Queen Mother’s fridge going strong after 60 years

IT HAS been a trusty and loyal stalwart of the royal household for more than half a century, first coming into service just two years after the death of George VI.
Castle of Mey general manager Shirley Farquhar. Picture: Peter JollyCastle of Mey general manager Shirley Farquhar. Picture: Peter Jolly
Castle of Mey general manager Shirley Farquhar. Picture: Peter Jolly

Now, the humble fridge which has kept the Dubonnet crisp and the clotted cream fresh at the late Queen Mother’s Caithness bolthole is set to enter its seventh decade of service.

In what represents one of the most unusual royal anniversaries of recent years after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the antiquated appliance at the Castle of Mey has been humming away for 60 years.

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The Frigidaire model was one of the first purchases made by the Queen Mother when she fell in love with the then Barrogill Castle in 1952.

Envisaging it as a place to seek solace and mourn the death of her husband, she set about modernising the pile, installing a string of electrical goods considered cutting edge in the post-war era.

Though the advance of technology later consigned many to the scrapheap, the fridge – bought from a store in nearby Wick – remained a constant in the castle’s kitchens, its permanence even earning it a mention on visitor tours.

Michael Sealey, who was head chef to the Queen Mother for 32 years, said the imposing device showed no signs of nearing the end of its lifespan anytime soon thanks to its sturdy design.

“It is just a normal fridge of the period – not a special catering model – but built to last,” he explained.

“It has six-inch thick doors – not like the thin plastic ones these days which don’t last 60 weeks, let alone 60 years. The only problem with it was that it needed defrosting occasionally.

“This fridge must be one of the oldest working fridges in Britain. Other than it being slightly chipped with age, it’s in perfect working order. It was built to last.”

Royal observers said the unique anniversary demonstrated the frugal attitude of the Queen Mother, who died in 2002.

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She famously found it hard to dispense with ageing staff in her household and adopted a similar attitude to electrical goods that showed no sign of failing. She even refused to buy a television, preferring instead to rent.

Ingrid Seward, the editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine and a veteran royal observer, said she was not surprised that the fridge had survived so long.

“The Queen Mother was both a Scot and somebody who went through the war years. She could not bear waste,” she said.

“She was both frugal and extravagant. She was extravagant with her clothes, flowers and entertaining, but frugal over things like appliances. She would never dream of buying a new fridge while the old one worked.

“I know that the Queen got the same habit from her mother. She complained that a light bulb was too bright by her bed at Buckingham Palace, but told the staff not to change it until it no longer worked.”

The only recorded instance of the 5ft 8in tall fridge encountering a problem was when modern technology invaded its domain, after underfloor central heating was installed in 2000 which appeared to upset its temperature control. The appliance was put on blocks and has been working fine ever since, passing annual tests by an electrician.

A spokeswoman for the castle, now run by a trust, said the fridge was “doing a great job and we have no plans to replace it”.