A rare opportunity to go behind the scenes at Windsor Castle will be available to pre-booked groups for the first time this autumn. The special tour, 'From Great Kitchen to State Apartments', begins with an introduction to the history of royal dining, past and present, and to Windsor as a working royal palace today. This is followed by a guided visit to the Great Kitchen and medieval Undercroft, neither of which are open to the public. The tour concludes in the magnificent State Apartments, which are regularly used for entertaining on State and ceremonial occasions.
The Great Kitchen at Windsor is 'the oldest, substantially unchanged and still working kitchen in the country'. Dating from the 13th century, it has remained in constant use for nearly 750 years. After the fire of 1992, it was painstakingly restored, and the beautiful stone vaulting and arcade of the Undercroft were revealed for the first time in centuries.
The restoration work saw a complete refitting of the kitchen quarters to 21st-century standards, including new lifts to deliver the food for State Banquets to St. George's Hall. Previously all xx courses for the 161 guests had to be walked up the stairs, so an extra 20 plates were always prepared in case of a disaster. To this day, staff of the Royal Household's 'F' (Food) branch use the Great Kitchen for the preparation of food for both ceremonial occasions and more informal events. Traditional copper pots from reign of George IV stand alongside modern high-tech equipment, such as the huge walk-in fridge and giant food mixer, capable of whisking hundreds of eggs at once.
The style of royal dining has changed considerably over the centuries. In the field of entertaining, as in so many others, no monarch matched George IV's extravagance and sense of theatre. When Prince Regent, he gave a lavish supper for 3,000 guests at his private residence, Carlton House. The dining table extended the length of the house and was covered with a grand service of gold plate arranged around a stream, within which gold and silver fish swam. George IV's spectacular silver-gilt tableware is still used at State Banquets today.
Queen Victoria introduced the occasion known as 'Dine and Sleep', at which ministers, ambassadors and those prominent in public life, such as the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the soldier Lord Kitchener, were entertained at the Castle. This tradition is maintained by Her Majesty The Queen today. Dine and Sleeps are held every Easter at Windsor, where guests include politicians, diplomats and church leaders.
The tour 'From Great Kitchen to State Apartments' is available to pre-booked groups from 30 September 2003 to 24 March 2004 (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), price £30.00 per person. To book a tour or receive further information, telephone 020 7766 7313.
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