Some Remarkable Wedding Cakes
By Framley Steelcroft
Only a very small percentage of the readers of this article will be able to recall Her Majesty’s wedding-day, Monday, February 10th, 1840, when the theatres were open free to the public. In the evening a banquet was given at St. James’s Palace, and covers were laid for 130 persons. There were three tables, and at the upper end of the Queen’s table stood the two chief wedding-cakes, one of which is depicted here. This cake was made by Messrs. Gunter, of Berkeley Square, and before being sent to the Palace, it was exhibited on the firm’s premises to more than 21,000 persons. It is said that besides the two principal wedding-cakes there were nearly a hundred smaller ones, which were subsequently cut up and distributed, practically, all over the world.
The second wedding – cake that figured on this historical occasion was designed by Mr. John C. Mauditt, yeoman confectioner to the Royal household. It weighed nearly 300lb., and was 14in. thick and 12ft. in circumference. On the top was seen a figure of Britannia blessing the bride and bridegroom, who were somewhat incongruously dressed in the costume of ancient Rome. These figures were nearly a foot high, and were, of course, moulded in sugar. At the feet of Prince Albert was the figure of a dog, denoting fidelity; while at Her Majesty’s feet were a pair of turtle doves, denoting the felicity of the marriage state. A large Cupid was also seen writing the date of the marriage in a book, and at the top of the cake were many bouquets of white flowers, tied with true lovers’ knots of white satin ribbon. Among the decorations of this wedding-cake may also be mentioned four white satin flags, on which were painted the Royal Arms.
The next free theatrical night marked the marriage of the Prince of Wales, on March 10th, 1863. For many days the presents were on view at Garrard’s, in the Haymarket, and they included a particularly massive wedding-ring and keeper, the latter set with six precious stones, selected and arranged so that their initial letters formed the word “Bertie.” The stones were respectively a beryl, emerald, ruby, turquoise, jacinth, and another emerald. Also among the presents figured eight lockets for the bridesmaids, which were set with coral and diamonds—red and white being the colours of Denmark. In the centre of each was a cipher in crystal, forming the letters “A. E. A.,” after a drawing by the late Princess Alice. The bridal garments were ordered from Mr. Levysohn, of Copenhagen, and were, of course, on view at his shop in the Kjöbmagergade. On this occasion a splendid wedding-cake was made by Her Majesty’s confectioner, M. Pagniez; but one of equal importance was made by the Royal confectioners, Messrs. Bolland, of Chester, and this great cake is shown here. This is what is known as a “three-tier” cake, and around the base were festoons composed of the rose, thistle, and shamrock, entwined with the Royal and Denmark Arms. On the tiers were placed alternately reflectors and figures of seraphs with harps ; also satin flags, on which were painted miniature likenesses of the Prince and Princess. The whole was surmounted by a temple embedded in orange blossoms and silver leaves, on the summit of which was placed the Prince’s coronet and a magnificent plume of ostrich feathers. The cake, which stood nearly 5ft. high, was of colossal proportions.
I may mention, incidentally, that the largest cake ever made by Messrs. Gunter was that which figured among the Jubilee presents. This cake was 13ft. high, and weighed a quarter of a ton, its value being about £300. The smallest wedding-cake made was ordered by a lady for a child. It was a doll’s wedding-cake, 3in. high, and weighing about four ounces; it cost 10s., because it was perfect in every respect, and the confectioner had great difficulty in getting moulds small enough.
The next wedding-cake shown here is that of Prince Leopold (Duke of Albany) and Princess Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont, who were married on April 27th, 1882.
This wedding-cake stood nearly 6ft. high, and was mounted on a richly-carved gilt stand, which was first employed at the wedding of the Prince of Wales. The total weight of this cake was about 2cwt., and the decoration of the lower tier consisted of four groups, representing the four continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America; these being adapted from the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Considering the great difficulty of working in material like sugar, and the fact that all the forms have to be built up by squeezing the liquid sugar out of a small hole in a piece of paper, it is perfectly amazing to notice the artistic success of these Royal Wedding Cakes.
There were also to be noticed on this particular cake a number of satin-surfaced pillars, painted with the lily and its foliage. These pillars were surmounted by vases containing the characteristic flowers of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and at the base of the vases were reading Cupids, emblematic of the literary and studious tastes of the Royal bridegroom. At the salient points of the base were swans, associated with sea-shells, in which were dolphins at play.
