Uncovering a Georgian chocolate kitchen

Charlotte Barker became very skilled at spotting the word 'chocolate'

Charlotte Barker became very skilled at spotting the word ‘chocolate’

Charlotte Barker tells me how her research led to the discovery of a hidden Georgian chocolate kitchen at Hampton Court Palace.

A few weeks ago, I went to a storytelling workshop at the Tower of London. At the end of the day, we all had to tell a story relating to our work. Charlotte Barker, a curatorial assistant at the Historic Royal Palaces, stood up and told an extraordinary tale of how her research had uncovered a chocolate kitchen hidden away in the depths of Hampton Court Palace. Until recently, it had been disguised as a flower-arranging cupboard.

A visit to Hampton Court Palace

Keen to know more, last week I took the train to Hampton Court to meet Charlotte.

Hampton Court Palace: worth a visit

Hampton Court Palace: worth a visit

If you haven’t been to Hampton Court, you really should. Set by the Thames a half hour train journey from Waterloo, it’s a glorious mix of Tudor and Baroque palaces, surrounded by spectacular gardens. The Tudor part includes Henry VIII’s jaw-dropping Great Hall, chapel and apartments, while the Baroque side features a vast sweep of apartments originally commissioned by King William III and Queen Mary II.

On the day of my visit, it had been raining hard and the moat was flooded, the lawn underneath transformed into temporary pondweed. As Charlotte and I walked across the Tudor Clock Court towards the Baroque apartments, we came across a group of schoolboys looking for Henry III. “He’s usually around here somewhere,” Charlotte assured them. “Have a look up in the Great Hall.” The boys sped off on the trail of the monarch, a costumed actor supplied by Past Pleasures, the company that ran our storytelling workshop.

Fountain Court: spice, confectionery, chocolate

Fountain Court, home to the royal spicery, confectionery and chocolate rooms

Fountain Court, home to the royal spicery, confectionery and chocolate rooms

From a Tudor passageway, we emerged into Fountain Court, an internal courtyard created for William and Mary. “From her state apartments opposite, Queen Mary would have been able to watch servants in their blue uniforms dash from room to room here collecting spices and confectionery,” Charlotte explained.

“The main kitchens were at a distance from the living quarters to cut down the risk of fire. But in this series of rooms, they would have kept a huge stock of spices such as nutmeg, cardamom and cloves, and the cooks created elaborate confectionery for royal banquets.”

And thanks to Charlotte’s research, led by curator Polly Putnam, we now know that there were also two rooms dedicated to chocolate underneath these elegant stone archways: a kitchen and a preparation room.

Preparing the king’s hot chocolate

In Georgian times, chocolate was an exotic luxury. George I had his own personal chocolatier, Thomas Tosier, who was in charge of preparing the royal cup of hot chocolate for the king’s breakfast each day. This involved roasting the cocoa beans, then mixing them with spices such as chilli, aniseed and allspice, to create a rich, spicy concoction.

“Tosier was in a very privileged position,” said Charlotte, “because he had the king’s ear for a few minutes each day.”

Chocolate cakes and sugar loafs: key ingredients for the king's hot chocolate

Chocolate cakes and sugar loafs: key ingredients for the king’s hot chocolate

Chocolate’s popularity was not limited to royal households. Although coffee and tea reigned supreme, chocolate houses also sprang up around London, catering to a clientele that could afford this luxurious new drink. Tosier owned The Chocolate House in Blackheath, run by his wife, Grace. A portrait of Mrs Tosier at Hampton Court shows quite a character, with a large-brimmed hat, fashionable ringlets and a posy of flowers at her bosom.

Hot chocolate remained a favourite with George I and George II, but by Victorian times, the monarchy was no longer staying at Hampton Court. So the rooms dedicated to chocolate making were given over to grace and favour residents.

Full immersion in dusty tomes

By the 21st century, there were rumours that a chocolate kitchen had once existed at Hampton Court, but no one knew where it was. Charlotte was given the task of sifting through the palace’s files to find some clues. When this drew a blank, she headed off to the National Archives at Kew to immerse herself in dusty, leather-bound tomes.

