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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

There's a knock on the door and upon its opening the Butler is handed a missive from the Duchess of Kent with instruction that it be delivered immediately to the Lord of the manor.

The Butler knocks on the library door and is greeted; "a letter for you, your Lordship, from the Duchess of Kent". The Butler hands the letter over, bows and disappears.

Victoria at age 16Lord Hadley opened the letter immediately. The future Queen's mother wrote to advise that she and her daughter, Victoria, would be arriving on May 20th for a 3-day visit. Today was March 25th. Lord Hadley sought out his wife, Lady Hadley and began to set forth planning for the visit. Yes, there was so very much to do; i.e. the grounds had to be freshly landscaped, the house had to be thoroughly cleaned and in good repair, menus had to be planned; guests had to be invited and entertainment planned.

Downstairs (behind the scene)

Dozens of servants went into motion. Groundskeepers cut and raked the grass, cleaned up the garden paths and replaced flowers and plants that had not quite made it through the winter. The housemaids cleaned the manor till everything sparkled and not a spec of dust could be found. The kitchen staff would end up cooking day and night. The servants who would attend to Victoria and her mother numbered in the dozens. Extra help would also be brought in as necessary from the village to keep up with the laundering.

The Accommodations

The Duchess and her daughter would be given the finest of all the guestrooms, one which featured deep burgundy colored walls paneled 4-feet high in mahogany. The four-poster bed was covered with a 257-yard velvet spread worth approximately $1,400 back in the mid 1800s. The drapes closely matched the color of the walls and were trimmed in braids of gold cording; the carpeting, burgundy with a gold fleur-de-lis pattern. The room's furnishings also included a dressing table with mirror and chair, chifferobe, loveseat and an upholstered arm chair.

If you were the Earl of Mansfield, you received a two-year notice that the Queen would be visiting, which he would need to keep a secret. To prepare for the visit, he had to make extensive renovations to Scone Palace including the rebuilding of the grounds archway which had been too small to accommodate the royal carriage and build a ground floor apartment for the Queen and her husband because she did not want to go up to the second floor to sleep.

The Repast

During such visits, one at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, the cooking staff had prepared 76 pheasants, 38 partridges, 54 fowl and ten rabbits. A favorite pudding of Victoria's was a jelly made with pink champagne. You can view a few such menus by clicking the word "Menus".

The Daily Activities and Entertainment

On the day of arrival, there would be six other carriages received, full of guests including the local clergy, all of whom would welcome the young Princess when she arrived.

Victoria and her mother would be received at a tea served in the largest of the manor's three parlors. Later, they would be served a 5-course supper in a lavishly decorated ballroom which had been set up to accommodate an area for dining for all the guests as well as an area for dancing. A small orchestra would provide the evening's entertainment.

On the next evening, 21 dignitaries had been invited to dine with a menu that consisted of approximately 30 dishes. After dinner, they would be entertained by an opera singer and pianist. If they were fortunate, perhaps the young Princess who excelled in music might sing for them. There was also a room set up for the male guests who opted to smoke or play cards. And the third evening would be spent just with his Lordship's family.

Until the evening's activities, the days would be spent conversing with the hosts, reading, walking in the garden, visiting with neighbors and horseback riding.

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