Tuesday 17 May 2011

Extraordinary meals

Our nineteenth-century forebears loved a grand project as much as they enjoyed a grand dinner. They managed to combine the two in some very memorable meals: here are my favourite London examples.

The most novel venue was perhaps the Thames Tunnel, since it was the first to run under a navigable river. The project did not go smoothly and the men in charge, Marc Brunel and his son Isambard, needed to persuade their backers to keep the money coming. Thus, after the project had been set back not only by a major flood but also by Marc's paralytic stroke, a banquet was held for investors in November 1827. Guests included the Duke of Wellington; the Coldstream Guards provided music; and the event was a great public relations success. Work could continue, and (after several further dramas) engineering history was made.

No less strange a dining room was the interior of an iguanadon at Crystal Palace Park. The dinosaurs represented the cutting edge of scientific knowledge at the time, intended to form an educational attraction for Londoners. However, there was the opportunity for a bit of fun before the public were allowed in - the dinosaurs' sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins held a new year's eve dinner inside an iguanadon mould in 1853. It was placed beneath a tent and its back was cut open so that a dining table and chairs could be placed in the interior.

Our third dinner took place at the top of Nelson's Column, just before Nelson himself arrived at his current vantage point. In 1843, 14 stonemasons with a good head for heights celebrated the completion of the column with a meal atop it. Their dining table was then exchanged for the familiar statue.


Anonymous said...

I would have been happy to attend either of the first two dinners but not the third: I have no head for heights and would have been too petrified to eat. And what a long way to go for the loo!

Alan Burkitt-Gray said...

I'm surprised Bazalgette didn't have a celebratory dinner in his sewer system. Or perhaps he did?

CarolineLD said...

I absolutely agree, SilverTiger - especially as there's no staircase to get up there. Alan, as far as I know he didn't. One of the sewage pumping stations would certainly have made a grand venue, though.