14. The Kitchens
The main and privy kitchens were built by John of Gaunt in the 14th century, and were amongst the most impressive in the country at the time, the main kitchen being twice the normal size. The lantern roof, which helps to provide some natural light, is based on that of the kitchen at Hampton Court.
In the East wall, next to the oven in the corner, is a large built-in copper cauldron. The boards used to store cups gradually acquired doors, becoming the cupboards of today. A drainage gutter, which serves the main kitchen, received water from the inner court, before passing under the kitchens and discharging outside the north wall into a culvert. Just beyond the kitchen is the Dresser, where food is arranged before being carried up the stairs to the Great Hall.
The kitchens were used by Robert Dudley to provide lavish banquets during the queen’s visits, when up to 200 servants could serve up to 700 guests with, for example, beef, mutton, venison and capon dishes, a selection of sauces, and vast quantities of wine. It was said that 320 hogsheads (barrels) of beer were consumed, which is more than 138,000 pints. Elizabeth was fond of ‘metheglin’, a variant of mead distilled from honey and herbs. All food was highly seasoned, for example to chicken would be added sugar, cloves, mace, pepper and cinnamon.
The kitchen staff would have included pantlers (in charge of the pantry), bakers, sauciers, larderers (responsible for the meat and fish), butchers, carvers, page boys, milkmaids, butlers and scullions (servants assigned the most menial kitchen tasks).