, in a long, dark corridor,
not knowing quite what to expect, but you knew this was your destiny.
That was a long time ago.
Thank goodness they don't have to do it any more!
BELL RINGS REPEATEDLY
Servants would surface near the kitchen and enter a labyrinth.
Tunnels, corridors and hidden staircases were all designed
to keep the servants out of sight downstairs,
but above stairs it was all about being seen,
particularly for Albert, who needed to raise his profile.
Victoria was keen to show off her hubby
to his best advantage throughout the visit
while their host was keen to show off his pad
from the moment his Royal guests arrived.
So this is the guard room, effectively the grand entrance hall into the castle.
It was rebuilt in the gothic style.
We've got these two smashing fireplaces either end
and the floor is covered in Nottingham stone with this lovely inlay and 3D geometric effect.
So, Colin Firth - sorry, the Duke of Rutland - led Victoria and Albert
through this room to meet a few close friends who he'd assembled for this private visit.
Well, actually, the 200 VIP mates he had invited to stay at the castle.
The guest list was like a page out of Who's Who, with names such as the Prime Minister,
Robert Peel, and the military hero, the Duke of Wellington.
And fittingly here he is,
represented on the wall - I wonder if he noticed!
Wellington would have been impressed with the military exercise
that went on downstairs in order to feed the guests.
The castle was pretty self-sufficient, and it had to be.
As well as the 200 VIPs staying, the Duke invited a whopping 1,000 people
for dinner over the course of the three-day Royal visit,
including all his tenants and those who worked for the hunt, as well as the local movers and the shakers.
It also needed a pretty big kitchen and I think chef Ivan Day,
our historical food expert, has found it.
Listen, look at this kitchen, it's incredible!
It was designed to cook food for the family but on special occasions,
like Victoria's visit, it was used to cook sometimes for about 1,000 people.
There were, I think, 800 in the granary, there were another 100 in the Stuarts' room
and nearly as many in the servants' hall,
and the secret for cooking for all those people is over here.
This is the epicentre of this kitchen. These are the two boilers
which were used for boiling meat, puddings and vegetables all at the same time,
so half a dozen cabbages, 1,000 turnips could all be put into this great thing.
It is what we have in restaurants - big cauldrons for stock pots and things like this.
If you don't have it, you can't cook the food, it's as simple as that.
Next to the boilers is the roasting range.
It allowed the joints of meat to be cooked at the same time.
This one at Belvoir was installed in 1820 and would have therefore cooked HRH's meals for her three-day visit.
One dish in particular that would have been cooked for Victoria
and the servants alike would have been a hearty brisket.
-And that's what we'll be cooking today.
-Here it is.
Fantastic, a piece of brisket.
-A lovely piece of brisket.
-It really is, isn't it?
What we're going to do with it is prepare something called hunters' beef,
which was the traditional dish that was often served at a hunt supper. It's salted and spiced,
-cured beef dish, absolutely wonderful.
Brisket is a cut of beef that needs slow cooking after we've cured it with salt and spices,
and I've discovered, like so many Victorian dishes, we could be here for some time.
The Duke of Rutland had many suites to host his Royal guests in
and journalists on the newly-created Illustrated London News,
desperate for the inside story, were left to guess the details.
But just like today, why let the facts get in the way of a good story, hey?
Their report claimed that a state bed had been made for Her Majesty
and she stayed in the state apartments.
But it hadn't and she didn't.
This illustration of an apparently specially-made bed
is totally disputed by the castle curators, who believe she stayed here
in the King's apartments, which she described in her diary as "very nicely arranged".
The most arresting piece in the room has to be this bed.
I mean, just look at the quality of that mahogany,
richly encrusted with gilt-carved wood. Absolutely gorgeous!
And in the Empire style. This type of bed is called a half tester.
It's got posts at the back, but they're really only for show.
The canopy or tester is supported from above
and there are no posts at the end, hence half tester.
Now, if there's one thing about Belvoir Castle, it's the views which are stunning from most of the rooms.
That's why the choice of this suite of rooms
for the important Kings and Queens staying is so peculiar.
Because if you look out of the window, all you see is flat lead roofs.
But maybe Victoria and Albert, known to be a couple of lovebirds,
weren't so interested in the views from the window.
