Join us for an online talk with Derek Adlam, exploring Christmas entertaining at Welbeck Abbey in the Georgian period.
Derek will discuss some of the remarkable details of Duchess Henrietta’s household accounts from 1813-1834. The Duchess kept extraordinarily detailed notes on the running of her household, and these accounts give us a fascinating insight into life above and below stairs in the stately home. Derek will share some of the findings from his extensive research into these accounts – including his discoveries about what a smashing time the staff had in the dining hall.
Henrietta Scott (1774-1844) married the future 4th Duke of Portland in 1795. She was affectionately known as ‘The Rich Miss Scott’ – she was the eldest of three sisters, and her younger siblings were known as ‘The Witty Miss Scott’ and ‘The Pretty Miss Scott’.
“As Jane Austen might have written, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a great debt must be in want of an heiress.
Such a single man was William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, Marquis of Titchfield, future 4th Duke of Portland. He knew that when he succeeded to the Portland estates and ducal title, he would also inherit his father’s debts, which in 1809, aggravated by the 3rd Duke’s political ambitions, confectioners bills, and maintenance of the best table in London, amounted to about £¼ million. And that’s roughly equivalent today to £20 million.
Financial damage had begun early in the 18th century beginning with a disputed will, continued with the South Sea Bubble, a disastrously costly legal battle over disputed land ownership, and the expenses of the 3rd Duke’s important career as a politician and statesman.
Despite this looming debt, the relationship between father and son was close and affectionate. Before his father’s death, the 4th Duke-to-be had quietly and effectively laid plans for repairing the accumulated damage to the family finances. One step on this part was his marriage in 1795 to Miss Henrietta Scott, the ‘Rich Miss Scott’ of the title of this talk.
Whatever the financial benefit, this was not a marriage of convenience, but a marriage of two minds, a true partnership.
Who was this ‘Rich Miss Scott’?
She was the eldest of three sisters, the others known as the ‘Witty Miss Scott’ and the ‘Pretty Miss Scott’. Their father was soldier and politician General John Scott of Balcomie. Born in 1725, General Scott at the age of 45 had made a disastrous marriage to Lady Mary Hay, aged just 16 years old.
A few months later, Lady Mary ran away with a notoriously philandering army officer, who not only served under General Scott, but was a guest in his house at Balcomie in Fife. Pursued and discovered, Lady Mary was assured that no harm would come to her, but that the marriage was at an end, and that she would be immediately divorced according to Scottish law and would be handed over to the care of her uncle.
Two years after the divorce, General Sir John Scott married his second wife, the honourable Margaret Douglas, a lady of mature years. Three daughters were born to them, but Sir John died in 1775 before the birth of their third daughter.
In addition to his career as an army officer, landowner and politician, Sir John Scott’s life must seem to us rather rackety. For he was an extraordinarily gifted gambler.
Through gaming, he amassed a fortune of £1/2 million, which is equivalent today to about £18 million. In 1766 in a bet against a relation of his wife’s, he won Dundas house in Edinburgh, now the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. This [prize] was converted into a new build house Bellevue Lodge, which became the Scott’s Edinburgh country house.
On Sir John’s death in 1775, his eldest daughter Henrietta Scott, then only two years old, became his principal heir. There were two important conditions to her inheritance. The first was that if she were to marry a peer of the realm, she would forfeit her entire fortune. Secondly, her husband-to-be was to take the surname of Scott in recognition of her family origins and the importance of her inheritance.
20 years after the death of her father, Henrietta the ‘Rich Miss Scott’ was courted by William Cavendish Bentinck, the young man in need of an heiress. They married in 1795 when Miss Scott was 21 – old enough to know her own mind. It’s important to know that although William Bentinck on his marriage was styled the Marquess of Titchfield, he was not yet a peer. His title was a courtesy title as it were, borrowed from his father the 3rd Duke, then still living. He also willingly adopted the additional surname of Scott when Duke, signing letters as Scott Portland. The terms of Sir John Scott’s will were observed, so Henrietta Scott’s fortune was secure.
The 3rd Duke of Portland was delighted by his son’s marriage. Aware of his liking for Welbeck Abbey and its estate, decided that henceforth the young couple should treat it as their own, making it their principal residence. This they happily did.
The young Marquis of Titchfield had little taste for public life, perhaps influenced by his observations on its effect on his father’s fortunes. He was born in 1768, was carefully educated, and attended Christchurch College Oxford for two years although he didn’t take his degree. His father then sent him to the Hague for two years to gain diplomatic experience working under the British Crown’s envoy. Although he served as a member of parliament until succeeding as 4th Duke of Portland, and was briefly Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council, he chose instead to devote himself to the repair of his family’s finances, to agricultural improvement, to forestry, and to certain technological advances within the industrial revolution. He was the first to introduce steam locomotion to Scotland in 1817. Another triumph was his promotion of an innovative ships hull design. He commissioned and raced two yachts against to traditional ships, of the line, leading the ships far behind. With the help of the sailor King William IV, this led directly to the reconstruction of the entire British fleet.
