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King George’s Kitchens at Kew Palace

Kew dining room in England
Dining Room at Kew Palace

The Dining Room at Kew Palace welcomed King George III’s family and guests. In February 1789, this also included the King’s doctor, Dr Willis. England had been thrown into turmoil the previous year as the King was declared ‘mad’ after the onset of a mysterious illness, probably porphyria. This is a hereditary blood disorder that can cause temporary mental derangement. Kew Palace had become his sanitorium.

George III Dining
A tasty dish to set before the King.

Although a special diet was prescribed for the King during his illness, the daily menu carried on much as usual, with three courses, each of six or seven dishes. Small birds such as blackbirds and larks appeared regularly on the menus, especially for the younger princesses, who also had a fondness for dumplings.

All the food for the Royal Family, staff, and visitors was prepared next door to Kew Palace in the royal kitchen. This Georgian structure remains miraculously preserved after closing following the death of Queen Charlotte nearly 200 ago. The treasure chest has been restored and re-opened to evoke life on the February 6, 1789, the day when George III was given back his knife and fork, after his first episode of ‘madness’.

Modern visitors enter through the little kitchen garden to the rear, with neat vegetable beds laid out between gravel paths, and fruit trees climbing the walls. In fact, the real kitchen gardens were enormous and stood alongside the Kew Road, but this gives a flavor of what the Georgian kitchen gardens were like.

Traditional 18th century ovens
Traditional 18th century ovens in the bakehouse. Notice the round water heater.

Once inside, you’ll see the four lower level preparation rooms where the bread was baked, the fish and meat stored, vegetables washed, and the lead-lined sink where the scullery boys would spend hours scouring pots and pans with sand and soap. Look carefully and you will spot the royal bath tub kept here because of the enormous amount of hot water needed to bathe the royal family.

The great kitchen with its massive oven
The great kitchen with its massive roasting oven and well-worn preparation table.

The great kitchen is the most impressive room in the building. Opening the original 18th century split door, the double-height room space is revealed, complete with its roasting range, charcoal grill and pastry oven. There’s even a small oven door bearing the royal crest where George III’s favorite savory, Yorkshire pudding, was baked.

Upstairs, the kitchens were ruled over by the Clerk, who had day-to-day responsibility for feeding the enormous Royal Household. His office has been furnished to the way it might have looked in February 1789, when the king was recovering from his first illness. Located at the end of the main hallway, the dry larder or spice cupboard was always kept locked. When opened with a special key, a treasure house of expensive items, including tea stored in its own cupboard, was revealed.

Tea Larder
Tea was kept double locked inside the spice closet in the hallway of the royal kitchen at Kew.

Royal Dinner>
Served between 16.00 – 17.00

First course – Soup with additional dishes of meat stews and pies, poultry and sometimes fish.

Second course – A joint of meat – beef and mutton were the favourites, but a haunch of venison was also popular and was often presented from a hunt.

Third course – Sweet and savoury dishes. Perhaps a blancmange and gateau de millefeuille served alongside stewed asparagus, spinach, potatoes and anchovy salad with roasted pheasant or truffles.

Tea merchant document
Menu at Kew Palace

Teas served in the royal palace of Kew included many of the same Chinese green and black teas tossed overboard in Boston Harbor in 1773. The King’s tea and the Boston teas all were funneled through the East India warehouse in London.

Read more about King George at Kew Palace and Queen Charlotte’s love for tea.

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Bruce Richardson

MSN calls Bruce Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 30 years." The native Kentuckian is a writer, photographer, tea blender, and frequent guest speaker at tea events across the globe. He can often be found appearing on television and radio talk shows, or as a guest speaker at professional seminars such as World Tea Expo or China Global Tea Fair. He is the author ...

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