We've had a look at the dates of their visit and their fourth child, Prince Alfred,
was very probably conceived here...
..perhaps in this very bed. Ooh, Lordy!
Well, there's one thing I do know -
country pursuits, that's the hunt they were here to take part in, of course - really built their appetite.
The hearty hunters' beef certainly fits the bill, and Ivan and I have to start the curing process.
We've got to salt it and spice it and in order to get the salt and the spices
penetrating into the meat, the first thing we got to do
is make lots of little holes with a knife in the flesh.
-So they're to allow all the flavours to penetrate.
The salt has to get in too because that is going to cure it.
Ivan, you know, I do so much curing.
This is incredible because it's exactly the same.
It's really amazing to think that we are still using the same techniques today.
This process will draw the water out of the beef brisket, kill the bacteria and preserve the meat.
I think we can actually put that now into the salting pan.
-The most vital ingredient in this recipe is this,
which is salt peter,
or potassium nitrate.
It's been used for centuries to prevent bacteria from infecting the meat.
-It kills them off very, very quickly.
-It kills everything.
What I'm going to do is, according to the recipe, I'm told to sprinkle this on first by itself
before we put any of the other ingredients on.
-There's very little as you can see.
-You don't want too much.
You need a tiny amount.
And the whole secret is, is to rub it in all over.
In fact, you can see the meat changing colour already because
the salt peter makes it go a much brighter red.
Sometimes this was called scarlet beef - that was another name for it.
Ground pepper, mace and allspice are rubbed into the beef,
followed by salt and brown sugar.
This, as you can see, is a coarse salt. If you use ordinary table salt
it forms a cake over the meat and the salt doesn't penetrate.
-So with this you get a lovely slow release.
-Unfortunately, it does dry the meat out because it dehydrates it, as you explained.
-It draws the water out.
To counteract that, we put in sugar, sometimes honey or molasses is used.
So if you could pop those in, Rosemary, and I'll rub them in.
And now it's a case of just rubbing everything in...
..so we get the benefit of the salt, the spices, and the sugar.
The last thing we need to do is to get that fresh thyme into here.
-I tell you what, I can't stay away.
-I thought you'd say that!
I have to do this!
You take over then. You do that. Just rub it in really well.
God, it's wonderful. It's absolutely fabulous.
Right, well, the good news is, you'll be able to do that once a day for the next 16 days...!
'Well, I'm not sure I've got 16 days to spare. Let's hope Ivan has something up his sleeve for later.'
On day two of the Royal couple's visit to the castle,
the famous Belvoir Hunt was swinging into action,
and a lot was riding on Albert's performance.
The main purpose of the visit was about to begin.
He'd brought six horses with him, and chose to ride his favourite, called Emancipation.
The Times newspaper described how Victoria proceeded thither
by carriage to witness the start of the meet,
which was being held five miles from the castle.
Numerous horsemen rode alongside,
at least 300, and a further 500 joined them on the way.
Victoria notes in her diary that much like her beloved Albert, the hounds were very handsome.
And I'm heading off to see the direct descendants of those good-looking mutts,
and to meet author Michael Clayton, who knows just how important the hunt was.
-Oh, Michael. Hello. Very nice to see you.
Most appropriately with some of your gorgeous girlie hounds.
-Hello, girls. How are you?
Look at that! They are magnificent. Fantastic.
One of the great packs of England, they are.
The kennels were built in the early 19th Century and nothing much has changed since Victoria
and Albert were here, although, of course, they no longer hunt foxes.
What was it like when Victoria and Albert were here?
It was absolutely central to rural life as it has remained since. But at that time, particularly so.
-There weren't any competing things like Premiership football.
Or telly, so it was terribly popular and it wasn't just a class thing, there were people right across the
rural community who would come and enjoy hunting on foot just as much on a horse.
Your normal field would be how many, then, mounted?
In those days, they would have had up to 200 on a good day with theBelvoir,
-although many days they would have less.
-When Albert came?
Well, they had 800 people who came.
-Yes, because people came from all over Leicestershire,
the Cotswold people came in as well, and several thousand, perhaps 3,000-4,000 people on foot.
What a do. Do you think they all came to watch Albert fall off?
I think that's always at the back of hunting people's mind when visitors come to their country.