The second tier was octagonal in shape, and in the spaces between the satin-surfaced pillars, painted with orange blossoms, were medallions richly worked in colour, and representing the arms and monogram of the bride and bridegroom. The pillars of this tier were surmounted by Cupids bearing flowers, from which sprang jets of mimic spray to water the flowers contained in the vases below.
The third tier of this cake was ornamented with wedding favours and festoons, and on the top of it was a pavilion containing a fountain playing, with doves drinking from the basin. Above this again was a terminal stage, supporting cornucopiae, from which issued the various fruits of the earth. In the midst of these emblems of plenty stood a Cupid, bearing upon his shoulders a vase overflowing with the most beautiful flowers.
It is interesting to note that each of the Royal bakers has a distinct recipe, which is guarded like a Cabinet secret. Roughly speaking, a bride-cake takes about half a day to bake, but after the tins have been removed from the oven and the cake turned out, the serious part of the work only commences—for a wedding-cake has to be at least six months old before it is fit to be eaten. During this time it is kept in an enormous warehouse, called the “cake-room,” and each firm keeps a separate staff of artists employed in making new designs and altering the fashions in wedding-cakes. Natural flowers are the great feature in modern wedding-cakes; white roses and orange blossoms being the most popular varieties in use. A good deal of ingenuity, however, has to be exercised in keeping these fresh, for a faded wedding-cake would indeed be a grievous sight.
The Royal Chester bakers (Messrs. Bolland) have got over the difficulty by having narrow, white porcelain cups sunk in among the decorations, thus enabling each natural bouquet to rest in water.
An adequate idea of the magnitude of this business may be realized when I mention that Messrs. Bolland’s standing stock of wedding-cake is about 2,000lb. The curiously statuesque cake, which we now reproduce, was made, appropriately enough, for the Princess Louise, on the occasion of her wedding with the Marquis of Lorne, which took place on March 21st, 1871. This cake was designed and made by Mr. Samuel Ponder, the present chief confectioner of Her Majesty’s household. Mr. Ponder tells me that this cake was about 5ft. 10in. in height, and weighed 21/2cwt. The four figures at the angles were modelled from the statues on Holborn Viaduct, and the cake was built in four tiers. This very artistic wedding-cake was surmounted by a replica of Canova’s “Hebe,” Mr. Ponder having procured a plaster model of the statue at a decorator’s in Leather Lane.
Princess Beatrice was married on July 23rd, 1885, and the cake made on that occasion by the Royal Confectioner, Mr. Ponder, was 6ft. high, and weighed 280lb.; it is shown in the accompanying illustration.
The next wedding – cake that figures here is that of the Princess Helena and Prince Christian, whose marriage ceremony was performed in the private chapel attached to the Royal apartments at Windsor Castle. The Queen gave the bride away, and a luncheon was subsequently served privately to the members of the Royal Family in the Oak Room, visitors being entertained at a buffet in the Waterloo Gallery.
One of the most important questions I put to the Royal confectioner on the occasion of my visit to him at Buckingham Palace, had reference to the most important wedding-day, from his point of view. Mr. Ponder unhesitatingly replied that the Duke of York’s wedding with Princess May entailed by far the greatest strain upon him. The principal cake on this occasion was made at Windsor; it was 6ft. 10in. high, and weighed between 2cwt. and 3cwt. This cake, which is shown in the accompanying reproduction, took the Royal confectioner five weeks to make, there being as many as thirty-nine separate pieces of plaster in some of the figure moulds. Altogether, there were at this wedding six immense cakes, on what is known as the “general table,” and in addition to these, Mr. Ponder made sixteen or eighteen smaller cakes for cutting up, each cake averaging about 22lb. Moreover, Messrs. Gunter say that they cut up no fewer than 500 slices of wedding-cake on this occasion, the smallest slice weighing about half a pound, and the largest, a little over 12lb. One of this same firm’s confectioners subsequently attended at the Royal kitchen, and, armed with a saw and a special knife, cut up about 16cwt. Of wedding-cake in three days.
The second of the “York” wedding-cakes, reproduced here, was made by Messrs. Bolland, to the order of the Prince and Princess of Wales; it was about 4ft. 6in. high, and weighed 224lb.
