A Lord Mayor’s Day Banquet from 1785
For centuries, the passing of the title of Lord Mayor from current to the new holder has been marked by ceremony and celebration, now called Mayor-Making. This usually included a huge feast! We don’t have records of most of these meals, but we are lucky to have a surviving copy of notes written for the Lord Mayor’s Day banquet which took place on the 3rd February 1785.
This was the year that Thomas Kilby, outgoing Lord Mayor, and James Woodhouse, incoming, sat down to dine with 149 other guests.
The small pamphlet was written as a planning guide for servants, and may have been penned by the Mansion House’s butler or head cook of the time.
The guests enjoyed a range of courses, known as ‘removes’, because once one course was completed, the tablecloth would be stripped to reveal a clean new cloth beneath it, on which the next course would be laid.
Each diner would have had the chance to try the food above, as well as unusual delights such as ‘Rabbits a la Portugal’ and ‘Ragoo’d Lobster’! The menu is accompanied by table plans noting where each dish would be placed on the table, in a symmetrical pattern. Jellies, possets and preserves were placed between dishes. The diners were arranged in groups according to their official status, and the most important guests would be served first. Any ‘commoners’ (those who did not have any civic status in the city) would undoubtedly be served last.
A large amount of alcohol, as well as pipes and tobacco, were also provided for the evening. Arrack was a type of Asian spirit popular in the 18th century. ‘Cascabella’ may have been a type of sparkling wine. Small beer had a very low alcohol content and was often drunk instead of water, while a ‘hog’s head’ barrel in the late eighteenth century would have been about 250 litres of ale! £42 and 4 shillings had around the buying power of £3,663 today. This would be around two thirds of a skilled tradesman’s yearly wage and could have bought four horses in 1785.
The meal clearly impressed the new Lord Mayor, as James Banks, the cook, was given a salary increase from £20 per annum to £30 - a significant amount - later in 1785.
In the Dining Room at the Mansion House, we have recreated this meal as it would have been served in 1785, including some of the unusual dishes on offer, such as the partridge pie. Visitors to the house can also hear some snippets of conversation between Kilby and Woodhouse’s guests! Look out for an article about this historic dining table, and the secrets of how we put it together, on our blog soon.