Lavish banquets were fit for a Prince

Great Yarmouth Town Hall, facing Hall Quay, viewed in 1907, 25 years after it was built.

Great Yarmouth Town Hall, facing Hall Quay, viewed in 1907, 25 years after it was built. - Credit: Archant

Although we are probably too embarrassed to admit it, most of us over-eat despite all those pledges to reduce the size of our platefuls and be sensible about our choice of food. Being careful most days lessens the guilty conscience when we pile up our plates with a traditional Sunday roast or relish the indulgence of crispy batter on a large shop-fried cod – with chips, of course.

The Town Hall assembly room, refurbished in recent years, where the 1882 celebratory meal was served

The Town Hall assembly room, refurbished in recent years, where the 1882 celebratory meal was served. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

In the occasional nostalgic moment, those of who were about during the war – albeit as children – wonder how our mothers managed to feed families on the meagre rations we were allowed, exacerbated by regular shortages.

We probably never encountered a situation where words like 'tucking in' and 'scoffing' were required.

I must confess I ate most of the butter we were allocated because the very thought of margarine made me feel sick. In that long rationing period, the wrapper around an 8oz slab of butter was marked to show the grocer how to cut it into halves or quarters because at times a weekly allocation was only 2oz or 4oz!

Two rounds of hot toast and it was gone.

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Despite all the current healthy eating campaigns, I still love butter and refuse even those 'just like butter' imitations. I have been brave enough to sample – and enjoy – a few foreign foods, like pizza, pasta and curry, additions to the Peggotty's Hut menus.

No doubt the working classes and the unemployed a century-plus ago had severe budget restraints over the food they provided for their families and would have marvelled at the quantity and range their better-off contemporaries scoffed. Here in the Great Yarmouth area, it is hard to imagine the average household's reaction on learning about the table-groaning platters and tureens of food served to those invited to the 'Dejeuner' (dinner) marking the royal opening of the £35,764 Town Hall in 1882.

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Admitted, the principal guest was the Prince of Wales - once dubbed 'the Prince of Gourmands' - who was crowned King Edward VII nine years later. He was a regular visitor to the borough, and in a recent column about the Regent Hall (1867-1874), I reported he was in the audience on three consecutive nights.

According to the menu I have, the royal visitor, mayor Charles Aldred and the assembled local great and good began their sumptuous meal with turtle or clear soup ('potages') followed by 'entrees' – sweetbreads with truffles or lamb cutlets with peas.

After roast spring chickens served with asparagus and new potatoes came a bewildering choice of mayonnaise salmon, aspic and pyramids of prawns, lobsters and lobster salads, baron of beef, boar's head, braised beef, spiced beef, veal surprise, veal a la béchamel, aspic veal, galantine of calves' heads, galantine turkeys, Oxford ducks, ornamental hams and tongues, roast and boiled spring chickens, aspic chickens, roast lamb, mayonnaise chicken, raised pies (chicken and Bordeaux), rabbit surprise, ham surprise and savoury jellies.

Still room for more? Well, next came lemon, fruit and crystal jellies; strawberry and rock creams; Swiss and Italian apricot vol-au-vents; birds' nests; plus English grapes, cherries and strawberries.

The wine list? Sparkling Moselle, Champagne, sparkling or still Hock, sherry, claret and port.

What? No coffee, cheese and biscuits and After Eights?

The caterer was John Franklin, of the long-gone Crown and Anchor Hotel nearby in Row 59 linking Howard Street South and Hall Quay – a surprise because I would have expected the honour and lucrative contract to have been awarded to John Nightingale – a chum of the Prince and owner of several thriving enterprises in the Yarmouth hospitality sector.

Although a goodly section of our local big-wigs invited to the meal might well have been used to coping with extensive exotic menus and over-laden plates, I wonder if any ordinary folk whose rates were financing the new Town Hall were on the guest list and, if so, how they handled the etiquette and complicated gourmet spread.

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