Catering at the Crystal Palace in 1894


Fred Peskett

Very little has been put into print about the catering at the Crystal Palace in respect of the arrangements for the exhibitions and the general need to provide food and drink for masses of visitors. Some idea of the requirements have been found in a booklet published in May 1894 by Bertram & Co, the Refreshment Contractors. Not only the daily requirement and charges, but how the catering system operated. First a tour of the principle departments.

The preparation rooms, kitchens and storage areas were situated around the South Transept area out of sight, below the public viewing galleries. The Refreshment Courts were placed around the Crystal Palace. The Grand Summer Dining Rooms both Public and Private and the Garden Hall were all situated in the South Wing, The Afternoon Tea Room was to be found adjoining the Concert Hall, with several smaller Buffets in the Palace and grounds. There was a Smoking Room, opened in 1893, which was set in luxurious surroundings near the Screen of the Kings and Queens. Over 1,000 catering staff were employed on a day to day basis rising to 1,500 when National Celebrations or Political Dinners were in progress.

The Kitchen.

The vast kitchens were in the South Transept, catering for an average of ten thousand persons every day although this could increase by up to fifty thousand during Bank Holidays, Handel Festivals, or an Imperial or Foreign visit.

The Larder.

Below the South Transept in racks hanging from the ceiling were stored several tons of hams, saddle joints, loins, haunches, whole Lambs, and thousands of game and poultry. Daily these were metered out to the Kitchen with cooked meats being returned for issue as cold joints.

The Bakery and Confectionery House.

The output from this department was vast with practically every meal requiring some form of bread, biscuits or rolls. The daily output amounted to some 10 tons

The Ice House.

Next to the Bakery was the Ice House in which 700 tons of ice were always kept. Here also were stored barrels of preserved fruit, great tubs of ice cream, eggs, and the constituents of the famous Crystal Palace Ice Pudding.

The Coffee Kitchen.

A long room of several huge boilers, each brewing vast quantities of tea, coffee and cocoa. The brew was drawn off in large cans on trucks and distributed to the various refreshment rooms throughout! the Crystal Palace via the Paxton Tunnel.

The Grocery Store.

A huge storeroom for chests of tea, coffee, sugar, butter, eggs, flour, biscuits and barrels of aromatic spices. The stock was constantly being sent out to the kitchens at one end, and being replaced by goods inwards deliveries at the other.

The Glass and China Store.

Half a million plates, ten thousand dishes, fifty thousand cups and saucers, half a million sets of cutlery, eighteen thousand each of wine, champagne, hock and claret glasses, glowing in various colours of crystal, ruby, emerald and amethyst was only a part of this vast store.

The Laundry.

Giant steam boilers continually washed tablecloths, napkins and linens, which were then transferred to centrifugal wringers and finally into heated cupboards for drying then hand ironing.

The Scullery.

Six vats of hot, soapy water washed the thousands of plates and other items returned from the Refreshment areas, then rinsed and dried in hot air cupboards fed by steam pipes.

The Bottle Yard.

Next to the Scullery and connected to the Wine store was the Bottle Yard where nine men worked for ten hours a day cleaning and drying bottles ready for re-filling in the wine cellars.

The Wine Cellars.

The Cellarage for wine under the South Transept amounted to over a mile of shelf space. Over 10,000 bottles of wine with an equal number of champagnes from various makers and vintages were stored. Hogsheads of claret, pipes of port and butts of sherry were ready for filling the bottles straight from the Bottle Yard.

The Beer Cellars.

The Beer Cellars were directly under the Refreshment Courts since the ales and stouts were required to be freshly drawn. Messrs Allsop & Sons were the brewery to the Crystal Palace, AIlsop's were also the beer suppliers for The Great Exhibition of 1862, The Paris Exposition of 1867, The Fisheries Exhibition of 1883, The Health Exhibition of 1884, The American Exhibition of 1887, The Italian Exhibition of 1888, The Spanish Exhibition of 1889, The French Exhibition of 1890 and the German Exhibition of 1891.

The Soda Water Room.

6,000 bottles of Soda Water were prepared and used every day at the Crystal Palace, this total rose to over 15,000 during Temperance, or Band of Hope gatherings held at the Palace. The water was obtained from an artesian well in the Crystal Palace grounds and charged with gasses and a little soda and potash in the Soda Water Room under laboratory controlled conditions.

So how much would a meal at the Crystal Palace in 1894 cost? In the Second Class Dining Room, Bread and Cheese was 3d, a plate of meat 7d a Bath Bun 2d, tea and coffee at 3d per cup. In the South Wing Dining Room a Roast meat dinner with all trimmings was 2/-, and a Lobster Salad was 3/-. The Saloon Dinning Room Meat and Chicken Roasts were 2/6d, Fish with Soup and Dessert was 7/6d, while in the Grill Room, Chops and Steaks were available at 1/9d. Wine was on average 3/- a bottle and champagne at 10/- (Vintage 1884).


© Exhibition Study Group 2007