Penshurst unveils a taste of its history

HISTORY MAKERS: (Left to right) Nicky Stitchman, the Viscountess De L’Isle, Dr The Hon Philip Sidney

Penshurst Place recently opened its new Victorian Kitchen, which has been restored to its former 19th-century glory. Eileen Leahy discovers the story behind this extensive renovation, which is now open to the public for the first time…

At the end of last month, Penshurst Place unveiled the most extensive restoration the historic house has undergone since it first opened to the public in 1947. The exclusive event was attended by Penshurst Place’s heir, Dr The Hon Philip Sidney, his mother the Viscountess De L’Isle and the estate’s Head of House Visits and Collections, Nicky Stitchman.

As of last weekend, visitors are able to step back in time to experience history in a different way, courtesy of the estate’s new Victorian Kitchen exhibition, which reveals a part of the house, and indeed many family antiques that, for many years, have been kept hidden behind closed doors.

Boasting more than 125 pieces of antique copperware and cooking equipment, an assortment of original Victorian furniture, and authentic recipes from a bygone era, the new heritage attraction is already proving to be a popular addition for visitors to this beautiful stately home. It is also the first new permanent room to be introduced to the public in recent years, therefore making it a particularly exciting addition to the property that has also been a popular film and TV location.

The BBC’s adaptation of Wolf Hall, with Mark Rylance was shot here, as was Mary Queen of Scots, which starred Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan, as well as The Other Boleyn Girl with Scarlett Johansson.

Located in the 15th-century Buckingham Building, the kitchen – with its high ceilings and flagstone floor – was used as the main cooking space for Penshurst Place from the 1800s through to 1950. Now carefully restored, along with an adjoining larder and scullery, it provides a snapshot in time of how a traditional kitchen in a large, private house would have been used – a sort of Downton Abbey for our local area if you will…

Yet bringing things sharply into the 21st century, is a series of eye-catching interpretation panels placed around the room.

“The idea is to offer a small, yet significant insight into the different roles the various household staff played on this country estate,” a Penshurst Place spokesperson told the Times.

“What’s really exciting is that the new heritage kitchen boasts one of the largest private collections of copper pots, pans and much more. From the tiniest beehive-shaped jelly moulds to huge warming pans that would have been put inside carriages to keep them – and passengers warm – there’s also an impressive selection of antique china and earthenware.”

They add that many of these carry the insignia of the Sidney family, who have owned Penshurst Place since 1552. “Other pieces prove the family’s close connections with royalty, as they carry the Crown King George IV’s monogram,” the spokesperson states.

Helping to further set the scene is a vast Victorian table placed in the centre of the room, which will be laid out as if ready for cake making. In addition to this is a cook’s desk, complete with menus, cookbooks and shopping lists, which provide insight into the types of ingredients that would have been traditionally bought, along with the details of specific meals that would have been prepared within this kitchen in times gone by.

Dr The Hon Philip Sidney said: “It’s wonderful to be returning the old kitchen to its original purpose, and to be able to share the house’s history of food and cooking.

“Penshurst Place has a long-standing tradition of entertainment and hospitality, from hosting Henry VIII for a banquet in 1519 to being an award-winning wedding venue today, and it is great that we can open the kitchen up to show how everyone would have been kept fed and watered in the 19th century. The range of pots, pans and utensils is awe-inspiring – I’m glad to say that things are a lot less complicated when the family cooks nowadays!”

And the good news is there will be plenty for all the family to enjoy, including activities for children, which include uncovering concealed facts and unfamiliar recipes, creating and sharing their own menu ideas, and sniffing out a selection of herbs and spices to spot which one is which.

Nicky Stitchman added: “Restoring the old kitchen has been hugely exciting, particularly as most of the exhibits showcased are original items that would have been in use in the house during the Victorian era.

“We are lucky to have so many objects to display, including some incredible cake and jelly moulds. We hope the interactive elements will spark lots of conversations between the different generations of visitors who come to Penshurst every year.”

Penshurst Place and Gardens is open to the public every day until October 29 this year, with access to The Kitchen at Penshurst exhibition included in the admission price to the house.

For further information and to book tickets visit:

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