-They say afterwards, "Well, he may be good, but he couldn't ride our country."
Imagine, the adrenaline coursing through Albert's veins as the master of the hunt sounded the horn.
A report in The Times said, "It was impossible to describe the animated scene, such were the crowds
"of horsemen, so numerous the vehicles from every part of the country, and so galing
"with the red coats mingling with the immense moving mass of several thousand persons present."
And so with the weight of expectation on his shoulders, just how well did Albert do?
Albert passed with flying colours. His aides fell off,
which probably pleased local sentiment a bit, both of them he recorded later he fell to the right
and to the left of me. Albert did jolly well.
Phew, thank goodness for that.
The Royal advisors could sleep easy, knowing that their man had pulled it off.
Victoria was proud of Albert, but like any loyal wife,
she was also a bit put out at the stir it caused.
She never doubted his prowess. Writing to King Leopold of Belgium,
she said, "Albert's riding has made such a sensation
"it's been written about all over the country.
£They make more of it than if he had done some great act. It rather disgusts one.
"but still it does good for putting an end
"to the impertinent sneering about Albert's riding." Ooh.
While the weight of responsibility sat on Royal shoulders above stairs,
below stairs it sat most heavily on one particular member of staff,
as Betty Elmer, one of the castle guides, explains.
Well dressed like this, I am the Victorian housekeeper Mrs Hill from Victorian times here at the castle.
When Queen Victoria visited in 1843, what was expected of the housekeeper?
Well, the housekeeper was the most important female servant in any great establishment.
The responsibilities, which sat on her shoulders, were immense.
So would the housekeeper be as important as the butler?
Well, I think so, certainly. She hired and fired the female servants,
she did the accounts for the Duke and Duchess. Her watchwords were thrift and no pilfering.
When you think about it, items like pepper and tea
cost almost as much as gold, so it was very, very important
on the housekeeper's part to keep a good strong grip on the effects under her controls.
How long would a housekeeper stay with a big house on average?
-Possibly until she retired.
-Because I believe that most housekeepers were single ladies.
So really they had no life, their owners were their family?
That is very true.
And of course her work schedule was so full to capacity,
and when she wasn't supervising the servants or liaising with the cook
about which provisions to buy, she would be in a little room in
the castle called the still room, from the word distillation, and she made all the lotions
and potions that were necessary to keep the staff healthy and the castle clean.
She would distil essential oils such as lavender from lavender flowers
and other oils from other leaves and roots,
and she would use them in making medicines,
medications, soaps, polishes, whatever.
How she found time to go to sleep, she led a very full life.
Well, I tell you what, it's sounds to me as if her work was never-ending.
Much like Ivan in the kitchen!
He's preparing the rest of the ingredients for our hunters' beef,
having cured the brisket as if by magic.
Now, I know this is not the piece that we actually did earlier.
Because, as you said, it would take 16 days to cure.
So, you've had this going for 16 days.
Every single day I've rubbed the salt and spices in and turned it over, that's what you do.
16 days is up. That's now ready to cook.
-What would you like me to do now?
-Pop it into the braising pan.
-Let me finish it. OK.
-There we go.
-Then just straight into the pan,
some very roughly chopped onions and roughly chopped carrot.
-This doesn't need any seasoning because all of the salt and pepper is in there already!
Now that all the vegetables are in, the last thing we have to do is
just top this up with a very large amount of beer.
And Belvoir was very famous for its ales and beer, which were brewed in the village,
brought up to the castle and stored in huge barrels down in the cellar.
So this dish is absolutely perfect for this place and for this occasion.
-So here we have some, it's a good old English ale.
There must be two gallons in there.
-Top it up. Really...
You really want to make sure... I'll put it all in, it's almost covered.
-That's absolutely fantastic.
-Look at that!
-So before you cook this, I really want to get my hands in there, I can't help it.
-Go on, do it!
-You are what I call a touchy-feely cook!
-It's the best kind.
Ooh! SHE LAUGHS
I'm covered in beer!
-You're really enjoying yourself, aren't you?
-I love it!
-Well, we've got to cook it.
This pan is very special because it's what's called a braising pan.
-We now think of braising as being a type of slow stewing.
But it was something quite different at this time.
And this is this wonderful piece of equipment which we're going to braise in.
