Love 1862: The Great British Bake Off

Today we’re celebrating the marriage of Victoria and Albert, wed upon this day in 1840, and we need a proper cake befitting the occasion… how about these two showstoppers exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition?

Engraving, 'Wedding Cake. Mr Bollard', London, 1862, from Cassell's Illustrated Exhibitor, p.85

Engraving, ‘Wedding Cake. Mr Bollard’, London, 1862, from Cassell’s Illustrated Exhibitor, p.85

 Cassell’s Illustrated Guide takes us to the eastern side of the Eastern Annexe where ‘substances for food’ were displayed; these two bridal cakes were ‘magnificent specimens’, considered worthy of special attention by the guide, which provides a detailed description of the decoration upon both cakes. 1.  A Mr Bolland of Chester created the cake above; over a metre tall, it weighed around 100kg – that’s 16 stone!  Certainly enough cake to cater to a Royal wedding, although how edible these objects were is questionable, for their whole surfaces were covered in ornament that was moulded, cast or otherwise worked in sugar.  Bolland’s masterpiece was greatly admired for its beauty, elegance and artistic skill – full of allegorical details, national flowers and symbols, and Gothic architecture!  It’s certainly stomach-ache inducing…


Engraving, 'Bride Cake. Maria and Richard W. Shackle', London, 1862, from Cassell's Illustrated Exhibitor, p.86

Engraving, ‘Bride Cake. Maria and Richard W. Shackle’, London, 1862, from Cassell’s Illustrated Exhibitor, p.86

The other cake was designed by a Mr and Mrs Richard W. and Maria Shackle, of Kentish Town, London.  Not to be outdone, they also displayed their talent for working sugar, creating two accompanying vases of flowers wholly manufactured in pure sugar ‘without any kind of metallic colouring, the flowers not being of cambric, as is usual’. 2.  This suggests it was quite usual for contemporary bakers to use textiles to create flower decorations for their cakes; this example also made use of a variety of ribbons, many with woven messages with patriotic and royal sentiments.  Competitive bakers, the Shackle’s believed bigger was better (such was the spirit of 1862) and their cake stood five feet in height!

It must have been quite a logistical feat transporting and assembling these cakes at 1862 – sadly we know that the organisers failed in this challenge for the Shackle’s exhibit: ‘We regret to say that this magnificent specimen of the confectioners’ art has been destroyed since it was delivered in the building, the exhibitors sustaining a loss of £160.  The fragments have been put together as well as possible, and even in its present state it forms a highly attractive object.’ 3.  What happened?!  One feels sympathy for the Shackles!

Monumental, incredible – future contestants of The Great British Bake Off could pick up a tip or two from these amazing 1862 bakers!

1. Cassell’s Illustrated Exhibitor; containing about three hundred illustrations, with letter-press descriptions of all the principal objects in The International Exhibition of 1862 (London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, La Belle Sauvage Yard, Ludgate Hill, London and Park Buildings, New York, 1862), p.85.

2. Cassell’s Illustrated Exhibitor, p.86.

3. Cassell’s Illustrated Exhibitor, p.86.

© Helen Cresswell and Ruth Mason, 2014

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