Cooking with copper

Kitchens with copper: Buckingham Palace

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This working kitchen provides a different sort of inspiration.

Buckingham Palace, the seat of the British royal family and the “administrative center” of the government of the country, is one of the most famous and thoroughly-photographed buildings in the world. Built in 1703 as Buckingham House, it became the official London residence for Queen Victoria in 1837. The building has been expanded several times over its history and now consists of almost 830,000 square feet (77,100 square meters) of floor space and hosts state visits as well as hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

Despite the public’s long-standing fascination with and appreciation for this edifice, apparently nobody has thought to discuss the kitchens with any level of detail. I don’t even know exactly where the kitchen is located. To the best of my knowledge, the kitchen is on the ground floor of the Central Block, the oldest portion of the building, just below or near the large state dining room off of the western end of the gallery. (This would make sense — a kitchen would have been built into the original house, located as close as feasible to the dining areas.) The diagram below on the right is an amateur reconstruction of the floor plan of the Central Block as built in 1847, and my best guess is that the kitchen occupies the space labeled “service area” on the 1st floor, just left of center on the lower of the two floor plans.

 

Photos of the kitchen depict an admittedly charmless space. The floor is utilitarian white tile and the low ceiling is darkened by a steel grid with fluorescent lights; kitchen staff work at a series of stainless-steel islands similar to what I’d expect in a large professional kitchen. There is nary a glimmer of natural light to be seen, supporting the conjecture that this room is the windowless “service area” deep in the Central Block. I couldn’t find many panoramic images but here is a fair representation.

59 The Wedding Of Prince William And Catherine Middleton Preparations Videos and HD Footage - Getty Images

The room has alcoves along the walls for storage space and this is where this kitchen’s collection of copper pots is stored. (You can see one copper alcove at the very right edge of the photo above.)

I believe the photo below depicts the pots in one of those alcoves. I would expect the royal family would source their copper from Britain and that’s exactly what I see here. The brass handles have the split baseplate style that I associate with the English makers, and the two larger saucepans on the right have iron handles with the arrowhead baseplate. (Note that the saucepan on the far right had a significant repair — it looks as through the handle may have been torn off at some point and re-attached with a patch!. The iron-handled pots on the left, however, have a mix of handle styles: some have three rivets in a row, some have triangular baseplates, and then there’s one with an arrangement of four rivets that I haven’t seen before. It may well be that these are examples of English makers that I haven’t encountered. Several of the pieces retain the English style of tinning with an inch-wide band of tin around the outer rim.

That oval stewpot in the center of the upper row in the photo above has an elaborate engraved monogram for King George IV and carries the maker’s mark for Bennington. (This photo is watermarked for the stock photo company Alamy.) I also spot what I suspect is a repair at the base of the cramp seam.

Page 3 - Copper Lid High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy

The photo below from an Express story on the preparations for Prince William’s wedding in 2011 shows more of that copper alcove. There are two shelf units in it with a total of three horizontal racks. Note how deep the shelves are in order to accommodate the more massive items.

There is at least one additional copper alcove with a different assortment of pans as shown in the photo below (watermarked for Getty Images). The shelving units are not free-standing but are instead bolted to the wall. I am surprised to see this — that is quite a lot of weight to support!

Chef Mark Flanagan Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty Images

The photo below, taken in 2016, shows a large pot in use to prepare a banquet for the visit of the president of Colombia. I would estimate that is a 40cm (15.7 in) stewpot. It’s gorgeous, and its twin is cooking along right next to it. I love to see these monumental pieces in use.

Image

This kitchen presents an interesting contrast to its sister at Windsor Castle. On the one hand, the Buckingham kitchen with its workmanlike steel fixtures and fluorescent lighting looks dreary next to the soaring light-filled space of the Great Kitchen at Windsor. And yet the shelves of jumbled copper pots at Buckingham strike me as more authentic than Windsor’s high-hung specimens. The pots at Buckingham aren’t on display per se — I don’t think the palace tours ever get to the kitchen. They are kept on open shelves within easy reach because they are used.

Truth be told, I find Buckingham to be more relatable (and inspiring) than Windsor. Don’t get me wrong, of course — I find something to appreciate in each and every copper-using kitchen. But I must admit that I sense a sort of fellow-feeling in Buckingham’s attitude. I started this site with two essentially opposing impulses: to inspire reverence for the antique and vintage copper we still have, but also to encourage regular people not to be afraid of using it, even for such mundane things as heating up a can of soup on a quiet Wednesday night. Of course, a Wednesday night at Buckingham Palace is likely a far cry from what most of us have to contemplate, but that is beside the point: these photos show me that copper plays an integral role in how this kitchen functions. I can think of no greater inspiration than that.

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7 Comments

  1. I would have to get used to the sober atmosphere of this kitchen. Although I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, the windowless room has a somewhat oppressive effect on me. But the niches with the equally numerous and beautiful pots would be a rest for my psyche. Maybe my eyes are deceiving me, but I find such old copper has a very unique hue. The working atmosphere of this kitchen looks very believable. I suspect, like VFC, that copper pots are actually used regularly for cooking here.

    The manufacturer’s name BENNINGTON, whose discreet stamp can be seen on the oval stewpot, was previously unknown to me. I did not find it on theoldcopper.org either, although dozens of English manufacturers are listed there. Finally I found what I was looking for.
    In the “London street directory” of 1834, one can see the entry Bennington & Son, 97 Jermyn St, St James`s.
    In “The British Imperial Calender, 1844” the court suppliers of Queen Adelaide are listed. At the same street address as above, I found John Bennington & Son, Braziers and Ironmongers.
    Finally, in the “Scottish Post Office Directories 1825-26,” under the chapter “Ironmongers, Retail,” a Bennington Jno. was listed, 104 Jermyn-st. This workshop is a few houses away from 97, Jermyn street. I cannot interpret the abbreviation “Jno.” nor see if there is any connection between these entries.
    I couldn’t find any other pans with this maker’s stamp, but I saw some Bennington molds on the web.

  2. I think the getty image is a still from a video available on YouTube “Bill Granger visits the Royal kitchens at Buckingham Palace “

  3. In the video I like how Bill Granger gets to experience the substantial weight of the large copper stewpan.

  4. Another famous kitchen, where copper pots are always used, is the kitchen of the Elysee Palace Paris. This is not only impressively shown by photos of this kitchen, but also proved by some reports on Mauviel, where many of these pots and pans were made and continue to be maintained.

    Guillaume Gomez, Chef of the Elysee Palace kitchen, said: “If (copper) is not used – heated, cooled down, heated, cooled down – it dies”. In this spirit, keep our copper alive – happy cooking and enjoying!

    Merry Christmas to all
    Martin

    1. Martin, thank you for the tip! I will begin researching this kitchen! I also extend to you, and to all the readers of VFC, warm wishes for this holiday season and the turn of the year and a healthy and happy 2022.

  5. I heat dry copper pots on the stove at a slow moderate heat. They hold steady around 200-250°F. Now, as soon as I add an oil with a 375°F smoke point, that 200-250°F pot will go right to 375°F instantly. I use a thermo gun to check pan temps.

    I have been fooling around with oils and pan temps lately. Maybe, someone else has been doing the same.

    1. Hello Bob, I have not tried this but I am suspicious of the readings you are getting from the heat gun. Assuming that the oil is cool when you add it to the pan then there has to be a cooling effect. If I add a cup of cold water to a pan of boiling water it will stop boiling until enough energy is absorbed from the burner to bring back to the boil. Do you have a meat thermometer that could be held against the empty pan to confirm that the gun is giving a true reading?

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