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Secrets From Our Stores: Late Night Cocoa

Date: 14 December 2015

Over the past 500 years, the many buildings that make up Hampton Court Palace have been continually updated and changed through new additions and repairs to the old. This is the story of a cocoa tin that was hidden by workmen in the early 20th century, only to be uncovered by others almost 80 years later.

After the terrible fire that tore through the Baroque palace in 1986, the floorboards in the King’s Eating Chamber were removed for repair and a small metal tin was discovered with its original label still intact. This Rowntree’s Elect cocoa tin was made by the famous York chocolate manufacturer and the label is printed with ‘Scientific opinion’ exclaiming the benefits of the product.

These include its agreeable flavour and aroma…..everyone should elect to use it (Hospital Gazette) and a dietetic preparation of the highest quality and value, pure and wholesome; of fine flavour, and very soluble. It is most economical (Dr Gilbert Sutherland and J. Alfred Wanklyn).

Inside the tin we found a perfectly preserved letter from March 1911. Written on mourning paper, edged in black and embossed with the monarch’s coat of arms, it is likely that it was produced following the death of Edward VII in 1910.

The letter was written by William Dobson, a night watchman who oversaw the laying of the floor in the King’s Eating Room and details the work that was done and who by. It is interesting to think that in 1911, the three carpenters that laid the floor were supervised by four night-watchmen!

Today, as conservation of the palace continues, more fascinating objects are discovered under floorboards, behind panelling and in roof voids. These items are all added to our collections and help us tell the fascinating stories that went on behind the scenes.

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