Family life was important.
He and Marchioness Henrietta were close to their four sons and daughters, though he might wonder that none of the sons married and only one of the daughters had children.
The loss of their eldest son in 1824 was a severe blow. The Dukedom, ultimately passing to Lord John, the second son, famed as the reclusive 5th Duke of Portland – the underground man responsible for Welbeck’s subterranean structures and driveways.
On his father’s death in 1809 William Bentinck succeeded as the 4th Duke of Portland.
Through correspondence, portraits, records of his interests and concerns we can form a clear view of his life and personality. His wife, however, is elusive. A few early portraits, little surviving correspondence, little or no representation and contemporary diaries. We have however, a most remarkable resource and source of information in a series of memorandum books written by Duchess Henrietta from the late 1860s until a year of two before her death in 1844.
In these little books, in microscopic handwriting, she records observations on matters of interest, together with copious records of estate and domestic costs and the management of the great country house. The detail on these record in prodigious, and often daunting. Cleary indicating an obsessive personality with an intense interest in such quotidian matters. She was in complete control of her own finances and ran her household in full awareness of their complexity and scale.
She even records loans of cash to her husband, together with the interest paid duly into her own accounts. If we look for an explanation for the writing of these memorandum, she perhaps wanted to pass her expertise and knowledge on the detail of running these great houses and estates onto those who would come after her. By then, she would have known that this responsibility would almost certainly fall on her second son, Lord John, the future reclusive 5th Duke of Portland. And those responsibilities and costs were on a scale which would give anyone considerable concern not to say anxiety, even alarm.
Henrietta’s little books let her share with her the celebration of Christmas in 1830, revels which extended quite far into new year 1831. She tells us that Welbeck Abbey, then full with family and guests – 100 persons present in the building including servants. All the rooms were occupied.
We are told that there were 70 fires throughout the house and an extra 20 in adjacent buildings. The quantity of fuel needed was prodigious. In the Abbey, its kitchens and bakehouse, about 5 tons of coal per day were burnt during winter. All those fires had to be maintained and guarded, fireplaces cleaned, coal carried throughout the house, ash removed, chimneys swept.
We have to imagine the army of housemaids and other servants doing this work discreetly behind the scenes.
The house was lit by candles and oil lamps. Each week, about 32 pounds of candles were required. Soap had to be bought in. In the week beginning December 20th, 22 pounds of soap was used in the laundry with 3 1/2 pounds going to the manservants and the same to the maids.
In addition to family and friends staying in the house, for 10 days before Christmas Eve, there were 12 extra visitors including 5 children daily in the main dining room, which would be resplendent with fine ornamental silver and silver gilt plate.
In the first fortnight, 148 ‘accidental’ guests came and sat in the house, while below stairs there were 27 extra servants, probably ladies maids, valets, coachmen and so on, which had accompanied guests travelling by horse and carriage. For the railway network had yet to be developed across England.
22 upper servants dined in the Stewards Room.
Food and drink were of course essential to all this entertaining, and Duchess Henrietta spares us no details of quantity and cost.
Her housekeeper in the first week (from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve in 1830) required:
88 pounds of butter,
37 pounds of sugar,
13 pints of cream,
2 pounds of black pepper,
2 pounds of rice,
6 pounds of raisins,
and 12 pounds of currants.
The housekeeper rather mysteriously also required paper and pack thread. This will be explained later.
The cost of all these provisions was £12/4/5, equivalent today to about £1400.
The Abbey’s professional confectioner was busy too. During that first week, he got through:
13 pounds of butter,
92 pounds of sugar and sugar candy,
3 pounds of ginger,
13 pounds of currants,
16 pounds of coffee,
3 pounds of cocoa,
5 1/2 pounds of black tea
and 2 pounds of green tea.
The confectioner’s expenditure continued on this level, as over the next two weeks he got through 300 oranges, 45 lemons, quantities of eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, dried fruit, several hundred chestnuts, more tea, coffee, and cocoa, and always, many, many pounds of sugar.
Duchess Henrietta calculated that on average in the four weeks of celebrations beginning on the 20th December 1830, each person ate 2 pounds of meat a day. She records in those four weeks that the total expenditure on meat from Welbeck’s farms and butchers, together with poultry game, and not forgetting fish bought from the lake and bought from fishmongers, and sundries from the baker and housekeeper, came to £279/14/9. It’s the equivalent today of spending about £33,000 on meat in four weeks.
