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This influential exhibition was probably the most important ever staged on the history of the English at table. Throughout the millennium year, it enjoyed large visitor numbers at its three venues - Fairfax House York, Kenwood House London, and the Georgian Assembly Rooms in Norwich. Its spectacular re-creations of period table settings were masterminded by Ivan Day, Peter Brown and Tony Barton, who were assisted by a curatorial team from Norfolk Museums Services and English Heritage. Many important British paintings and artifacts relating to the table were also displayed.A lavishly illustrated exhibition book, edited by Ivan Day, Eat, Drink and Be Merry (2000), was published by Philip Wilson (ISBN 0 85667 519 9).

Lamb's Table Plan

A table plan for the Duke of Newcastle's Feast from Patrick Lamb's Royal Cookery (London: 1710).

The Duke of Newcastle's Feast at Castle Howard 2000

The second course of the Duke's feast set up in the great hall of Castle Howard in Yorkshire. Lamb's lavish tableplan probably represented King William III's high table in St. Georges Hall where he would have dined alone. There were 22 dishes in the second course alone!

The Duke of Newcastle's ambigu 1698

Ivan's recreation of the second course of the Duke of Newcastle's Feast, based on Patrick Lamb's table plan opposite. This meal was almost certainly the garter installment feast of John Holles (1662-1711), eldest son of the 3rd Earl of Clare. The feast took place at St George's Hall, Windsor Castle on 3th May 1698.

Edward Kidder's Wild Boar Pie

A recreation of a wild boar pie for the Duke's Feast

In addition to the Duke of Newcastle's late seventeenth century amigue (a meal in which the dessert acted as a table centrepiece throughout the meal) Eat, Drink and be Merry included a number of accurate re-creations of other historic meals.

The earliest of these was a banquet of sweetmeats of the early Jacobean period. This was presented in a 'bower of bliss', a temporary banquetting house based on an early seventeenth century English wall painting in a farmhouse in Hertfordshire. The banquet was laid out on a contemporary table cloth with sixteenth century silver gilt equippage from Norwich Castle Museum. Many of the sweetmeats were served on 'sugar plate' tazze.

Perhaps one of the most lavish displays was a Regency dessert with original silver-gilt flower baskets. For this table Ivan re-created a large range of late Georgian confectionery from recipes from Nutt, Bell, Caird and Jarrin. All, including some spectacular sugar baskets, were made in original late eighteenth and early nineteenth century confectioner's moulds.This table was exhibited alongside one of the most important features of the exhibition, a display of George IV's Grand Table Service kindly loaned to Eat, Drink and be Merry by Her Majesty the Queen.

Other tables included a Victorian country house breakfast based on a table plan in an 1890s edition of Isabella Beeton and a 1930s nursery tea.

Literature: Ivan Day (editor), Eat, Drink and be Merry. Philip Wilson 2000.

Click on the thumbnails below to see more food and settings from this seminal exhibition.


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