Dining at Preston Manor

The Stanfords and their Servants

At Preston Manor, owned by the Stanford family, there is documentary evidence to contrast dinner in the dining room with supper in the servants’ hall. A typical menu for the Stanfords and their guests consisted of beef soup, salmon, sirloin steak or pheasant, orange soufflé, and devilled sardines. The butler served white wine, champagne, and port. This rich food and drink was a form of conspicuous consumption, demonstrating their wealth.

Victorian and Edwardian servants came from working class backgrounds in which they faced terrible poverty and malnutrition. As a result, country house servants developed enormous appetites. The Preston house servants enjoyed traditional English food like steak and kidney pie, and roast lamb. In the nineteenth-century, British servants were allowed a pint of beer at every meal. By the Edwardian period employers were concerned with inebriated servants, thus “beer money” was introduced – money in lieu of beer.

 Photographic print copy of Dora, a kitchen maid at Preston Manor in 1920, in the manor's garden, PMPHO000211
Photographic print copy of Dora, a kitchen maid at Preston Manor in 1920, in the manor’s garden, PMPHO000211

The Hired Help

In the Victorian era, the landed gentry usually employed a chef, cook, kitchen and scullery maids to work in the manor house kitchens. Mrs Beeton, in 1861, recommended that a chef should be paid £50 a year, whilst a scullery maid should be paid only £9 a year. The maids endured a tough regimen which started at 6.00am. The scullery maid cleaned the copper batterie de cuisine with lemon skins or salt and vinegar; she also prepared the meat and vegetables. The kitchen maid blackleaded the ranges with the graphite based “Zebra” polish, and also helped with the chores.

In most Victorian country houses, the culinary servants were expected to make four sets of meals daily. Strict segregation meant that these meals were held at different times and different places in the manor house. The most important meals were served in the dining room for the master, mistress, and guests. The schoolroom was used for meals for the governess and older children. The nursery was used to serve food for the nurse and infants. The servants ate their meals in the servants’ hall, but the upper servants finished their pudding in the housekeeper’s room.

Six of the Preston Manor servants, c1920
Six of the Preston Manor servants, c1920, PMPHO000206

The Victorian Kitchen

In the Victorian period a typical manor house was an incongruous mixture of status symbol, luxury hotel, business headquarters, kindergarten, wine warehouse, and bric-a-brac collection. In its role as luxury hotel, a manor house had to provide rich food as part of the entertainment for the landed gentry.

According to Victorian inventories, most country house kitchens had red tiled floors on which there would be a carpet hearth rug, a range, dresser, 6ft long table, a couple of Windsor chairs and a clock. The kitchen walls were painted blue in order to attract flies away from the food. (Today, blue lamps are used in butchers’ shops for the same purpose).

Next door to the manor house kitchen was the scullery in which the meat and vegetables were prepared and the copper batterie de cuisine was sometimes stored. Copper utensils were made popular in the early 19th century by Monsieur Alexis Soyer. The master chef designed the kitchens at the Reform Club, in London, and the Great Kitchen at the Royal Pavilion. Victorian manor houses contained at least two larders: the “wet” larder, used to store raw meat, and the “dry” larder, used to keep cooked meat and pastry.

It was an established practise that the kitchen and domestic offices were situated in the basement – a long distance from the dining room. This was because the Victorians were very concerned with kitchen odours – odours especially strong due to the Victorian preference for roasting meat in front of an open flame.

Victorian manor house kitchens usually had two types of ranges. The open range was used for spit roasting via smoke jacks. These ranges had adjustable cheeks to vary the size of fire and they were often fitted with water boilers. The closed range, or kitchener, was used for baking and boiling via the ovens and hotplate. These ranges used coal burning fires to produce convection currents of hot air. In the eighteenth-century, the American physicist Count Rumford criticised the use of cast-iron ranges because of the extravagant waste of fuel and heat, and even the Victorians regarded kitcheners as ‘coal guzzling monsters.’

One Response

  1. I adore all the interesting facts about life in Preston manor! I love the manor very much, but I do not like the basement because it just doesn’t feel comfortable to be there. On the whole though I love the manor and all its rooms and beautiful furnishings. I only wish I were a millionaire and therefore rich enough to buy it I love it that much!

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