DINNER IS SERVED, M’LORD

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 11:34

At that time my uncle John Hudson was employed by Pascall Atkey – a firm that in addition to being a ship-chandlery specialised in the maintenance and repair of kitchen equipment. His job, therefore, took him into most of the large houses situated in Cowes and East Cowes, including the RYS and Nubia House. A civil and obliging man as well as being a good craftsman, he was, I guess, popular with a number of cooks – the proof of this being sundry delicacies (a few woodcocks or half a pheasant, prepared perhaps at the RYS, Nubia House the home of Sir Godfrey Baring, or possibly at Norris Castle) which occasionally appeared on our own table.

On the night in question, having been told the kitchen range at East Cowes Castle needed attention, my uncle thought it necessary to find out in advance (and in his own time) when it would be convenient for the work to be carried out. And knowing my interest in such places, he invited me to go with him.

It was a dark night, and having crossed from West Cowes to East Cowes on the floating bridge, when we entered a gate at the bottom of York Avenue to take a footpath across wooded pastures (now, alas, a housing estate, and of course the castle itself has since disappeared) it was possible to see only a short distance ahead. Suddenly a large form blocked our way, and we nearly collided with a recumbent cow.

Some minutes later, without further incident, we arrived at the castle John Nash had designed and built for himself which, at that time, was occupied by the 5th Viscount Gort – a gentleman frequently to be seen on the Cowes seafront where his carriage and pair driven by a top-hatted, frock-coated, and top-booted coachman would stop near the grounds of Stanhope Lodge to allow its occupants to enjoy the sea air.

Relying on memory, I would say the kitchen we entered was as large or even larger than the one where Louisa Leyton (admirably played by Gemma Jones) started her culinary career. The kitchen range I recall as being about three or four times the size of an ordinary cottage stove.

I cannot say with any degree of accuracy how many servants were present, but I know dinner was about to be served, and the impression given was one of organised bustling as saucepans were emptied into dishes and tureens, and waiting hands whisked away the filled receptacles.

For some moments we stood apart while a great deal of coming and going took place as the food was conveyed from kitchen to dining room. To the best of my knowledge, as far as I could see there were no elaborate dishes to compare with those shown in the television programme. The potatoes and Brussels sprouts, in fact, looked identical to those I myself had eaten earlier that day. I had expected something more exotic.

Left alone while my uncle arranged matters with the cook, I became increasingly aware of one servant in particular, and was gratified finally to become the recipient of a heart-warming smile from as pretty a kitchen-maid as any that wore domestic uniform. Red-headed, too.

At that moment, however, my uncle rejoined me and we left the castle. It was not my good fortune ever to go back.

T. C. Hudson

©  1976 T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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