Felbrigg Hall kitchen make-over has that Downton Abbey look

Cook and her staff have been busy in the kitchens of Felbrigg Hall, which opens to the public for the season tomorrow, Saturday March 3.

Visitors to the 'downstairs' hub of the National Trust stately home, near Cromer, will find preparations in full swing for a waist-expanding first course as served to dinner guests in the 1860s.

On the massive kitchen table salvers of mutton chops, mashed potato and a piquant sauce are ready to make the long journey along three corridors and across a hall to the dining room.

'I think they were quite used to eating cold food,' said Ella Ingle, house and collections manager.

It's the sort of domestic detail that modern-day visitors relish, she added, especially since the hugely-popular Downton Abbey TV series which dealt with life above and below stairs on a country house estate.

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Worshippers at the range of Downton cook Mrs Patmore will also enjoy the sight at Felbrigg of oyster patties waiting to be filled, a turbot ready for boiling in a large copper fish kettle, and the ingredients gathered for an accompanying lobster sauce, with lobster claws, chunks of lobster and bowls of spawn and anchovy.

The menu is based on those recorded in the diaries of Rachel Anne Ketton, the lady of the house during the mid-Victorian era, and on Mrs Beeton recipes.

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It was just one course for, perhaps, a meal served to guests following a shoot on the estate and required man-hours, pots, cookery techniques, and implements unfathomable to any modern flat-dweller managing with a microwave and fridge stocked with ready meals.

During the winter the kitchen has undergone a complete make-over to restore it to the colour and appearance of Mrs Ketton's day.

Painstaking research revealed that her cook worked in burnt umber-coloured surroundings and the 1950s piping and wiring has also been concealed.

But hopes of revealing the range, known to have been installed in 1866, were dashed when exploratory holes drilled behind the kitchen's 1930s AGA cooker found nothing except bricks.

The kitchen revamp follows the success of Felbrigg's dining room where the table has been spread with a lavish second course for the past two years. Pheasant, jellies, meringues, and walnuts - cracked, emptied and refilled by servants, and then tied in ribbon - prompt dozens of queries from visitors.

'There's a definite Downton effect,' said Ms Ingle. 'People are fascinated by what went on above and below stairs - Why did they have so many glasses? What were the candle shades for? Why did they put the puddings on the table with the meat?'

Mrs Ketton, whose Norwich merchant husband John was prone to grumpiness and headaches, reveals in her diaries that maybe all the entertaining and fine dining could be too much. One entry reads: 'The shooting season has finished - thank God.'

? Felbrigg Hall is open from 11am-5pm Saturday to Wednesday. The gardens and tea room are open seven days a week. The hall is also on the lookout for more volunteers. For more information ring 01263 837444.

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