A photo of a written ledger on a wooden table
Ledger listing suppliers to Kew

Suppliers at Kew

The Clerk of the Kitchen was responsible for overseeing everything that came into the kitchens, but when George III was at Kew, where was the food coming from? In this Step we will use records from the Clerk’s ledgers to get a better understanding of who supplied the King’s table.

The Clerk worked with the Master Cook to design menus every day for the royal family, but the procurement of the ingredients needed was a whole job on its own. As it was recorded in the regulations:

“The Clerk shall keep an exact account of the Grocery, Spicery and Oylery which he shall have delivered out of the Office and shall on the first day of each week make up in two bills an account of the whole expence of the Spicery, Grocery and Oylery consumed in our Household and Kitchen”.

As such, the Clerk of the Kitchen recorded all transactions in his ledger, which sat permanently on his desk and he checked all food deliveries which ranged from jellies to fish and vegetables. He reported all expenditure to the Board of Green Cloth, who authorised the purchase of all food and drink. Food was purchased from a range of established suppliers, and the Board ensured low prices and good quality were obtained. These records are a wonderful source for us looking back to this period, for example we know that a man called Louis Ramus supplied the kitchens’ dairy products.

We do not know a huge amount about who these suppliers were, just the regularity in which they delivered ingredients to the kitchens. We can see that these purveyors were specialising in small areas, for example in oysters or in lemons, and that they were replaceable with a different supplier the following month. It is also interesting to note that a number of the suppliers named in the ledgers were women.

Office with a desk, table and chairs The office of the Clerk of the Kitchen

So what was being supplied to the Royal Kitchens? The Clerk’s records show that huge amounts of meat were purchased, over 5,000lbs a month, including offal: tails, breasts, necks, sweetbreads, lambs’ testicles, pigs’ ears and feet, tripe, liver and calves’ heads. Meat was cheap, beef and mutton being cheaper than pork and veal. Poultry was also popular, with turkeys, pullets and chickens all being bought in. We have records of a number of different suppliers for meat: Thomas Sear is one whose name appears frequently, and a Mr Gilbert as a regular supplier of poultry. Pheasants, partridge, grouse and other game were shot, often sent to the King by lords from their estates. Additionally little songbirds such as blackbirds, larks and starlings and wading birds were also shot for the table.

The most expensive food was fish. Fish from both sea and river were served regularly, with skate, cod and salmon the most popular. Elizabeth Maishfield was a purveyor of fish, while oysters were delivered by her namesake, a supplier called Elizabeth Wilson. Shrimps, crayfish, prawns, crabs and lobster were also delivered.

A trade card which reads 'Oysters fresh every day' and features a drawing of a woman holding oysters

A trade card from 1800-20 c. British Museum

Fruit and vegetables were normally eaten in season, although apples, pears and root vegetables were stored. Some fruit and vegetables, such as asparagus, were forced, as we shall see when we explore what the King was eating.

Some produce was grown on the estate at Kew and the King’s farm in Richmond, but much was being brought in from suppliers: a real change from earlier monarchs’ tables. One vegetable supplier seems to have held the monopoly on supplying vegetables to the kitchens: a man named Savage Bear (no evidence exists as to whether this was his real name!). He brought amongst other ingredients: broccoli, turnips, horseradish, watercress, asparagus, chestnuts and French beans, apples, shallots, onions, potatoes, sauerkraut and mushrooms. However we do know that a woman named Elizabeth Whetten sold lemons to the kitchens, so Mr Bear was not the sole greengrocer in business at Kew.

Bread was made in the bake house but pies, tarts and gateaux were often bought in, including the jellies which George was known to be eating during his illness. A woman called Ann Winckles made a business from supplying this jelly, along with blancmange.

In contrast to the food, little was spent on alcoholic drink. George and Charlotte drank little, and the allowance to the household was not great. Below is a record of the Clerk’s procurement accounts from the start of 1789. You can see what a small amount was spent on wine, in contrast to the huge amount being spent on meat in the same period. In the next activity, we’ll look more closely at George’s eating habits, and whether he really warranted the nickname ‘Frugal George’.

For reference: The values listed below are broken down into pounds (£), shillings (s) and pence (d). There were 20 shillings in a pound, and 12 pence per shilling. These values were used in Britain until decimalisation of the currency in the 1970s. £1 in 1789 represents approximately £60 today.

6th JANUARY to 5th FEBRUARY 1789

Meat served by John Wright - Total £261 12s 3d

Poultry served by Edward Chesterton - Total £132 15s 4d

Fish served by Richard Piper - Total £69 0s 3d

Pastry served by William Roberts - Total £69 14s

Grocery served by William Boundillion - Total £21 11s 2d

Oylery served by Edward Howis - Total £47 5s 6d (oil, mustards and vinegar)

Herbs and roots served by Savage Bear - Total £38 13s 10d

Lemons and oranges served by John Wiseman - Total £5 2s 10d

Wines - Total £4 19s 6d

Butter, eggs, grits [ 7 gals @ 6d] pease 7 @ 6d - Total £57 2s 6d

Butter 640lbs @ 11 ½ d; eggs 100s, 39 @ 12/- Bacon and lard, 381 lb @ 9d and 96 ¾ lard @ 7d - Total £17 10s 8d

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This article is from the free online course:

A History of Royal Food and Feasting

University of Reading