Madam, breakfast is served

May 2, 2014

The V&A Café was originally established as a restaurant, in which Victorian folk could purchase a reasonably priced evening meal, before exploring the vast collections. However, for me, breakfast, not dinner, is the most inspiring meal of the day. That said, fast-forward 157 years, and you can get a very hearty breakfast at today’s V&A Café, which should set you up nicely for a day exploring the museum.

I would start off by visiting the British Galleries, Room 118a, that has a table from the mid-eighteenth century. Not just any table, but a mahogany breakfast table designed by Thomas Chippendale, furniture designer extraordinaire, and made by an unknown craftsman circa 1760.

Breakfast table, Chippendale, 1754 - 1770. Museum no. W.64:1 to 3-1950. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Apparently, Henry VIII had a walnut breakfast table in his Privy Chamber. In the 1700s, the rich and fashionable continued to have breakfast in their bedrooms, and tables were adapted to include storage for writing, reading and those with multi-tasking skills.

Eggs are, of course, a staple of the Anglo-Saxon breakfast. The rich would have cups, made of silver, for their boiled eggs, yet the designs were utilitarian in nature, and were manufactured with cheaper materials for the less wealthy. This egg cup stand, also in Room 118a, circa 1790, is made in a molded cream ware.

Egg stand, unknown maker, about 1790. Museum no. C.5 to F-1945. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Museum’s description notes that, although the egg stand is elegant, a “minor drawback was the fact that the eggcup feet (which provided stability) had to be smaller than the bowls, in order to lodge in the holes of the stand.” The creamware examples were susceptible to breakage, so it is rare to find one intact as fine as this.

To accompany your eggs, one would naturally require a toast rack. You will find a stunning example within the Woolfson Gallery (Room 118e), designed in an unusual shape of a lyre. This one is from 1790, not long after toast racks first appeared on English breakfast tables, and is made of Sheffield plate (copper-plated silver).

Toast rack, unknown maker, about 1790. Museum no. M.122-1937. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Now consider, what should one wear to breakfast? This dressing gown from the mid-nineteenth century would have been the perfect outfit – casual yet elegant and very warm (for those drafty houses). It is made of jacquard woven silk and quilted, in the style of a frock coat, and can be found on the fourth floor (Room 125b, case 3). Often, men wore these over their nightshirts.

Dressing gown, unknown maker, 1850 - 1870. Museum no. T.395-1980. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Breakfast attire can be even more outrageous, as is the case with this breakfast dress for Dame Edna Everidge. It pays homage to the Full-English Breakfast. You can see it in the Theatre and Performing Galleries, Room 103 – 106.

Breakfast dress, designed by Stephen Adnitt, 1996. Museum no. LOAN: MEGASTAR.1-2000. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Complete with sausages, bacon and eggs, the dress celebrates breakfast with the irreverent fervor this most celebrated of meals deserves.

Who knew that breakfast at the V&A could be such a culinary adventure? Time to get exploring!

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