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Documents from the Churchill Archives Centre illuminate the timeless success of baking and its connection to public life.
Special occasions have always been a good opportunity to celebrate with an impressive bake — not least when Churchill College opened its doors on the 5 June 1964. The main centrepiece of the event, which was attended by the Duke of Edinburgh, was an impressive dessert. The cake’s design, reminiscent of the College’s Dining Hall, was created by Natasha Squire and was one foot tall and two feet square at the base. Although the cake was later described by Mrs Squire herself as a "mad idea", the same elaborate creation was baked in 2014, in celebration of the College’s 50th anniversary. The Churchill College chefs used Mrs. Squire’s original drawing to remake the cake as faithfully as possible.
The Churchill Archives Centre holds a number of photographs depicting extravagant cake creations produced to celebrate Sir Winston Churchill’s birthday. The occasion of Churchill’s wedding to Clementine Hozier in 1908 involved another fantastic example of a skilfully baked cake. The postcard photograph of the wedding cake was sent to the couple by the baker and included a list of her clients. Despite its impressive appearance, the baker also included the comment that the cake’s decoration as seen on the photograph was ‘not quite finished.’ The Churchill Archives Centre not only holds the visual records of Winston’s and Clementine’s wedding day but also a collection of letters recording the couple’s married life in a unique and personal way.
Baking has also played a key role in historic events. A striking example of how the provision of baked goods contributed to the war effort during World War One is the ‘Chelsea Travelling Kitchen,’ set up by Florence Horsbrugh. Baroness Horsbrugh, a lifelong champion of social welfare, travelled to Chelsea with a donkey and cart three nights a week, allowing workers to access reasonably priced food from the National Kitchen after it closed in the afternoon. It was an instant success and the sausage rolls, fish cakes and apple dumplings were sold out within half an hour. The case of the ‘Chelsea Travelling Kitchen’ received extensive media coverage and appeared in local and national newspapers.
In December 1918, the kitchen travelled to Buckingham Palace in order to serve currant cake to Queen Mary, who had opened the first National Kitchen in 1917. During World War Two, Baroness Horsbrugh held ministerial offices in the wartime coalition governments as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Food. The case of Florence Horsbrugh, the first ever woman to hold a Cabinet post in a Conservative government, is one of many successful women in 20th century British politics whose stories are told in documents held in the Churchill Archives Centre.
Baking and cooking also contributed to the war effort during World War Two as seen in the papers of Adeline Hankey, wife of Lord Hankey, member of Churchill’s war cabinet. Lady Hankey promoted nutritious food as being almost ‘as important as munition of war,’ and encouraged people to reduce food waste in order to ‘win the war in our kitchens.’ Despite her campaign for a healthy diet and the consumption of fruit and vegetables, Lady Hankey’s private recipe book also contains many recipes for less healthy options, such as apple and chocolate junket and treacle tart.
Last but not least, one of the Churchill Archives Centre’s oldest documents, a recipe from the Charles Wentworth Dilke family collection, advertises the consumption of sweet treats. The letter from the late 18th century recommends a daily intake of hot chocolate for breakfast as a true ‘fountain of youth.’
You can find more information about the collections featured in this post, or any of the other 600+ collections we hold, on the Janus catalogue.
Julia Schmidt, Archives Assistant