-I have never seen anything like it.
-The lid fits on very, very tightly.
-And sometimes it was even sealed with a mixture of flour and water so it is completely...
So nothing could get in? It was totally sealed.
-What we are going to do is to put it on to the stove over here, it's very heavy.
-I'll help you.
Get it into the middle.
Really is a two-person job.
This extraordinary pan will first of all warm up from the stove below
and it will start to simmer very, very gently, we want to cook it gently for a long time.
-After about an hour, I'm going to put a couple of shovels of charcoal on the lid.
-That is what it's designed for.
Because you are going to get heat above, and heat below it, and you get this very slow process
of the meat cooking and gradually changing its character and ending up really tender and beautiful.
And we've stopped doing it.
-We now think of braising as being slow stew.
This is what it was originally.
Once cured, this meat will keep for months.
Really handy if a couple of hundred guests suddenly popped in.
It's not like today when you could get something out of the freezer.
While Albert had proved himself to the doubters out on the field,
one person he never had to prove himself to was Victoria.
Her love for him is clear.
Having stayed with the hunt until a fox broke cover, she returned
to the castle and waited, perhaps wandering these very rooms.
As the hours passed, she grew worried - hunting is and was a dangerous sport.
She writes, "I waited very anxiously for my beloved Albert's return,
"which was not till near 5.00 when it was already quite dark."
Well, Tim's been waiting anxiously for his supper, too.
I hope he likes it.
So, Rosemary, what have you been beavering way at here at Belvoir?
Well, as we know,
Victoria and Albert came here for the hunt, hunters' beef.
-That's what this is?
-This is exactly what this is.
Hunters Victoria and Albert, would they have had their beef like this?
This was cooked for the tenants and the servants,
but they would have eaten the same thing, but then it would have been dressed up with a lot of garnish.
We've got the basic model here?
-We have totally the basic model. So can I give you some?
Now, it looks a little bit like pastrami in colour.
I have to say, a bit of brisket like this is my favourite
if it's done beautifully, as this is.
-And there's something, as my mother used to say, about the constituency of it.
-Where the fibres of the meat stay together.
But you know that this is going to be tender before it disappears down your cake hole.
-So here goes.
In a way, it's a sort of beefy ham, isn't it?
-It is. You know what, I think Queen Victoria would have loved sandwiches made of this.
-Wouldn't that be wonderful?
And it takes you exactly, exactly to the quality fodder...
..that these chaps enjoyed.
-I'm going to have a sip of beer now, too.
-Shall we have a sip of beer?
-Cheerio to you. You have certainly beavered to great effect.
The Royal couple's time at Belvoir Castle seems to have achieved its aim of boosting Albert's popularity,
at least in the eyes of Victoria, who sums up the visit in her diary,
"This journey has done great good and my beloved angel in particular had the greatest success."
Join us on our next visit, to Blair Castle in Scotland...
My gosh, you can tell you're in the Highlands here, can't you?
..where Victoria was recuperating from the birth of Prince Alfred,
the baby who might just have been conceived at Belvoir.
And Albert was back out in the field, this time bagging stags.
I think he must have been pretty good at this.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Antiques expert Tim Wonnacott and chef Rosemary Shrager visit Belvoir Castle in Rutland following in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, who visited here in 1843. She was 24, had been married for nearly four years and already had three children.
Tim reveals that, when Victoria and Albert came to Belvoir, Albert's popularity rating was pretty low. Although Victoria adored him, he wasn't really liked by the public or the upper classes. So Victoria's advisers - the spin doctors of the day - thought that the sight of a handsome man on horseback, hunting heroically with the famous Belvoir hunt, might help boost his image. So this notionally private visit was designed to have a public impact and Tim discovers if it worked.
In contrast to the magnificent main castle entrance, the servants had to enter the castle through a dark and dingy tunnel hidden out of sight below the ramparts. Rosemary discovers it's not for the faint-hearted. With chef and food historian Ivan Day, Rosemary cooks a dish that would have been cooked for the whopping 1,000 people the Duke invited for dinner over the course of the three-day royal visit, hunter's beef: a hearty brisket that takes 16 days to cure. They prepare the food in the magnficant kitchen at Belvoir that is just as it would have been during HRH's stay.