The document that proved the location of the  chocolate kitchen

“8th door on ye right… chocolate room”

“It involved some extremely long days,” she said. “Most of the archives are records of royal warrants, so they weren’t relevant at all. But eventually I found an inventory, which was an unusual document. It was written in 1710, but gave a record of the rooms in the palace after the death of William III in 1702. By then, I’d become very skilled at spotting the word ‘chocolate’, and saw that the inventory described a list of rooms around Fountain Court, including a ‘chocolate room’.”

“When I saw that phrase, I felt a rush of excitement mixed with a profound feeling of relief that we had found the missing piece of evidence,” she said.

Secrets behind the oasis

Charlotte rushed back to Hampton Court to find out which door was the “8th door on ye right” mentioned in the inventory – and discovered it was a small room packed to the rafters with flower-arranging equipment. “The king’s chocolate kitchen was being used as a storage room for the palace’s annual Florimania show,” said Charlotte. “It was full of vases and oasis. At first sight, there was no evidence at all that it had ever been a kitchen.”

The royal chocolate kitchen, with its fireplace and charcoal brazier

The royal chocolate kitchen, with its fireplace and charcoal brazier

Once cleared, the room revealed its secret history. On the back wall, there was a pulley system above the fireplace which would have been used to raise and lower a metal cylinder which would have rotated over the fire to roast the cocoa beans contained inside. A fold-down wooden table was a Georgian original, made for preparing chocolate rather than arranging flowers. And a brick structure in the corner, covered over with a wooden board, was a charcoal brazier formerly used to cook the king’s hot chocolate.

In February this year, the newly-discovered chocolate kitchen was opened to public display, alongside a chocolate preparation room, where the hot chocolate would have been decanted into porcelain cups surrounded by special pewter holders.

The chocolate preparation room with its display of elaborate porcelain and silverware

The chocolate preparation room with its display of elaborate porcelain and silverware

For Charlotte, all her hard work has paid off. She said: “I still feel I’m a lowly intern at the palace,  but to be involved in such a wonderful project – and have such a fantastic find – is something special. This is a great achievement, and something that I will always remember from my time at the palace.”

Tips for historical researchers

Charlotte has a few tips to pass on to anyone who’s undertaking painstaking archival research.

  • First and foremost, don’t get discouraged – the information is out there somewhere.
  • Don’t be afraid of taking the time to do proper archival research because you can find all sorts of fascinating snippets that provide extra information that you might not imagine finding.
  • Finally, you must find your motivation, otherwise it’s tough work. Keep reminding yourself what you are doing this for.

Ten things I learned at The Story 2014

You never know quite what will happen at The Story, except that it will illuminate distant areas of your brain with unpredictable copper sparks for some time to come. Here are a few of the things I learned from this year’s gathering of storytellers of all stripes – from film makers, writers and artists to illustrators and singers.

1. You have nothing to fear from a jelly hand grenade

Kyle Bean's 'Soft Guerrilla' materials for Cut magazine

Kyle Bean’s ‘Soft Guerrilla’ materials for Cut magazine

Artist / designer / illustrator Kyle Bean goes to painstaking lengths to create extraordinary images. When Cut magazine asked for pictures to illustrate a feature on guerrilla gardening, he came up with the feather knife and jelly grenade shown here, as well as toast knuckledusters and sticks of mini-milk dynamite.

2. The truth is over-rated

In the pursuit of a good story, you sometimes need to bend the truth, twist it or step neatly over it. “We have a really dodgy relationship with reality and are not really interested in it at all,” said Jane Pollard, talking about the documentary she and Iain Forsyth made about Nick Cave.

Kenyatta Cheese agrees. As he says: “It’s not the facts that are important. It’s the emotional truth.”

