Dine like a Duke

As someone who grew up in a notoriously egalitarian country, the British ranks of nobility are to me as fascinating as they are puzzling. You see, there is noble, and there is really noble.

There are many levels of nobility, the highest one below that of a Royal Prince being a Duke - but a Duke can be Royal or not (and I offer no comment on the current troubles of some of the Royal Dukes!). In Britain everyone knows the various members of the Royal family by the name of their Duchy, something I still struggle with after 21 years in the country.

So different levels of nobility need different headwear, no? You can't all wear the same hat, and you wouldn't want to be seen wearing the wrong crown. So there is a royal crown, which has jewels mounted on it, and there is a Duke's crown, which is not jewelled but has a ring of strawberry leaves around it.

Enter this stunning Ridgway dessert service, which has beautiful flower reserves on each item surrounded by a gilt scroll and topped with a big gilt crown. At first I thought this must have been made for Royalty, but a friend kindly pointed out that these are Duke's crowns, lined with strawberry leaves.

Ridgway made many of these services but this is by far the best I have ever seen. It is in museum condition with only some very light wear here and there. It it is complete: a centre piece, 12 dishes, two sauce tureens, and 24 plates - are you ready to throw a party?

And if you think these dishes were only for show, look carefully: they have signs of wear, although very light - they can't have been used more than once or twice.

This style of deep cobalt blue, lavish gilt and stunning hand painted flowers was incredibly popular in the 1820s. The only lighting available was candle light, and can you imagine how that would have flickered in the gilt during a wonderful evening dinner?