The ornaments of the cake were representative of the sailor-life of Prince George. The divisions between the pillars were occupied by four large panels representing H.M.S. Thrush and Melampus, modelled in bass-relief from photographs specially taken. This cake has a somewhat interesting history. On being completed it was sent from Chester to Buckingham Palace, where it was built up the afternoon before the wedding. At three o’clock on the eventful day itself, however, the Royal Chester bakers received a telegram, ordering them to remove the cake from the Palace to Marlborough House—no easy matter, even in the most favourable circumstances. The ornate structure was taken down, and its sections placed in two disreputable-looking “growlers” –positively the only conveyances to be obtained in the crowded and almost impassable streets. The confectioners tell a woeful tale of the subsequent funereal procession to Marlborough House, with a surging crowd pressing against, and almost overturning, the wretched cabs. This trying ordeal was over at last, however, and I am told that the Prince of Wales himself supervised the reconstruction of the big cake on a sideboard in the Banqueting Room.
Not to be outdone at this wedding, Scotland came forward in the persons of Messrs. McVitie and Price, of Edinburgh, who produced another magnificent wedding-cake, also of a naval character. This stood 6ft. 4in. in height; the circumference of the lowest tier was nearly 8ft.; the total weight of the cake, 4661b., and its intrinsic value about 140 guineas. To give some idea of the amount of work involved in the execution of such an order, it may be mentioned that the anchors, davits, and blocks for tackle, etc., had to be specially made by one set of workmen; the flowers with which the cake was profusely decorated, by another set; while the making and draping of the stand was intrusted to a famous firm of Regent Street silk merchants: altogether, no fewer than thirty skilled workmen were employed in the manufacture of this cake, which was made within seven days of the receipt of the order. When completed, it was exhibited for two days in Edinburgh, and so great was the public interest taken in the wedding, that in this brief period upwards of 14,900 people had inspected the big Scottish cake; and a special staff of policemen and commissionaires had to be employed to keep the orderly crowd moving.
The most important cake made outside the Palace for the “Fife” wedding was provided by Messrs. Gunter, of Berkeley Square. It was 7ft. high, and weighed 1501b. On the cake stood a Greek temple in sugar, and round it were medallions of satin with raised sugar monograms. This cake was exhibited for some time before the day of the marriage, and while it was on show it was decorated with artificial flowers. On the wedding-day, however, about twenty pounds’ worth of fresh natural flowers covered the entire structure.
The Strand, Volume 10, 1895: pp. 104-11
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has never had the pleasure of a taste of Royal wedding cake and wonders if these architectural marvels in marzipan— more like spun-sugar dolls’ houses than anything—are as prettily flavoured as they are ornamented.
Bolland’s was the preferred confectioner of the Royal Family, holding the royal warrant from Queen Victoria and Edward, the Prince of Wales.
HOW A BOX OF SWEETS GIVEN TO THE PRINCESS VICTORIA
LAID THE FOUNDATION OF A FAMOUS BUSINESS.
Their distinction dates from a far off day in 1835, when the young Princess Victoria, having come to the quaint old walled city to open a new bridge, was presented with a box of cakes by Richard Bolland, the founder of the firm.
So constant has been Queen Victoria’s patronage of the Bollands that they have come to be known everywhere — to use the late George Augustus Sala’s phrase—as “historic brides’ cake makers to the roval family.” They sell no wedding cake which has not matured and mellowed in their seasoning room for six months. To fill the orders from America, India, Africa, Canada, and Australia, as well as the home demand, it is necessary to keep constantly on hand a stock of two thousand pounds of cake.
It will be seen, therefore, that every day is baking day at Bollands, and that a careful record of dates must be kept. Any bride having a cake from the Chester makers may rest assured that it is of “correct vintage “—for all their cakes are compounded from a receipt a hundred years old, which is guarded like a state secret. Queens may command the product, but not the process.
On all royal wedding cakes the national flowers of the United Kingdom play a very prominent part, together with the monograms and quarterings of the young couple. The wedding cake of the Princess Maud of Wales was particularly charming. It was a labor of love for the Bollands to contrive a new combination of the arms of Denmark and England. Many years before, they had faced the problem in designing similar decorations for the bride’s parents. Apart from this, Princess Maud’s wedding cake had two most charming features: the separate tiers were encircled with white satin ribbon bordered with pearls, trimmed with bridal buds and tied in true lovers’ knots: a triumphant god of love surmounting the whole structure bore aloft a delicate nautilus shell, from which fell festoons of silver bullion and fragile seaweed. The Puritan October 1900: p. 1-4
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.