3. A story needs a ‘yay’ bit at the end

Not all stories end well, but Stella Duffy prefers it if they do. “I believe in a story having this ‘yay’ bit at the end,” she said. This was after she’d told us: “Two weeks ago I had eight hours of cancer surgery. I’m still a bit bloody and very bruised, but isn’t this a lovely frock?” She’s devoting her considerable wit and spirit to inspiring a series of Fun Palaces across the UK in October 2014.

4. Celery and pasta make good gore

Barnaby Smyth is a foley artist: one of those fascinating behind-the-scenes people who creates rustling leaves, rattling chains and footsteps for film and television. He asked us all to close our eyes as he recreated a ghostly story for us in sound. “For decapitation scenes,  I twist a head of celery mixed with boiled penne pasta,” he said. “But you can use tagliatelle too.”

5. Children have great instincts

In a Ministry of Stories project, 13 year old Teodor says you can mould an idea any way you want

In a Ministry of Stories project, 13 year old Teodor says you can mould an idea any way you want

Performance artist Bryony Kimmings worked with her nine year old niece, Taylor, to come up with Catherine Bennett, a paleontologist popstar who is the epitome of the anti-twerk, the un-Thicke of it. Schoolchildren suggested lyrics for CB’s song, The Future, including the brilliant line: “We need at least four more ways to eat potatoes.”

6. We find joy in unusual places

  • Bill Wasik gets his kicks from going viral, and was responsible for gathering a 200-strong flash mob in Macy’s carpet department who claimed to be commune members looking for a ‘love rug’.
  • Tony Ageh loves lists. “A proper list is democratic, neutral, useful and empowering,” he told us.
  • Philip Larkin is partial to procrastination and Vines. Here’s the impromptu Vine made during his talk, part of his ‘What happens if I press this button?’ series.
Lisa Salem with her mobile recording buggy

Lisa Salem with her mobile recording buggy

7. All stories are the same

Feeling lost and alone in Los Angeles, Lisa Salem took an unusual approach in the city-where-no-one-walks. She attached a video camera to a baby buggy and invited people to come and walk with her while she videoed the conversation. “The talks quickly became intimate and personal, and I discovered that everyone tells the same story,” she said. “Everyone wants to be heard, to be seen, to be understood.”

8. Writing a novel is like riding a horse

Novelist Meg Rosoff solved a mystery while she was practising dressage. Why, she wondered, were so many of the novels she was asked to review so mediocre? Her theory – convincingly put – is that you need a good flow and mastery of the unconscious to write a novel. Just as a good dressage rider channels the power of the horse, a writer needs to use the deep, unconscious areas of the brain to create writing that resonates. “Write fiercely with resonance from a really deep place,” she advises.

9. It’s not easy to destroy a computer

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, gave his insights into the Edward Snowden leaks of NSA material. In July 2013, GCHQ supervised the destruction of Guardian computers containing some of the leaked information. “It’s more difficult than you’d think to destroy a computer,” said Alan. “It’s not enough to wipe it clean, hit it with hammers or put superglue in the USB drives. We had to dismantle them, then use angle grinders and drills on the internal components.”

10. It’s never too late to travel with an ancestor

Gruff Rhys gets mystical following in his ancestor's footsteps

Gruff Rhys gets mystical following in his ancestor’s footsteps

Gruff Rhys, the Welsh singer and all-round good egg, told a fascinating story of his 2012 American Interior tour which retraced the steps of a long-dead ancestor, John Evans. Evans was quite a man: he left Wales in 1792, hung out with tribespeople, became Spanish and then French, and ended his days in New Orleans. Gruff was accompanied on the tour by a felt model of Evans, complete with period costume and a pioneering stare. Gruff completed his story by playing us a song about Evans, with around 29 key changes reflecting the many twists and turns of his ancestor’s adventures.

Thanks to the intrepid organisers of The Story for assembling such a brilliant mix of people and ideas. When can I book next year’s ticket?

