The earlier history
The Kitchens before 1789
The great kitchen was constructed to serve the White House, Prince Frederick’s grand mansion, which once stood opposite the palace, but is now long demolished.
The kitchen was located in a separate building to lessen the risk of fire and keep smoke and smells at a distance. However, this did not mean that it was any less important - one of the greatest architects of his day, William Kent, designed the building in fine Georgian style.
For most of the year the building was shut up, but when the Royal Family came to stay at Kew, during summers or weekends, the staff would arrive, equipment would be sent up from London by barge, and a flurry of activity would have transformed the building into a working kitchen. At the end of their stay, all would vanish again just as quickly. This is probably a routine which continued for many years.
The Kitchens from 1789 - 1818
After 1789, George III stayed often at Kew, but even when the White House was slowly falling to pieces, the kitchen was maintained because it was absolutely vital to feed all the ladies and gentlemen, and the servants who attended the king wherever he was.
In the first years of the 19th century, the king stayed more frequently so that the building became permanently inhabited for long periods. Yet during all this time, hardly any modernisation was undertaken. In 1802, the White House was demolished and a new, grander palace begun on the riverside.
A larger kitchen was planned, but the building was never finished, so our little kitchen survived.
From 1818 to present day
The Kitchens after 1818
With the death of Queen Charlotte in 1818, no member of the Royal Family came to stay for more than the odd night, and so the kitchen was left, unused and unoccupied.
Probably from an early date, the upper floors were given over to accommodation. We know that the keeper of Queen Charlotte’s Cottage lived there, as well as pensioned royal servants, but conditions must have been cold and damp.
The lower rooms remained untouched however, perhaps in the hope that they might one day be opened once more. And so it has remained, until a few years ago, when they were revealed once again for the first time, used as storage, and unappreciated.
From May 2012, 196 years after the last meal was prepared, the smell of cooking will rise up once again and take us back to early February, 1789.
From 28 March 2013, visit Kew Gardens and visit Kew Palace at no extra charge.
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