The Duchess is unrelenting. She lists the exact quantity of poultry and game consumed over Christmas. 168 chickens, 6 geese, 26 turkeys, 15 ducks, 32 hares, 31 pheasants, 22 partridges, 7 woodcock, 55 rabbits and 2 does for venison.
How would all this have been dressed for the table?
Well, almost certainly some would have gone in traditional English Yorkshire Christmas pies.
The cooks began by boning a turkey, a goose, a brace of pheasants, 4 partridges, 4 woodcocks, and any other small game birds which came to hand.
These were then stuffed with fat bacon and truffles, all carefully sewn up with packthread so that the stuffing could not escape. Braising pans were then lined with thin layers of fat bacon. The stuffed birds were arranged neatly in them and covered with buttered paper. We now see why the housekeeper needed quantities of paper and packthread. The covered pans were then sent to the Abbey bakery to be cooked slowly, for about 4 hours.
While the birds were cooking, a quantity of highly seasoned aspic jelly was prepared from game and poultry carcasses, calves’ feet and root vegetables. A pastry pie case was also made from butter, flour and very hot water, all sufficient to contain the amount of poultry intended for the pie.
Such pie cases were elaborately decorated, baked blind, and then lined with a layer of thin fat bacon covered with a layer of rich liver pate. The cooked and cooled birds were then arranged in the pie beginning with the goose, surrounded by smaller game birds. Any spaces were filled with pate. Turkey and pheasants formed the second layer, surrounded by slices of boiled ham, surrounded by woodcocks and smaller game birds. Any gaps were filled with truffles, and the whole was covered in a layer of fat bacon with melted butter poured over it.
The richly ornamented lid was placed on the pie, and the completed masterpiece was sent to the bakehouse to be cooked gently for about 6 hours.
When done, the lid was lifted to allow the reduced aspic to be poured into the pie, which was then sealed again and left to cool.
The twice-cooked meats immersed in fat would keep safely for quite a long time.
Such a Christmas pie would clearly need four strong footmen to carry it in formal procession in to the dining room.
The separation between sweet and savoury dishes had come about slowly in England during the 18th century, but some strange old recipes combining the two had lingered on. An old tradition of serving Christmas pottage or porridge, an odd medley of meat stock, wine and fruit, thickened with crushed biscuit or rice flour, probably no longer featured in English hospitality – but mince pies certainly did.
These are a vestigial survival of an ancient practice of preserving meat with sugar, alcohol and fat, persisting into our own time in traditional mince pies where the fat ingredient consists of beef suet. A recipe for 19th century mince meat, which would have been familiar to Duchess Henrietta, combined 1 ½ lean minced beef and 3 pounds of grated beef suet, with 5 pounds of raisins and currants, 2 pounds of sugar, finely chopped apple, citron, candied lemon and orange peel, all flavored with lemon juice and nutmeg. And not forgetting 1 ½ pints of brandy. This is set aside to mature before use in sweet pastry cases.
Apart from tea, coffee and cocoa, alcoholic beverages played an important use in daily life and traditional English hospitality and cheer. In the first week of the Christmas celebration in 1830, the company drank 71 bottles of wine and spirits, but the principal beverages were actually ale and beer. In the first week, 165 gallons, that’s 1320 pints, of ale and beer were drunk. The grand total for the four weeks of Christmas 1830-31 were 291 bottles of spirits, but 8264 pints of ale and beer, at a total cost of £180/17/4. Equivalent today to about £20,000.
We might wonder at the effect such quantities of alcohol could have had.
I have puzzled over the Duchess’s regular and frequent purchases of earthenwares, or ordinary domestic china and pottery.
A detailed entry for 1836 makes things clear. Here, Duchess Henrietta gave details of ‘quantities of earthen ware broken annually’ in her household. She noted that 460 pieces of china had been broken, the Stewards Room being particularly accident prone. There, the upper servants had managed to dispose of 66 dinner plates, 14 meat and vegetable dishes, 6 sauce boats, a dozen cups and saucers, and 26 other pieces of domestic china. These frequent accidents might well have been the result of a little overindulgence.
In case an emphasis on rich meat dishes skews our impression of the daily diet eaten at the Duchess’s table, there would also have been vegetables brought from the great Abbey kitchen gardens, hot house fruits, such as pineapples and grapes, stored apples and pears from the orchards, and great quantities of preserved peaches, nectarines, gooseberries, strawberries and so on, prepared throughout the year by industrious maids working in the still room, all noted – in meticulous detail – by Duchess Henrietta.
Duchess Henrietta’s little memorandum books opened doors onto a past world of extraordinary open-handed generosity and celebration at Christmas, which in one month would cost the modern equivalent of about £55,000. The books give us insight into the concerns and daily life of a remarkable woman who would otherwise have remained the shadowy, distant, ‘Rich Miss Scott’.”