Once upon a housing estate

Since Procter & Gamble hired Jim Bangel 40 years ago and made him their official ‘Storyteller’, the profession of ‘corporate storyteller’ has become increasingly mainstream. Storytellers now pop up all over the place, not just in their natural habitat – marketing and advertising – but in oil and gas companies, the automotive sector and software firms.

Still, it was a surprise to discover a corporate storyteller who works for housing associations. Appropriately enough, I met Rob Doyle at Story, a once-a-year one day jamboree devoted to storytelling in every form: film, song, animation and art, as well as fiction.

Rob Doyle would like to tell you a story

Rob Doyle would like to tell you a story

Here Rob talks about how he came to be a storyteller, and shares his wisdom about how to use storytelling to make a difference.

Why do people love stories?

It goes back to humanity’s origins. People used to pass on information sitting around a fire telling stories either about where they wanted to go or what they’d done, using their imagination. People tend to forget facts and figures but they remember stories and empathise with the people in them. We’re just addicted to stories and always will be. There’s something magical about stories and storytelling is about bringing some of that magic into the grey world of business and government.

How did you become a storyteller? 

I worked as a journalist for many years and was looking for a change. I saw an advert for a not-for-profit housing organisation looking for a storyteller. We met and liked each other, so I started working there and developing the role. This was a new idea at the time. They wanted to be innovative and use their communications strategy to stand out from similar organisations. They had big ideas and thought that storytelling was the best way to get those ideas out there.

What did this job involve?

Usually, housing organisations let the world know about their work by sending out press releases with lots of facts and figures and quotes from the Chief Executive. Instead, my job was to tell the story of the company through the voices of its customers. So if they’d spent money doing up a community centre, I’d find someone who’d used the centre and interview them to find out how the new facility had changed their life.

Listening is crucial for storytellers

Listening is crucial for storytellers

It wasn’t superficial at all. I’d talk to them and ask about their life story to build up a picture of who they were, where they were from, the challenges they’d faced and their life and loves. Then I’d tell their story and mention – almost in passing – how the organisation had helped them.

How did the organisation use the stories?

Sometimes we’d get a newspaper or magazine feature out of it or something in the local tv news. But I developed a storytelling portal – a website that was filled with written stories, audio files and video footage. The stories could be long or short. The idea was to keep up a constant narrative, going from one story to the next, with the underlying message being that the organisation cared about its customers and lived up to its values and mission.

What did the interviewees think of it all?

Customers absolutely loved it. That’s why this is such a good strategy. They’d probably never had an opportunity before to tell their life story to people. When someone sat down with them and showed an interest, took down everything they said, they revealed things that they normally kept to themselves. Of course, some didn’t want to tell their story. But nine times out of ten, it made people feel good about themselves. Usually, once they started talking, they couldn’t stop. That’s where the power of the story comes from.

What kind of problems did you have to overcome?

There was a bit of resistance to the idea at the beginning. The people at the top of the organisation got it, but the people in the middle were less keen. I had to demonstrate the value of storytelling a lot of the time.

A good story needs both light and dark moments

A good story needs both light and dark moments

Also, I had to show that a story has to contain both the light and the dark side. It can’t just focus on the positive. One time, I was talking to a man who lived in an area that had become really run down before the housing organisation helped to turn it around. He told me that his next door neighbour had killed himself with a shotgun. Some people within the organisation thought it was too controversial to include that detail.

But I convinced them we needed to tell this as part of a story about the triumph of the human spirit.

What are the crucial elements of corporate storytelling?

You have to take all the techniques that you’d use in fiction – conflict and suspense etc. – and use them to take people with you on a journey. I’ve got an MA in Creative Writing so that, together with my journalistic background, really helped me.

Psychologists at Washington University in St Louis tested people as they were reading stories and discovered that they had a definite effect on the brain which seems to encourage us to relive similar experiences and in that way understand real-life experiences better. So by using fiction techniques, you can help bring that same dynamic into play and encourage people to relate stories to their own lives.

How can stories convey a corporate message?

