The Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace was a small but specialised series of rooms used by royally-appointed chocolate makers to prepare this expensive delicacy for kings and queens.
The Chocolate Kitchens were built by Christopher Wren in about 1690 as part of William III's (1689-1702) and Queen Mary II's (1689-94) rebuilding of Hampton Court Palace. At the time, chocolate was relatively new in England and an expensive luxury. Its inclusion in the new part of the palace demonstrated the wealth, power and modernity of William's and Mary’s court.
The King and Queen would usually take their chocolate as a drink at breakfast time. It was often served in the bedroom and served as part of a ritual known as the levee, where the king or queen would get dressed ceremoniously in front of a special chosen few. William, however, was especially fond of chocolate and would drink it throughout the day, often accompanied by his close friend and courtier, the Duke of Portland.
Image: Queen Mary II, by Sir Peter Lely, c1677. © National Portrait Gallery
Charles II employed the first chocolate maker, a man called Solomon de le Faya, in 1686. George I’s chocolate maker was Thomas Tosier, who started working for the King in 1717. He ran a chocolate house on Chocolate Row in Greenwich, south east London. His wife Grace managed and expanded the business while Thomas worked at court. It was very popular and often mentioned in the social pages of newspapers. Grace even installed a ‘Great Room’ in 1721, just for dancing!
Image: Once roasted, the husks of the cocoa beans were removed and the nibs, seen here, were ground by hand into a smooth paste, a process that took hours.
The Tosier name was clearly important, as even after Thomas died and Grace remarried she remained a Tosier. It appears that Grace was quite a flamboyant character, known for wearing a ‘large brimmed hat’ and ‘flowers in her bosom’.
Grace was so popular that the fashionable painter Bartholomew Dandridge painted her portrait in 1729. Today you can see this original print hanging above the fireplace in the Chocolate Room.
Grace Tosier's portrait became a collectable print and she was considered a Georgian celebrity.
In the Chocolate Kitchen, you can see all the equipment and examples of the ingredients and different flavourings used to make this delicious royal drink. These included red chillies, for those at court who liked the extra heat!
The cacao nuts were roasted, flavoured, and the nibs were ground on a hot stone slab called a metate to form a paste. The paste was then formed into blocks known as cakes. These were then left to mature for several months.
The cakes were then melted into milk, water or wine, which was sweetened with sugar and flavoured with spices. All of this hot, messy process took place in the Chocolate Kitchen.
The drink was then taken into the Chocolate Room, a secure space, where the gilded chocolate pots and expensive porcelain cups were stored. It was then poured into the serving items and taken directly to the king or queen.
Transforming cocoa beans into readily usable chocolate was a fundamental activity of the Royal Chocolate Kitchen during the Georgian period. There the cocoa beans underwent a laborious process, which turned them into the chocolate cakes, 'cakes' in this case meaning 'pieces'. These delicious discs were stored for months on wax paper, as seen here.
The Chocolate Kitchen had been mentioned in many documents but its location remained a mystery. Then in 2013, one of our curators discovered an 18th-century inventory of the palace, pinpointing the location of this rare royal kitchen in Fountain Court.
Until very recently, the Chocolate Kitchen was used as a flower store, filled with shelves, pots and vases. However, previously it had been a working kitchen that served the grace and favour apartments above.
Thankfully, the 18th-century fixtures and fittings all survive – you can see a Georgian fireplace and smoke jack within the chimney, a pair of charcoal braziers, plus a folding table, cupboard and shelves.
Just down the cloister from the Chocolate Kitchen, next to Chocolate Court, is the Chocolate Room. As with many parts of the palace, this too was recently a store that would have been used by residents of the neighbouring grace and favour apartments.
Our helpful 18th-century inventory is quiet on the use of this room, but we know from work records that the King’s Chocolate Room was next to Chocolate Court.
Today, you can see replicas of the porcelain, delftware cups and the silver chocolate pots, and serving equipment.
The Chocolate Room held the beautiful serving equipment used to present chocolate to the monarch.
The Chocolate Kitchen is the only surviving kitchen of this kind in Britain. After careful studies, the Chocolate Kitchen was opened to the public in February 2014, with a display that retells the story of chocolate made for George I by his own personal chocolate maker Thomas Tosier.
Come along and enjoy a fascinating talk by Nicola Tallis on her newest book, Elizabeth's Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester
06 November 2017
Doors open at 13:45 for a 14:00 start
The stunning gardens of Hampton Court Palace will be the setting for a unique cinematic experience this autumn.
30 October - 01 November 2017