Royal Icing on the Cake
PUBLISHED: 11:41 22 October 2007 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013
As The Queen and Prince Philip celebrate 60 years of marriage this month, Kay Foulger-Sparkes reminisces on the day her father, owner of a bakery in Castle Cary, offered to make the royal couple a wedding cake and takes us back 60 years to a time ...
News was broadcast on 10 July 1947 that the King and Queen's daughter, HRH The Princess Elizabeth, had become engaged to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN. My parents heard the announcement on the wireless at half past midnight. My father, William Tom Sparkes, who had recently taken over his uncle's business, Messrs Real & Holton of Fore Street Bakery, Castle Cary, immediately wrote to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, offering a wedding cake for their daughter Princess Elizabeth. To his surprise he received a letter almost by return of post from Princess Elizabeth's Lady-in-Waiting gladly accepting his offer. Panic set in. A wedding cake for Buckingham Palace was now on his order books, but where were the extra ingredients going to come from, as food was still on ration from the Second World War?
The bakers, Frank Spencer and Frank Lindsay, a Scotsman known as Jock, were amazed when they heard what they were expected to carry out. They were to make a three-tier wedding cake and Frank Spencer, who had worked in the business longer, was to decorate it.
The wedding was not going to be until November, time to gather the ingredients together. The townspeople were so excited that one of the customers enthusiastically contributed towards the ingredients by donating a part of her family's food rations.
The bakers invited everyone to stir the cake before the mixture was put into the oven. At five-and-a-half years old I remember standing on a chair beside the workbench so I could reach the long wooden spoon.
A few weeks later another letter arrived from Buckingham Palace confirming the delivery date of the wedding cake which was to be the day before the wedding. Petrol was also rationed but, unexpectedly, extra petrol coupons arrived by post from the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in time for the royal wedding. The patron was the father of the bride, King George VI, and the president, Rear Admiral The Viscount Mountbatten, the engaged couple's uncle. My father, also a member of the RAC, never questioned who sent them, but was extremely grateful that they had mysteriously arrived. The journey from Castle Cary to London was a round trip of 240 miles and would take up six weeks' supply of petrol coupons.
On the morning of 17 November 1947, my father and mother were both smartly dressed and ready to meet royalty. They were due to be at St James's Palace in London that afternoon, having been invited to attend an afternoon party. I remember standing on the pavement at 6am ready to wave them off. Inside their car I could see the three individual tiers placed on a wooden tray with a bag of made-up icing sugar in the corner - in case any touching-up was needed.
The next day gave them time for the final preparations. Fresh flowers to be placed on the top tier of the cake had been ordered from Scotland, to arrive at King's Cross railway station. When my mother went to collect them they had not arrived. After many hours of searching carriages by London & North Eastern Railway staff, the flowers were eventually found in a siding and at 2am my mother received a phone call telling her they had been found. At 6am she left in a taxi to collect the flowers - they were due at Buckingham Palace at 11 o'clock that morning to deliver the wedding cake.
Approaching the Palace via the trade entrance on Buckingham Palace Road, they were to take the wedding cake up to the first floor in a lift and display it alongside 10 other wedding cakes in the Blue Drawing Room. These wedding cakes were gifts and it was planned that some would be given away to hospitals. Each tier of the wedding cake was arranged to stand on four small pillars, which were an imitation of Tuscan columns, with the flowers arranged on the top tier.
These 11 wedding cakes were set apart from the main four-tier wedding cake, standing at nine-foot tall and weighing 500lb. The ingredients for the cake were donated by the Australian Girl Guides and shipped across to England. The brandy and rum came from South Africa and Jamaica. This official wedding cake was made by McVitie & Price for the 1,200 invited wedding guests.
My parents were invited to return to Buckingham Palace in the afternoon and were both presented to HRH Princess Elizabeth, along with other people who had made wedding cakes. Before leaving Buckingham Palace they were given two passes so they could return the next morning to see Princess Elizabeth and members of the royal family leave for Westminster Abbey in their horse-drawn carriages.
The royal wedding was broadcast by the BBC throughout the world. It is believed that 200 million people listened to the wireless and, as this was the first royal wedding to be televised, another 20,000 people watched the procession to and from the Abbey on television - only possible if situated within close range of Alexandra Palace, London, from where it was transmitted.
While on honeymoon in Scotland, Princess Elizabeth took time to write and thank Messrs Real & Holton for their beautiful wedding cake. This letter was personally signed 'Elizabeth' in her own hand.
Each tier of the wedding cake was arranged to stand on four small pillars, which were an imitation of Tuscan columns, with the flowers arranged on the top tier
We discovered later that the Real & Holton wedding cake never left the Palace. The royal family decided to keep the cake because the flowers that decorated the top tier were pink carnations, the favourite flowers of the bride's grandmother Queen Mary.
Soon after the royal wedding, Real & Holton became known as Sparkes of Cary. The main premises are now a modern supermarket and the bakehouse can still be seen from the outside, although it is no longer in use.
When I briefly spoke to Princess Anne on her visit to Castle Cary in 1993, explaining to her that a cake for her parents' wedding had been made opposite where we both stood, she wondered if the top tier had been kept and used as a christening cake. I have yet to find out if this was so.
Do you remember The Queen and Prince Philip's wedding? Share your memories with other readers on the Forum.
Rear Admiral The Viscount Mountbatten http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Mountbatten,_1st_Earl_Mountbatten_of_Burma