You have to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve. In my new role, I’m working for a housing association that’s challenged by welfare reform and the bedroom tax. Our aim is to encourage people to seek help if they can’t pay their bills. We’ve created a range of stories about what people fear and how they’ve coped with the changes so far. This brings the issues to life because other people can see those stories and empathise with the person telling the story. They think, ‘I’m like that.’ It delivers a positive message, but not in a bland, corporate way.

Get your message across through storytelling

Get your message across through storytelling

Is it worth a try?

Storytelling is a very powerful way for businesses to get their messages out there. Businesses need to get into a more show business frame of mind, thinking about how their communications can entertain and delight people. And once you get going, the results are incredible. It helps get your messages out there and helps you become more connected to customers. If you’re thinking of trying storytelling, take the plunge, because it really does work.

Rob’s storytelling tips

  •  Be authentic. Tell the truth.
  • Write about the dark side too – don’t whitewash your story.
  • Sit down face-to-face for the best results.
  • Be a really good listener.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the right questions.
  • Go beyond the facts and figures to get people talking about themselves.

Story 2013: a kaleidoscope manifesto

Believe in clouds. Be stubborn. Keep your rococo aesthetic. Lob your opinions upwards. Rise up like an octopus, like a rubber parachute, like a chewy umbrella. Don’t believe the hype. Investigate peace. Be joyously, defiantly subjective. Send your characters to remedial school. Talk to the person next to you. Walk into a story. Listen to the voice in your ear. Be careful because it’s pretty hardcore. Form the dough into convex sets and place on a separating hyperplane. Put on yellow wellies and walk into a flooded room. Make important decisions in the moment. Have your superhero and eat it. Put a little piece of your heart into everything you do. Orchestrate emotion on a massive scale. See the new world through the tear gas. Don’t be afraid.

Pic: Steve Kay http://www.flickr.com/photos/nifmus/

Picture by Steve Kay

This is a snapshot manifesto drawn from the words of the speakers at a brilliant, inspiring day yesterday at The Conway Hall for Story 2013. Here’s who said what…

Believe in clouds. The Children’s Republic of Shoreditch at The Ministry of Stories.

Be stubborn. Singer Edwyn Collins.

Keep your rococo aesthetic. NYC artist Molly Crabapple.

Lob your opinions upwards.  Rob Manuel, co-founder of B3TA.

Rise up like an octopus, like a rubber parachute, like a chewy umbrella. Children’s writer and illustrator Laura Dockrill.

Don’t believe the hype. Public Enemy / Digital consultant Alex Balfour.

Investigate peace. Film producer Rebecca O’Brien.

Be joyously, defiantly subjective. Molly Crabapple.

Send your characters to remedial school. Ben Boucquelet, creator of The Amazing World of Gumball.

Talk to the person next to you. Mary Hamilton, zombie herder.

Walk into a story. Playwright Alecky Blythe.

Listen to the voice in your ear. Alecky Blythe.

Be careful because it’s pretty hardcore.  Ben Boucquelet.

Form the dough into convex sets and place on a separating hyperplane.  Economist Diane Coyle.

Put on yellow wellies and walk into a flooded room. Fiona Romeo of the National Maritime Museum.

Make important decisions in the moment. Animator Michael Please.

Have your superhero and eat it. Academic and writer Alice Bell.

Put a little piece of your heart into everything you do. Ben Boucquelet.

Orchestrate emotion on a massive scale. Alex Balfour.

See the new world through the tear gas. Molly Crabapple.

Don’t be afraid. Molly Crabapple.

How sound can tell a story

What can creatives learn from the way that Jacques Tati uses sound in his 1958 film, Mon Oncle? As someone who works with words, sometimes it’s great to come across storytelling that does away with them altogether. This article, written for a 26 / D&AD project, The Story Works, reveals how sound tells a story in Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati.

Jacques Tati investigates bouncing crockery in Mon Oncle

Jacques Tati investigates bouncing crockery in Mon Oncle

I love Mon Oncle. I love the way that Monsieur Hulot ambles through this 1958 film, with his pipe, his too-short trousers and his billowing mac, trailing chaos in his wake. I love the way he’s at home in the shambolic old district, but a flounder out of water in the modern world.

But most of all, I love the way that Jacques Tati (who directed and starred in the film) tells the story through sound rather than words.

So here are some of my favourite sounds from Mon Oncle, together with some thoughts on how they tell the story.

The kitchen that bites back

M Hulot is visiting his sister and brother-in-law, M and Mme Arpel, in their immaculate modern house in the suburbs. In contrast to the animated market in the old district, Mme Arpel’s buzzing, bleeping kitchen has all the charm of an operating theatre. The cupboards are booby-trapped and every appliance produces sound and fury but little that you’d want to eat. The machines have got the upper hand, but they can’t boil a decent egg.

The manic lawnmower

As Mme Arpel tells her husband that M Hulot needs some order in his life, we hear a rhythmic ticking, like someone cutting daisies with tiny scissors. The couple look out from upstairs and see their imperious blonde neighbour manically pedalling a lawnmower in ever-decreasing circles around her miniature lawn.  The insistent, repetitive clack of the lawnmower tells us that there’s madness in her method.

The fish fountain

Mme Arpel activates her metal fish fountain to greet important guests. We hear the ‘buzz-gurgle-buzz’ motif as people ring on the intercom, the water jet starts and the garden gate opens. She turns the fish off when a carpet salesman appears at the gate. She then frantically turns the fountain on again when she realises that the carpet salesman is actually her neighbour waving a poncho. During a tea party, M Hulot breaks the fountain and the genteel afternoon disintegrates into chaos as the fountain springs a leak and spurts gravel over the guests. Mme Arpel’s attempts to control  her environment are outwitted by M Hulot and a big metal fish.

Sausage pipes

M Hulot is given a job at the plastics factory and asked to keep an eye on a colleague’s machine. Soothed to sleep by the rhythmic roar and slow hiss of the production line, he wakes up to find tubes snaking across the floor. The machine judders, hiccups and starts to disgorge pipes that bulge with air pockets.  It then shifts into a pop-pop-pop rhythm that produces a stream of sausage-like links. Rhythm and efficiency reliably dissolve into disorder whenever M Hulot appears.

Tip tap tip tap

Throughout the film, the ordered ‘tip tap tip tap’ of efficient feet contrasts with M Hulot’s meandering, often circular, lope. A secretary’s heels resound sharply along the corridors of the plastics factory as M Hulot marks out a conga of white footprints across the floor. The Arpels tip tap precisely along the paving stones in the garden while M Hulot teeters on edging stones then sploshes through a lily pad into the pond. Life in the modern world is all time and motion, but M Hulot meanders along to a different beat.

Devilish gadgets

Towards the end of the film, gadgets take over at the Arpel household. M Hulot’s nephew Gérard can’t be heard over the self-propelling vacuum cleaner, whirring kitchen gadgets drown out M Arpel and a shaver as loud as an aircraft silences Mme Arpel.  The family are alienated from each other by deafening labour-saving devices which eliminate all chance of human communication.

Lessons from Mon Oncle

  • Milk sound for laughter. As David Lynch said: “For Jacques Tati, every sound effect is an opportunity for humour.”
  • Dialogue’s over-rated. M Hulot mumbles and mimes his way through this film, telling brilliant jokes without saying a word.
  • Don’t talk, bark. “Dogs are marvellous comedians,” said Tati.  Like children and M Hulot, they represent freedom and chaos, and their barking underpins some of the best bits of the film (eg the genius ‘moonlit eyeballs’ scene).
  • Sounds reflect personality. The boss is an uptight ticking clock, Mme Arpel is an overpowering robotic vacuum cleaner and M Hulot is a canary that whistles in the sunshine.
  • She who laughs loudest won’t be invited back. If Mme Arpel ever invites you to tea, don’t laugh too loudly or take plastic flowers.

What else can I say? Watch Mon Oncle. Add your own laughter track. And listen to Tati as he tells a story without words.